Dan Air’s Trijet’s – The History Of The Boeing 727 With The UK’s Largest Independent Airline

The Boeing 727 first took to the skies on February 9, 1963. The distinctive T-tailed trijet quickly became a hit with airlines around the world. It became the first commercial aircraft to break the 1,000 sales mark, and when production ended in September 1984, 1,832 examples had been built.

However, one market where the 727 failed to take off was the UK. Several airlines showed interest in the jet, including British Midland, Courtline and even British European Airways (BEA). The UK government would subsequently force the latter to purchase the 727s British rival, the Hawker Siddeley Trident. Only three British carriers would ever operate the airliner: Sabre Airways, Cougar and Dan Air.

Boeing 727-46 G-BCDA pictured at Manchester Airport in the airlines final livery. (Photo: Andrew Thomas from Shrewsbury, UKCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Dan Air History

Dan Air (DA) was created in March 1953 by shipping brokers Davies and Newman LTD. The airline eventually became the UK’s biggest independent airline, flying inclusive tour (IT) charter flights, short-haul domestic and European scheduled flights, plus worldwide affinity group/Advanced Booking Charters (ABC flights).

DA operated a large and varied fleet from the outset and was famed for acquiring cheaper second-hand aircraft. This included the Airspeed AS.57 Ambassadors purchased from BEA and BOAC’s de Havilland DH.106 Comet 4C fleet from 1966.

Dan Air became the largest operator of the Comet in the world. Comet 4C G-BDIT is pictured at Birmingham Airport in 1976. (Photo: Rob HodgkinsCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

By the early 1970s however, the Comet had become an expensive aircraft to operate. A lack of spares for the type had led to significant disruption to DA’s summer flying programme. New charter carriers were emerging with more modern fleets, and DA needed something to keep up with its rivals.

Initially, the airline looked at the brand new Boeing 737-200 Advanced. However, management also wanted to stick with the company’s ethos of ‘value’ and the new 737 was proving expensive.

Dawn Of The Trijet Era

In November 1972, DA revealed that it would purchase three Boeing 727-100s from Japan Air Lines (JL). The rising price of fuel, coupled with the fact that the 727 was not flown by another British airline and therefore not on the British register, meant that the change of plan came as a shock to many in the industry and even made news headlines.

One of Dan Air’s key people Frank Horridge with a model of the airlines 727. (Photo: Dan Air Remembered)

The first 727 to join the fleet was G-BAFZ, a -46 model delivered new to JL in January 1966. G-BAEF and G-BAJW were the second and third examples.

As the type was not on the British register, DA would fly all three jets via Boeing’s Kansas pre-delivery plant for significant modifications to match the UK requirements.

Part of the deal saw a 727-100 simulator shipped to the Dan Air Training Centre in Horsham. The simulator would remain with the airline for 18 years before being donated to Bristol University’s Department of Aerospace in 1992.

Japanese flight crews took the aircraft across the Pacific. The flight proved challenging as the jets were not fitted with High Frequency (HF) radio equipment. The jets would make stops at Wake Island and Honolulu. Here, they were refuelled and awaited a JL Tokyo to Los Angeles flight to pass over to give the crews a navigational fix.

G-BAFZ would serve with the airline until October 1987. (Photo: clipperarcticCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Major Modifications

Upon arrival, Boeing engineers set to work. The instruments in the flight deck were designed with a metric display. UK airlines required them to be in Imperial units. The aircraft’s interior would be modified to accommodate between 142 and 153 passengers. This increase meant that an additional over-wing emergency exit, aft of the wing, was added so that the aircraft could be evacuated within 90 seconds.

New fuel tanks were also added so that the type could operate without restriction from DA’s Berlin Tegel (TXL) base to Tenerife.

Finally, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) insisted that the 727s be fitted with an anti-stall system. This followed several high profile serious stall incidents with other T-tailed jets. A Stick Shaker’ ‘Stick Nudger’ and ‘Stick Pusher’ were installed, which would alert the pilots if a stall was imminent and help avoid a crash.

The modifications, many of which were demanded by ARB Test Pilot Captain Davies, would cost Dan Air £1 million per aircraft. This was despite numerous meetings with DA and CAA officials in an attempt to persuade them that the modifications were unnecessary.

Major modifications were made to the jet by both Boeing and also Dan Air Engineers. (Photo: Piergiuliano ChesiCC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

When the 727 arrived in the UK at the airlines engineering base at Lasham, Hampshire, DA Engineers set about making their own changes to the jets. This included new galleys and the removal of dividing walls at the front of the aircraft to give space for more seating. Finally, they were painted into the airline’s livery and were ready for service.

Inaugural Flight

Dan Air put the type into service on April 13, 1973. The flight departed DA’s Manchester (MAN) base, bound for Alicante (ALC) with a full complement of 153 passengers.

The fifth Boeing 727 to join the fleet had been purchased outright. Contracts with numerous tour operators, Lunn-Poly, Global, Clarksons and Sunmed, kept the fleet busy.

A line up 727s and a single BAC 1-11 at MAN. (Photo: Peter H)

In 1974 DA became the first airline in the world to appoint a female pilot to the role of Captain on the Boeing 727. Delphine ‘Deli’ Gray-Fisk was only the third female pilot at the airline after joining the company on January 18, 1971. She had initially applied for BEA without stating her sex. When the airline saw that she was female, her application was rejected. With Dan Air, she had started on the Comet fleet before progressing to the 727.

