Many people outside of the UK may be unaware of Air Atlantique, which has operated a significant fleet of Douglas DC-3s in various roles for several decades now. Based at Coventry Airport in England, the fleet has splintered into several different directions in recent years, dwindling from nearly a dozen aircraft to just two active examples: C-47Bs G-ANAF and G-AMPY. This article features updates on these two aircraft.
Air Atlantique’s Dakota (C-47B) G-ANAF (c/n 33436, ex 44-77104, KP220 and N107GP) has been operating for several years in a day-glo orange scheme on a lease contract with the RVL Group for marine surveillance and spraying work on behalf of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA). G-ANAF is easily recognizeable due to its huge under belly radome. Sister ship G-AMPY (in RAF Transport Command colors as KK116) has also been involved on the same lease, with some engine components from G-ANAF being used to keep G-AMPY flying whilst its sister ship was hangar-bound during the 2013/14 winter. Both aircraft (as of mid-April) are airworthy again and have resumed work under the RVL Group contract and the future of these aircraft in flying condition is secure.
The last passenger carrying flights carried out by Air Atlantique with their Dakotas were in the summer of 2008 when G-AMPY toured many UK airports, flying enthusiast charter excursions. This ‘last’ season was due to the British CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) requiring many airframe modifications for the Daks to comply with new European ‘passenger carrying regulations’. Air Atlantique would have had to equip the aircraft with passenger oxygen systems, lockable/bullet-proof cockpit doors and escape chutes etc., which the operator considered unrealistically expensive to comply with at the time.
Since then they have had discussions with the CAA for ‘exemptions’, arguing that the aircraft never fly above 5000ft on pleasure flights and that the exit door sill is only 4ft from the ground when the tail has settled after flight. The CAA has been extremely supportive of their case for a resumption in passenger carrying by Dakotas but no agreement for such flights can be made until after the present MCA contract has finished. At present the two Daks are in dispersant/spray mode, and the aircraft would have to be converted back to passenger carrying configuration before substantive discussions and agreements with the CAA could occur. There is currently no agreement in place with the CAA for these two Dakotas to resume passenger flying, either for local flights returning to the same airport, or to further afield.
Economics is probably the major stumbling block to a resumption of passenger-carrying Dakota flights in the UK, and to get one or both Daks on to Air Atlantique’s AOC alone would be very expensive. In addition there is the cost of two cockpit crew plus a flight attendant, and this all conspires to determine whether it is affordable. Preliminary discussions have taken place with the newly formed Dakotair (RAF Transport Command Memorial) on whether Air Atlantique’s two airworthy Daks could join their fleet in 2015. (see WarbirdsNews article on Dakotair HERE). Dakotair currently own ex-Assault Glider Trust C-47 G-AMHJ, under restoration to airworthy condition with Weald Aviation at North Weald. No conclusion has so far been reached with these discussions.
G-ANAF’s winter 2013/14 major overhaul at Coventry included removing its wings, re-stitching the fabric-covered ailerons, and fuel tank removal and refurbishment. Fuselage corrosion surfaced in a few locations so the overhaul team removed the floor and attended to it. They then installed a replacement floor and new seat-runners. Classic Flight Services removed and overhauled the main undercarriage, and fitted new tires. Both propellers have undergone AD (airworthiness directive) related work. The result is that by April 2014 G-ANAF is better than new, and has flown from Coventry to be seen in British skies again during 2014. Air Atlantique are in continuous dialogue with the CAA and are not ruling out authority to fly the Dak on enthusiast flights again, but this won’t occur until 2015 at the earliest. The decision on pleasure flying will be based purely on economics of course. If a sponsor or benefactor wished to come forward to assist in this process, then Air Atlantique and Air Base would be extremely pleased to discuss ‘terms’.