3/06/1970: BEA Airtours Operates Maiden Flight

Today, in 1970, the charter arm of British European Airways, BEA Airtours, took its maiden flight.



March 6, 2024

DALLAS — Today, in 1970, the charter arm of British European Airways (BEA), BEA Airtours (KT), took its maiden flight.

The inaugural service, operated by a de Havilland Comet 4B (G-ARJL), 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.

BEA Comet 4B G-ARJL pictured at LGW in 1973 before its retirement. Photo: via Wikimedia Commons, Steve Fitzgerald (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2).

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 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 many 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.

The 707s were later replaced by Boeing 737-200s, and the last of the type was retired in 1984. Photo: via Wikimedia Commons, Eduard Marmet, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL 1.2

First and Last Flight

On October 31, 1973, KT retired the Comet. G-ARGL, which had flown the airline's first service, was honored to operate the final flight between Paris (LBG) and London (LGW).

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).

Featured image: The BEA subsidiary had its parent's livery with added 'Airtours' titles. Photo: Steve Fitzgerald (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons