SEN Hangars

Naturally, no airport would be complete without the addition of hangars with which the local airlines and companies could use for the storage, maintenance and refinishing of aircraft or indeed, for other aviation related businesses and operations. The very first hangar appeared at Southend before WWII with the airfield during the later war years becoming a RAF Maintenance Unit. Post-war expansion started shortly afterwards with three Bellman hangars going up in quick succession on the southern perimeter of the airfield while around the turn of the ’60s, an area north of the main runway was designated for the construction of further hangars. Meanwhile, two of the three Bellmans on the south side would eventually be replaced or recycled into purpose built facilities. As of 2018, Southend has a total of 10 major hangars and a handful of smaller ones which are only suitable for smaller G.A. types. This page will attempt to cover the former group in  more detail.

SMFS Hangar

With the return of post-war civil flying, this pre-war ‘Dutch Barn’ style hangar was taken over by Southend Municipal Flying School who successfully ran their operations from here between 1947 and 1964. While there is no evidence of any further aeronautical usage after this time, a number of companies would set up shop around the hangar. Several of SEN’s freight and shipping companies would then use this hangar primarily for the storage of pallets and other shipping materials. Examples of these companies or organisations included the Flarepath Club,  John Samuel Shipping and Transport Company and the ‘Greasy Spoon’ cafe, this latter building finally being taken over by Skylane around 1984 which remained there until the company’s demise in 1993. This hangar and its surrounding buildings then languished for a couple of years before being pulled down in 1995. As of 2017, the Holiday Inn now stands on this site.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before more hangars began to appear on the airport and by the mid-1960s, SEN had a total of seven hangars – the SMFS hangar above, three on the southern perimeter and three on the area that is now known as the ‘North Side’. However, a period of major reconstruction during the early 1960s would witness some of these hangars being replaced while others would find themselves being used for other purposes. Below you will find the rest of the SEN hangars along with an unofficial numbering system that I have used to make identifying each hangar a little easier.

Image courtesy of Infoterra Ltd & Bluesky

Bellman Hangar (No.1)

This was the first and most easterly of three Bellman hangars to be built on the southern perimeter of the airfield, it also being the nearest hangar to the original terminal. These structures were produced in some numbers for military airfields as a system with prefabricated steel lattice column and rafter sections that could be bolted together to produce frames. They were later superseded by the T2 hangar which was of a similar column/rafter section design and because of that, these two types are often confused with each other. Indeed, the standard Bellman roof sections are comprised of top and bottom members with diagonal and semi-vertical braces between, whereas T2 standard sections have only diagonal braces between the top & bottom members. The standard Bellman had dimensions of 90ft x 175ft although lengths did vary being as bays could be added and/or removed to fit each site.

Built during the early stages of the war, this hangar was initially occupied by East Anglian Flying Services (later Channel Airways) with the recommencement of civil flying in 1947. It is believed that other, early SEN based airlines may have temporarily used this Bellman too, although by the late 1950s, 2/3 of it was being used by EAFS/Channel while the other 1/3 was being used by aircraft parts company Airline Spares. However around 1961-1962, Channel moved its engineering base to the newly constructed, purpose built, Sanders & Forster Ltd ‘North Side Hangar 1’ (No.4) and the now vacant Bellman was then converted into a freight shed for H.M. Customs & Excise. As of 2018, this hangar still stands and after the removal of many of the brick, WWII structures on the eastern perimeter, it is now arguably the oldest building to remain on the airport.

ATEL Hangar (No.2)

It was around 1940 that a second Bellman hangar was constructed just to the west of the hangar above and in the post-war years that followed, it became the home of leasing and engineering company Aviation Traders run by the flamboyant Freddie Laker. During the late 1940s & early 1950s, this hangar would witness the conversion, overhaul and servicing of a number of Vickers Vikings for B.W.I.A. and several Handley Page Halifax and Halton airframes, the latter of which ATL itself had snapped up from surplus M.o.S. stock with some of them later being put to work on the Berlin Airlift. At the time, Laker lacked an airline wing and thus leased and maintained some of these aircraft primarily to Bond Air Services, for an equal share of their operational profits. The remaining aircraft which had been parked up around the hangar were then either sold on or reduced to scrap, the last (G-AHDS) being broken up during March 1952.

