BKS                             History


Return to homepage

This is the story of one man's vision, of how he (Cyril Stevens) and his partners, from a lone DC3, built an airline and placed the 3 northern airfields of Newcastle, Teeside and Leeds/Bradford firmly on the aviation map despite early airfield restrictions that added difficulties when fleet replacements were being considered.

The Company took pride in its pioneering history and this spirit lasted until being wholly owned by BEA. Many unusual and varied loads were carried in those years - explosives and detonators for oil field exploration in Persia, teams of dancers to Johannesburg, troops to Malta, parties of American school teachers on Mediterranean tours visiting Athens, Cairo, Luxor, and the Holy Land.

On the 7th February 1952 BKS Aerocharter Ltd. began flying from Southend Airport. BKS standing for the initials of the founders  JAMES BARNBY, THOMAS Keegan and CYRIL STEVENS. The aircraft was a DC3 G-AIWE ex-Crewsair. The three founders themselves ex-Crewsair had been offered it in lieu of shares in the company when Crewsair encountered difficulties and started to flounder. The DC3 flew livestock to Florence and Milan on that first day. During the next couple of months, the DC3 flew charters around the Mediterranean and ventured afar a field as Aden and Singapore.The DC3 was sold by BKS in April and with the proceeds, two DC3s were purchased from the RAF.

The sister Company, BKS Engineering Limited was formed in January 1952 and was responsible for the high standard of maintenance applied to the BKS fleet from the start of the Company's services.

In 1953 at the beginning of the season, another two DC3s were purchased from the RAF. At the end of the season a fifth DC3 was purchased.
In March 1953 Chipperfield Circus chartered G-AMSF to move the roof of the "big top" from Ostend to Southend. Two flights were required. The weight was over six tons and when unrolled covered approximately one acre.
BKS flew two DC3 services a week from Southend to Corsica for Horizon Holidays offering 14 days holiday for under 40
18th May 1953 saw the first scheduled service from Greatham Airport, West Hartlepool to Northolt. This service continued until 1956.
In 1953 the company employed about 50 people.

At the beginning of 1954 the name was changed to BKS Air Transport Ltd. BKS started running charters for Robert Tours from Woolsington Airport (Newcastle). The maintenance facility was based in Southend were it had been bought from the now defunct Crewsair. During the winter months BKS repositioned itself in the middle and far east for moving forces personnel.

To supplement the DC3s, 3 Vikings were purchased over the next two seasons

On the 15th May 1955 a scheduled service was started from Southend to Leeds and on to Belfast. Operated thrice weekly using 36-seat Dakotas. Apart from Lancashire Aircraft Corporation's service to Northolt from May 49 to Feb 53 using Rapides and Consuls, this was the first post war airliner service into Yeadon (Leeds). Pre war services being operated by North Eastern Airways using Airspeed Envoys to London and Newcastle.  Other airlines using Yeadon pre 1939 were Blackpool and West Coast Air Services, Isle of Man Air Services, and Railway Air Services.
International services commenced from Leeds to Paris on 12th August using Dakota G-ANAF and later to Dusseldorf and Ostend. These international services from Leeds called into Southend for customs clearance until 1st May 1956, when Yeadon received it's own customs facilities.
A special charter was executed for Marconi in 1955, under contract to the Nigerian Post Telegraph Department. This involved flying much of the equipment, worth 600,000, for a long distance point to point twin path radio telephone facility.

Passengers carried
    -    1952 = 3750     -    1955  = 20142     -      1956 = 45007 
                  (for further details of growth click here)

Uncertainty over the future of Leeds/Bradford Airport, which was then under a requisition order, caused the London, Paris and Edinburgh services from there to be withdrawn in 1956 and closer attention was paid to the all year Belfast and Dusseldorf and summer Jersey and Ostend services. This uncertainty was removed in late 1958, when it became known that the Leeds and Bradford Joint Airport Committee would re-establish control on 8th January 1959.
During the Summer of 1956 BKS ran a service from Woolsington to Yeadon and on to Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight using DC3s and Consuls.

In 1957 larger aircraft were needed and at that time BEA were offering a surplus Airspeed Ambassador (Elizabethan). In August, G-AMAD joined the BKS fleet and provided improved levels of comfort and speed.The Ambassador was BKS's first presurised aircraft. On 9th August G-AMAD flew its first flight with BKS from Newcastle to Dublin.
In 1957 BKS diversified into Aerial Survey work with BKS Air Survey Operating DC3, Consuls and Anson. (BKS Survey Ltd. still exists today)
During 1957 Hunting Clan withdrew from Newcastle Airport to consolidate their base at Heathrow.  At Newcastle BKS took over the Hunting Clan Facilities. Additional scheduled services to Basle and Biarritz were added. BKS ceased operations from Greatham Airport, West Hartlepool.

On 1st April 1957 under the new Anglo-Irish agreement a Newcastle to Dublin scheduled service opened with 2000 seats having been sold before the first flight. BKS became the first British airline to operate scheduled services to Ireland after World War 11

On 23rd May 1958 a Newcastle to Belfast thrice weekly schedule service was commenced and on 4th June  a new twice weekly service to Bergen started. Two more Ambassadors were acquired from B.E.A. in May 1958, and all three aircraft then underwent a conversion from their 47 or 49 seat version to a fifty five seat version. In converting these aircraft to high density seating, B.K.S. in conjunction with Aviation Traders produced new lightweight seats, and after various modifications to the airframe and aircraft equipment, B.K.S. managed to reduce the Ambassador's equipped weight by eight hundred pounds

1959 saw the start of scheduled Services into Heathrow from Newcastle. Soon there were two flights a day at a return fare of 10.
In 1959 saw expansion at Leeds/Bradford Airport. A service to Dublin was inaugurated in July and later a service to Rotterdam was added as a stop on the Dusseldorf service.  BKS opened their own town terminal in Leeds.

For the 1960 season, B.K.S. decided to experiment with vehicle ferry operations, and not wishing to compete with established operators of these services, B.K.S. applied for permission to operate a vehicle ferry service between Liverpool and Dublin. Using Bristol Freighters, B.K.S. proposed to fly up to ten services daily in each direction, and hoped to carry three thousand cars across the Irish Sea. during the first year of operations. This service quickly gained the blessing of both the A.T.A.C. and the Irish Tourist Board, and in April 1960 B.K.S. acquired a Bristol Freighter on lease from Keegan Aviation. This particular aircraft, G-AILW, had previously been leased by B.K.S. from Shackleton Aviation in 1958 for operation on cargo and horse carrying flights from various airports around the country, until being returned to Shackletons early in 1960. However, on the morning of April 25 1960, Captain Johnson flew the Freighter from Southend to Liverpool, and shortly after three o'clock on that afternoon Captain Johnson flew this aircraft on the first Liverpool to Dublin car ferry service. The aircraft returned to Liverpool that same evening, and a similar round trip was made on the following day. On April, 27, though, Captain Johnson flew G-AILW from Liverpool to Cranfield, and the aircraft did not return to service on the Liverpool. to Dublin route until the afternoon of April 29. Subsequently, this Bristol Freighter operated numerous ferry runs across the Irish Sea throughout the summer in the capable hands of a variety of pilots, including Captains Ayre, Johnson, Muir, Nuyt and Whitlock.
Click Here to see film of Bristol Freighter leaving Dublin (Kindly supplied by Simeon Pines)

Flights to London from Leeds/Bradford recommenced on 3rd October using DC3s on a five times weekly timetable.

In November 1960, B.K.S. announced its plans for the introduction of an all-cargo service between Leeds and Belfast to be flown by Bristol Freighters. B.K.S. in co-operation with an Irish firm named Air Freight Containers, produced a special lightweight container for use on this twice daily service. This route was introduced before the end of the year, and B.K.S. later put forward its plans for further all-freight schedules linking Belfast with Edinburgh, Luton and Newcastle.

