CAB History

CAB small

Operated at SEN from Oct 1954 to Jan 1959 (as a wing of Air Charter)

Operated at SEN from Jan 1959 to Jan 1963 (as a separate concern)

Founders/Directors – Mr Freddie Laker (until Jan 1959) then a subsidiary of BUA

Channel Air Bridge or more correctly ‘Air Bridge’ began life at Southend airport during 1954 as a high frequency, cross-Channel, passenger, vehicle and freight service run by airline Air Charter Ltd. Having been impressed by Silver City’s success with such routes, Freddie Laker – a name that was already synonymous with Southend aviation and aircraft engineering, wanted to expand into these short hop ferry services while retaining his ever expanding airline – Air Charter – for long distance, trooping, cargo and charter flights. The company started out with a mixture of two Bristol Mk31E Freighters (which were later converted to Mk32s) and two Mk 32 Superfreighters which officially began flying cars and their passengers, back and forth across the Channel in the spring of 1955.

The airline would go on to operate the three, heavily trafficked routes of Calais, Ostend and Rotterdam although its B170 aircraft would also carry out a multitude of ad-hoc passenger and cargo charters. However, in January 1959, Laker sold his assets to Airwork and it wasn’t until the following month that for the first time, CAB would become an airline in its own right. On the 25th of this month, all Bristol 170s were transferred from Air Charter to CAB and painted in a not too dissimilar red and white Channel Air Bridge livery. The airline operated for just over a year under Airwork which then merged with Hunting Clan to become British United Airways. However, for the next two years, Channel Air Bridge would remain as a separate entity, even though it was still part of this group. With the acquisition of Silver City in Jan 1962, it would be merged with CAB exactly one year later and relaunched under the BUAF banner.

“A late 1950’s picture of the ACL filling station at SEN with the original car ferry unit directly behind and the huts which housed the Car Marshall’s crew room, loader’s rest room, export & import offices, blanket & catering store and chain store. The chain store was where all the spare chains and strainers – ‘Gruncher’s’ as they were known – were kept. These were used on the A/C to lash the cars down to the hold floor. On the extreme top left is the end of the Channel Airways hangar”. – Peter Clark


A 1959/60 picture of the CAB departure car park prior to the new CAB reception and three story Car Ferry Unit being built which adjoined the original car ferry unit seen on the left behind the white Austin A 40. Behind the Triumph TR2 is the white coated parking attendant who was generally always on hand to help the passengers with both their cars & any directions that they might need. – Peter Clark


Fleet Livery

During its nigh on 5 year tenure, as an independent airline, CAB’s aircraft bore one livery, it’s earlier services (1954-58) being operated by Air Charter aircraft. (See ‘Air Charter History’ for more details).


‘Red and White’ livery


For much of its history the Channel Air Bridge aircraft would operate in the livery of its parent company Air Charter Ltd. It was only after Laker’s disposal of the airline to the Airwork Group in January 1959 that things began to change and during the Spring of ’59, its Bristol 170s would begin to receive a new livery. However, no doubt in an attempt to retain a semblance of brand identity, the livery would not change radically, while the colours would remain the same. In essence, the double red cheat lines of ACL became one solid, thick line which was positioned slightly lower down on the fuselage, while more of the upper part of the aircraft was refinished in white.


A Comprehensive History of CAB…

Sep 1954

‘Air Bridge’ is formed as an Air Charter Ltd service and begins a series of proving flights across the Channel

Apr 1955

‘Air Bridge’ services begin to operate cross-Channel services for vehicles and freight between Southend and Calais with Air Charter B170s

Oct 1955

One further route is added – Southend to Ostend

Summer 1956

“ACL Bristol 170 Freighter Mk-31 G-AMSA ‘’Voyager’’ (Prior conversion to a Mk-32) at SEN loading Autair Helicopter Sikorsky S-51 G-AJOR in the Summer of 1956 which was later flown to Mestervig, Greenland, to carry out survey work for a mining company.  At the time, this was thought to have been the furthest north that a B 170 had ever operated as Mestervig is approx 1400 miles from the North Pole”. – Peter Clark

Oct 1956

A third route is added – Southend to Rotterdam

ac56-1aTimetable for Winter 1956 (© Björn Larsson –

Apr 1957

Air Charter purchases the last of its B170 Superfreighters which brings the total to 9 aircraft. All but one are put to work on the CAB routes

Jun 1957

Joint operations between Southend and Ostend commence in partnership with Sabena

Apr 1958

CAB begins its daily ‘coach-air’ service from London to Ostend via Southend

Dec 1958

CAB carries approx 18,500 cars and 86,600 passengers back and forth across the Channel during 1958

Jan 1959

Air Charter Ltd and Aviation Traders are sold by Freddie Laker to the Airwork Group

Feb 1959

Channel Air Bridge becomes an airline in its own right having been acquired by the Airwork group as part of Air Charter Ltd

Apr 1959

cab59-1acab59-2acab59-3cTimetable for Summer 1959 (© Björn Larsson –

Dec 1959

CAB carries approx 20,000 cars and 100,000 passengers back and forth across the Channel during 1959

Jul 1960

Parent airline Airwork merges with Hunting Clan and becomes British United Airways (BUA)

Oct 1960

Further CAB ‘deep penetration’ routes are approved. Four services from Southend to Strasbourg, Lyons, Bremen and Dusseldorf will employ Carvair and B170 equipment

Mar 1961

CAB 61aCAB 61b










Timetable for Summer 1961 (© Björn Larsson –

Dec 1961

Total passenger numbers for the year – 265,000

Jan 1962

Flight International does a 4-1/2 page spread on the ongoing operations of Channel Air Bridge and its new Carvair

Read more here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Feb 1962

To great fanfare, Aviation Traders delivers the first Carvair G-ANYB to CAB on the 16th Feb 1962

Mar 1962

Carvair services to Rotterdam begin and a proving flight is made to Geneva

Apr 1962

During the first week of April, services to Switzerland begin with twice weekly flights to Geneva and Basle.

The first service to Basle was fully booked with 5 cars and 25 passengers. Amongst the cars was an Aston Martin DB4 and a 1910 Rolls Royce, vehicles similar to those used in the famous Carvair segment in the 007 film ‘Goldfinger’. However, that particular flight would not take place until 1963


Timetable for Summer 1962 (© Björn Larsson –

Jun 1962

The long awaited Strasbourg service starts after months of deliberation by the French

Oct 1962

Channel Air Bridge becomes British United Air Ferries

Dec 1962

Figures for 1962 show a total of almost 4,000 cars and 10,600 passengers were carried on the new Basle and Geneva services

Jan 1963

CAB and Silver City officially merge and become BUAF

See ‘BUAF History’ for more details


Do you have any other, interesting snippets of information about this airline’s history or indeed, any pictures or paraphernalia that you would like to share? If so, then please contact us on

Many thanks from the SAAD Admin Team.