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PAGE LINKS: HOME Skip Navigation Links > This site > June-Dec 2011 > Heathrow

Heathrow by Tony Wilson

Heathrow

by Tony Wilson

Added to website 30 October 2011


The World’s Favourite (allegedly)

With the latest commercial television advertising campaign for British Airways (allegedly the world’s favourite airline if you believe the spin), now in full swing, I am reminded of the many happy hours spent in and around Heathrow Airport either working or lurking with the Box Brownie to hand. Over the years these television adverts and their choice of accompanying music have entertained me. The latest is no exception as it appears to chart the development of the company and flight over the years from early beginnings to the present day. Of course no such campaign would be complete without a fitting tribute to Concorde amongst the images. Like many others I have been fascinated by this amazing feat of engineering and was sad to see the passing of the aircraft, which for a while transformed air travel, especially across the Atlantic.

Heathrow

1. Concorde taxiing on the tarmac at Heathrow in 1975.


But enough of the air transport, let us get our feet and indeed our wheels back onto terra firma and look at the buses and coaches that have served the company and its predecessors at Heathrow over the years from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Heathrow

2. Up until the mid-1960s London Transport had the responsibility on behalf of British European Airways (BEA), of operating a fleet of sixty-five AEC Regal IV coaches with one and half decked bodywork provided by Park Royal. These coaches built 1952-1953 had been especially designed by the London Transport Board in order to cater for passengers traveling between the West London terminal at Cromwell Curve and Heathrow Airport. The vehicles could carry thirty seven seated passengers, with their luggage stowed in a large area beneath the upper level of seats.

Heathrow

3. With the growth of air travel during the 1960s it was deemed necessary to replace the older coaches with larger vehicles. Thus a fleet of sixty-five forward entrance AEC Routemasters were ordered by BEA and delivered between October 1966 and April 1967. Once again London Transport assumed the responsibility to operate the vehicles on behalf of BEA. Earlier there had been a successful trial with a unique Routemaster at the time, RMF 1254 which had operated with a trailer in tow. As a result all sixty-five buses were fitted with a rear towing bracket to which a purpose built trailer was attached. Here in the first livery in which the fleet operated is BEA fleet number 31 on layover at the West London terminal.

Heathrow

4. By 1971 BEA had decided to redesign their image especially for the vehicle fleet. Included was the fleet of Routemasters and BEA number 44 is illustrated in the revised livery again at the West London terminal near to Gloucester Road Station on the Circle, District and Piccadilly lines of the Underground system.

Heathrow

5. Into the mid-70s and gone was the rather garish orangey and white livery. BEA merged with the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) in 1974 and a fresh new image appeared on all their planes, support vehicles and inevitably on the Routemaster fleet. With a full head of steam up, one of the bus fleet sped London-bound along the M4 Motorway near to Hayes in October 1976 and displayed the revised livery of red, white and blue. The Union flag was also featured on the luggage trailer no doubt filled to capacity as the bus appeared to be carrying an almost maximum number of passengers.

Heathrow

6. Headed in the opposite direction towards Heathrow another of the buses this time with the trailer on full view. Access on these trailers was from the sides and rear and also featured an orange flashing unit for airside operation. Again the bus appeared to carry a full compliment of passengers, no doubt bound for exciting and maybe exotic destinations. Mind you if my memory serves me correct, 1976 was a particularly splendid year for weather here in the United Kingdom.

Heathrow

7. The front nearside aspect of number 61 as it lay over between duties at Heathrow. Red, white and blue was very much the colours, even with the advertising on the side panels.

Heathrow

8. Other double-deckers were also operated by British Airways (BA) during this period, but none were of the half-cabbed design. The Leyland Atlantean had by now been placed into full production along with the rival Daimler Fleetline. Here one of the former, a Leeds-based Roe bodied version on a particularly quiet M4 Motorway near Hayes in October 1976, as it sped London-bound. A large baggage area was created in the lower deck at the rear of the bus.

Heathrow

9. An earlier BA Leyland Atlantean with Metro-Cammell Weymann coach seated bodywork again with a baggage area in the lower saloon, this time on the internal road system within the airport. It was March 1977 and a major rebuilding of the bus station was underway in preparation for the extension of the Piccadilly underground line to the central area, which would in some way impact upon the connecting road services in due course.

Heathrow

10. So now onto the airport itself and buses played an important role in the 1970s. They were used primarily to transfer passengers from the departure areas to the planes on the tarmac and also between the terminal buildings. High capacity single-deckers such as this Marshall bodied twin-steered Bedford VAL were in regular employment. Ten of these buses were acquired by BA in 1965 and featured dual-doors one set on each side of the bodies (see explanation later).

