BEA and the Independents
Operating under the wartime Associated Airways Joint Committee, Isle of Man Air Services provided a limited service to Liverpool and Belfast. It was in much demand and was the only daily connection with England, with the Steam Packet reduced to sailings on alternate days using Fleetwood after being blitzed out of Liverpool. The service meant that local residents only received their newspapers every other day. Rapide G-AFEX bore the brunt of the wartime service with pilots Captains Higgins, Harrison and Greenhalgh. In the 1944 New Years Honours List, Captain Higgins was awarded the M.B.E. for his services to aviation. In the early months of the war he had been personal pilot to Air Marshall Barratt who was in command of the R.A.F. component of the British Expeditionary Force in France. As such, Captain Higgins made many trips between England and R.A.F. Headquarters in Paris. Caught by the German offensive, he was forced to abandon his aircraft at Bordeaux and returned to England by tramp steamer. Back at Ronaldsway he returned to his more familiar routes on which there were rarely any empty seats. During the last twelve months of the war 14,567 passengers were carried giving a load factor of 96%. During the same period a total of 344,867 lb. of mail was carried and distance covered was 264,000 miles. A second Rapide (G-AGSJ) was acquired in July 1945 and, with the war over, G-AGUP brought the total to three in readiness for resuming the peacetime routes.
The future, however, was fraught with uncertainty following the return in 1945 of a Labour Government committed to a policy of nationalisation which would include all airlines and airports. Isle of Man Air Services was a Manx registered company operating from an airport outside the United Kingdom albeit controlled by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. A Commission was set up in 1945 by Tynwald to advise and make representations to the U.K. Government regarding the purchase of Ronaldsway from the Admiralty. No progress was made and the M.C.A. made it clear that they were to retain control, at least for the foreseeable future. In January 1946, two days before the Admiralty vacated Ronaldsway, though leaving a care and maintenance staff, a meeting was held between members of Tynwald's Ronaldsway Commission, the Admiralty and the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Ownership was not discussed but the Ministry outlined its plans for the future administration of Ronaldsway and for the provision of technical and meteorological services with control of all safety matters. This led, in fact, to the installation of the Standard Beam Approach System (VHF D/F) on the main 27/09 runway, thus making Ronaldsway one of the most up to date and best equipped airports in the British Isles. Isle of Man Air Services were appointed one of the few national system's associates and, as such, were permitted to operate all services to the Isle of Man until 1st February, 1947. The routes to be covered were Liverpool, five times daily except Sunday; Blackpool/Manchester, twice daily except Sunday and Carlisle three times a week. Captain Higgins took the first flight from Manchester on 26th July in Rapide G-AGSJ with his regular radio officer Arthur Simmons. On 1st August, the nationalisation of all British Airlines was completed and all internal British and European routes now came under the control of the British European Airways Corporation.
Regrettably, to many, the monopoly of BEA was to mean the inevitable demise of Isle of Man Air Services which, it is said, had made Ronaldsway in pre-war days the second busiest airport to Croydon. There were many who voiced opposition, but it was generally agreed that acceptance of the position and co-operation with the national system would be in the best interests of the Island. At a final Directors' Dinner at the Castle Mona, held on the 29th January, 1947, Mr. H. G. N. Read, Chairman of Isle of Man Air Services, hoped that the new BEA would maintain a service equal to the standard that they, themselves, had set. During thirteen years of operations, a total of three million miles had been flown carrying 137,000 passengers, 2,700,000 lb. of mail and 600,000 lb. of cargo. It had been a tremendous achievement, and without loss of life, setting standards of regularity and safety unsurpassed by any airline in the British Isles. The Company was then taken over and the three partners were reimbursed to the full share value of £75,000 plus a small premium, The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company now having 50% of the shares, having acquired some from Olley Air Services, while Railway Air Services had retained their original £25,000.
During 1946147 the Nissen huts at Ballasalla Camp and Janet's Corner were taken over by the Local Government Board to alleviate the desperate housing shortage after the war. The huts at Ballasalla, arranged in avenues, were converted into 2-, 3- and 4-bedroomed habitations providing comfortable homes for 92 families. In the same way, accommodation for 120 families was provided at Janet's Corner. The NAAFI building opposite the Janet's Corner entrance was converted into a garage and is still in use today. Ownership of the airfield continued to exercise the minds of Tynwald's Commission and, following a visit to London, His Excellency, Sir Geoffrey Bromet, was able to report the latest view of H.M. Government. In an about turn it was now accepted that the general principle which applied to the Colonies and Channel Islands with regard to ownership and administration of airports should apply to the Isle of Man. This left the way clear for the purchase and administration of the airport, with the provision that the Ministry of Civil Aviation would continue to provide and operate the technical services subject to a percentage of landing fees and satisfactory financial arrangements which would alleviate the British taxpayer of any charges.
In fact, the Manx Government since 1946 had been making a financial contribution towards the cost of both administration and technical services. Chairman of the Ronaldsway Commission was Second Deemster, later Sir Percy, Cowley C.B.E. who went to the Admiralty to thrash out a deal. The asking price had originally been £1 million which the Admiralty pointed out was the approximate cost of construction while £105,000 had been paid for the 825 acres of the airfield. Deemster Cowley's offer was £100,000 submitting that the airfield was not to Manx Government design and that maintenance costs would be heavy. In the end, the Deemster returned to the Island with an agreed purchase price of £200,000 for the airport, land and buildings. This was put before Tynwald and agreed unanimously, the Deemster being showered with congratulations. The money was taken out of the Accumulated Fund and the Manx Government would take possession on 1st March, 1948. From that date, His Excellency appointed an Airport Committee to manage Ronaldsway pending the Isle of Man Airports Act of 1948 becoming law. Thus, on 12th August, 1948, the Isle of Man Airports Board came into being 'to secure, establish, operate and maintain all airports in the Isle of Man with special reference to Ronaldsway.The Board was also to be responsible for all air services to and from the Isle of Man, and for all matters relating to civil aviation.
Mr. R. L. Carter, who had originally come with Olley Air Services in 1937, became the first local manager for BEA, while Mr. Bert Wood, formerly of Railway Air Services, was appointed Station Superintendent. The Chief Traffic Controller was Mr. Gwynn Griffiths who had arrived at Ronaldsway as an engineer with I.o.M. Air Services in pre-war days and was able to turn his hand to any part of airline operation. His services were retained by the Admiralty as liaison officer holding the rank of Lt. Commander. As a result of his wide experience, he was appointed the airport's first manager in 1946. Mr. Griffiths became a member of the newly-formed Airport Committee which was to report to Tynwald on the management and financing of the airport. It was estimated that there would be a loss of £10,000 on the first year of operating. Passenger facilities were also looked into. The Creggans area had become the new centre in 1946, thus saving a long journey round to the other side of the airfield at Derbyhaven. It was proposed to convert the Creggans farmhouse into a residential hotel for the benefit of visitors and aircrew. Howls of protest greeted the idea that the hotel should be licensed though a bar attached to the small cafe was acceptable, it being appreciated that nervous passengers found 'a couple of stiff whiskies' a help before taking to the air. These facilities were estimated to cost £16,845, and the total vote of £26,845 was agreed by Tynwald. On the other hand, the Committee would be able to dispose of a considerable quantity of scrap metal which was fetching high prices because of shortages. Arrangements were made to sell off nine of the hangars, still virtually new, and fifteen Nissen huts for a sum of £33,500. There was also income to be derived from the sale or letting of land and buildings in the Balthane area. The agreement with the Admiralty also included £17,000 for the completion of standing aprons at no expense to the Manx Government. The Committee looked into the staffing of the airport and the 116 formerly employed by the MCA was reduced to 83, mainly from those employed on airfield maintenance.
British European Airways took over all scheduled services for the summer of 1947 which were exclusively covered by DH 89 Rapides. Seven BEA crews pilot and radio officer) were based on the Island to fly the routes to Blackpool, Liverpool, Carlisle, Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast. Passengers for Manchester and London changed at Liverpool. The summer service had hardly got under way when one of the Rapides G-AHKR - was involved in a flying accident from which crew and passengers escaped without serious injury. The pilot was First Officer Alan F. Woodcoat of Castletown and the Radio Officer was Captain John G. Nicholl of Douglas. On board were five passengers on a scheduled flight from Speke, Liverpool. Bad weather at Ronaldsway prevented a landing and the aircraft was diverted to Jurby. Flying northwards, the Rapide crashed into the misty slopes between Greeba and Slieu Ruy, turning over on its back. One of the passengers, a schoolmaster from Middlesex, stumbled down the hillside leaving a paper trail until he reached Crosby where he summoned help from the post office. The police alerted the Jurby Rescue Party and made their way to the scene of the accident. The passengers were badly cut and bruised; on the flight were three girl student teachers accompanied by a science master who were paying a visit to the Marine Biological Station at Port Erin. It proved to be the one and only serious accident involving a scheduled flight to the Island.
Manx Aviation in War and Peace published by kind permission of: The Manx Experience