Crewsair

Based at Southend from Mar 1950 to Feb 1953

Founders/Directors – Mr. J.W. Barnaby, Mr. T.D. ‘Mike’ Keegan, Mr. C.J. Stevens and Mr. E.E. Haley

Crewsair was a relatively small airline that operated long distance charter flights and freight services out of Southend just after the turn of the ’50s. Starting out in September 1949, the main scope of its operations would eventually revolve around flights to the Mediterranean and many parts of Africa and it could be argued that this airline was the progenitor of such services from Southend, services that some other SEN operators would later emulate or follow. Crewsair was also responsible for bringing one of SEN’s most famous personalities to the airport, namely T.D. ‘Mike’ Keegan who started out as one of the founders and directors of this new airline. Somewhat interestingly, one unique aspect of this company was that it was set up in such a way that it would be owned (via stocks and shares) and operated by the crew members themselves, this being the inspiration behind the name of the airline.

With the arrival of its first aircraft purchased in January 1950, this single Dakota was then put into service from March onwards hauling freight and livestock to Europe and the Middle East. One of its first big contracts involved the flying of textiles to Southend from Lille for Lep Transport, this same service having been flown the year before by the Halifax equipped British American Air Services which had subsequently collapsed not long after the previous Lep contract had expired. However, it wouldn’t be long until Africa beckoned, with the first flight to Johannesburg via Entebbe taking place during April, while the summer would see Crewsair heading off to such exotic destinations as Bulawayo, Entebbe, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Lusaka, N’doba, Khartoum and Tanganyika on a variety of passenger and freight charters.

Mid-1950 saw further expansion for Crewsair with the acquisition of another aircraft and the opening of its engineering facility at Southend, its aircraft having previously been maintained by ATEL. Passenger charters began to develop further with Rome, Basle, Paris and Jersey being some of the destinations that would be regularly frequented by the two Dakotas. As winter approached, passenger flights began to slow down while the number of freight flights remained relatively stable. Indeed, during the rest of the year Crewsair would move everything from pigeons to pilgrims and engines to engineering equipment for the telecommunications industry and by the end of 1950, the airline had flown far and wide to such locations as Bordeaux, Ghent, Johannesburg, Lourdes, Nairobi, N’dola, Paris and Rome. In October it was contracted to move some of the Halle Orchestra to Lisbon, while a good number of marine crew flights would also keep the aircraft busy up to and including the Christmas period when the planes would eventually head off to warmer climes on winter sun tours and a small number of charters to Rome and Karachi.

Needless to say, the work would not let up and while the early months of 1951 were quieter with just a few charters to Basle and a couple of French destinations in January, more marine crew movements were undertaken in February and with the addition of the regular textile work for Lep, things were hotting up. By the end of February, a vast number of bookings had been taken and it was envisioned that Crewsair’s flight schedule would be stretched to the limit. It was then that the decision was taken by Lep to provide Crewsair with a dedicated aircraft (Viking G-AHOP) so that the company could continue to fly their textile charters without having to worry about aircraft availability. March would see shoes moved to Zurich, pilgrims transported to Jerusalem and skiers flown to Oslo, while April would see a number of the previous year’s flights replayed with more ship crew flights and another trip to Karachi for the Pakistani Government, while further skiing charters would keep things busy for the rest of the month.

The summer would bring yet more charter work, with a multitude of flights being operated to many parts of Africa. However during October 1951, T.D. ‘Mike Keegan and most of the original Crewsair board would resign from the airline and go on to set up their own separate company the following January, which would come to be known as Crewsair (Engineering) Ltd. The group were given Dakota G-AIWE in lieu of their shares, and this aircraft would later go on to be used to start Keegan’s next Southend based venture – namely B.K.S. but that of course is another story. As far as the remaining airline wing was concerned, much of 1952 would see Crewsair flying on government contracts and in particular, NAAFI flights to the Middle East and East Africa, with regular ad-hoc charters to tie them over in the meantime. A multitude of skiing charters were undertaken to Norway in April and by the end of the month, the Vikings were once again heading off to Africa.

However, the end of April would also see Crewsair moving the centre of its operations to Blackbushe from where most of its governmental contract flights would now fly to and from, although ad-hoc charters and student flights would still be flown infrequently from Southend during the summer. Yet, despite this airline’s apparent financial success, it was actually beginning to struggle and at the end of October 1952 the decision had been taken to suspend operations permanently. The airline name survived the winter of 1952/53 however by the time that February had arrived the company had been closed down completely.

 

Crewsair Highlights…

Mar 1950

Crewsair begins operations from Southend on the 23rd transporting an aircraft engine to Basra

A year long contract for Lep Air Services begins hauling textiles from Lille to Southend

Apr 1950

The first livestock flight take place which carries a variety of animals to Treviso

Jun 1950

Crewsair opens its maintenance base at Southend. Maintenance had previously been provided by ATEL

Nov 1950

Charters to Amsterdam and Johannesburg with ship’s crews and speed racers later return to SEN with 50 university students

Dec 1950

Crewsair flies its first winter I.T. tours to Milan, Rome and Paris

NAAFI flight to Johannesburg

Charter on behalf of the Pakistani Government flying personnel to Karachi

Feb 1951

Transports a helicopter to Durban and returns with another for repair

May 1951

Football team charters are undertaken which include the transport of Rotherham Utd and the Yugoslavian National Team

Jun 1951

The airline buys an Avro Anson which is later used for communication work and minor charters

Aug 1951

Dakota G-AIWE makes a gear up landing due to u/c failure. She is quickly repaired and returned to service

Oct 1951

Piper Cub J-3C – G-AIYX purchased and used as a runaround/company hack

Jan 1952

Having resigned from the Crewsair board in Oct ’51, ‘Mike’ Keegan and several other directors start their own separate company ‘Crewsair (Engineering) Ltd’ at Southend

Mar 1952

Crewsair runs NAAFI flights to the Suez region with two of its Vikings

Apr 1952

Another government contract is awarded which involves the transport of armed forces personnel and their families to West Africa

Most operations moved to Blackbushe

Jul 1952

Flew a large number of students to Paris, Copenhagan and N’dola

Viking G-AHON is written off after suffering engine failure at Luqa, Malta on 25/7/52 – The bulk of the aircraft was eventually transported back to Southend by sea and road only for her to be blown off of her trestles in high winds while at SEN – The fuselage was later transferred to Blackbushe

Aug 1952

The entire month is spent mostly on trooping contracts

One Viking flies to Kano with a full load of cardboard boxes

Sept 1952

Passengers flown from Southend to Lusaka and returns via Blackbushe with troops

Oct 1952

Crewair suspends all services during the last week of this month

 

Crewsair fleet while based at SEN

Avro 652 Anson

G-ALUR – 6/50 to 3/52

Sold in Finland as OH-ANA

Douglas C-47/DC-3 Dakota

G-AIWE – 6/50 to 11/51

Leased from Skyways – Transferred to LEP Air Services and continued to fly from SEN on their behalf for several weeks until leased in Kuwait during December 1951

G-ALVZ – 1/50 to 4/51

Sold to Malayan Airways as VR-SDD

Vickers 498 Viking

G-AHON – 12/51 to 7/52

(Carried serial no WZ973 for trooping)

Leased from Trans World Charter – DBR at Luqa, Malta 7/52

G-AHOP – 3/51 to 9/52

Carried serial no WZ972 for trooping – Bought by LEP 11/51 but remained with Crewsair

Sold to Airwork Ltd

G-AHOT – 8/52 to 2/53

Sold to Eagle Aviation Ltd

G-AHOV – 3/51 to 2/52

(NTU – WFU 1/52 and used for spares – B/U by 2/52)

G-AHOW – 8/52 to 11/52

Sold to Eagle Aviation Ltd

 

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