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  • Writer's pictureMalcolm Turner

British United Airways - An extract from: BRITAIN'S AIRLINE ENTREPRENEURS.

The new airline would be called British United Airways, a name which the government only agreed to on the condition that it was not abbreviated to BUA. Unsurprisingly, that stipulation was ignored and BUA is often confused with BEA to this very day. Despite the grandiose title, it wasn’t really very united at all. In reality, it was a chaotic hotchpotch of small, loosely integrated companies with a mix and match fleet of 90 assorted aircraft and helicopters, and a dispersed management who agreed upon little, except that they all had a low opinion of the chairman, Myles Wyatt. In time Jersey Airways, Silver City Airways, and British United Air Ferries would all become part of BUA. One major independent airline, however, Harold Bamberg’s British Eagle, would remain stubbornly outside the fold and would continue to be independent until its bankruptcy in 1968.

Freddie Laker, who had been an executive director of Airwork, was made managing director of the new British United Airlines. For the first time in his career he was running an airline which was solidly financed, and it did not take him long to start signing cheques. He immediately applied to the new ATLB for a swathe of route licenses, including Tehran, Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta, Bangkok and Singapore, with onward services to Hong Kong and Tokyo along with 20 more European cities. You might have expected him to wait for a response before committing to new aircraft, but he did not. If there is one financial decision which airline bosses love to make, it is signing orders for new planes. Freddie was no stranger to the process, while running his own Air Charter he had ordered brand new Bristol Freighters and Britannias, but with those orders he had known he had profitable work for the aircraft before he signed. This time, Freddie, who had always been an intuitive businessman, was going with his gut instinct, knowing that if he got it wrong, catastrophe could follow.

Back in the days when Freddie had ordered new aircraft for Air Charter from the Bristol Aeroplane Company, he had dealt with Bristol’s chief salesman, Geoffrey Knight. When Bristol was merged into the British Aircraft Corporation, Knight became their sales director and he introduced Freddie to George Edwards, who was now Executive Director of the new conglomerate. Edwards had joined Vickers as a draughtsman in 1935 and had risen to be Chief Designer of the team that produced the Viking airliner, Valetta military transport, Varsity trainer, Viscount airliner and Valiant strategic bomber. Edwards was now championing two new aircraft; the BAC One-Eleven, which had been based on a Hunting Aircraft design, and the Vickers VC10. He found Freddie to be a tough negotiator and subsequently wrote: ‘A few hundred years ago he would have had brass earrings, a beard, a bit longer hair and a cutlass. There are few people in this world who can give you a kick and you are happy as Larry when you have had it. Mr Laker is one of the few on my list.’

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