In 1961 orders were placed for new HS748 aircraft from the manufacturers Hawker Siddeley.
1961 -1962 was a very difficult winter which was spent continuously de-icing the aircraft, sometimes without success.

The airline announced that as from April 1 1962, B.K.S. would be operating services from Leeds to Belfast, Dublin, Guernsey, Jersey, London and Ostend; from Newcastle to Basle, Belfast, Dublin, Jersey, London and Ostend; and from London to Bilbao. However, Silver City Airways was not as confident about B.K.S.' future, and they applied for all of B.K.S.' routes with the exception of those radiating from London.

The next obstacle to be overcome by B.K.S. Air Transport was a petition for the compulsory winding up of the company presented by a group of minor creditors for 24,000. This petition was heard in the High Court on March 13 1962, but for fortunately for B.K.S. the petition was opposed by a group of creditors for 370,000, and as a result the petition was dismissed. In court, it was stated that B.K.S. would earn a substantial trading surplus in 1962 and this did materialise. However in the same week that this petition was dismissed, B.K.S. applied to the A.T.L.B. for a suspension of some of their schedule routes. These included the routes from Leeds to Cork, Edinburgh and Glasgow; from Newcastle to Cork and Manchester; from Belfast to Edinburgh; and from Liverpool to Dublin. Many of these routes had never been opened by B.K.S., and those that had been were relatively unimportant to B.K.S.' route network.

1962  1st October saw the introduction of a scheduled service between Leeds and London operated by a HS748 leased from Skyways Coach Air, cutting 25 minutes off route timings. An excellent load factor of 80% was quickly achieved compared a load factor in 1961 of 31%. The leased aircraft was quickly replaced by their own 748 new from the manufacturers. BKS was the first airline to operate the HS748 on Domestic routes in Great Britain.
1962 also saw a big expansion at Leeds.  

In 1963 Leeds was served by international scheduled flights to Paris, Amsterdam and Dusseldorf and domestic services to Dublin, Belfast and London. Charter flights were operated on behalf of Wallace Arnold to Ostend and Basle. By April 1963, all four HS748 were in service.

On May 20 1963, an Ambassador (G-ALZR) was delivered to Southend for conversion for use on the all-cargo services from London to the North East of England. This conversion involved the incorporation of a double door providing an overall aperture 7' 11" wide by 6' 6" high, with a mean sill height of 3' 6". This Ambassador had been the Rolls Royce engine test bed for the Tyne turboprop, and B.K.S. Engineering first had to convert this aircraft back to Centaurus power in addition to its freight conversion. Eventually, it was decided that this aircraft would be converted to carry horses in order to replace the Bristol Freighter. This conversion was undertaken by B.K.S. Engineering at Southend, and on November 26 1964 this aircraft left Southend for Dublin to start flying services from there, after a conversion program lasting for eighteen months. The Ambassador's first work involved the carriage of race horses to Cambridge for the December sales at Newmarket.

The continued use of Leeds/Bradford was now paying dividends. Being 6 miles form Bradford and only eight from Leeds, some 3 1/2 million people live within a 20 mile radius of the airport. During 1964 a town terminal was opened in Bradford.

1964. At Newcastle after the failure of Air Safaris, Airways Holidays had purchased 2 Bristol Britannias in order to protect its IT business(Inclusive Tour, not Information Technology) from Skytours (later to become Thomson Holidays and to operate Britannia Airways), Airways Holidays did not have a license to operate the Britannias and so BKS agreed to operate the Britannias on behalf of Airways Holidays at weekends and used them on BKS services from Newcastle to London during the week. 

The process whereby BKS was incorporated into British Air Services began on 10th June 1964, with an agreement for closer co-operation between BEA and BKS, which involved the purchase of a 30% shareholding in BKS by BEA, which later increased to 50%.

Teeside's new airport (Former RAF Station Middleton St George) opened and on 20th August BKS received approval to open services from there to London, Belfast and Dublin. A twice daily service began to London on 2nd November using Ambassadors. An Amsterdam and Dusseldorf service began using Ambassadors and HS748 on 1st April 1965, followed by services to Belfast and Dublin on 12th April, Jersey on 22nd May, Ostend on 6th June and Paris on 1st July. This last service was routed via Leeds/Bradford, due to French restrictions.

Heathrow had become BKS's busiest operational base with flights from the 3 northern airfields, Leeds,Teeside and Newcastle and overseas flights to Bilbao, Biarritz, and Bordeaux.

Chairman of the board and owner was Cyril J Stevens. (Barnby and Keegan having both departed.)
Other senior staff members were:-
                                    Dave Prescott              - Commercial Director (Leeds)
                                    Charles Jackson            - Commercial Director (Newcastle)
                                    Harry Spring                  - Cargo & Livestock
                                    Capt. Haythornthwaite   - Chief Pilot and Director of Flight Operations
                                    Ian Latto                       - Sales Manager
                                    Tom Taylor                     - Technical Director
                                             Johnny Johnson               - Engineering Director

BKS owned two Maintenance facilities at Southend and Newcastle. This enabled them to carry out all their own Maintenance and Servicing of the fleet. The facility at Southend had spare capacity and this allowed the management to turn it into a profit center. Southend was not ideal as it was not on the fleet's network, but good use of positioning flights were made by using them for training.

The Prime Minster Alec Douglas Home flew BKS from London to Newcastle.  Other famous passengers included the Beatles, Cliff Richards, and Gladys Cooper.

1965 saw the completion of a new 5400 feet runway at Leeds/Bradford allowing larger aircraft to be considered by BKS for future operations.

1966 saw the introduction of a new livery, an In-flight magazine and a new route to San Sebastian with a return to Bordeaux.

On April 22 1966 an United Airlines Viscount 745 arrived at Southend for overhaul and respray before entering service with B.K.S. Registered G-ATTA, this Viscount was test flown on June 7, and two days later it entered service with B.K.S. Air Transport on the services to Leeds. Viscount 800 series were leased to replace the DC3s .

BKS Viscount at Newcastle  

The picture taken from the viewing enclosure outside what is now the flying club, but was then the airport restaurant at Woolsington.

(In those days an airfield looked like a field
     and note the security fence)

Peter Rickinson

1967 was the end of passenger services for the Elizabethan. The last service was on 31st of October. The Elizabethan was then to become the main carrier of horses. BKS was distinguished by being the world's largest air carrier of bloodstock, transporting over 2000 valuable race horses annually. BKS can honestly claim to be the only airline to have carried "Santa Claus" (the 1964 Derby winner).
BEA bought a controlling interest in the airline, together with Cambrian Airways and formed a single holding company, British Air Services. The BKS symbol was retained on the tail, but the aircraft had the name "British Air Services" painted on the fuselage

1968 saw the introduction of the Viscount 800 on the Leeds/Bradford - London route. (Over fourteen flights a day had been operated a peak times on occasion to London.) 1968 also marked the end of the operation of the HS748 aircraft.

1969 saw the Britannia replaced by the Trident. Two Tridents were purchased new from Hawker Siddleys. The first G-AVYC flew it's first scheduled service (BK5444) on 28th March 1969 from Heathrow to Newcastle. The second Trident's first flight was a charter flight for Airways Holidays from Newcastle to Palma. The Tridents' entry into service was accompanied with the airlines first television advertisement on Tyne Tees Television.
Until 1969 BKS Engineering had maintained the fleet since the beginning in 1952. From 1969 major work was transferred to Rhoose with minor work done at Heathrow, Leeds/Bradford and Newcastle.

On 1st November a direct flight to Luxembourg from London was introduced and Tridents were allocated to the London- Bilbao route

31st October 1970 BKS became wholly owned by BEA and changed it's name to Northeast. The employees now numbered about 900. Eventually it became one of the four component parts of British Airways.

(Jim Shield who had joined BKS in 1959 and had been Station Manager at Newcastle for BKS in the mid Sixties, continued as Station Manager for British Airways until he retired in 1999.)