DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the charter arm of British European Airways (BEA), BEA Airtours (KT), took its maiden flight in 1970.
Operated by a de Havilland Comet 4B (G-ARJL), the inaugural service departed London Gatwick (LGW) bound for Palma (PMI). Flight KT243 was under the command of Captain Peter McKeown, assisted by First Officers Peter Jarvis and Geoffrey Evans.
Onboard were 25 fare-paying passengers. Staff from BEA Airtours, BEA, and Sunair Holidays took up the remaining seats.
Setting up a Subsidiary
BEA Airtours was established in April 1969. At the time, the inclusive tour market was booming, and privately owned, independent charter airlines were rapidly expanding. Government-owned scheduled operator BEA wanted a piece of this market and set about creating its own subsidiary.
Initially, the carrier looked at various aircraft to start its operation. Vickers Vanguards, Boeing 737-200s, Hawker Siddeley Tridents, BAC One-Elevens, and Lockheed L1011 Tristar were all considered.
However, management chose the Comet, as its parent had a large number becoming available as it replaced the type with newly delivered One-Elevens. The Comets would be re-configured into a 109-seat, single-class layout.
After its first full year of operation, the airline served 84 destinations and carried 650,000 passengers. Kt required larger aircraft, and in 1971 it received the first of 12 174-seat Boeing 707-436s from BOAC.
First and Last Flight
On October 31, 1973, KT retired the Comet. The honor of operating the final flight between Paris (LBG) and London (LGW) fell to G-ARGL, which had flown the airline’s first service.
When BEA was merged with BOAC to form British Airways (BA) in 1974, BEA Airtours was renamed British Airtours. British Airtours would be renamed Caledonian Airways (CA) in April 1988, after BA had taken over rival British Caledonian (BR).