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History of British European Airways (Paperback)

1946 - 1972


By Charles Woodley
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 206
Illustrations: 150
ISBN: 9781473886629
Published: 27th October 2016



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BEA was formed in 1946 and took over most UK domestic and European routes under the British government's nationalisation policy. It began operations with a fleet of outdated and hopelessly uneconomic passenger aircraft that were derivatives of wartime types such as the DC-3, Avro Viking and Rapide. By the end of 1955 the airline had re-equipped with more modern types such as the jet-prop Viscount and moved into a profit for the first time. From 1960 onwards the airline introduced larger jets such as the Comet, Trident and BAC 1-11. BEA merged with the British Overseas Airways Corporation in 1974 to form British Airways.

This book looks at BEA's predecessors, its formation and early operation from Croydon and Northolt and the move to the newly-opened London Heathrow. The evolving structure is explained with chapters covering engineering bases, terminals, European and domestic services, cargo services and helicopter operations. The aircraft flown are all described in detail and the book includes anecdotes from former crew and ground-staff, a full fleet list and is highly illustrated throughout.

For this reviewer, the History of British European Airways: 1946-1972 was something of a ‘mixed bag’. It is certainly well-written and researched. However, the previously mentioned lack of reference to the volume’s numerous photographs, plans and half-tone images within either the Content or Index sections made searching for specific items both difficult and tedious. In addition, by displaying very-evident pixels, several of the images within the centrally-placed ‘colour’ section (including No.’s 9, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 23, although there were others) were disappointing. While appreciating that they were possibly ‘computerised’ in origin, for this reviewer they were not of the quality he expected to find within a volume of this nature.

As BEA has a substantial ‘fan following’ such enthusiasts are likely to find this work of great interest, while those with a more ‘general’ aviation interest may also find it useful. Aviation modellers with an interest in either BEA, British aviation or airliners in general could also find this book to be a useful resource.

As it is well written and researched, and despite the limitations noted above, this volume is likely to become a standard reference work on its subject, On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), I have given it an 8.

NZ Crown Mines

A magnificent history of British European Airways, its fleet and the places from which it operated, opening new horizons for air travel from its inception in 1946 to its merger with BAC in 1974. Sueprb.

Books Monthly, December 2017 – reviewed by Paul Norman

Lavishly illustrated with rare photographs, including full colour, this book charts the history of British civil aviation from the end
of WWII until the merger of BEA and BOAC to form British Airways. Considering the number of civil aircraft flying since 1945, it is
surprising that more books have not been published on their service. The author provides a very welcome and well-researched account of BEA, and its aircraft, which is a pleasure to read.

Read the full review here.


Great nostalgic review of what my father says were "the glory days of international travel".

5 stars!

Amazon Customer

Retired now, after 45 years at British Airways and its predecessors, I enjoy looking back.

A history from 1946 is a bit before my time (1957) whereas 1972 was an interesting time for me, by then a Licensed Aircraft Engineer carrying out the checks, the ground runs, and the preparation for airtests that followed major maintenance on the, then, BEA Engineering Base.

Charles Woodley paints an overview whereas I remember the detail of where I was at that time. Good to be reminded of the world beyond the Engineering Base and I'm now looking forward to Charles' next download to history - the years from 1972 to the present date (where BA has a punctuality, or so I just read, of 66% - second, apparently, in a list of the ten worst...) 5 STARS!

Amazon reviewer

There are of course numerous black and white and colour archive photographs of aircraft, equipment, advertising media, route maps and personalities too. The anecdotes from former crew and ground-staff add the human element, making this a valuable reference work for enthusiast's bookshelves.

4/5 Star Rating!

Amazon reviewer
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