Air Charter


Operated at SEN from Oct 1951 to Jun 1960

Director – Mr. Freddie Laker

Air Charter began life at Bovingdon in March 1947 under the ownership of Mr. Johannes Mahieu, flying an assortment of charters from both this airfield and Croydon airport. However, by 1951 this airline was rapidly going into decline and was subsequently sold on as a going concern to Mr. Freddie Laker who had been operating Aviation Traders from the same airfield since October 1947. Both ATL’s and Air Charter’s base of operations were subsequently moved to Southend and Stansted in October of that year and with the purchase of ACL came Surrey Flying Services which had been acquired by the airline earlier in the year. Don Bennett’s failing Fairflight had also been added to the ACL inventory by the end of 1951, providing Laker with a number of useful aircraft and lucrative routes which he could use to further expand operations, not to mention help somewhat with his tax returns.

From the outset, ACL involved itself primarily with government contracts which necessitated the movement of freight within Germany. The year 1952 also saw its aircraft becoming involved in the ‘Mini Berlin Airlift’ while a number of its Yorks and later its Bristol Freighters would spend a good deal of the early to mid-1950s based in Germany mostly operating in and out of Berlin and Hamburg. Otherwise, its aircraft would also operate ‘Waterguard’ trooping flights from Southend to the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, while long distance charters would often take its Tudors to the other side of the world in support of top secret British missile testing that was being carried out in Woomera, Australia.

From 1955, Air Charter would in essence become two companies, each with its own separate remit. On one hand the airline’s Yorks, Tudors and later its C-54s were primarily reserved for the aforementioned governmental contracts which operated from both Southend and Stansted, while its newly acquired Bristol Freighters were kept busy at Southend hauling passengers, vehicles and freight back and forth across the Channel under its ‘Air Bridge’ banner. Both companies were finally sold to Airwork at the beginning of 1959 although Air Charter and Channel Air Bridge continued to operate as separate concerns until they were absorbed into the reformed British United during June 1960. As such, the aircraft owned by these companies would go on to operate for British United Air Ferries, although this longer version of the British United name was never actually applied to any of its aircraft.


Air Charter Livery

Laker’s Air Charter operated its aircraft in one livery only. While its ‘Air Bridge’ service may have more increasingly operated as an associate airline to ACL, its equipment would nevertheless continue to fly adorned in the Air Charter livery until Airwork’s takeover when Channel Air Bridge finally being given its own not too dissimilar scheme in 1960. As such, the lower half of ACL’s aircraft was generally left in a bare metal finish while the top was painted white with the addition of a single and later, a double red cheat line running the full length of the fuselage. Meanwhile, the area immediately in front of the cockpit was usually painted black or red to alleviate glare.

1951 to 1960

Silver, Red and White Livery

Air Charter B170


A Comprehensive History of Air Charter Ltd.

Oct 1951

Having purchased Air Charter Ltd. during 1951, Freddie Laker moves both this new acquisition and his own company ATL from Bovingdon and Croydon to Southend and Stansted. Other acquisitions during this year included Surrey Flying Services and Fairflight whose equipment and services continued to operate for Air Charter albeit still under their own banners

Jun 1952

The ‘Surrey Flying Services’ and ‘Fairflight’ names start to disappear as they are absorbed into Air Charter

Jul 1952

Operating alongside Silver City, ACL makes an average of 60 trips per week with its Yorks on the ‘Mini Berlin Airlift’

Aug 1952

Flights undertaken to Lusaka (Crewsair contract) and Johannesburg (Tropic Airways contract)

Fifty four freight flights flown between Tempelhof and Hamburg (with Silver City)

One Tudor makes an insecticide trip to Tokyo. The same aircraft later hauls freight between Hong Kong and Bombay

Sep 1952

ACL’s four Yorks make 35 trips per week to Berlin

A small number of charter flights carried out on behalf of BEA

Oct 1952

As many as 42 flights per week continue in and out of Berlin (mostly passenger flights)

The airline also lifts more than 200 tons of cargo to Hamburg

Nov 1952

Airlift flights within Germany increase to 32 cargo flights to Hamburg and 28 passenger flights to Hanover

Dec 1952

Weekly airlift figures increase again to 23 and 47 passenger and cargo flights respectively

One York sent to Singapore with Air Ministry supplies

During 1952, Air Charter flies more than 9,900 passengers and more than 4-1/4 million, revenue ton miles

Feb 1953

The first Bristol 170 Freighter goes into service with ACL

Mar 1953

The fleet includes:

8 x Avro York

4 x Avro Tudor

1 x Douglas DC-3

1 x Bristol 170 Freighter

1 x D.H. Dragon Rapide

Dec 1953

More than 12,500 passengers and almost 28,000 tons of freight are carried during 1953

