Cause and Effect

Bad Timing; Good Recovery


Vickers, seeking to capitalize on their success with the Viscount and in response to a request from British European Airways, introduced the Vanguard in 1960. The problem is the Vanguard was a turboprop aircraft introduced at a time when jetliners were gaining widespread acceptance. The Sud Aviation Caravelle, Boeing 707, and Douglas DC-8 had just gone on sale and the venerable De Havilland Comet had been in use for 8 years. Predictably, this meant meager sales and a short production life for the new Vickers.

With only 44 aircraft produced over a few years, the Vanguard is what the kids at the Harvard Business School would call a “market failure”. Only two airlines bought the plane — the aforementioned BEA and Trans-Canada Airlines (now called Air Canada). However, buying an aircraft is not something to be taken lightly. It’s extremely rare for an airline to buy an aircraft then turn around and dump it a short time later. Like new cars, they depreciate almost immediately and the capital costs along with schedule impacts preclude the airline from saying, “Oh blimey. We shoulda bought a Comet. Eh?”

In 1966, TCA converted one of their Vanguards to a cargo version. With the Canadian-spec airframe, they could carry 42,000 lb. of cargo. While the rest of the Canadian Vanguards would remain passenger planes, the cargo version would be the last remaining Canadian Vanguard in service when it was finally retired in 1979.

BEA, suffering the humiliation in Europe of still flying passengers on propeller-driven planes, saw what the Canadians did and thought it was a good idea and began doing the same thing. By the early 1970s, all of the British Vanguards were flying cargo routes. The two airlines even gave cute names to their cargo variants. TCA called their cargo-ified Vanguard the “Cargoliner” and the Brits called theirs “Merchantman”.

Had the aircraft stayed in passenger format they probably would have been sold for scrap or to a third world country as soon as it made economic sense. Instead, the cargo variants remained, for the most part, with their original owners for quite a long time. Air Canada, as previously mentioned, kept theirs around for almost 20 years. BEA was still flying the Merchantman in 1976 when it merged with BOAC to form British Airways. BA kept the Merchantman for a few years more then sold their remaining fleet in 1979 to a cargo operator who, under one name or another, kept the old girls flying until 1996.

  • I did most of my flying 20 years ago. The main plane back then for the feed routes to the big airports was the Embraer EMB 120 or some other 20-30 seat prop plane. Now, all but the smallest routes seem to get at least a Bombardier CRJ 100/200 "Regional Jet". I have heard the main reason behind this was passenger aversion to flying a prop plane. I sure some sort of economics was involved too.

  • cruisintime

    Have we done the " Gimli Glider " yet?

  • Number_Six

    My outstanding memory of the Vanguard is the amazing noises the four Rolls Royce Tynes made.

  • nanoop

    It took me a minute to figure that the "zebra crossing" is not hoovering, casting a shadow…