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History of Cathay Pacific Airways and BWIA British West Indian Airways

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The History of Cathay Pacific Airways

Founded on September 24, 1946, Cathay Pacific Airways itself had its inauspicious and unexpected beginnings in the military, when Roy Farrell, an American and Sydney de Kantzow, an Australian, forged a friendship during the Second World War when they flew Douglas C-47 Skytrains over the Himalayan “hump” from Calcutta to Kunming for the China National Aviation Company.

Acquiring a war surplus DC-3 in 1945, registered VR-HDB and named “Betsy,” Farrell, along with de Kantzow, inaugurated passenger service from Shanghai until political pressure forced the relocation of its operations to Kai Tak Airfield the following May.

Equipped with a second DC-3, VR-HDA “Nikki,” the fledgling airline, adopting the Cathay Pacific Airways designation, commenced charter flights to Southeast Asia. Two years later, it had a scheduled, five-destination route system, encompassing Bangkok, Manila, Saigon, Shanghai, and Singapore, over which it carried 3,000 passengers in five additional DC-3s and two Consolidated PBY Catalinas.

One of two local carriers with rival Hong Kong Airways, it was government-awarded the less lucrative southern routes, while Hong Kong itself was granted the northern ones to China and Japan.

Increasing demand nevertheless necessitated larger, more modern equipment, including the quad-engine, 56-passenger DC-4 Skymaster in 1949, the pressurized, 58-passenger DC-6 in 1954, and the upgraded DC-6B in 1958.

Absorbing competitor Hong Kong Airways the following year, it acquired its first turbine aircraft, in the form of the dual-class, 75-passenger Lockheed L-188A Electra, and was able to spread its wings to Sydney, Australia, and Tokyo, Japan, for the first time with them.

Operating one DC-3, one DC-4, one DC-6, one DC-6B, and the two Electras, it carried 69,000 passengers that year. The pure-jet era dawned in 1962, when it acquired the first of nine, 104-passenger Convair CV-880s, eventually replacing the L-188As with them, Passenger totals continued to climb-from 170,000 in 1963 to 324,000 in 1967.

Cathay Pacific Airways

Larger, pure-jet aircraft materialized as the 154-passenger Boeing 707-320B in 1970 and the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, its first widebody type, five years later. With 12 of the former and three of the latter, it was able to inaugurate long-range intercontinental routes beyond Asia and Australia to Bahrain and Dubai in 1976.

Delivery of the first 747-200B enabled it to launch its first Hong Kong-London service on July 16, 1980, the type that became instrumental in its ability to pioneer ultra-long range routes, including those to Vancouver in Canada, Los Angeles in the US, and Frankfurt and Paris in Europe. Flights to Rome, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Denpasar, Auckland, and Nagoya followed.

In 1985, it took delivery of its first stretched upper deck 747-300 and its first next generation 747-400 four years later, enabling it to operate nonstop, year-round service to Europe and the US without payload restrictions for the first time.

Operating 735 weekly flights with 18 281-passenger L-1011-1s/-100s, eight 408-passenger 747-200Bs, three 747-200Fs, six 422-passenger 747-300s, and ten 361-passenger 747-400s in 1990, all of which were Rolls Royce powered, it served 38 destinations in 26 countries, carrying 7.7 million passengers with an average 75.9-percent load factor.

Today its fleet consists of the 251-passenger A330-300, the 280-passenger A350-900, and the 335-passenger 777-300ER, while its Cathay Dragon division operates the 164-passenger A320-200, the 172-passenger A321-200, and the 307-passenger A330-300. Collectively they serve more than 190 worldwide destinations.

The History of BWIA British West Indian Airways

BWIA British West Indian Airways

Of the four pure-jet Caribbean carriers-Air Aruba, Air Jamaica, ALM Antillean Airlines, and BWIA among them-the latter was both the largest and the only one to operate the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar.

The airline’s roots stretched far-across the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, to New Zealand, at least in terms of the nationality of its founder, Lowell Yerex, a World War I fighter pilot who planted its seed in Trinidad in 1939 so that he could re-instate what had become suspended air service to Barbados.

Links were re-established on November 27 of the following year with a single Lockheed L-18 Lodestar, registered VP-TAE. Tobago was also served thrice weekly.

Although the Second World War usually thwarted commercial airline operations, they expanded in the Caribbean. The 1942 acquisition of two Lockheed L-14 Electras enabled it to operate charter flights to American military bases there.

Transformed, the following year, into a public limited company, and infused with financial plasma from the British government, it purchased three, commercially converted Hudson bombers, while completion of many small Caribbean island air fields enabled it to spread its wings to Grenada and the Dominican Republic, as well as to Guyana in South America.

No longer hampered by war, it acquired four more suitably purposed Lodestars in 1945.

An ownership change two years later, to British South American Airways (BSAA), merited the temporary nomenclature of British International Airways, a BSAA subsidiary, although it reverted to its original British West Indian Airways title on June 24, 1948. In order to cater to increased demand, it acquired five 24-passenger Vickers Viking airliners, which featured twin piston airscrews and dual vertical tails and rested on tail wheels.

Another ownership change occurred the following year, when British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) amalgamated BSAA into it, transforming BWIA itself into a subsidiary.

Ceded several routes north of Jamaica from parent BOAC, which monetarily supported its expansion, it replaced its L-18 Lodestars with three 28-seat Douglas Dakotas, but even these proved inadequate for its ambitious expansion plans.