With the acquisition of Air Charter in 1951, this hangar would then play host to Avro Yorks, Avro Tudors and later, the Channel Air Bridge B170 fleet too. However by the late 1950s, the small size of this structure was limiting the amount of work that ATEL could take on and thus the decision was taken to remove and replace it with a much larger, custom built facility. With a considerable building area being available to the west of this Bellman, construction started on the two western sections in 1959 and was expanded eastwards with the frames of the two eastern bays being built around the existing Bellman, due to the fact that prototype Carvair G-ANYB was still under construction and could not be removed from its jig. However, with the completion of the Carvair, the frame of the Bellman was then removed and ATEL now found itself to be the proud owner of a purpose built facility with four large bays each of which could accommodate a Bristol Britannia.

As such, these bays unofficially came to be known as ‘Bays 1 to 4’ respectively with the two eastern bays gaining the name ‘Minor Main’ both of which were used for checks and light maintenance while the two western bays came to be known as ‘Major Main’ and were used for extensive overhauls and heavy maintenance. Around this time, ATEL Products would also make a home for itself in the south-eastern corner of the building while running along the rear of the hangars were the ATEL workshops and offices. With ATEL’s departure in 1976, the hangars stood empty for a short time before being taken over by Britavia/Heavylift Engineering and Refurbishair. During this period, they would play host to a large number of classic airliners that visited SEN in ever increasing numbers. With the collapse of Heavylift in 2002, the hangars were then taken over by ATC Lasham who continued to service mostly classic jetliners although with the departure of this company in 2016 and with the exception of Avionicare which took over part of this facility in November of this year, much of it remained empty. However, as of 2019 it would seem that at least part of it is now being used by Stobart’s Jet Centre.


B.K.S. Hangar (No.3)

Around 1951, the third and final Bellman hangar was constructed on the southern perimeter, a short distance to the west of the ATEL hangar and was from the outset used by local SEN airline Crewsair who in October of that year, opened their own engineering firm (Crewsair Engineering) under the stewardship of Southend stalwart T.D. ‘Mike’ Keegan. The engineering division later parted ways with the airline and in August 1952 the company became B.K.S. Engineering which remained under Keegan’s management. However, in 1960 the airline and engineering divisions went their own separate ways and the B.K.S. facility at Southend would in effect become a stand alone entity, although it was still charged with maintaining the B.K.S. fleet.

With ever larger aircraft such as Britannias joining B.K.S., some time between late 1964 & early 1965 the Bellman was partially pulled down with certain elements being rearranged or reused to provide a purpose built hangar with two bays big enough to accommodate such airframes, the first known Britannia arrival to the ‘new’ hangar taking place during April 1965. As Ian Anderson notes ”The normal Bellman comprises a lattice framed portal frame with column and rafter sections and a central ridge. Bays 5 & 6 have Bellman column sections at the back with Bellman rafter sections as secondary members spanning back to front doors, with an intermediate supporting lattice girder spanning side to side plus one over the doors. Quite novel recycling! Bay 5 had an exposed frame, whereas Bay 6 had been clad with fireproofing, so I am assuming that they are of similar construction.”

However, by late 1969 and with an increasing number of jets joining B.K.S. the airline started transferring their engineering needs elsewhere and in October 1970, B.K.S. Engineering’s SEN base closed for good, Viscount G-APEY being the very last aircraft to use the facility. Being in such close proximity to ATEL, its products department took over this facility in 1974 and it unofficially came to be known as ‘Bays 5 & 6’. It was here that this company would begin the full scale production of Hylo lifters and other airport machinery such as baggage belts and aircraft stairs. Eventually, with ATEL’s closure at SEN in 1976 and its resultant relocation to Stansted, the now separate company ATEL Products became Avia-Lift which was then subsequently taken over by the newly reformed Airwork around 1987.

It would appear that it was around this time that these hangars were then temporarily abandoned. Needless to say, they would not remain empty for long and they were eventually occupied by aircraft refinishing company Air Livery which primarily used ‘Hangar 6’ although when things got busy the front of ‘Hangar 5’ was also used from time to time, this otherwise being used by local airline Flightline. At the turn of the 2000s, Air Livery vacated ‘Hangars 5 & 6’ and took over hangar 7 (as numbered above) on the north side of the airport and it is believed that from this point on, these two hangars were used for the storage of packaging materials. However, in 2017 Stobart’s expansion plans necessitated the clearance of much of the remaining eastern perimeter area for a long-term parking lot and as a consequence ‘Hangar 6’ would become home to the VRT’s Vulcan XL426. Air Livery also temporarily returned to use a single bay after a hangar fire during the same year (see S.M.A.C. hangar below).