Feb 1954

The first of Air Charter’s ATEL modified Tudors goes into service on a Stansted to Hamburg service

Jun 1954

Air Charter wins 50% of a government contract to transport troops between the U.K. and the Suez region. The routes are initially flown with Avro Yorks and later with C-54s

Sep 1954

Air Charter’s inaugural Southend to Calais ‘Air Bridge’ car ferry service takes place. The Mayor of Southend travelled on the flight along with a delegation and his ceremonial vehicle

Oct 1954

ACL takes over the Suez Zone trooping contract which had previously been flown by Skyways

Feb 1955

The first C-54 arrives from the U.S. – These aircraft later take over the governmental contracts operated by the Tudors and Yorks

Mar 1955

Engaged on trooping flights with its York fleet

Timetable for 1955

© Björn Larsson (

Apr 1955

Air Charter officially begins its ‘Air Bridge’ car ferry service to Calais

Jun 1955

As many as 24 crossings a day are being flown by the ‘Air Bridge’ service

Oct 1955

A second ‘Air Bridge’ route is added between Southend and Ostend

Mar 1956

The fleet includes:

2 x Avro York

6 x Avro Tudor

3 x Bristol 170 Mk31

2 x Bristol 170 Mk32

2 x Douglas C-54

Jul 1956

One of Britain’s earliest continental courier services begins in the form of ‘Truckair’ – a partnership between Air Charter and Atlas Air Services. This service involved freight being collected from around the U.K. which was then delivered to Southend. This freight was then flown to the Continent in ACL’s Bristol Freighters where trucks would meet it and take it on to its final destination. A delivery time of 40 hours or less was quoted

Sep 1956

ACL’s first ‘Round the World’ flight takes place

Oct 1956

‘Air Bridge’ flights to Rotterdam begin

Dec 1956

Around 9,000 cars are carried across the Channel during 1956 (8,500 accompanied and 500 new cars)

May 1957

The fleet includes:

6 x Avro Tudor

6 x Bristol 170 Mk32

3 x Bristol 170 Mk31

3 x Douglas C-54

Jun 1957

Services run in partnership with SABENA start to operate between Southend and Ostend/Rotterdam

Late 1957

Tudor flights on behalf of the Ministry of Defence begin to Woomera, (Adelaide) Australia carrying rocket parts

Dec 1957

During 1957, the ‘Air Bridge’ routes carries 50,000 passengers and 18,000 vehicles (around 11,200 accompanied and 6,800 new cars)

Apr 1958

Daily ‘Coach-Air’ services begin – Coaches are tasked with collecting passengers from Euston which then take them to Southend for onward flights to Calais, Ostend and Rotterdam

Channel Air Bridge finally becomes a separate entity

Jul 1958

More than 100 services cross the Channel daily with around 70% of these operating between Southend and Calais

Extra weekend services are added to the ‘Coach Air’ routes at weekends between July & August

Oct 1958

The first of ACL’s Britannias goes into service on trooping flights

Dec 1958

Around 13,000 accompanied cars are transported during 1958

Freddie Laker sells all of his business concerns including Air Charter to the Airwork Group. However, he would later emerge as a director of the B.U.A. Group (1960-65)

Jan 1959

Air Charter becomes part of Airwork

Tudor G-AGRG destroyed by fire while taking off at Brindisi, Italy

Mar 1959

‘No-Passport’ day trips begin to Calais – Bristol Freighters are fitted out with 24 seats leaving room for one car or cargo while a C-54 with a 74 seat cabin is reserved to fly extra passenger services. Prices are 77s 6d from London and 70s from Southend. Departures from SEN (depending on the time of year) are at 08:00, 09:40 & 11:20 with return trips taking place at 17:20, 19:00 & 20:40 respectively. Arrangements made with the General Steam Navigation Company would also permit passengers to return to the U.K. by sea if they so desired

Apr 1959

Another Tudor is lost – This time G-AGRH which flies into the side of Mount Suphan in Turkey as a result of a navigational error

Nov 1959

The last ACL Tudor makes her final flight to Southend where she is removed from service and later scrapped

Jan 1960

Air Charter looks to train-air services and enters into discussion with Southend Council about the construction of a railway station at the airport. However, nothing comes of the plan

Apr 1960

The fleet includes:

2 x Bristol Britannia

3 x Douglas C-54

8 x Bristol 170 Mk32 (CAB)

1 x Bristol 170 Mk31 (CAB)

Jun 1960

The Air Charter Limited name disappears as it is absorbed into B.U.A.


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