Today we are going to take a look at former British charter airline, Donaldson International Airways, and look at its short six-year history. However, before we get into that, let’s first look and see how Donaldson International Airways came to be.

In the 1850s, two brothers, John and William, worked as ship brokers in Glasgow, eventually leading to them becoming owners of their first ship. Named the “Joan Taylor,” the 229-ton wooden sailing bark began trading between Glasgow and the River Plate in Argentina.

The shipping line began taking passengers

Their South American exploits proved very lucrative, leading to new ships and further expansion. By the turn of the century, the Donaldson line was busy ferrying immigrants from Europe to Canada, where they hoped to start a new life.

World War One was challenging for the shipping company, but it survived and found new routes and means of making money. WWII also proved difficult, with the company losing many of its ships to German U-Boats, but the nail in the coffin was the introduction of containerization in the 1950s.

A Glaswegian travel agency started the airline

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, as Britain recovered from the war and people grew more affluent, they started to venture abroad on vacation. Back then, there was no Internet, so people would book their holidays using travel agents. Seeing a huge potential, the travel agencies would book entire hotels for their customers and eventually even start their own airlines.

A Donaldson International Airways Bristol Britannia coming in for landing at London Southend Airport.

Using the Donaldson name in 1968, Glasgow-based Mercury Air Holidays formed Donaldson International Airways and began life with two four-engined Bristol Britannia turboprops. One of the aircraft was based at Glasgow Prestwick Airport (PIK) and the other at London Gatwick Airport (LGW).

As the business began to grow, a further two Bristol Britannia’s were added to the fleet, allowing Donaldson International Airways to begin flying charters from Manchester Ringway Airport(MAN).

Donaldson starts flying Boeing 707s

Now firmly in the jet age, Donaldson International Airways looked westward and decided that it would like to begin flying from the United Kingdom to North America. With this in mind, the airline purchased two Boeing 707 aircraft in 1971 and two in 1972. Once it had the four jets, it sold its Bristol Britannia aircraft.

A Donaldson International Airways Boeing 707 being pushed back.

Not wanting to rely solely on revenue passengers, Donaldson had three of its Boeing 707s fitted with a cargo door to allow them also to carry air freight. Donaldson International Airways achieved the front page of all the British newspapers when in 1972, its aircraft evacuated Indians from Uganda.

At the time, there were around 80,000 people of Indian descent living in Uganda. Generally speaking, they were better educated and held better jobs than the native Ugandans, which led to Ugandan President Idi Amin using them for his political ambitions. On August 4, 1972, Amin accused the Indian minority of corruption and sabotaging the Ugandan economy.

Seeing as the vast majority of the Indians held British passports, Amin told the British that they would have to take them. During the expulsion, Donaldson’s Boeing 707 were used to repatriate the Indians to the UK, flying them from Entebbe International Airport (EBB) to London Gatwick Airport (LGW) and London Stansted Airport (STN).

A Donaldson International Airways Boeing 707 landing at London Gatwick Airport.

During the oil crisis in 1973, Donaldson struggled but managed to keep flying, and in 1974 operated flights on behalf of Iraqi Airways. Unfortunately, this proved insufficient to pay the bills, and in August 1974, the Boeing 707s owner Pan American Airways, repossessed the planes.


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