Roger Byron-Collins of Welbeck Estate Group started his entry into the world of aviation whilst living at RAF Northolt. I wished to obtain my PPL at 17 years old but after my third lesson on the flying course at Denham I decided it was only for professionals as a result of a near miss on landing, even though not my fault. However I always maintained an aviation interest being the son of a former RAF aircrew officer who served in the RAF from 1939 to 1982. My father, Arthur flew Devons at RAF Northolt flying DH104 Devons with Met Comm Squadron and passengers invluded the then prime minister Harold Wilson. As a result of my military aviation upbringing I also decided at 25 years of age to start my own airline in 1972 at Southend airport. With Aviation in my blood I also started an Investment Company The Welbeck Estate Group exclusively specialising in former RAF airfields such as RAF North Coates,RAF Hemswell, Strike/Bomber Command HQ Bawtry Hall but also 35 other former RAF married quarter housing estates.
In 1971 I formed Macedonian Aviation to operate passenger and cargo charter flights. It started with the purchase of an 11 seat de Havilland Dove G-APZU from Lulsgate Air Services at Bristol airport. The airline was initially based at Luton airport operating under the AOC of McAlpine Aviation. Shortly afterwards I was approached by Harry Chang, a pilot of the recently collapsed 'troop carrier' airline, Lloyds International who had available two contracts with Conoco and The Ford Motor Company. The first was to move offshore oil rig workers around North Sea ports and the second to convey spare parts for the recently introduced Ford Capri between Dagenham and Dusseldorf. With these contracts I secured a loan from my bank and formed Macedonian Aviation, a subsidiary of my London based property company Macedonian Securities Ltd and immediately established their first base at Southend airport. In early 1972 I appointed Harry Chang as my chief pilot and with the Conoco and Ford Motor Company's contracts in place, he purchased the 'workhorse' of British Aircraft Corporation Filton - a Dakota DC3 G-AMPO c/n 33186 in 30 seat configuration. This aircraft was used to fly the engineers working on the Concorde production between Bristol, Filton and Toulouse. In the summer of that year I went before the Civil Aviation Committee to obtain our own AOC and the CAA chairman at the time was Lord Boyd-Carpenter and when it was granted he passed comment that "Mr Collins at only 26 years of age must be one of the youngest persons in British aviation history to be awarded with an Air Operator's Certificate."
In August Dakota G-AMPO's first flight was a weekend inauguration trip to Amsterdam followed by a service check with Dan Air at Lasham and re sprayed at Eagle Air Services at Leavesden, as was the Dove. The Dakota crew underwent training with Dan Air at Lasham and it paid many visits to Gatwick and Southend during this period. Also in August 1972 Dove G-APZU went into service for passenger charters with several flights to Jersey, Amsterdam, Le Touquet, Hamburg, Copenhagen and Oslo. Unexpected publicity was achieved when a special charter for the Dove was undertaken between the 6th to 12th November 1972 when Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five were flown between their concerts in Paris, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Wembley. The following week the aircraft was chartered by Donny Osmond and The Osmonds for their UK tour. Dove G-APZU went into service for passenger charters from Southend in the October with several flights to Hamburg,Copenhagen and Oslo.
However in September 1972 G-AMPO undertook a very eventful trip. my business partner married an Indian diplomat's daughter at the All Saints Anglican Church in Beirut, Lebanon and a wedding party of 25 guests flew out on an MEA scheduled flight from Heathrow. After the marriage ceremony the wedding reception was held at the waterfront St George Hotel, owned by Roger's friend Fady el_Khoury, son of the Lebanese President. The following day Palestinian Terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Olympic games in Munich. The Israelis retaliated by attacking and besieging Beirut Airport which was closed and there were no scheduled flights to get the guests out of Lebanon. I telephoned my pilot Harry Chang who said he would take the Dakota from Gatwick to extract the party. Harry Chang knew Beirut airport well and advised the guests to remain on the beach by the airport which he would overfly and once he had landed to run to the aircraft and they could embark. Some 12 hours later after refuelling at Genoa and Brindisi G-AMPO landed at Beirut airport escorted by Israeli military aircraft. The entire 25 wedding guests climbed over the perimeter fence and sprinted for the aircraft which did not shut down and it took off again within minutes for Nicosia Cyprus with the Israeli escort. Some of the wedding party continued their celebrations at The Dome Hotel in Kyrenia (before the island was divided). The wedding guests returned to the UK with Cyprus Airways and the crew and I returned in the Dakota 2 days later to Gatwick via Genoa.
