Britannia Airways was a charter airline based in the United Kingdom. Established in 1961, by 1972, it held the distinction of being the largest charter operator in the country. The company was rebranded "Thomsonfly" during 2005. Britannia's main bases were at London Gatwick, London Stansted, London Luton, Cardiff, Bristol, East Midlands, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds Bradford, Edinburgh, and Glasgow; it was headquartered on the grounds of the Britannia House in Luton, Bedfordshire.
The airline was originally founded under the name Euravia (London), its initial activities made heavy use of its close association with inclusive tour holiday company Universal Sky Tours. On 5 May 1962, Euravia commenced flight operations, using an initial fleet of three Lockheed Constellations. The firm quickly broke-even and began expanding, both via the acquisition of secondhand aircraft and mergers with rivals, such as Skyways. On 16 August 1964, the airline was rebranded to become Britannia Airways; the name was derived from its recently acquired Bristol Britannia airliners to replace their Constellations. During December 1970, the last remaining Britannia 102 was withdrawn from service, having been replaced by the Boeing 737 jetliner; the airline was an all-jet operator from this point onwards.
During the mid-1960s, Britannia had attracted the interest of the newspaper business magnate Lord Thompson. During 1965, this interest led to Britannia became a part of Thomson; their acquisition made financing available for further rapid growth, including the acquisition of jet-powered airliners. Despite political lobbying for the airline to acquire British BAC One-Elevens, the company persisted with its orders for the alternative Boeing 737. By 1972, the airline had become the largest of the British independent charter airlines. Between 1968 and 1984, Britannia carried nearly 42 million passengers, while the company's fleet grew to include twenty-nine 737s and a pair of Boeing 767s, while being the first European airline to operate either of these types. During the 1990s, Britannia heavily modernised its fleet and expanded its route network to holiday destinations in Asia, Canada, South Africa, and the United States.
During 1997, Britannia formed a wholly owned subsidiary, Britannia GmbH, based in Germany to operate long and short-haul flights from airports in Germany, Switzerland and Austria for German tour operators. During 2000, Thomson Travel Group, and thereby Britannia Airways, were acquired by Preussag AG (TUI Group) of Germany. As part of a wider reorganisation of TUI's UK operations in September 2004, it was announced that Britannia would be rebranded as Thomsonfly. The aircraft of this airline carried the Thomson colours and logo while Thomsonfly became the trading name of Britannia Airways. On 1 November 2005, the legal name of the company was changed from Britannia Airways Limited to Thomsonfly Limited. Thomsonfly subsequently merged with First Choice Airways, after which it was renamed as Thomson Airways.
The airline was established as Euravia (London) by British businessman Ted Langton and aviation consultant J.E.D. Walker on 1 December 1961. It was founded at a time of considerable turmoil for the independent sector of the British air operators industry, during the early 1960s, several firms suffered from severe financial hardship and were even driven into bankruptcy. Upon deciding to launch operations, the company quickly obtained the necessary licences from the Air Transport Licensing Board, Certificates of Airworthiness for their aircraft from the Air Registration Board, and an Air Operator's Certificate from the Director of Aviation Safety, Ministry of Aviation. These applications were not without some difficulty as Euravia had the distinction of being refused more licences than any other two airlines put together; this was due to the fact that the firm placed a larger number of applications than any British airline, except for British United Airways (BUA).
On 1 April 1942, Euravia established its initial operating base at Luton Airport; on 13 April, the airline's first aircraft, a Lockheed Constellation, was delivered for certification and training. Early on, Euravia benefitted from its close association with inclusive tour holiday company Universal Sky Tours. On 5 May 1962, Euravia commenced flight operations, using an initial batch of three Constellations to perform flights on behalf of Universal Sky Tours. Within ten days, the operation was reportedly breaking-even; by a month later, the firm's initial fleet was operating at its maximum planned utilisation rate.
On 5 October of that same year, a rival charter airline Skyways, one of Britain's foremost independent airlines during the 1950s and early 1960s, was taken over by Euravia and integrated into its operations. The Skyways takeover did not include Skyways Coach-Air, a Skyways associate, established in the early 1950s by Eric Rylands to operate low-fare coach-air services between London and several European capital cities. Following Euravia's acquisition of Skyways, Skyways Coach-Air remained independent until its successor Skyways International was taken over by Dan-Air in 1972.
By 15 June 1963, Euravia was operating a mixed fleet of eight Constellations and four Avro Yorks. Euravia also took on Skyways PanAm engine contract at London Heathrow using ex-Skyways Yorks; under this arrangement, one of these aircraft was on permanent standby at Heathrow ready to fly a spare jet engine to rescue any PanAm Boeing 707 jetliner that encountered engine problems. These rescue flights were flown as far afield as Singapore and Hong Kong. The other Yorks were used for adhoc freighting until 1965 when the last aircraft G-AGNV was flown from Luton to Staverton Gloucester to be an exhibit at the now defunct Skyfame museum. Upon retirement, this aircraft was preserved and placed on display at the RAF museum, RAF Cosford.
On 16 August 1964, the airline was rebranded, becoming Britannia Airways; this name was adopted to coincide with re-equipping with ex-British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Bristol Britannia turboprop airliners to replace their Constellations. The type would not be used for long however; during December 1970, the last remaining Britannia 102 was withdrawn from service, consequently, the airline became an all-jet operator at this point. During the late 1960s, Britannia became the first charter airline to offer assigned seating, as well as hot in-flight meals.
