Making Its Mark – The Short Lived History Of Paramount Airways

In the 1970s and 80s, numerous charter airlines were set up in the UK to cash in on the booming Inclusive Tour (IT) holiday market.

Some of these new starters would stand the test of time, while others would be less successful.

One such carrier was Paramount Airways (QJ), created on June 8, 1986 to provide flights for established and independent tour operators.

Management then set about looking for a suitable aircraft and base for its operations.

Bringing The Mad-Dog To Britain

Bristol Airport (BRS) was chosen for its base, and discussions began between the airline and US plane-maker McDonnell Douglas (McD). The MD-80 series had been in service since 1980, and despite making an impact in the United States and Europe, it had failed to find a single operator in the lucrative UK market.

McD was determined to change this and approached Paramount, offering a deal that would see several MD-80s leased for seven years at a much lower cost and with full maintenance support. This was in exchange for an exclusivity deal, with the airline agreeing not to operate any other aircraft.

G-PATC pictured enjoying the evening sunshine at Bristol Airport. Image: See photo)

In April 1987, the first of two 172-seat MD-83s (G-PATA and G-PATB) arrived at Bristol. Their arrival and subsequent entry-in-to-service made Paramount the first airline in the UK to operate the type, beating British island Airways (KD) by several months.

Paramount’s maiden flight took to the skies on May 1, 1987 from Bristol to Tenerife (TFS) and later that day to Malaga (AGP).

The airline added further routes that summer to the traditional bucket-and-spade Mediterranean hotspots, including Gran Canaria (LPA), Alicante (ALC), Ibiza (IBZ), Palma (PMI), Mahon (MAH), Malta (MLA), Corfu (CFU), Thessaloniki (SKG), Athens (ATH), Rhodes (RHO), Larnaca and Paphos (PFO).

UK airports Birmingham (BHX), Cardiff (CWL) and London Gatwick (LGW) also received flights during the successful first summer season.

In The Bleak Midwinter

During the quieter winter 1987 months, the MD-83s plied the usual sun routes to the Canary Islands. The airline also took the unusual move of launching a weekly flight from LGW to Goa, India. The MD-83 could not fly the route non-stop and operated via Egypt, The United Arab Emirates and Oman.

G-PATA pictured at London Gatwick. (Image: Unknown)

One of its MD-83s was also leased to British Airways (BA) for routes out of London Heathrow (LHR), and work was secured with a German tour operator.

Paramount introduced two further examples (G-PATC and G-PATD) in Spring 1988. The type had proved incredibly popular with passengers and crew. One was based permanently at BHX, while the other was split between Newcastle (NCL) and Belfast International (BFS). Flights were also added from Exeter (EXT), East Midlands (EMA) and Glasgow (GLA).

Along with Air 2000 (DP), Paramount was able to boast the youngest charter fleet in the UK. This broke the mould for charter airlines, who had previously relied on cheaper second-hand jets to ply their routes.

Smoking Ban

It also became the first charter airline to introduce a complete smoking ban onboard its aircraft. At the time, most carriers still had a smoking section towards the rear of the plane. Paramount chose to remove this “luxury,” much to the annoyance of some passengers.

One such passenger was Maureen Harkavy, 47. Mrs Harkevy had been involved in an altercation with a Paramount Captain after refusing to stop smoking during her flight. “I only found out about it [the smoking ban] when I was checking in. I’m a nervous flyer, so I lit a cigarette during the flight. A stewardess asked me to put it out, but I said I wanted to carry on as there was no rule against smoking on the plane,” explained Mrs Harkavy. This was when the “loud and rude” pilot arrived and told her that if she lit another cigarette, then he would divert the aircraft and have her offloaded.

When Mrs Harkavy arrived home, she wrote to the airline’s Chairman John Ferriday and received a rather shocking response. Mr Ferriday replied, “You seem to think you have a God-given right to pollute your neighbours’ atmosphere. Believe me, you haven’t. Especially when you travel on my planes.” Needless to say, Mrs Harkavy and her husband chose never to fly with Paramount again.

The airlines route map showing its unique India routing. (Image: Unknown)

Smoking issues aside, management wanted to expand the carrier’s operations in the Greek Islands. However, many of these smaller airports could not handle the airline’s MD-83s. Paramount needed another aircraft but was tied into the exclusivity deal with McD.

