25 May 2012

British United Air Ferries

Some of the posts in the travel section featuring Bond's airlines of choice are often the most popular, and they are also very fun to write. So, to celebrate the week-end I give you an airline from the 60's. Goldfinger is flying to Genève with British United Air Ferries in 1964 along with his golden Rolls Royce. Bond gets on the next plane and shadows Goldfinger across Switzerland.
Crossing the channel from England by sea was usually a time consuming business and that is why the so called ''air ferries'' emerged in the 40's and 50's. They transported cars and their owners across the channel to various parts of the continent. Bond and Goldfinger are flying from "London Southend airport" at Southend-on-Sea.
The golden Rolls is loaded through the nose
The reason why British United Air Ferries was Goldfinger's choice for airline shows the amazing details and quality that went into the earlier Bond films and the producers efforts to be as faithful as possible to the original novel. In the novel, Bond is told that Goldfinger will fly with Silver City Airways across the channel. Silver City was an airline that was in operation when Fleming wrote Goldfinger in 1958 and obviously something that the filmmakers wanted to use in the film. But the problem was that this airline had ceased operations in 1963, and was not avaliable for the film. But they had merged with Channel Air Bridge to form the new airline: British United Air Ferries! So it is in a way Fleming's ultimate choice that was used in the film.
The plane that looks similar to a Boeing 747 is in fact an Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair, a model that was based on the Douglas DC-4.
Loaded at the front it had a capacity of 3-5 cars and approx. 25-50 passengers. The plane was developed by Aviation Traders (Engineering) Limited - ATL, and the name Carvair was derived from car-via-air.

One of the first planes originally used by Silver City Airways, the Bristol freighter, had a capacity of 1-2 cars and rather high operating costs, for example if a booked car failed to show up. And as the traffic increased so did the length of British cars and the demands for new planes. The Bristol freighter/superfreighter with its limited payload proved to be inadequate in the late 50's. That's when the converting of the DC-4 proved to be a relatively inexpensive solution. In the mid 70's the Carvair planes were transferred for cargo flying and on 1 January 1977 the airline operated its last car ferry service. Following several name changes (British Air Ferries and British World Airways) and ownership changes, the airline went out of business in December 2001, following the post 9/11 downturn.
An original Silver City "air ferry", probably something that Fleming had in mind when he wrote Goldfinger

A short documentary from 1963 shows the loading and taking off of a British United Air Ferries Carvair. 

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