During the mid-1960s, Britannia had attracted the interest of the newspaper business magnate Lord Thompson, who sought a good prospect with which to diversify his business stakes; Thompson also approved of the company's activities being beneficial to the general public. As a result of this interest, during 1965, Britannia became part of Thomson, itself part of the Canadian-owned International Thomson Organisation. This acquisition was beneficial to the company's prospects, including financing the acquisition of a new generation of jet-powered airliners to enable Britannia's rapid transition into the jet age.
During 1968, Britannia commenced a re-equipment effort involving the then-new Boeing 737-200 jetliner; it had the distinction of being the first European airline to operate the type. The purchase of the brand new and relatively unproved 737 was seen as a major breach of traditional practice; historically, charter airliners procured secondhand aircraft from their larger scheduled airlines. In addition, the large 'flag carriers' were comparatively wary of the value of jet-powered aircraft, normally opting for comfort and high-quality passenger conditions over speeds. This unconventional purchase was also politically controversial; Sir George Edwards, the chairman of the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), had expected Britannia to order the rival BAC One-Eleven and lobbied government officials to convince the airline to procure the British airliner instead. These pressure tactics ultimately proved to be unsuccessful; by 1975, Britannia was operating a fleet of 13 Boeing 737s.
By 1972, the airline had become the largest of the British independent charter airlines. Prior to the mid-1970s, Britannia, much like other British carter airlines of the era, had concentrated upon low-cost flights to Spain and the use of provincial airports (other than its Luton base) to provide its services. However, the company held ambitions to expand beyond this. During 1988, Britannia's 767s were used to commence regular charter flights between Britain and Australia, as well as to New Zealand the following year. Between 1968 and 1984, Britannia carried nearly 42 million passengers, while the company's fleet grew to include twenty-nine Boeing 737s and a pair of 767s.
Britannia also became the first European airline to fly the Boeing 767, which was added to its fleet in the 1980s; the 767 was the first widebodied aircraft to enter service in the company's fleet and enabled Britannia to became the first British holiday airline to offer passengers free in-flight audio and video entertainment.
During the 1990s, Britannia also began to operate services for Skytours and Portland Direct, themselves also part of the Thomsons Group. During this time, Britannia heavily modernised its fleet and expanded its route network to holiday destinations in Asia, Canada, South Africa, and the United States. During 1997, 34 per cent of Britannia's flights were flown to long-haul destinations. By the summer of 1998, Britannia's operations, which were by then centered around Germany, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom, operated a mixed fleet of three Airbus A320s, a single Boeing 737-800, 24 757s, and 13 767s.
Several efforts were made at European expansion during this time. During 1997, Britannia formed a wholly owned subsidiary, Britannia GmbH, based in Germany to operate long and short-haul flights from airports in Germany, Switzerland and Austria for German tour operators, flying several 767-300s. On 3 November 1997, the subsidiary's inaugural flight was flown, flying between Berlin and the Dominican Republic. At one point, Britannia Airways GmbH employed roughly 200 people and operated a pair of Boeing 767-300s; however, this division was relatively unsuccessful and ultimately closed down during March 2001. During early 1998, the Thomson Travel Group also acquired the Scandinavian holiday operation, Fritidsresor Group, along with its airline Blue Scandinavia, which was later renamed Britannia Nordic (since rebranded as TUIfly Nordic).
In addition, it was during this decade that Britannia launched several public image and service quality initiatives, such as the flying with confidence course and closer customer service coordination within Thomson. During the early 1990s, the airline launched its in-flight Royal Service brand to increase the profile of the company's high-end services, somewhat akin to the premium service levels available on scheduled airlines. It was succeeded by a newer brand, 360, during the late 1990s; this service was billed as being less old-fashioned and possessed greater personality.
During 2000, Thomson Travel Group, and thereby Britannia Airways, were acquired by Preussag AG (TUI Group) of Germany. As part of a wider reorganisation of TUI's UK operations in September 2004, it was announced that Britannia would be rebranded as Thomsonfly. The aircraft of this airline carried the Thomson colours and logo while Thomsonfly became the trading name of Britannia Airways. On 1 November 2005, the legal name of the company was changed from Britannia Airways Limited to Thomsonfly Limited. Thomsonfly later merged with First Choice Airways and was renamed Thomson Airways, retaining the previous logo and colours.
As of January 2005, Britannia Airways operated services to the following international scheduled destinations:
At the time of rebranding, the Britannia Airways fleet consisted of the following aircraft:
From the 1980s onwards Britannia operated a solely Boeing fleet, unlike their rivals which flew Boeing aircraft alongside Airbus and McDonnell Douglas aircraft. Britannia however did at times lease Airbus aircraft.
At the time of rebranding, Britannia was the largest charter airline in the United Kingdom, its position of market dominance being owed to the growth of Thomson Holidays. Initially its main competitor was British Airtours. The 1980s saw the growth of Monarch Airlines as a credible competitor. In the 1990s Air 2000, Airtours International Airways, First Choice Airways and Flying Colours Airlines grew as competitors. Its main competitor at the time of rebranding was Thomas Cook Airlines.
Britannia Airways suffered two accidents whilst operating under that name (1961–2005):
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