Air Vice-Marshal Donald Bennett
BRITISH SOUTH AMERICAN AIRWAYS - one of the three Government-owned Civil Air
Corporations has just celebrated its first anniversary. On January 1. 1946,
the first British air service to South America was inaugurated. Now there
are five services a week in each direction, four of them to the East Coast,
with an extension across the 23,000 ft. Andes to Santiago. Another service
runs to the Caribbean area. In a few days this Caribbean service will be
extended down the West Coast, thus completing the circuit of the continent
by joining the East Coast route with the West Coast route at Santiago in
Between Mexico and Cape Horn lies a vast and wealthy area with a population
of about 150 million. They are mostly connected racially with Europe and
feel strong ties with their mother countries. Moreover, between Europe and
this enormous sphere there is an obvious mutual wish to trade. Air travel,
therefore, is in great demand and - unlike pre-war British civil aviation -
we have answered that demand. Other air lines have also responded. British
civil aviation will do well to study the progress of the South American
route; it is perhaps the most competitive in the world.
In face of this international competition we of B.S.A.A. were under an
obvious temptation to go to extremes. We might have concentrated on speed -
and never mind the expense. We might have lavished money on show,
ostentatious comfort, advertising and grand overheads. But we have done
otherwise. We believe that the best British policy is not loud-mouthed or
ostentatious, but rather one of giving honest value for money, based on
thoroughly sound operational practice combined with comfort and personal
attention. Moreover, we believe that this policy can be carried through
without burdening the British taxpayer.
We have therefore adopted certain rules which we consider essential for
success. The first is that we use British equipment, not simply because it
is British but because we believe it is ultimately the best. The Lancastrian
is - in reality as opposed to advertisement - the fastest airliner in the
world. It is far from satisfactory, but as a make-do until we obtain our
faster types it has proved a wonderful asset. The York combines the
reliability and staunchness of the Lancastrian with better passenger space.
Our second rule is that only those who are professionally experienced in a
particular function are appointed to any position of responsibility. Each
man knows his own job, and regardless of his position is not required to
control those whose jobs he does not know. It is a policy of "the profession
for the professional."
In aiming at the four virtues of safety, speed, comfort, and regularity we
naturally put safety first - in a class by itself. The relative merits of
speed and comfort are less easy to determine. A survey of passengers'
opinions would usually suggest a preference for comfort. An investigation of
the successful air lines of the world, however, shows that the fastest
service is always the one to which passengers come when they wish to make a
booking. Experience is the only useful guide on such points as these.
The value of regularity is, of course enormous, and in this respect our
first year's record compares well with that of any similar airline in the
world. We have never cancelled a service, and delays at the far end of a
7,000 mile route seldom exceed one hour.
Safety, speed, comfort, and regularity would, however, be improved if we
could have all the radio aids, including modern radar, which we desire. To
bring the scientific achievements of war-time into practical civil use is a
slow process. Not only technical problems but politics and national
jealousies are involved. Efforts have been made to secure international
agreement, so that the installation of modern aids could proceed. I am
sufficiently undiplomatic to say bluntly that I think these conferences have
been a shocking failure. At present we have to cut into our payload to the
extent of about 1,000 lb. in order to carry all the various types of radio
and radar equipment which we consider necessary on our somewhat mixed route.
In studying comfort we do our utmost by personal attention, by the provision
of hot meals, adjustable seats, and other features to make our passengers
feel at ease, both in body and in mind. Unfortunately there are many factors
affecting mental comfort which we cannot control. Passports and visas are a
constant source of trouble and vexation. Believe it or not, the United
Kingdom still requires transit visas for people proceeding from South
America through the U.K. to other points in Europe. The purpose of these
transit visas is obscure; they are detrimental to this airline and, I
suggest, to this country. Formalities such as customs, immigration checks
and the like, are inevitable, but unfortunately they often cause delays
which are incomprehensible to the ordinary passenger. Sometimes, when all
formalities appear to be finished, passengers are still kept waiting for
long, desolate periods.
We take all possible steps to mitigate these trials. We try to avoid early
morning departures, and to complete as many formalities as we can on our
passengers' behalf. We try also to keep our passengers informed. I would
like to stress that most of the officials concerned do their best; but the
regulations in all countries, Britain included, are a serious obstacle still
to comfortable air travel.
In running an air line there are a million points to watch. A one-year-old
air line is hardly mature; there is vast development to be done. But in this
great new field of enterprise, vital to Britain's trading prosperity, we in
this country have relatively long experience, a temperament bred of
sea-farers which makes us air-farers, and I believe, the will to achieve. We
must banish our national failing of under confidence and we must be British:
then we shall succeed.