BOAC 747 Taken: 18th February 2019 Picture by: Stuart Bailey

Reported by Thomas Saunders & Eric Dunetz, with Contributions from James Field

HEATHROW – Today sees the launch of British Airways’ centenary year events, which they are calling ‘BA 100’.  

This flight will depart tomorrow to New York’s JFK as flight BA117. This is a significant routing as it was the first route the Boeing 747 flew in BOAC colours.

Coverage from Heathrow

G-BYGC, is the 747-400 that was painted.

Celebrating the milestone was CEO of British Airways Alex Cruz who emphasised BA’s rich history.

“The enormous interest we’ve had in this project demonstrates the attachment many people have to British Airways’ history. It’s something we are incredibly proud of, so in our centenary year it’s a pleasure to be celebrating our past while also looking to the future. We look forward to many more exciting moments like this as our other aircraft with heritage designs enter service.”

G-BYGC will remain in this livery until its retirement date in 2023, which will allow a further lifespan of four years for fliers and enthusiasts alike to experience this retro livery.

Within this four year period, British Airways is expected to take delivery of 18 Airbus A350s and 12 Boeing 787 Dreamliners as well as an additional 26 short-haul aircraft, amounting to a £6.5 billion investment total.

Centennial History…

History of British Airways dates back to 1919, 100 years ago.

The BOAC livery in particular was adorned in the BA fleet between 1964 and 1974, which dates back the airline’s history quite significantly.

The brand of British Airways was created on March 31st 1974, with the official start of the airline two years earlier, on April 1st 1972.  British Airways was created by merging the biggest UK carriers at the time, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British European Airways (BEA). The regional airlines Cambrian Airways and Northeast Airlines also were bought in as part of the merger.

BOAC 747 Taken: 18th February 2019 Picture by: Stuart Bailey

Like British Airways, BOAC was also formed as the result of a merger, in this case between British Airways Ltd (founded in 1935) and Imperial Airways (founded in 1927)  1940. Whilst BOAC as an entity was founded on November 24th 1939, the airline formally commenced operation on April 1st 1940. BOAC later went on to absorb British South American Airways in 1949.  

Imperial Airways is where we start to approach the 100-year mark where British Airways can be traced back to. The first commercial flights in the UK where operated by Handley Page Transport Ltd started flights from London to Paris using World War 1 bombers converted for passenger use.  In 1927, Handley Page Air Transport Ltd and Instone Air Line Ltd were merged to create Imperial Airways.

BOAC was the first airline to introduce the passenger jet into operation, in the form of the de Havilland Comet 1 in 1952.  Two years later, the aircraft would be grounded after four of the type crashed. One of these crashed aircraft was a BOAC aircraft. BOAC then went on to fly the first transatlantic flight on October 4th 1958 with the revised de Havilland Comet 4. Their first Comet 4 was delivered on September 25th 1958, a day after the type received its Certificate of Airworthiness.

Unlike BOAC and BA, BEA wasn’t formed as a result of a merger.  BEA was initially a split off from BOAC, formed on January 1st 1946, becoming its own legal corporation on August 1st 1946.  BEA was the largest regional carrier in the UK, while also having a German network between West Berlin and West Germany.

BOAC 747 Taken: 18th February 2019 Picture by: Stuart Bailey

BEA was the first operator of the de Havilland Trident, and on June 10 1965, BEA became the first airline to complete an automatic landing during a scheduled passenger service with a Trident 1C aircraft.

Two years after the merge, BA started operating Concorde from Heathrow to Bahrain, Washington Dulles and New York JFK.  The Bahrain flight was later extended to Singapore, in partnership with Singapore Airlines.

Until 1987, the airline was state-owned, however, the Thatcher government instructed BA to prepare for privatisation in 1981.  Sir (Lord) John King took the role of chairman. During a tough period for airlines, he turned BA around from a loss-making airline to one of the most profitable in the world.  Whilst this turn around was going on, British Airways also took over British Caledonian, often referred to as the UK’s second airline.

1984 saw a new competitor for BA on the scene in the form of Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic.  Following fierce competition between the two companies, Virgin sued British Airways for tampering with private files, ‘stealing’ Virgin customers amongst other things in 1993.  The legal case ended with BA paying £110,000 in damages to Virgin, £500,000 to Branson and £3 million in legal fees.

