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Flypast: A very British Air affair

IN THE years before Heathrow's once-expansive network of domestic destinations was given a more severe pruning than a holly tree in a nudist camp, it was possible to fly from the airport to all manner of destinations throughout the British Isles.

IN THE years before Heathrow's once-expansive network of domestic destinations was given a more severe pruning than a holly tree in a nudist camp, it was possible to fly from the airport to all manner of destinations throughout the British Isles.

Nowadays, even cities like Leeds and Aberdeen have lost their LHR links, but timetables from years gone by show connections with the likes of Chester, Cardiff, Birmingham, Carlisle, Inverness and Dundee.

For a few months in 1969, the number of domestic routes from Heathrow increased further, courtesy of Autair International and their ex-BEA Handley Page Heralds.

Who could have guessed that within a few months of this photo being taken at Heathrow, the little airline, with its rather uninspiring two-tone blue livery, would metamorphose into one of the most outlandish and colourful operators in British aviation

history? Autair had begun life in 1957 as a helicopter operator, using American Bell 47s on various contracts, from crop spraying to survey work in the Antarctic.

By 1961 it had acquired three ex-BEA Dakotas and was using them for inclusive tours and charters from Luton to holiday spots all over Europe, a portent of what was to come.

Two Vickers Vikings and an Airspeed Ambassador were added to the fleet and on October 1, 1963, Autair started its first scheduled service, from Luton to Blackpool.

In April 1965, Court Line became the airline's new owners.

By 1969, Autair had Heralds, HS 748s and BAC 1-11s in its fleet.

It flew a network of scheduled services and was operating holiday flights for Clarkson's.

On April 1 that year it transferred all its scheduled services to Heathrow, but it was to be a short-lived liaison, with Autair axing all those routes on October 31.

Just what the management had in mind soon became apparent.

From January 1970 the Autair title was dropped and the official name became simply Court Line, billed as 'Britain's first holiday airline', and seven new BAC 1-11s were purchased, all painted in startling, head-turning colour schemes - bright green, pink or orange. Even the cabin crew were adorned in similar hues.

There was a cheerful, unique ambiance aboard the planes, and passengers felt in holiday mood from the moment they stepped aboard, even if they were still at Luton Airport!

The airline soon got more ambitious, investing heavily in Caribbean destinations and buying two Lockheed TriStars to fly there.

But the early 1970s - with economic turmoil, industrial unrest, three-day weeks and soaring petrol prices - were not the happiest of times and the number of people holidaying abroad fell dramatically.

The sparkle went out of Court Line and on August 15, 1974, the airline went into liquidation, leaving about 50,000 passengers stranded abroad, 150,000 with lost holidays and 1,100 employees without jobs.

Perhaps they should have abandoned all the bright colours and razzmatazz and gone back to operating between Luton and that thoroughly British resort, Blackpool!

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