A history of Jersey transport - air

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A very unusual place to find a seaplane - Anne Port on Jersey's east coast in the 'thirties

By Doug Ford


The first reference to aviation in the Channel Islands appears in La Gazette de l'Ile de Jersey on Saturday, 5 June 1790 when Mr Granger, a master of St Mannelier's School, announced that he would send up a balloon with a circumference of 90 feet (82 ft 6 in English measurement) on 12 June, subject to fine weather.

In the same newspaper on 12 June it was announced that the flight would take place at six o'clock from the courtyard of the Hospital. In this report the balloon is described as 36 feet high and with a circumference of 104 feet.

On 19 June La Gazette announced that Mr Granger would send up a very large balloon from Mont de la Ville. This balloon remained airborne for 45 minutes before dropping into the sea.

The possibilities of air travel lent themselves to the transport of mail and in 1870 the first letter to arrive in the Island by air was carried from Paris by balloon.

Air race

Within nine years of the first flight by an aeroplane in 1903, heavier than air machines developed to a stage at which they could be raced over long distances. The first international air race took place on a 90-mile circular course between St Malo and Jersey on 26 August 1912. Of the seven aircraft that entered, one failed to take off, two retired and four reached the refuelling point in St Aubin's Bay. The winner was an American, Charles Weymann.

Two years later the peace of Europe was shattered by the outbreak of the Great War. This was the first war in which aeroplanes played an active part. In 1916 the French government established a seaplane station off Castle Cornet in Guernsey, after German submarines had been spotted in local waters. Out of the 6,292 Jerseymen and women who donned their King's uriniform, 179 were associated with the Royal Flying Corps or the Royal Naval Air Service, and of these eight were killed.

On 10 August 1918, Flight Lieutenant Stanley Mossop landed his Wight seaplane in St Helier harbour so that he could spend an afternoon with his family before flying back to Cherbourg. Two days later Mossop and his navigator crashed to their deaths in the harbour of Port-en-Bessin near Bayeux, while trying to land with a damaged tailplane. Flight Lieutenant Stanley Mossop was just 19 years old.


On Saturday 20 October 1917 Miss Gertrude Bacon, the first woman to travel by airship, gave a talk to the St Helier Church Literary Society entitled "Flying Machines In Peace and War". She predicted that after the Great War civilians would travel from London to Paris by air and that an airport would be built in Jersey. However, she believed that air travel would be carried out by dirigible balloon, not aeroplane.

Men of vision

In 1919 during a national rail strike, ' 'Lloyds Weekly News ' ' was brought into the Island by air. The development of this alternative form of transport was watched with keen interest by the officers of the Jersey Chamber of Commerce who realised the potential of air travel, especially for freight. The officers behind this were EF Guiton and WG Bellingham.

Their campaign began in 1920 with letters to the Postmaster General and to the States in which they pointed out the future possibilities and benefits to the Island. There were intermittent flying services to the Island between 1924 and 1930 but these were largely an extension of the Southampton - Guernsey route which used amphibious aircraft landing in St Aubin's Bay.

In 1930 the Jersey Chamber of Commerce discussed the building of an airport for the Island and in the next two years a number of sites were considered: the race course at Les Quennevais, the prisoner of war camp on Blanches Banques, Les Landes, Les Platons, Mont de la Mare and a site near St Peter's Barracks.

In 1932 Mr LMJ Balfour of the Portsmouth, Southsea and Isle of Wight Aviation Company narrowed this selection down to the Mont de la Mare site and the St Peter's Barracks site. It was at this stage that the Jersey Chamber of Commerce approached the Island authorities with their plans to seek official approval for an airport to be built near St Peter's Barracks.

By March 1933 land owners had been approached, the Secretary of State at the War Office had given his approval and the Bailiff, Charles Malet de Carteret presented the "Airport Package" as proposed by the Attorney General, Alexander Coutanche, to the States.

One of the points that the States wanted clarified was answered by a letter on 10 October, 1933 "fixed wing aircraft are here to stay".

Jersey Airways' entire fleet in 1936 - eight planes - lined up on the beach at West Park

Jersey Airways and the beach

Meanwhile, while the search for a suitable airport site was going on, three friends, WL Thurgood, LTH Greig and JA Perree launched Jersey Airways Limited on 9 December 1933 with the purpose of using a beach aerodrome at West Park. This aerodrome was administered by the Piers and Harbours Committee and must hold the distinction of being the first authorised airport in the world to be submerged twice a day and to have a timetable controlled by the tides.

Aircraft movement was preceded by two policemen clearing a path for the aeroplane and the runway along the sand was cordoned off with rope.

The first aircraft, a DH 84 Dragon, took off for Portsmouth carrying eight passengers on 18 December 1933. The following month a Jersey-London service was started and in March the Jersey-Southampton service was inaugurated. Between June and September a twice weekly Jersey-Paris service was added. During the first full year of operation over 20,000 passengers were carried.

In 1935 Jersey Airways switched to the 14-seater DH 86 Express, capable of cruising at 200mph, flew over 450,000 miles, carried 24,717 passengers, 152,764 lbs of freight. However, because of their low profit margins and reinvestment policy, the annual profit was only £361. By 1936 over 30,000 passengers were carried, although some of these were "joy-riders" who only went up for a short trip.

In early 1937, with the building of the airport at St Peter well under way, the Southern and Great Western Railways bought shares in Jersey Airways and introduced air/rail tickets for the growing tourist market. On 10 March 1937, with the opening of the new airport, the last plane took off from the beach at West Park.