Later in September 1972 after completion of crew training G-AMPO returned to Southend to commence operations. On November 5th it took its first paying passengers to Amsterdam. The Dove G-APZU finally arrived at Southend on November 24th. Over the winter season the Dove operated a multitude of charter fights to Belgium, France, Germany and Holland. Finally the Dove G-APZU was sold to Shackleton Aviation in February 1973. By the spring 1973 G-AMPO was busy flying almost daily to Jersey, Ostend, Brussels and Saarbrucken. On May 3rd 1973 it flew a service to Groningen - Bergen - Birmingham - Brussels - Southend. By the summer that year the Dakota was working flat out on regular flights between Coventry - Jersey, Birmingham - Cologne, Southend - Castle Donnington - Stornoway. It also undertook many flights for Intra Airways. In November and December it was flying to Brussels, Calais, Cologne, Coventry Exeter, Geneva, Glasgow, Lisbon, Malta, Marseilles, Newcastle and Saarbrucken. During these months it was carrying various car components for the Ford Motor Company and transferring gold bullion for the UK Treasury to and from Germany, Belgium and France. In December 1973 Macedonian commenced oil rig support business for the first time and as a result the Dakota was then relocated to Aberdeen in connection with this contract. With this massive increase in work load Macedonian looked for more DC3s to buy and in March 1974 they purchased from Jersey, British Island Airway's last 3 Dakotas. The first 2 aircraft G-AMHJ c/n 13468 and G-AMRA c/n 26735 arrived at Southend March 8 1974. They were in a convertible cargo/passenger configuration and were moved to Aberdeen on April 27th 1974 for transportation of crews and equipment to Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands. Dakota G-AMPO arrived in Aberdeen also in April but was moved back to Southend that spring for services to Amsterdam, Belfast Gibraltar, Hamburg, Hurn, Heathrow, Le Havre ,Lisbon, Ostend, Rotterdam, Saarbrucken and Teeside. Then in September the third ex BIA DC3 G-AMSV c/n 32830 arrived at Southend. In April 1974 Macedonian Aviation acquired the former Dutch Limburg Airlines route from Rotterdam to Le Havre replacing their Fokker Friendships with Dakotas.
During summer of 1974 I was hearing that the oil companies were going to insist on turboprop operations so I opened negotiations to acquire 3 Aer Lingus Viscounts and 6 Air Canada Viscounts or 3 Eastern Provincial Heralds. These negotiations were not successful and having appraised the cost of running a turboprop operation I was sure would not be profitable so I sold the entire Macedonian Aviation as a going concern.
Following my sale on November 6th 1974 all the aircraft returned to Southend and the new owners were unable to raise finance to support turboprop operations by the end of the year they ceased all flying. The aircraft went to Humber Airways followed by Eastern Airways who operated the Heathrow - Norwich - Humberside scheduled service.
After a lapse of 20 years my aviation interest was resurrected with the purchase in 1996 of HRH Prince Philip's former Queens Flight de Havilland Dove Devon/Dove VP961 G-HBBC c/n 04211 constructed at Hawarden in 1948, which I subjected to a £300,000 renovation. This was the aircraft in which Prince Philip learned to fly twins and he captained on 67 occasions. Prince Philip was reunited with his former aircraft when I invited him to RAF Northolt in the summer of 1999. HRH was delighted with his old aircraft and he commented on such a wonderful restoration and brought him many happy memories. A support aircraft was purchased being an ex RNAS Sea Devon XK896 G-RNAS c/n 04473 built 1956 originally at HMS Heron RNAS Yeovilton. Both Doves were based at Bristol Filton until 2002 when I relocated G-HBBC to Compton Abbas. G-RNAS was stolen from Filton and ended up in a quarry at Chepstow being used by a diving club. In 2001 I also acquired 4 Cessna 150 and 172s which were leased to Compton Abbas airfield for flying training.
ROGER BYRON-COLLINS FLEET of 12 Aircraft:
DH104 Dove 6 G-APZU (04511) DH104 Sea Devon G-RNAS (04473) DH 104 Devon G-HBBC (04211) Douglas Dakota G-AMPO (16437/33185), G-AMPZ (16124/32872), G-AMHJ (13468) G-AMRA (15290/26735), G-AMSV (16072/32830), 4 Cessna 150 & 172Training Aircraft