BCal's A310 Fleet
Where are they now?
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To my mind it is impossible to seperate the Where are they now story of the BCal A310 fleet and their connection to Libya and the nightmare world of international terrorism and murder they would find themselves embroiled within. Events would see a policewoman in London, Yvonne Fletcher, shot dead, and a BCal Station Manager, Doug Ledingham, would be held hostage in Libya for months without charge. And these new aircraft would be sold and end up in the worst place possible.
Not only were there no suitable routes for them on delivery, when sold the BCal A310s would end up in Libya, through what can only be described as a clandestine network of brokers, in contravention of international technology embargoes in place following the US Air Strikes against Libya in retaliation for Libya's bombing of a Berlin Nightclub and death of a US serviceman.
But in 1979 it was impossible to forsee what would happen to these aircraft or I am sure that the order would never have been placed.
So this is far from the usual Where are they now page, but the aircraft have been found and here is a snapshot of their story and of those involved.
The fleet needs of any airline have to be looked at many years in advance, often without necessarily knowing with any certainty what routes will be flown; indeed often before knowing if licences will even be granted. But with the 707 fleet’s retirement a certainty, the DC10’s now arriving for long haul duty, a versatile medium sized aircraft was needed. Ideally the aircraft would be wide-body in line with passenger / industry expectations and able to operate economically on a range of medium / long haul routes.
The A300 was available though Airbus were developing a more efficient stablemate, the A310; billed as the most highly economic airline in development. Both these twin-engined European jets were up against Boeing’s 767. In May 1979 it became known that BCal were in the market for six aircraft, a deal worth an estimated £100 million at the time. Both manufacturers were in play, but Airbus was ahead.
BCal’s order for the Airbus A310 was announced in November 1979. Three had been ordered for delivery in 1984 and three options were taken on aircraft for delivery in 1985.
The A310 had beaten the 767 due to its better operating costs on the expected routes to Europe, possibly Africa, and also the interlining compatibility with other airlines using the type in Europe. The engines would also be common to the engine family used on the DC10 and maintainable by Caledonian Airmotive.
The Airbus was a European aircraft with elements made in Britain, thus the order helped maintain jobs in the UK. With this in mind, in April 1980 BCal managed to agree some financial support from the Government for the loan interest payments on the £50million A310 order. The aircraft were still years away from delivery and still in the design process.
Design / Manufacture
That design process reached a milestone in December 1980, when the A310 launch customers came to an agreement on the cockpit layouts. Lufthansa, Swissair, British Caledonian, Austrian Airlines, Kuwait Airways and Airbus Industrie agreed the format that would ensure they were all happy with the delivered aircraft’s instrument layouts and cockpit systems. Airbus also ensured a minimum of customer complaints too.
By October 1983 BCal’s first A310 made it onto the final assembly line at the Airbus factory in Toulouse. BCal had also applied for the three registrations; G-BKWT, G-BKWU and G-BKWV were assigned in the CAA register.
Route changes / License delays
A major change in BCal’s route network had taken place, South America had been lost following the Falklands War and the Middle East was now being developed. BCal won their application to serve Riyadh and also were awarded licenses to serve Muscat, Abu Dhabi, and Doha. Initial thoughts were to use the A310 on the route with a 24 First Class, 161 Economy Class seat layouts which allowed for a 14 ton cargo capacity too.
The Riyadh service start date proposed was 1st April 1984, but a delay in obtaining reciprocal approval from overseas saw the service’s start date move to August 1985 and it would eventually be flown first with DC10s.
Delivery and Service
Soon after arrival, BKWT and BKWU
But the A310’s were ready and on 20th March 1984 BCal’s G-BKWU, flew into Gatwick for the first time and was granted a low level fly-past of the airport before coming around to land. Flown under special flight number BR310B the flight originated in Toulouse and stopped at Paris en-route. The aircraft, named Sir Robert Watson-Watt - The Scottish Radar Pioneer, embarked on a series of crew familiarisation flights; Gatwick-Brussels, Gatwick-Geneva, Gatwick-Amsterdam and Gatwick-Genoa being just a few of them.
Not to be left out A310 G-BKWT, named John Logie Baird - The Scottish Television Engineer was off on its travels too; Gatwick-Ibiza and Gatwick-Manchester were two routes flown before it entered scheduled service. On 25th March 1984 she made the first scheduled A310 flight to Douala and Lusaka. This was soon followed by a Royal Flight on 3rd April with the Prince of Wales on board; returning from his four country tour in Africa he flew from Lusaka-Douala-London on 3rd April on-board “WT”.
Caledonian Airmotive had also invested £2.5 million in new equipment to handle the A310’s CF6-80 engines and this was ready by the end of March. They were now the only engine overhaul facility, outside of the USA, that could handle the whole General Electric CF6 engine range. The A310s were also the first aircraft in BCal’s fleet to use a video entertainment system instead of film.
The A310 was introduced onto the West African Coastal Service, Banjul, Freetown and Monrovia on 6th April 1984. The 7½ hour flight was made by G-BKWU. Not long after Jersey saw its first A310 when G-BKWU arrived on 19th April, probably by far the largest airliner that day at the airport.
World events totally outwith BCal’s control would now come in to play and they would dog the A310 fleet for many years to come, and the aircraft would become inextricably linked to Libya.
Where are they now A310 Pt 2