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Tue, Sep 19, 2006

Caribbean Airline Folds After 66 Years

So Long, BWIA

For nearly 66 years, British-West Indian Airways has been a staple of travel in the Caribbean. But come the end of this year... that will all fade into memory as BWIA is relegated to the boneyard.

Born in a transportation crisis, November 27th, 1940... BWIA (fondly referred to by locals as "BWEE") was Trinidad and Tobago's answer to the German U-Boat threat. After all -- shipping had been shaken up by submarines lurking throughout the Caribbean and the British colonies there were unable to communicate.

Legend has it that Lady Young, wife of the provincial governor, asked New Zealand native Lowell Yerex, "Would you be so kind as to look into starting a new airline for the West Indies?" Weeks later... Yerex and pilot Snark Wilson were at the controls of a Lockheed 18 Lodestar, flying from Trinidad to Tobago and Barbados.

While that route was a moneymaker early on, Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday magazine reports the airline has been stalked by financial problems throughout most of its life. In 1947, it was sold to British-South American Airways -- which then merged with BOAC.

Throughout years of turmoil, however, BWIA kept its own identity and expanded its services to the Caribbean.

The airline joined the jet age in 1967 -- replacing a couple of aging Vickers Viscount turboprops with Boeing 727s. But those financial problems continued to lurk in the shadows.

By 1994, BWIA had signed an agreement with the Acker Group and Loeb Partners. That didn't work. In the years that followed, there was a virtual parade of chairmen and CEOs... none of whom was really able to make a go of the airline.

Current CEO Peter Davies made the official announcement September 8 -- saying the decision to shut down the airline was difficult, given the "huge, magnificent history that the airline has had."

However, he added, "When I looked at the raft of situations we had had, I felt that was the preferred option."

The Caribbean's biggest airline makes its final flight December 31st... and a piece of aviation history goes along with it.



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