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Aquila to the end

Aquila Airways

Registered as 'Aikman Airways Limited' the new marine aircraft company actually traded under the name of 'Aquila Airways'. The founder was Barry T Aikman, a former Wing Commander during the war, who had flown Sunderlands with the RAF Coastal Command and been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for displaying bravery in action. It was his entrepreneurial vision that made Aquila possible and he was the managing director from 1948 to 1956. With flying boats obtained from the withdrawing company BOAC, Aquila became the sole operator of flying boats in Britain for nearly 10 years. Due to its long history with marine aviation Southampton Docks was the natural choice for the company's base of operations. A terminal already existed that had originally been built for BOAC in 1947. Southampton and flying boats had another lease of life. 

In the early days of the company its income came from a freight operation for the Berlin Airlift. Aquila was requested by British European Airways to provide two flying boats to fly supplies to Berlin as the city was foundering after World War Two (1939-1945). The airlifts continued until 1949 at which time Aquila began to concentrate on their first holiday route, Southampton to Madeira via Lisbon.  

[046956] Aotearoa II in flight

magnify Aotearoa in flight
Aquila's first flight happened in March 1949 and a return ticket cost £87, the equivalent today would be over £1714. Enough to buy you a trip around the world, in 1949 it got you to Madeira in style. The first-class service offered on the airline’s routes meant that all the passengers travelled in comfort. The food served with 'silver service' reflected an international flavour and the luxury showed the return to the standards of pre-war flying. As the company entered the new decade it went from strength to strength opening up new holiday routes to Las Palmas, Capri, Santa Margaherita and Montreux. These were destinations that did not have land-based runways nearby and the journey to reach them would have taken much longer without using the flying boats and their ability to land on water. Aquila provided an exclusive service to those who could afford to buy a ticket. 

In 1954 the airline was merged with the Britavia Group, Barry Aikman stayed on as chairman for another two years and the company continued to thrive, making a profit in 1957 of over £90,000 (well over 1 million pounds in today’s economy). However the sucess was to last only another year, by 1958 the companies fortunes had begun to decline. Confidence in the safety of the aircraft took a knock when a bad crash of a Solent flying boat on the Isle of Wight killed the crew and all 35 passengers. The airline was also struggling to find replacement parts for the old aircraft, and with other problems the decision was made to cease trading in September 1958.

It looked as though it was the end of the commercial flying boats in Britain as the service struggled to keep up with chartered flights carrying passengers direct to their holiday destinations direct from the airports that were begining to open up in places like Luton and Manchester. There had been a last attempt to build a competitive flying boat that could challenge the new land planes, the aircraft was called the Saunders Roe Princess.    

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