Sir Adam Thomson and the British Caledonian Airways

On this day, July 7 in the year 1926, the founder of British Caledonian Airline was born in Glasgow, United Kingdom. His name was Sir Adam Thomson, the aviation entrepreneur who was awarded Businessman of the Year in 1970.

Sir Adam Thomson
Sir Adam Thomson (Credit: )

Thompson was the son of a railwayman. He attended the Royal Technical College (now, University of Strathclyde) in Glasgow, Scotland where he pursued an engineering course. At 17, he joined the Fleet Air Arm of the British Royal Navy. After the war, he tried his hand in business flying joy rides for holiday makers but it did not pan out. Later, he got employed with British Airways (BA). He also got some stint with small airlines in Africa but his keen interest was really to establish his own airline.

In 1961, Thompson founded the Caledonian Airways with little capital, most of which came from friends. Starting with a single Douglas DC7 with himself as the sole pilot, the company grew to become the second largest airline in Britain and a viable competitor to his former employer, British Airways, the national flag carrier which at that time was owned by the British government.

The company acquired British United Airways in 1970 and relaunched itself as British Caledonian Airways or BCal for short. Advertising itself to provide a choice for travelers with features of a proud Scottish image, it was voted the best airline in the world at one point in the early 80s. At its peak, BCal owned 27 jets serving more than 50 international destinations.

But the company’s fortune began a slow but inevitable decline due to government policies and international political events. It cannot get additional routes especially the critical transatlantic route. In 1988, BCal was merged with BA despite Thompson’s opposition.

Thompson died in 2000 at age 73 leaving two sons with his wife Dawn.

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