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The Threat from Above

Air travel was still beyond the reach of most postwar pockets. But with the introduction of ‘tourist class’ fares in 1953, the age of the plane was fast approaching.

Before the war, P&O had been somewhat ambivalent to the growing interest in air travel. But as the war had done so much to hasten the technical and commercial development of aircrafts, the Company could no longer ignore the threat from above.

In 1944, P&O amended its charter to allow the Company to ‘partake in air power’, however it was not until 1954 that it actually did. P&O’s subsidiary, GNSCo. (General Steam Navigation Company), acquired a majority stake in Britavia the owner of two airlines (Silver City and Aquila) with interests in air trooping, flying boats and a cross channel air service, carrying passenger and cars to the continent in a Bristol ‘Superfreighter’. Known as the ‘air ferry’, Silver City’s superfreighter was introduced in 1953 and carried over 25,000 cars in its first year.

In spite of the success of the air ferry, P&O’s board remained convinced that, although air and sea could be considered 'good neighbours in the same endeavour', air would never be a substitute for the sea.

In terms of freight they were right, but as the Company was about to discover; passengers were only too happy to take to the air…