Article: Air Bridge Spans the Channel

  • Canadian Bristol Freighter Loading-RAMWCCopyright
    May, 1951, Canadian Aviation

    The cross-channel car ferry service launched in mid-1948 by Silver City Airways scored a spectacular success last summer and anticipates a traffic boom this year. The idea that cars, and their passengers, could be hopped from England to France at a profit is credited to Air Commadore G. “Taffy” Powell who was senior staff officer, No. 45 Group, RAF, (Ferry Command) at Dorval, Quebec, during the war. He organized the unique service and is now managing director of Silver City Airways.

    The general manager of this unprecedented enterprise, W. G. Franklin, also a Ferry Command alumnus, was in Toronto recently and discussed the “channel bridge” air service with Canadian Aviation. The venture is a success, he said, because of an enormous traffic potential, a short air distance, and the remarkable capacity of the Bristol Freighter.

    The service started, in a small way, in July, 1948. Cars and passengers were shuttled between Lympne, on the English coast, and Le Touquet, a French resort. At first, the operation was restricted to a charter basis and less than 200 cars were ferried during that season.

    The next year the service resumed in mid-April, this time a scheduled service. The company had become an associate of British European Airways. Traffic volume rose so rapidly that each of the two aircraft were making eight return trips a day and by the time the operation closed for the winter, 2,700 cars had been flown to and from the continent.

    Peak month was August, when 1,000 cars were flown in a single month. Every day saw an average of 30 to 40 cars carried over the channel. Weekends were the busiest time, however, and to meet the demand two additional aircraft were put on and services from Fridays to Mondays were stepped up to 16 in each direction daily.

    It was the 1950 season, however, which finally disposed of any lingering doubts about the car ferry’s future. Permission was given by the Ministry of Civil Aviation for the company to operate the ferry service, under the BEA associate agreement, for another two years. Additional facilities for passengers and customs officials were built at both termini.

    In all, nearly 4,000 cars were flown across the channel, together with 15,000 occupants and 1,000 motorcycles and miscellaneous vehicles–a record the more remarkable for having been achieved without the slightest damage or mishap.

    Prospects for the 1951 season look even more promising. Advanced bookings are up 100% and Silver City is planning 30 to 40 round trips a day. Popularity of the air bridge is explained partly by the speed and convenience of the service in comparison with the boat crossing. The latter involves a compulsory three-hour crossing, followed by another two hours of tedium for customs and immigration clearance. The air service involves 15 minutes for clearances at each terminal, and 20 minutes for the flight.

    Two cars are carried in the forward compartment of the Bristol Freighter. They are loaded directly into the nose of the aircraft from a portable ramp. The passengers ride in a special compartment. For tariff purposes cars are divided into three brackets according to overall length, the charges being $48, $60, and $72 respectively for the one-way trip. In addition, there is a $6 fare for each occupant. Motorcycles are carried for $9 one-way. Eight hundred were flown last year, some 1,200 are booked already this year.

    The prospects for this “air bridge” are so promising that some observers predict that it will relegate the channel tunnel project very much to the background.

    This article originally appeared in the May, 1951 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine. Both photos are from our library and archives. The bottom photo is of the Bristol Freighter in the museum’s collection.

    More about the Bristol Freighter.

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