In an effort to expand their presence at Gatwick airport, BA purchased Dan-Air in 1992, which at the time was constrained financially.  The airline was rebranded British Airways.

In 1993, not only was there the aforementioned Virgin lawsuit, British Airways bought Bryom Airways, which continued to run under its existing brand.  In March 2002 it was merged with British Regional Airlines and both airlines were rebranded British Airways Citiexpress. British Airways Citiexpress pioneered the print at home boarding pass, something which we now take for granted.  

After the Virgin legal case, Bob Ayling took over as company CEO.  He was able to find £750 million in savings across the airline. This enabled them to start a new low-cost subsidiary, Go in 1998. In 2005 it was bought by and merged into Easyjet.

After the tragic accident involving an Air France Concorde in Paris and the subsequent grounding of the aircraft in 2000, and the September 11 incident in New York, the resulting slow down in the number of passengers flying started to signal the end for Concorde.  With Air France retiring the type in may of 2003, British Airways followed, officially retiring the type on October 24th 2003.

On February 1st 2006, British Airways Citiexpress was renamed to BA Connect, with the airline moving towards the low-cost model, the exception to this rule is the flights in and out of London City airport (LCY).  November 3rd 2006 saw the announcement that Flybe would purchase BA Connect, with British Airways retaining the LCY routes and Flybe taking the rest. BA also purchased a 15% stake in Flybe as part of the sale. The airline for Flybe was loss-making at the time, so BA ended up paying Flybe to take the airline, rather than Flybe buying it from British Airways.

BOAC 747 Taken: 18th February 2019 Picture by: Stuart Bailey

A separate brand, initially exclusively for the LCY operation, was launched in 2007 under the name of BA CityFlyer.  Initially using the ten BAE Avro RJ100 aircraft left from BA connect, but later using a fleet of six Embraer 170 and sixteen Embraer 190 aircraft.  The carrier also leases two Embraer 190 from Stobart Air and one Saab 2000 from Loganair.

In 2008, with Willie Walsh as the new CEO, BA launched the new OpenSkies brand, flying from Paris to New York JFK and Newark.  In the same year, BA merged with Iberia, to create International Airlines Group (IAG). Under the new arrangement, both airlines would keep their brands.  

British Airways was the official partner for the 2012 London Olympic games, flying the Olympic torch from Athens to Culdrose, a Royan Naval Air Station, in one of nine specially painted Dove Airbus A319s.

Speaking Of The BOAC Archive…

Speaking about the livery to Airways, Michael Lombardi, a historian from Boeing, said: “Not only does this livery signify the 100th anniversary of British Airways, but also the 50th anniversary of the Boeing 747.”  He continued to comment how iconic the BOAC livery was, particularly on the Boeing 707.

All of the staff from British Airways genuinely wanted to be there for the event, as all the brand ambassadors have other jobs inside of BA, with the ambassador role being a side job.

Over the last few years, it’s safe to say British Airways have had a bit of an identity crisis, with some accusing them of migrating towards a low-cost carrier model from a legacy model, with the end of free food on short-haul routes.  However, this event has signified a start for BA to bring back and strengthen their brand, being Britain’s flag carrier. There will be further events throughout the year which will only continue this trend.

From New York’s JFK…

BA117 from London Heathrow to New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport was the first route the new liveried aircraft took.

Airways’ Eric Dunetz got some photos from Terminal 7. April 1971 was the first time that the BOAC livery made it to New York.

The flight departed London Heathrow at 0840L on Tuesday morning before arriving at 1047L into JFK.

The aircraft was welcomed with the traditional BOAC stewardesses that were waiting inside Terminal 7 to greet the aircraft, full of information about BOAC’s history itself.

BOAC had an extensive history under the BA name from New York as seen below.

With British Airways, a lot of aircraft types have operated to JFK such as the Airbus A318, Boeing 747, 757, 767, 777, Bristol Britannia, Concorde, De Havilland Comet, Douglas DC-7, DC-10, Lockheed Constellations and L1011s as well as Vickers VC10s alike.

Overall, this livery has seen a significant welcome from both enthusiasts of the industry and also from the travellers.

For those that can remember the days of BOAC, it is something that can be used, especially for an element of nostalgia until the aircraft in the fleet are eventually retired.