Sir Freddie






Q: You talked very briefly about the thing being an improvisation, the whole airlift being and improvisation. Could you expand on that remark?

A: Well, it was improvisation in as much that nothing like it had ever happened before. it was half of military and halfcivilians. And I mean, they just grabbed aeroplanes from where they could get them. And they tried everything including flying boats. That turned out to be unsuccessful. And then of course there were certain aeroplanes that were unsuitable, because they were too slow. They were holding up the stream of aeroplanes. For example, a very successful British aeroplane, the Bristol Freighter, which had a nice big nose it could open and let the cargo in, it didn't carry a very high payload and was very slow. And if I remember rightly, they only made half a dozen flights with the Bristol Freighter, and couldn't use it, because of that. On the other hand, at the same time it was very successful carrying cars across the Channel. So you know, that was the sort - there was the sort of improvisation and of course we had to make all sorts of improvisations to change engines, get some form of cover. I mean, anything that looked like a tent was used, from all that point of view. But then there were the good sides. For example, we had great living accommodation. By a hotel that was taken over in Hamburg. So it wasn't all that uncomfortable, really. It was around the clock, day after day after day was the thing. But as I said, that became a crusade. It was almost as if the bomber squadrons had been put back together again and were out on a mission, but with a different enemy.

Q: Final question. Looking back over a very long and distinguished career in the industry, what place do you put the Berlin airlift of '48 and '49 in that story?

A: Well, from my point of view there is no doubt about it that it made me into a relatively wealthy person. I made a lot-by today's standards probably very little, but by those standards it made me a lot of money, and I was relatively rich and I was able to get enough capital together to stay in the business, obviously as I am today, for many, many years. And I've always said that the big start I had was the Berlin airlift. I just happened to have bought 12 surplus government airplanes from BOAC, oddly enough, in the May of 1948 and in August I'd got six of them working, I'd sold six, had hundreds of tons of spare parts and I thought, well this is a bit of luck for three or four weeks. Instead of that, I had it for 54 weeks. So from my point of view it was the best piece of luck I've ever had. But of course, unfortunately for the wrong reason.

Q: Final, final question. What was the attitude of the government of the day in Britain to commercial operations such as this?

A: Oh it was - well, it's - to say it was ridiculous would be a masterpiece of understatement. The government of the day, of course, had nationalised air transport, and the law from a practical point of view said though shalt not fly. And that was the law. And here come along literally well, I suppose, in terms of time from - two years they had to eat their words and literally throw the plan away. But of course, it took from 1945 until 1975 from a practical point of view to actually bring it to reality. But the Berlin airlift actually was the first start of deregulation of British air transport. Only because they didn't have aeroplanes, they just could not produce the lift to supply Berlin. And it threw and destroyed all their plans and long term plans for nationalisation. Of course now it's more or less disappeared. I'm not sure if if British Airways is truly privatised or not, because you know, the government always owns the golden share, the traffic rights.

(end of interview)