Sunjet 707s: BWIA in the 1970s
At the end of the 1960s BWIA operated a modern fleet of 3 Boeing 727-78s but was a serial money loser, only staying afloat thanks to continuous subsidies. In fact by the end of the decade it had lost $81 million. There were accusations that the airline had been bribed to take the Boeings over British jets and the 727s couldn't take bulk freight leading to a lack of space for passenger baggage. A pilot strike in 1968 had been the final straw and the government brought in an American consulting firm: Allen and Company.
BWIA began to organise for restarting long haul operations in 1973 when it was able in December to get the British Parliament to pass a bill allowing for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to guarantee financing for the acquisition of more 707s. BWIA again dipped into the second-hand market for the aircraft but this time it decided on the more standard series 320C and acquired 4 series 351Cs from Northwest Orient. All were relatively young 1967 build machines. These aircraft arrived from March 1974 until May 1975 and became 9Y-TED/E and TEJ/K. Services to London began in April 1974, initially with only twice weekly flights, increased to thrice weekly by July. This return to long-haul services was driven by the airlines' Swedish CEO Sven-Erik Svanberg. Further long haul flights followed including the original Bermuda-New York-London triangle service and landing rights to Guyana and Jamaica.
A wet-lease agreement was organised using a Boeing 747 which allowed the carrier to right size traffic during the high-demand winter months. With the extra capacity of the seasonal 747 all four of the Braniff 707-227s were sold on, two of them being broken up. The full time fleet by then stood at 2 leased 707-138Bs and 4 707-351Cs. Further expansion occurred in 1976 with another pair of 707s arriving. This time the aircraft were former Pan Am 707-321Bs which became 9Y-TEX and TEZ. TEZ had first flown only on January 24, 1969 and became N891PA 'Clipper Gem of the Ocean'.
Allen and Company's management of BWIA came to an end in 1975 following a stoush over the Tobago airbridge services. Sven-Erik Svanberg was replaced by Peter Look Hong. Hong had started his career with BWIA 23 years earlier as a cargo assistant. Almost as soon as Allen and Co was gone controversy returned when the government signed a deal with McDonnell Douglas to replace the 707-138Bs with DC-9-51s. Stories of corruption caused a scandal and the DC-9s proved unsuitable for the routes they were needed for. By 1980 the airline had regressed to less than 50% on time flights and acrimonious employee relations. At this time rather then sorting out the root of the issues the government decided to renew the entire fleet instead. The arrival of Tristar 500s (see the next part of the story) meant the end for the 707s.
9Y-TEZ was sold in June 1982 to FTC Walston Wings as N3127. She passed through various private operators as VR-CBN and N320MJ before joining Omega Air in September 1990. She was destined to end her days as part of the USAF parts donor programme for keeping the KC-135 fleet flying and Omega Air were to fly her to Davis Monthan Air Force Base. She never made it there however as she crashed on takeoff from Marana-Pinal Air Park on September 20, 1990. Prior to the positioning flight about 50 indicators and various other elements were removed from the cockpit. The takeoff checklist appears to have been done by memory and nobody noticed that the rudder was trimmed nose right. Unsurprisingly upon takeoff the aircraft rolled right, the wing struck the ground and the plane cartwheeled. The aircraft was destroyed and the pilot killed. Both the pilot and the FAA (for lack of oversight) were blamed.
1973, December 20. BWIA Schedules Trinidad-London Service. The Virgin Island Daily News
1976, January 31. Former Laborer Heads BWIA. The Virgin Island Daily News
1997. BWIA. Search.co.tt
N320MJ. Aviation Safety Network
11/10/2018 08:05:29 pm
They also bought one of the very few DC-9-34CF made by McDonnell-Douglas, 9Y-TFI. Delivered in 1978, it flew with BWIA until 1986, when Aeropostal purchased it.
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: