T.D. ‘Mike’ Keegan

Managing Director of Crewsair from Mar 1950 to Oct 1951

Managing Director of B.K.S. from Feb 1952 to Mid-1954

Managing Director of Continental Air Transport from Dec 1959 to Oct 1960

Managing Director of BAF from Oct 1971 to Mar 1983

With thanks to Peter Clark for sourcing the image above

There are several names that come to mind whenever SEN’s most influential personalities become the topic of conversation and quite naturally, one of those names would be that of T.D. ‘Mike’ Keegan. Thomas Keegan was born in Liverpool during 1925 and after finishing his education immediately became involved with aviation, building Wellington bombers as part of his apprenticeship. This no doubt led to his interest in not only the running of airlines, but that of aircraft engineering, something that Mike would become well renowned for over the years. Needless to say with war looming, it wasn’t long before he was inducted into the RAF and much like many of SEN’s other aviation celebrities, was soon doing his bit for the cause, serving on Lancasters as a flight engineer. It was also in the RAF that he gained the name ‘Mike’ which would stick with him throughout the rest of his aviation career.

Needless to say, after the war Keegan left the RAF and jumped straight into civil aviation where he would earn his pilots licence, not to mention begin to make a name for himself within the airline industry itself. After a two year stint with Starways, Mike along with three other associates came to Southend and in 1950 they formed Crewsair, a small airline which in a somewhat unusual state of affairs saw the profits being divided proportionately between the company’s management and its employees. Engineering solutions were performed by Starways until the end of 1951 when directors Mike Keegan, James Barnaby and Cyril Stevens left Crewsair and started an engineering firm at Southend called Crewsair (Engineering) and while now a separate concern to the airline, it would nevertheless still look after the Crewsair fleet of aircraft.

As a form of recompense for their share of the airline, the three former directors were handed one of Crewsair’s C-47 Dakotas, which was summarily put to work initially on behalf of Starways who chartered the aircraft for services in Kuwait. However, bigger things were to come and by February 1952, the three directors Barnaby, Keegan and Stevens had established B.K.S. Aero Charter, which would eventually go on to become one of Britain’s largest independents. In the meantime however, Crewsair (Engineering) became B.K.S. Engineering and both wings of the company began to expand rapidly from their base at Southend. Towards the mid-50s, B.K.S. began to shift their flight operations to Leeds and Newcastle, although the engineering base would remain at SEN under the leadership of Mike.

By 1960, more changes would take place as the airline and engineering wings of B.K.S. became separate concerns and as a result, Mike became the owner of the latter although somewhat inevitably, it would continue to provide the airline with its services until the closure of the Southend facility in 1969. In the meantime, Keegan began to involve himself with other concerns, beginning with the take over of Continental Air Services at the end of 1959 which had been transferred to Southend by the beginning of 1960. At about the same time, Mike had also started a spares, leasing and holding company (the first of many) which came to be known as Kay Rings and as such, his aviation assets would be distributed between Southend, Luton and Panshanger Aerodrome while others were registered to a number of holding companies which you can find listed below.

The next milestone in Mike Keegan’s career would see him leaving the airline side of the business at Southend for a short while as he became instrumental in the set up of Trans-Meridian at Stansted. As a major shareholder, he would offer technical advice through another of his companies, namely Keegan Aviation and would also provide the airline with its first aircraft through Trans-World Leasing. Needless to say, with Keegan’s strong ties to Southend, Trans-Meridian’s aircraft would become a regular sight at SENs maintenance facilities during the 1960s. By late 1967, Mike Keegan had become chairman of the company and set to work expanding it to include a considerable fleet of CL-44 freighters which could operate to countries worldwide.

Mike’s eventual return to Southend would come during October 1971 when he purchased British Air Ferries from the Air Holdings Group. Having only Carvairs in its fleet, the airline was ailing and despite initial efforts to restart the car-ferry services he would over the next few years go on to transform this airline with ageing outdated aircraft that were of limited use into a modern, turboprop equipped operator of numerous scheduled and charter services that were not only operated from Southend, but from other airports around the country too. Keegan would also be responsible for giving numerous ex-British Airways Viscounts a second wind when in 1981, he purchased 11 of these aircraft that were still extremely popular with both passengers and crews alike.

Other pursuits would see Mike getting involved with Formula 3 after he purchased a majority share of Hawke Racing which was then summarily relocated to Southend, the company bus becoming something of a permanent feature on Aviation Way from the mid-70s. In fact, it was Mike’s son Rupert who had become something of a dab hand behind the wheel and Keegan saw to it that he was sponsored and provided with a competitive vehicle. Such exploits eventually bore fruit in 1979 when Rupert won a championship title, but sadly the company would be forced to close in the same year. Rumours also abound of Hawke carrying out a small number of coach conversions at the airport, these coaches being transformed into mobile racing team transporters, although such stories remain unconfirmed.

Ultimately at heart, Mike was a fun loving individual who came up with a number of radical ideas to take the tedium out of long flights, even going as far as to suggest in-flight casinos aboard his larger CL-44s. He was generally well liked and respected by the many people that he worked with, no doubt as a result of his down to earth personality and approach, although legend has it that he was also a somewhat tempestuous, no nonsense kind of guy and if he was having a bad day, he’d don his signature red jacket as a way of letting you know to keep off of the grass. By June 1977, Mike had sold Transmeridian to Cunard and in 1983, financial woes at SEN saw BAF being taken over by the Jadepoint Group. However, the Keegan aviation era would finally come to an end just two years later when at the age of 60, Mike retired to his villa in Spain where he would remain until sadly passing away in March 2003 at the age of 77 and as such, the airport would lose yet another of its aviation personalities who did their part in making the airport such a wonderful place to work during the ‘Golden Era of SEN’.


Other companies with SEN links which T.D.’Mike’ Keegan owned or ran included:

African Safari Travel Ltd

Airline Air Spares

Bembridge Air Hire

Bembridge Car Hire

B.K.S. Engineering

BAF Engineering

Crewsair Engineering

Hants & Suffolk Aviation

Hawke Spares

Kay Rings

Keegan Aviation

Keegan Leasing and Management

Keystone Finance

Killyspae Ltd

Staymond Investments

Trans-World Leasing


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