Pilot Delphine Gray-Fisk became the first female Captain of the 727 in the world. (Photo: Dan Air Remembered)

The 727 quickly became the flagship of the airline’s fleet. The eighth example joined the fleet in 1978, and the jets were based in both the UK and Berlin (TXL).

Arrival Of The -200

In the winter of 1979, intense planning began for the introduction of the larger Boeing 727-200 Advanced. The -200 series could carry 189 passengers, and its powerful engines gave the type a much greater range.

G-BHNE pictured at Gatwick in the late 1980s. (Photo: Tim Rees (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons)

The first -200 (G-BHNE) arrived in March 1980, acquired from Sterling Airways of Denmark. The second ex-Sterling example (G-BHNF) joined the fleet two weeks later.

A few weeks later, tragedy struck Dan Air and its 727 fleet. On April 25, 1980, 727-46 (G-BDAN) was operating flight DA1008 from MAN to Tenerife Los Rodeos Airport (TFN). Onboard were 128 passengers and eight crew members. Whilst on approach to TFN, the jet crashed into the El Diablo mountains. The accident remains the worst on the UK register in terms of lives lost.

The wreckage of G-BDAN in the El Diablo mountains. (Photo: Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives)

In May 1981, Dan Air flew one of its 727s to Sumburgh Airport to coincide with the Shetland Islands Sullom Voe Oil Terminal opening. Party dignitaries and press were on board to cover the event.

The arrival of the -200 also saw the unveiling of a new red, white and blue livery. Each aircraft also underwent a cabin makeover as they underwent routine maintenance. The makeover saw hat racks replaced by overhead luggage lockers. New carpets, lighting, seating, galleys and a fresh new bulkhead and wall design were aimed to make each aircraft look lighter and give a ‘wide bodied’ feel. It was estimated the alterations cost more than £1 million.

The 727 had one of the best despatch reliability levels in the industry, and more of the type joined the fleet. The airline also launched further scheduled services from LGW to Madrid (MAD), Lisbon (LIS) and Zürich (ZRH).

G-BKNG was later re-registered G-NROA. (Photo: KambuiCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

At the same time, DA also unveiled a new business class product known as ‘Class Elite.’ The 727 was one of the fleet types that received the latest product, and it became the first time that the airliner was used on scheduled routes.

Beginning Of The End

In 1989 Dan Air introduced the then state-of-the-art Boeing 737-400. The type’s arrival was seen as a significant milestone for the airline. Its operating costs were dramatically less than the 727, notably the -100 series. Management decided to look at consolidating its fleet around the more modern, fuel-efficient 737s and British Aerospace (BAe) 146s.

The introduction of the Boeing 737-400 signalled the end for the 727. (Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons)

The end was nigh for the 727, and Dan Air chose to dispose of its early -100 examples. The last flight of the model took place on October 31, 1990.

The end was also nigh for Dan Air itself. Years of financial losses had left the airline in a precarious financial position. Lack of integration with a UK tour operator had seen a decline in the passenger numbers on its once-lucrative charter business. The airline also had a varied and incompatible fleet that was older and less efficient than many of its rivals.

The 727 was one such aircraft. Despite once being the fleet’s flagship, it was fuel-thirsty, and a number had been acquired on somewhat unfavourable leases.

Dan Air’s last Chairman, David James, said about the type: “The Boeing 727s were a terrible burden. They were so expensive to fly. we were flying them just to pay to keep them flying.”

Despite talks with Virgin Atlantic (VS), it would be major rival British Airways (BA) that would become the new owners of Dan Air in 1992. BA paid just £1 for the airline, which it would absorb into its Gatwick operation.

The 727 proved extremely popular with passengers and crew and served with the airline until the end.

Dan Air had seven 727-200s left in the fleet at the time of the takeover. The last 727 service was flown by G-BNNI, which operated flight DA758/9 from Gatwick (LGW) to Oslo Fornebu Airport (FBU). At the controls was Captain Lenton.

The aircraft found new owners, including G-BPND and G-BPNI, which new UK charter carrier Sabre Airways acquired.

In total, Dan Air would fly ten -100s and ten -200s.

Fleet List

RegistrationAircraft TypeNotes
G-BAEFBoeing 727-46ex-Japan Air Lines
G-BAFZBoeing 727-46ex-Japan Air Lines
G-BAJWBoeing 727-46ex-Japan Air Lines
G-BCDABoeing 727-46ex-Japan Air Lines
G-BDANBoeing 727-46Involved in the Tenerife crash.
G-BEGZBoeing 727-193ex-Burma Airways
G-BFGMBoeing 727-095ex-Delta Airlines
G-BFGNBoeing 727-095ex-Delta Airlines
G-BHNEBoeing 727-2J4 Advex-Sterling Airways
G-BHNFBoeing 727-214 Advex-Sterling Airways
G-BHVTBoeing 727-212 Advex-Singapore Airlines
G-BIURBoeing 727-155ex-Ariana Afghanistan
G-BKAGBoeing 727-217 Advex-CP Air
G-BKCGBoeing 727-170ex-SAN Ecuador
G-BMLPBoeing 727-264 Adv
G-BNNIBoeing 727-276 Adv
G-BPNDBoeing 727-2D3 Adv
G-BPNSBoeing 727-277 Adv
G-BPNYBoeing 727-230 Advex-Condor
G-NROABoeing 727-217 Advex-CP Air

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s