BUA's MT Section

A look back at the MT Section from January 1968
from BUA's house newspaper

Tucked behind the VC10 hangar at Gatwick and one off one of the many turnings off the airport’s perimeter road is the Motor Transport Section of BUA, a self contained unit which is vital to the efficiency of the airline and costs over £200,000 a year to run. Vital yes, but perhaps one of the most underestimated departments in the group….

“What do you know about the MT Section?” transport foreman Fred Bailey asks.

“You operate the vehicles around Gatwick”

You had better come down and find out a bit more

The MT section operated within Gatwick, but they also ran vehicle services to many parts of Britain on schedules as tight as those of the aircraft. Rolls Royce engines are delivered to and collected from Derby, Glasgow and Treforest in South Wales.
Permanent night-shift driver Jim McBirney is one of the sections many specialists. He knows Covent Garden so well he is allotted the task of picking up vegetables for the Sierra Leone VC10 services on Fridays.

During the summer, the ground equipment vehicles at Gatwick use over 1,200 gallons of fuel in a week. The maintenance side care for about 120 vehicles, about 25 ground power units and a host of other equipment like, elevators and aircraft cleaning vehicles, most things that do not fit into a specific category. Altogether the vehicles cover 13,000 miles every week.

Yet, this is only part of the picture, there is a daily run from Gatwick to Southend, and the Essex base operates a reciprocal service. The two services meet up Farlingham in Kent. More than once a curious policeman has stopped and asked what was happening as the cargoes were transferred between vehicles.

In fact, Fred Bailey’s responsibilities cover a fairly missed fleet of flat bed trucks, freight vans, crew vans and a 41 seat coach, used for passengers when services divert. Says, Mr Bailey, “We have a Gatwick based vehicles scheduled to serve London, Southampton and Heathrow and to collection points all over the area. A five ton lorry takes fruit off of the African and Las Palmas flights to Covent Garden in addition to collecting vegetables for the Sierra Leone flights. One of the main tasks of the night shift drivers is to take air crew home after late duty. Our vehicles are the only transport available in the early hours of the morning.”
We help out the Engineering side too; after X-rays are taken of aircraft we return the isotopes to Harwell in Essex. Four journeys are made to Heathrow for freight collection, and we also transport interlining freight. Though, the longest journeys are reserved for the delivery and collection of engines. We take Dart (Viscount) engines to Glasgow, Conway (VC10) to South Wales and Spey (1-11) to Derby.”

All traffic vehicles on the tarmac are fitted with a two-way radio; Service Control receives information on the “squawk box” from the Control Tower and passes it on to the drivers. This means that the drivers know what stand the aircraft is going to and where it has come from. Three frequencies are used, one is exclusively for Engineering, another for transport and catering and the third is shared by service control, loaders and security.

Both Catering and the aircraft loaders have their own vehicles supplied by MT. Catering use High Loads and Walk-through's and loaders use low-loaders generally.
Jim Fairweather, assistant foreman of the MT and metal workshops, sits in front of the repair shed like the front man of a speak-easy during American Prohibition. No hooch behind the door, but many activities for which he is responsible. Every vehicle is maintained and repaired here, but the unit also manufacturers passenger steps, seats for all new vehicles, filing cabinets and lockers.

Says Mr Fairweather “we take the racking the company slings out and reshape it. We keep all the old metal we get, and almost always there is some use for it. We even made coast hangers for the personnel department offices.”
Steptoe would be hard pushed to make a living here. Nothing is thrown out unless it’s completely beyond repair, and believe me, very little is”. Most vehicles are tailor made for a specific requirement and we have to find out about each of them. This includes the Ground Power Units (GPU) made specifically for certain aircraft. The VC10 needs a completely new type of GPU because it is air-start as opposed to electrical-start. The VC10 also requires electrical support, so another type of GPU altogether is used for that.”

Vans and five ton trucks are the run of the mill, but it is these special purpose vehicles and equipment which present the problems, if one goes down, there is not always another available to replace it.”

Everywhere that aircraft take-off, land or are maintained, ground support is required and there can be no greater example of this support than the vehicles which carry the Engineers, Catering and Traffic Staff. As Fred Bailey said “we operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Just like the BUA aircraft, we are always on the move”.
An MT Reunion was held in July 2011 - click here for details

Please, any additional information, please drop me a line
From Seona Craig (nee Wooley)
They were VERY good to me too - riveted a piece of metal to the floor of my first car (Fiat 600 gawd knows how old even way back then) - when I could see daylight!