Transitioning from piston to turboprop technology, it acquired four Vickers V.700 Viscounts, powered by Rolls Royce Dart engines,, able to offer passengers greater speed and comfort as of 1955.

Because these aircraft were too large to serve the Leeward Islands, BWIA, holding the controlling interest, formed Leeward Island Air Transport (LIAT), operating more short strip-suitable equipment.

Spreading its wings across the Atlantic in 1960 with leased, quad-engine Bristol Britannias, BWIA inaugurated service to Jamaica and Barbados from London with an intermediate stop in New York.

Yet a third ownership change, albeit after lengthy negotiations, occurred the following year, on November 1, 1961, when the government of Trinidad and Tobago purchased 90 percent of BWIA from BOAC.

“British West Indian Airways is conceived by the government of Trinidad and Tobago as a national carrier for the West Indian area as a whole, and steps are now being taken to implement this policy,” according to Dr. Eric Williams, then Premier of Barbados.

A Boeing 707, the carrier’s first pure-jet type, was chartered from BOAC that year to replace the Bristol Britannia on the transatlantic route, and by 1965, it had also substituted Boeing 727-100″Sunjets” for its Viscounts on US services to Miami and New York.

Canada factored into the route system on May 3, 1969, when BWIA had been granted a temporary license to operate a Trinidad-Barbados-Antigua-Toronto sector.

Standardizing on Boeing 707 aircraft in 1971, BWIA was able to offer a 45-percent increase in seat capacity.

“This was also a year of unprecedented growth in the charter market,” according to the “Corporate Timeline” (BWIA International Airways, Corporate Communication Department, October 1, 1996). “BWIA tripled the number of charters into the United Kingdom from eight to 24, and continued to improve on Miami services with the continuation of the trend of faster services, coupled with increased capacity.”

Flight schedules from the Eastern Caribbean to New York and Toronto were also improved.

A milestone occurred on April 5, 1974, when it inaugurated a weekly, scheduled service to London-Heathrow, a considerable improvement over the prior private charter flight to Gatwick.

An order for a single Douglas DC-9-30CF Convertible Freighter and four stretched fuselage DC-9-50s materialized four years later, on June 28, when it took delivery of the first aircraft.

BWIA International Airways

A January 1, 1980 merger with Trinidad and Tobago Air Services, which had been formed six years earlier to operate high frequency shuttle flights between the two cities inherent in its designation, enabled it to transform itself into a single domestic, Caribbean, and intercontinental carrier.

The first of four L-1011-500s, delivered on January 29 of that year, enabled it to offer both a widebody type for the first time and a 31-percent capacity increase over the 707s it replaced on the London route two months later, on March 28. With delivery of the fourth aircraft in 1982, the 707s were altogether removed from the fleet and entirely replaced with TriStars to New York, Toronto, London, Manchester, Frankfurt, and Zurich.

Expansion continued to Martinique with Hawker Siddeley HS.748 turboprops and Baltimore with pure-jet aircraft.

1985 was marked with the delivery of the first of an eventual nine MD-83s, configured with 12 business and 108 coach seats, progressively replacing the DC-9-50s on some Miami sectors.

Employing 2,032 system-wide personnel by 1987, BWIA operated four DC-9-50s, three MD-83s, and four L-1011-500s.

Privatized, the Caribbean carrier, which was incorporated as BWIA International Airways, Limited, on February 15, 1995, was now listed on the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange.

The 21st century brought significant changes and declines. A new light green and blue steel pin drum livery, for instance, symbolizing Tobago, was introduced in 2000, replacing the long-standing gold, yellow, and white one, while a fleet modernization program was implemented.

Two quad-engine Airbus A-340-300s, intended as TriStar 500 replacements, were ordered, encompassing aircraft 9Y-JIL with 40 business and 215 coach and 9Y-TJN with 32 business and 252 coach seats.

Although it reversed its decision to replace its MD-83s with A-321-100s on Caribbean and North American routes, in the event it took delivery of two, registered 9Y-BWA and -BWB, before standardizing on Boeing 737-800s, which accommodated 16 business and 138 economy passengers.

Although, as occurs with any carrier, its route system varied throughout the years with the addition and removal of destinations, it served Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Trinidad, and Tobago in the Caribbean; Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela in South America; New and Miami in the US; Toronto in Canada; and London, Manchester, and Frankfurt in Europe from primary Trinidad and secondary Barbados flight bases.

While it reached its peak of operating some 660 weekly flights and carrying 1.4 million passengers in 2003, profitability often failed to parallel these lofty figures, necessitating multiple Trinidad and Tobago government infusions to ensure its continued financial lift.

Three years later, however, the failure of unions to agree on new contract terms resulted in the bankruptcy of the national carrier of Trinidad and Tobago after 66 years of operation.

From its ashes rose state-owned, BWIA-replacing Caribbean Airlines on September 27, 2006 with a fleet of six 737-800s and a single A-340-300.


“Corporate Timeline,” BWIA International Airways, Limited, Corporate Communications Department, October 1, 1996.

Robby Davis

Robby Davis

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At CoastPrivate, we’re more than simply a jet charter company; we’re a full-service private aviation brokerage offering a wealth of solutions, from ad-hoc charter and elite jet card membership programs, to airliner charters, private jet leasing and private jet sales worldwide.

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