North Side Hangar 1 (No.4)

Constructed between 1959 & 1960 by Sanders and Forster of Stratford, this brand new 220ft x 130ft purpose built, 8 door hangar was built primarily to house Channel Airways’ current fleet of DC-3 and Viking aircraft, although powered gable end shutter doors enabled any aircraft with a tail that was 32ft tall or less to enter. Channel would remain here until February 1972 when the airline finally went into administration. This site (especially the area around it) was then cleared and by the following year, BAF had taken over the running of this hangar, with Mike Keegan appointing former ATEL engineer Sid Clark as chief engineer. You can read more about BAF’s tenure and this engineering company’s history until c.2001 by clicking here. With the winding up of World Aviation Support in 2001, this hangar was finally taken over by Inflite Services which remains there as of 2018.

North Side Hangar 2 (No.5)

This hangar was built around 1960 with construction finishing a short time after north side hangar 1 above. Having been confined to the eastern perimeter while having to rely on B.K.S. for engineering work, this structure would go on to host Tradair’s own fleet although other aircraft including Air Links’ Hermes would also be serviced and maintained here too. With Tradair’s collapse in December 1962 and as part of the take over deal agreed with its receiver, the hangar passed into the hands of Channel Airways who used it mostly for aircraft storage although a number of long term overhauls were undertaken here too. However in February 1972, Channel finally met its own demise and having been something of a disorganised airline, a mass clear up of broken airframes (a list of these can be found on the EAFS/Channel history page) including Dragon Rapides, Herons, Viscounts, a Comet and a rather rare Short Scion which had been left to languish outside for more than a decade was undertaken. Needless to say, this work took a number of months to complete.

By the spring of 1974, part of this hangar had been taken over by Helicopter Hire and its engineering wing Helicopter Maintenance Ltd while Diamond International also set up shop there at around the same time. However, this hangar still had plenty of space available and by the end of the 1970s, Thames Estuary Flying Club had established an engineering facility at the northern end of the hangar, this being run by engineer Ahmad Jahanfar. Giltspur Shipping/Channelflow had made a home for itself here too, this possibly having occurred prior to Heli-Hire’s arrival. However, Heli Hire was eventually wound up at the end of 1986 with the now vacant space being taken over by Southend based airline National Airways, although with several fatal accidents including one departing from Southend severely affecting the airline, it quickly went into decline and by 1989 NCA was no more and its operations had been taken over by Regionair. It was also in the same year that Thames Estuary finally closed its doors. 

It would seem that over the next few years this vacant space was used for storage, painting and overhauls, the latter of which involved the restoration and renovation of Douglas A-26 Invader 44-34172 belonging to the Cadman brothers. Air Livery would also use this hangar on occasion for refinishing work. The hangar was then later acquired by the Laing O’Rourke construction company and run by John Mason. Moving into the 21st century a number of companies spent various periods of time in the hangar including 24/7 Jet, Aircraft Component Repair Services and Kudos with JOTA Aviation then taking over the hangarage used by Kudos after its demise. By July 2013, this facility had been leased out to Avionicare, although due in part to a dispute, a number of companies including JOTA vacated the premises and moved elsewhere. Avionicare finally departed in November 2016 and relocated to the former ATC Lasham hangar on the southern perimeter.

Harvestair Hangar (No.6A)

Three small hangars occupy the north-western corner of the airport and are the newest to have been constructed on SEN’s north side. The first of these, (the hangar furthest to to west) was initially occupied by Harvestair, but with the tragic loss of company director Nigel Brendish in 1987, many of its assets were then taken over by Regionair/Navco and they subsequently moved into this hangar. With the winding up of Navco, R.F.S. Engineering/Flightline would then spend a short time here before relocating to hangar 5 on the south side. From around the turn of the century, this hangar would no longer be used for aircraft storage and maintenance having been occupied by a company which produced and sold airport and runway lighting. It’s current resident is unknown and it is believed to be empty as of 2018.