The Airport was officially opened that day by Mrs Coutanche, the wife of the Bailiff, in the presence of the Bailiff, Mr G F B de Gruchy, the President of the Piers and Harbours Committee, and senior representatives from the Air Ministry. Initial estimates for the building of the Airport in late 1933 were £19,000. This was revised early in 1934 to £30,000, and the amount of land to be purchased was 145 vergees (64 acres). By February 1936 £97,000 had been spent, and by the opening ceremony in 1937 the total cost was £127,000, and it covered 218 vergees (97 acres).

The plans for the Airport were drawn by Norman, Munz and Dawbarn. The terminal buildings and the two hangars were built by E Farley and Son

On 1 June 1937 a Jersey-England airmail service was inaugurated. In 1938, 17,400 passengers were carried, including a new service - Paris-Dinard-Jersey.

Newspaper opposition

During the first year of operation an estimated 20,000 visitors flew into the Island, many of them with holiday money to spend. Freight traffic also increased. The Airport was seen as a gateway to prosperity. But not everybody agreed:

"As we have contended all along, Jersey Airport will in the end not only be a costly luxury to the Island at a time of peace but a potential danger in times of war." (' 'Evening Post ' ', 2 April 1938)

When war was declared on 3 September 1939 the Airport was requisitioned by the military authorities yet, despite this, Easter 1940 saw the usual rush by UK holidaymakers. However, by the end of June 1940 the Air Ministry suspended operations and destroyed any equipment that would be of use to the Germans.

On 1 July a Dornier 17z and some Junkers JU 52 aircraft of the German Luftwaffe landed and the German Occupation of the Island began. Seven wooden hangars were rapidly built and during the Battle of Britain the Airport was used for refuelling and rearming the various bombers and fighters. When the Battle of Britain ended Jersey Airport drifted into relative obscurity although it was enlarged. After the Allied Invasion of Normandy activity at the Airport increased as this was the only way to supply the Island.

Within three weeks of Liberation on 9 May 1945, the first Jersey Airways aircraft returned to the Island and scheduled passenger flights began in June. The administration of the airport was handed back to the States on 2 October 1945.

Jersey Airport in 1946 - the Labour Government wanted to nationalise it, but the States said 'no'

Labour Government threat

The next apparent threat to the Island's independence and to the Airport came in 1946, not from an enemy power but from the United Kingdom's Labour Government, which wanted to nationalise all airports in the British Isles, including the Channel Islands. This was seen as the British government meddling in Island affairs and there was strong resistance to it. As a result of this altercation the Airport remained under States control, but with requirements to upgrade its facilities. However, Jersey Airways was taken over by British European Airways, the nationalised airline.

1951 - the grass runway was replaced with a 1,400 yard tarmac runway.

In 1957 the "Evening Post", after 20 years of hostility, came out in favour of the Airport. In a leader on 20 February it said:

"It is fairly certain that were there no air services, hardly one quarter of the present numbers of tourists would make the journey by sea. ... Jersey's prosperity and even her standard of living become even more dependent upon the maintenance of efficient airline services to and from all parts of Britain ..."

This acceptance of the role of the Airport can be seen in the extension to the runways and their conversion to tarmac to take the new, larger aircraft that had been introduced. New departure facilities were built and modern equipment was purchased. The air/sea figures for 1955 showed that, for the first time, air travel had overtaken sea travel as a means of getting to the Island - 383,527 as against 354,416. In 1965, under Senator Wilfrid Kritchefski and his Harbours and Airports Committee, the number of air passengers exceeded 1,000,000.

1965 saw the introduction of scheduled jet services to the Island.

The most recent annual figures (1986) for the airport show that there were 29,131 commercial traffic movements into and out of the Island. Altogether 1,571,680 passengers and 8,361 tonnes of freight were carried.

Fatal accidents

The first fatal accident involving an aeroplane in Jersey happened on 26 August 1934 when a DH 84, the "St Ouen's Bay", belonging to Jersey Airways slewed to the right on take off and ran into the seawall crushing two boys. Dennis Henry Dutot was found to be dead on arrival at the Hospital and his friend, Raymond Pottigny, was injured.

Air travel claimed its next local victims on 31 July 1936 when the Jersey Airways amphibian, the "Cloud of Iona", failed to arrive from Guernsey. It would appear that the plane crashed into the sea somewhere to the south of Jersey. The bodies of the eight passengers and two crew, all wearing life-jackets, were washed up on the French coast a week later.

At 10.52am on 4 November, 1938 the Airport suffered its first tragedy. A Jersey Airways DH 86 Express (G-ACZN), the ' ' St Catherine's Bay ' ', en route for Southampton, crashed on take-off into a field in Rue es Minquiers killing the 13 passengers and crew. The pilot was a Capt Carey and the radio officer was Jack Lyons. Four of the passengers were Major Voisin, his wife and two children. A 14th body was found and proved to be Mr Edmund Le Cornu, the foreman of Mr Lauren's farm, St Peter.

The most recent commercial aircraft accident to occur on the Island was a British United Dakota on 14 April 1965, en route from Paris to Jersey. While trying to land in fog the plane struck a landing pole in Oak Walk, St Peter, cartwheeled into a field and burst into flames. Twenty three passengers and three crew died. The only survivor was an air hostess, Dominique Sillere, who was found lying unconscious with both legs broken near the wreckage.

Despite these accidents, Jersey airport has one of the best safety records in the world.

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