To get around this, the airline took over Amberair (DD) in October 1988, just a few months after it had started operations. With the takeover came a pair of Boeing 737-200s (G-BKMS and G-BOSA).

Amberair lasted just six months before being purchased by Paramount. (Image: Ken Fielding/https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfieldingCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

G-BKMS was sent to Hong Kong to help start up Dragonair (KA) on a winter lease. When it returned to the UK it was painted with Paramount titles and put into service. Meanwhile, G-BOSA remained on the ground at Bristol for many months before being sent to Luton Airport (LTN) due to issues with its lease and paperwork. It never flew for the airline.

At this time, Paramount also returned MD-83 G-PATC to the lessor. The jet had suffered numerous technical issues, which had resulted in a number of flights being cancelled.

This led management to look at sourcing another aircraft which came in the form of a brand new Boeing 737-300 series jet. G-PATE was introduced in June 1988. That winter, Paramount leased it to Ansett Australia (AN) to assist with its pilot strikes.

The 737-300 was never painted in the airlines full colour-scheme.(Image: See photo)

While the airline awaited the arrival of its new -300, it leased four Boeing 707s to cover the shortfall in capacity. Indeed, this wasn’t the first time Paramount had leased a 707. Issues with MD-83 ‘TC’ had led to an Air Seychelles (HM) example joining the fleet.

Additional capacity was also provided by American Trans Air (TZ), who leased a Boeing 727-100 wearing the ATA livery with Paramount titles.

The 727 was based at Gatwick. (Image: AirTeamImages)

Mounting Problems

Despite the introduction of new aircraft and numerous new contracts secured to keep its planes busy, behind the scenes, all was not well at Paramount.

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office was investigating the disappearance of £13.5 million from The Eagle Trust. The trust was a conglomerate of various businesses. The man who ran it was Paramount Chairman John Ferriday.

Talks swirled of a takeover by US carrier Sunworld International Airways (JK). Sunworld was based at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) and operated flights to various US cities with a fleet of Douglas DC-9 and Boeing 737 jets. However, the talks came to nothing due the airlines precarious financial situation.

On August 7, 1989 with Ferriday fleeing the country and debts of over £11 million, the administrators were called in.

G-BKMS also never received the airlines full livery. (Image: Ken Fielding/https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfieldingCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The administration order had been called by two of the airline’s tour operators, The Owners Abroad Group and The International Leisure Group. Both were concerned if Paramount would be able to fulfil the flights they had chartered.

According to The Owners Abroad Chairman, the group was due to make “very substantial payments to Paramount in respect of its flying commitments for the remainder of the summer season.” He added that, “The board was advised that Paramount was unable to pay its liabilities in full and in order for it to continue to trade and honour passengers bookings throughout the summer season, an immediate application for an administration order should be made.”

Both companies agreed to support Paramount during this period so that it could fulfil its obligations through the summer season and not leave passengers stranded.

G-PATD pictured at faro, Portugal. (Image: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons)

While operations continued, the administrators looked at selling the airline. There were several interested parties, one of which was a consortium of Paramount employees.

Plans were made for the winter season. The 737s were to be sent off on long-term leases (the -200 to Dragonair and -300 to Ansett) and the MD-83s were lined up for further operations with German tour operators.

However, Bristol and Birmingham Airports became uneasy with the airline’s situation and decided to impound a number of its aircraft to secure payments. QJ went on to pay out £350,000 and the aircraft were released.

But the damage was done. Paramount was permanently grounded on November 14, 1989 consigning another UK airline to the history books.

A corporate carrier known as Paramount Executive was established, with a Cessna 550 Citation II based at Birmingham. (Image: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons)

Fleet List

RegistrationAircraft Type Notes
G-PATAMcDonnell Douglas MD-83
G-PATBMcDonnell Douglas MD-83
G-PATCMcDonnell Douglas MD-83
G-PATDMcDonnell Douglas MD-83
G-BKMSBoeing 737-2Q8
G-BOSABoeing 737-204Never operated for Paramount.
G-PATEBoeing 737-33A

N.B. The author does not own the rights to any of the images included in this article unless otherwise stated.

© Jet Back In Time by Lee Cross

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