Heathrow

11. A nearside of a similar bus in the fleet illustrates the single doorway, the roof lights for added interior visibility and the two flasher units on the roof for airside employment.

Heathrow

12. In comparison BA’s number C562 is a later version, one of eight supplied in 1967 that featured the offside doorway as well as an extra door to the rear of the nearside. The bus is passing along the internal airside roadway with metal baffles on either side to prevent wind and exhaust damage from the planes on the tarmac.

Heathrow

13. BA acquired forty-two Leyland Nationals during the 1970s but only three with the front platform as shown here. There were also some AEC Swifts with the platform too and one of those is preserved. The idea was that the bus would drive head-on right up to the foot of the aircraft steps and passengers could step smoothly onto them. Fine idea but (a) the older aircraft steps (ie those that you dragged in and pushed out by arm-work) were just about OK, but there was a fair gap, and (b) the motorised steps. These, because they were braked by using jacks, had the bottom step which folded down when in use and up when not in use. By driving the bus up against it, people had to step down to the bottom step which caused it to wobble or to the second step which meant a "mind the gap" situation.
What with the open platform threatening to scoop up any rogue children, cats and debris, 'Elf';n'Safety would have had a corporate fit if they were still used today. Also, the 'rule' when airside is to have vehicles servicing an aircraft being parked facing away from the aircraft to be able to make an emergency exit. All modern airliners (since Comets anyway) have passenger doors on the Port (that's left side facing forward) side. Thus you parked a bus facing away from the aircraft meaning that its offside is nearest the steps. Driving right up to the steps with these platform buses was not strictly permissible. Yes it was done to start with, but the practice very soon fell into disuse and the front platform door was usually kept closed, so making it irrelevant. They were fairly soon rebuilt with normal front doors, and later Nationals came with normal front doors, but also with centre exit doors on both sides. The front and nearside doors were used against the pavement at the terminals, and the offside doors were used almost exclusively at aircraft side (here endeth the lesson).

Heathrow

14. Something a little bit smaller and younger. In 1981 four of these Ford R1014 with angular Lex Mexeta bodies were acquired for crew transfer work. For such a small sized vehicle it was unusual for them to have 20-seat dual-door bodywork, one door on the nearside by the driver, the other on the offside as shown. Between this door and the driver, one can make out racks for the baggage.

Heathrow

15. Looking somewhat dated (in my humble opinion), was this East Lancs bodied Scania K112. Nine of these dual-purpose 37-seater buses were acquired and placed into service in this allover yellow livery. They were employed on inter-terminal transfers as shown by the statement beneath the windscreen that read “Terminals 1 & 4”. This was 1987 and to the left of the picture one can make out the rebuilt central bus and coach station. Some years later several of these buses turned up in Northern England when acquired by the Yorkshire Terrier bus company based in South Yorkshire. They were repainted into a bright yellow and green livery and operated on ordinary stage services in and around the Sheffield area.

Heathrow

16. Moving into the 1990s and yet another revision to the livery after a further makeover. Gone was the red, white and blue and other liveries replaced by sort of red, grey and blue hues. Pausing for custom in the central area in October 1995, BA’s number CC473 one of fourteen Van Hool midibuses which looks a bit more modern than some of the earlier vehicles.

Heathrow

17. Back in time for this one though. March 1977 and a number of these crowd movers were employed on airside duties as illustrated by the number of roof mounted flasher units. These were drawn by a fleet of Bedford tractor units which appeared to feature windows in their roofs. Supposedly these were to allow additional visibility when manoeuvring near aircraft on the tarmac.

Heathrow

18. And even further back in time to complete this piece. We began sort of around 1970 and indeed this was taken in April that year, a fine line-up of older Bedford tractor units and their trailers parked up and awaiting their next airside duties. They were obviously at that stage between livery change from the blue and white to the gaudy orange and white.

Heathrow

19. And finally. We began with Concorde, so it is fitting that we end with her. On the 2nd June 1996 Concorde was used in a fly-past along with the Red Arrows to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Heathrow Airport. The first Concorde flew in 1969 and entered commercial service in 1976. Twenty were built. Regrettably the awful crash of the Air France Concorde in July 2000 signalled the final chapter for the aircraft which was duly retired in November 2003.


With acknowledgement to Dave Stewart for guidance on some of the text who worked airside with British Airways during this period.


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