Air Transport World

Flight of the phoenix: like the legendary bird, British Airways' Highlands Division has been revived and continues to thrive.

Flight of the phoenix

Like the legendary bird, British Airways' Highlands Division has been revived and continues to thrive. Text and photos by Robert W. Moorman. Glasgow, Scotland--The twin Rolls-Royce Dart turboprop engines drone on as Capt. John Simpson points out some of the more scenic sights below to the jump-seat visitor during the hour-long morning flight flow Glasgow to Isle of Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.

Loch Lomond, the mountains of Argyll, Inverary, the Clyde estuary and the North Minch Sea pass beneath our "Budgie," the affectionate moniker that the Scots use to refer to the British Aerospace 748. Off to the southwest is Benbecula island. Nearby is the Isle of Skye. It's a trip that would turn travel writers green with envy.

The British Airways Budgies provide "lifeline" service daily between Glasgow and a number of islands and remote communities in the Scottish Highlands. Although the distance between Glasgow and Stornoway is a little over 200 mi., getting there by surface transportation can be a 12-hr. ordeal. Surface transportation involves taking the road from Glasgow north and hopping the sea ferry over to the island. "When the seas are rough, this can be a relatively inhospitable area," Gerry Devine, the soft-spoken manager of the Highlands Division, offers. While not the most comfortable of aircraft, the 44-passenger Budgie is a welcome alternative for tourists, business people and island residents traveling between Stornoway and the mainland.

125 million [pounds] 748 refurbishing

The Highlands Division fleet consists of nine refurbished 748s and eight 62-seat ATPs, BAe's follow-on to the 748. Much of ATP's design is based on the 748, a flaw in design, say some critics of the next-generation aircraft. British Airways spent nearly 125 million [pounds] ($236 million) to refurbish all of the 748s. As a result, the average age of the all turboprop fleet is down from 10 years in December, 1988 to 3. …

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