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50 years of adventures for our islands’ community airline

Travel | Published:

WORLD records, TV weddings, in-flight births – there’s very rarely a dull day at Aurigny.

For 50 years now the airline has been right at the centre of community life in the Bailiwick and it’s a testament to the people of Guernsey and Alderney that the airline has created so many lasting memories.

As we celebrate the airline’s 50th anniversary this year, so many staff and customers can reflect on their own adventures through the decades.

Aurigny CEO Mark Darby believes the airline’s strong connection with the community has been a driving force in the airline’s success.

He said: ‘There have been so many highlights at Aurigny over the last 50 years – really too many to list.

‘Many will remember we helped to break a world record in 1988 in conjunction with TSB Bank, we’ve had a birth on-board a Trislander, and more recently we had a wedding in the skies for the TV show Don’t Tell the Bride. We also flew the FA Cup to Guernsey just a couple of years ago and we ended last year celebrating two prestigious industry awards – ranked best short haul airline by Which? Magazine and taking third place in the Telegraph Travel Awards.

‘When our very first flight took to the skies on this day in 1968, I don’t think anyone could have ever imagined how the airline would grow and develop into what it is today. However, all the successes we have achieved over the years would not be possible without two key ingredients – our staff and, of course, the travelling public. As an airline, we have been really fortunate to have so many dedicated, skilled and long-serving employees in both islands. It’s incredible to think that some of our current staff began their careers with Aurigny all the way back in the 1970s, the early years of a then fledgling airline. Such long service is a real rarity in any industry and is a great advert for what we do.

‘We owe a huge debt to the travelling public for their continued support. Islanders who can remember when Aurigny began now travel with their children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, and we hope to welcome many more generations in years to come.

‘We are very proud to have served the islands for the last 50 years and we all look forward to continuing for many more decades.’

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Aurigny is planning a year of celebrations to mark the anniversary and wants the whole of the Bailiwick to get involved.

Following that successful first flight, all the way back on 1 March 1968, Aurigny started by making a few trips a day, with the initial aim of recouping the £20,000 cost of their first Islander aircraft.

Business took off and Aurigny obtained two more aircraft in May 1968. From these humble beginnings the airline has grown its passenger numbers and network considerably through the decades. The introduction of the iconic Trislander aircraft came in 1971 and just six years later the company grabbed the national media headlines by being the first airline in the world to ban smoking on all services. By 1980 the airline had been sold to a consortium led by the Exxtor Group Ltd and reached the 2m. passengers landmark. Today the airline has now carried more than 15.5m. people.

In 1988, an Aurigny Trislander was part of a successful world record attempt as the airline teamed up with TSB Bank and one of their employees. Bank worker Paula Van Katwyk, then Scrimshaw, successfully set the new world record for taking the most scheduled passenger flights in 24 hours – making 24 connections.

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A major milestone came in 2002 when Aurigny launched its website Aurigny.com (which now accounts for the vast majority of its bookings), and a year later the airline was bought by the States of Guernsey to safeguard key lifeline air links, including the London Gatwick route.

In 2011, Aurigny hit the headlines again when baby boy Xavier was born mid-flight between Alderney and Guernsey on a Trislander.

It was in 2014 that the airline’s flagship Embraer 195 jet arrived on island and operated its first flight between Guernsey and Gatwick. TV fame then came just a year later for the airline when Adam Ledner and Bianca John tied the knot in the skies, on an ATR, for the show Don’t Tell the Bride.

Since then, it hasn’t slowed and the airline has an action-packed and exciting year planned to mark its 50th birthday.

Vision of a founder

It would take too long to list all those who have played their part in Aurigny’s successes over the last five decades, but it was one man who truly set the foundations.

That was of course Aurigny’s founder, the late Sir Derrick Bailey, a man whose vision and determination launched a fledgling airline and ensured Alderney was an island that remained connected.

Proud of Aurigny and what it had achieved, Sir Derrick shared some fond memories and gave a touching tribute on his 90th birthday in 2008, a year before he died. He described his links to the airline as a ‘great privilege’.

‘I was called in by the States. Alderney was going to be left without a sea or air service at the time so it was vital something was done,’ he told the Guernsey Press.

‘When I started, everyone helped everyone and that was a wonderful experience to live through. Aurigny changed the island and I’m proud the company is still going strong.’

While Aurigny owes so much to Sir Derrick, the founding of the now States-owned airline was only one part of his remarkable life story. His South African father, Abe Bailey, was a politician, financier, diamond tycoon and first-class cricketer, while his mother, Mary, became a prominent aviator and earned the title of Dame.

Sir Derrick first became recognised as decorated Second World War pilot, being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944 for his gallantry and devotion to duty.

He was aged 21 and living in South Africa when the war broke out, joined the South African Irish Regiment and in 1940 transferred to the South African Air Force. Sir Derrick joined 223 Squadron of the RAF and the squadron took part in the bombing offensive against Luftwaffe airfields in Sicily and flew many sorties during an intensive period of operations. These missions were in support of the Allied attack on Salerno, south of Naples, which led to the surrender of the Italians to the Allied forces in September 1943.

He left the RAF in 1946, but retained a strong interest in aviation. When his step-brother John died on 13 February 1946, Derrick inherited his father’s baronetcy.

Sir Derrick returned to England in 1948 and farmed in Herefordshire and resumed his successful cricketing career, playing for Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, where he became captain.

With still a strong interest in aviation, Sir Derrick established Glos-Air, an aircraft maintenance business and became involved in Britten Norman, in the development of their Islander aircraft.

He then founded Aurigny in 1968, with the first flight taking to the skies on 1 March.

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