27 December 2009

While the long rivalry between British Airways and British Caledonian Airways is well-known, from 1978 to 1986 the two bitter rivals actually partnered together with the British Airports Authority to operate a helicopter shuttle service to connect interline passengers between London Heathrow and London Gatwick. Initially utilizing a Sikorsky S-61N registered as G-LINK and "Gatwick Heathrow Airlink" titles, later on both British Airways Helicopters and BCal Helicopters provided back up helicopters.

At the time of the service launch on 9 June 1978, the helicopter flight took 25 minutes to connect the two airports with 28 passengers on each run. The first flight left Gatwick at 0710 and the last flight returned at 2010 hours- uniquely, G-LINK was owned by the British Airports Authority, based at Gatwick with British Caledonian flight and cabin crews, administration and ticketing but the helicopter was maintained at British Airways Helicopters' base at Gatwick.

By the time of the route's last flight on 6 February 1986, flight times were only 12 minutes and 24 passengers were taken on each flight, a reduction of four seats due to the need for baggage space. A one way flight cost £21. The flights would be boarded with the rotors already turning and as such, the "Caledonian Girls" that were part of the cabin crew had lead weights sewn into the hemlines of their skirts to keep them from flying up in the rotor downwash.

The end of the unique service came at the instruction of the British government once the M25 freeway was completed.

Source: Aircraft, December 2009. "Gone But Not Forgotten...British Caledonian" by Bruce Hales-Dutton. Box feature "The Airlink Service", p41.

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