Avionicare Hangar (No.6B)

Just to the east of the former Harvestair hangar is what is colloquially known  as the Avionicare hangar. The build date of this structure is unknown, but it is believed that Skylane/L.A.M.S. was the first company to occupy what is the smallest of these three hangars from c.1987 to 1993. It was then taken over by Avionicare who resided here until c.2013 when they relocated to north side hangar 2. The last known tenant was Kings Aviation who are rumoured to have vacated the premises around 2015 and moved to the Expressflight hangar next door. At present, much like the hangar above, it is currently vacant.

Expressflight Hangar (No.6C)

In 1983, Clive Wren sold his share of Routair Flying Services and the name was subsequently changed to Expressflight. In the same year, a 10,000 square metre hangar was constructed for the company’s use, although these maintenance services would ultimately end up being provided by newly formed R.F.S. Engineering. This company not only kept the Expressflight fleet of PA30, PA23, PA31, C404 & C421 aircraft flying, but it also carried out work on third party aircraft. Then in mid-1986, Norfolk based Hubbardair bought out Expressflight with R.F.S. going on to service their aircraft too. Although not much changed as far as R.F.S. were concerned they would continue to provide services to SEN airlines including Flightline who used this hangar and its engineering facilities during the early-90s. R.F.S. itself continued to operate until 2015 after which the hangar was taken over by Kings Aviation who maintain aircraft on behalf of Clewer Aviation amongst others.

S.M.A.C Hangar (No.7)

This structure is believed to be the original ATEL Bellman hangar that was removed during 1961 and then erected some time later on the north side of the airport. Its early history is not known although an unsubstantiated rumour suggests that S.M.A.C. (Southend Marine & Aero Company) produced several Mignet Pou-de-Ciels at the airport, although this more than likely occurred before the war. By the 1970s, the facility had been divided into two with S.M.A.C. (which was now the area’s leading Austin/BMC dealer) using the airside portion for vehicle storage and pre-delivery checks while the northern end had been occupied by boat builder Jaguar Yachts. Around 2002, Air Livery moved from Hangars 5 & 6 to this building which would later be destroyed in a fire during 2017. This has seemingly resulted in Air Livery returning to its former haunt on the south side although as of 2019 a contract had been awarded to John Reid & Sons Ltd to construct a new hangar on this site capable of accommodating aircraft up to Airbus A321 size.

J.R.B. Aviation Hangar (No.8)

Situated away from most of the other hangars, this particular company can be found on the northern access road that follows the northernmost perimeter of the airport. Again, the date of construction is unknown although it was likely erected around 1976 when ‘Bob’ Batt began operating J.R.B. Aviation. In 1982, the company was taken over by former Thames Estuary engineer Ahmed Jahanfar and together with his wife Margaret, has been running it ever since. Unfortunately, this hangar was heavily damaged in the 1987 storm, although it was quickly replaced with a tin and asbestos structure that had allegedly been converted from a cow shed. You can read more about this company here.

Routair Hangar (No.9)

The build date of this hangar is unknown although it was likely erected around the same time that the Wren brothers relocated Central Flying Services to Southend in 1971. However, this structure is probably better known as the Routair hangar and two companies were known to have operated from there, namely Routair Aviation Services (the charter wing of the company) and Routair Flying Services (the air taxi operation set up after the demise of local SEN taxi firm Commutair). Both of these companies were founded and run by Clive Wren and Nigel Stockwell, operating from this hangar that is nestled between North Side H1 and the road that led to the former BAF storage area and car park. This facility was by no means comparable in size to most of the other hangars above, but it could take most non-T-tailed twins and all single engined G.A. aircraft. By the early 1990s a company known as Leading Edge Aviation had taken over the premises, followed some time later by Trygon Ltd. It is now known as Hangar A1. Both Trygon and its associate company AERS still operate from this facility to this very day.

Other Minor Hangars (No.10)

Several other smaller structures have at one time existed, the most well known of these being located to the immediate west of north side hangar 2. These small ‘hangars’ were in effect lock-ups one of which was used by the Rochford Hundred Flying Group to store their Beagle Terrier G-ASAK while another was for a time used as a small engineering facility.

With thanks to Ian Anderson, Phillip Camp, Peter Clark, Steven Healey, James Jacques, Steve Joel, Dave Law, Tony Mullinger, Dave Perry,  Jeff Rice, Russell Search, Trevor Sexton, Nigel Stockwell, Peter Treadaway, Glenn Unsworth & Chris Winch for help with this page.


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