Two large important airports, but passengers landing at one might want to catch a flight at the other — so how about a plane flight between the two?

That was the odd to our minds, but at the time quite sensible solution to how to persuade more airlines to use Gatwick when their passengers preferred Heathrow.

This was to solve two core problems. At the time, the 1960s, airlines were more often tools of government’s soft power projecting their country overseas and giving often first time flyers a more familiar experience. Government flagship airlines also liked to fly to important airports.

In London’s case, that meant Heathrow, not the second fiddle thing down at Gatwick — and this was even then causing unnecessary congestion at Heathrow. Airlines persuaded to land at Gatwick wanted a quick way of getting staff and passengers to other connecting flights that might be taking off at Heathrow.

Also at the time, the M25 motorway didn’t exist, so journeys by road were slow.

To solve this, on 25th June 1969 a plane offered very short shuttle hops between the two airports. Seems that it was supposed to launch on the 21st June, but for some reason, didn’t.

Launched by Cornwall-based Westward Airlines using a small “island hopped” plane between Heathrow and the General Aviation Terminal at Gatwick. The service offered 6 flights per day when it launched, with 8 flights at weekends.

The trips cost £4 one-way, and freight was carried at a rate of 5s a pound.

However, the service wasn’t that well promoted, and the operator had problems when its plane had an accident in February 1970 and they had to lease a second plane instead.

They also suffered from problems flying into Heathrow behind the big transatlantic planes, and the huge turbulence they left in their wake. One pilot tells of the time his plane was thrown into a 90 degree bank and was nearly turned upside down when he came too close to the plane in front.

There was also the problem of the unions, who objected to the airline using sub-contracting for its desk staff at the airports.

The service managed to limp on for a few more months, but closed on the 22nd August 1970. It does however still hold the record of offering the shortest regular flights out of Heathrow.

This should be the end of the story – a little known short lived shuttle between two airports. But in fact a different service returned, as Airlink, and this time using helicopters. It ran from 9th June 1978 until 6th February 1986, when it was suddenly shut-down due to political pressure about the helicopter noise, and at last, the opening of the M25 motorway.

Additional sources:

Newcastle Journal – 18th February 1969

Workers Press – 13th November 1969

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5 comments on “50 years ago – planes start flying between Heathrow and Gatwick
  1. Peter Gutfreund says:

    Some more about the helicopter transfer here https://www.headforpoints.com/2018/11/17/old-british-airways-helicopters-fleet-still-alive-well/ – no wonder there were noise issues if they were using Chinooks

  2. JP says:

    Surely a case for HS 42½ linking the two. But then it’s a rather expensive project to slice through all that Home Counties private property so stuff the congested airspace.
    Congestion! What congestion? Just wait until the UberAmazonians of this (future) world get their unmanned aerial taxis up and running and the odd chopper, Chinook or no, will seem like the gentle twitter of a hummingbird.

  3. Mike O'Hara says:

    I used the helicopter frequently in the early 80s; it was an S61 (SeaKing, with seats and a hostie). Always amazed by the many garden swimming-pools in opulent suburbia enroute!

    It was replaced by nonstop GreenLine coach 747, once the M25 made this possible, no doubt to the celebrations of the Surrey swimming-pool elite!

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