Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 23, 1986


An important factor in the development of commercial aviation

This was written in a publication known as Canadian Aviation (Vol.19) in December of 1945.  War was just over then and the story gives insight as to where Gander would go in the transition from a military airport to a commercial or civilian airport.

Newfoundland, our rockbound island “relation” strategically located in the Atlantic between the old and new worlds and linked with transatlantic flight progress since the Alcock-Brown’s “hop” of 1919, is today an important factor in the development of transatlantic commercial aviation.  Lying directly in the path of east and westbound aerial traffic, Newfoundland offers the shortest and most feasible air-route “stopover” between the continents of North America and Europe.

Newfoundland’s Gander Airport, shrouded for five years in wartime secrecy and hidden from the eyes of all but service personnel and civilian officialdom is today becoming a familiar meeting place for air travelers.

Increasing transatlantic air travel has focused the aviation spotlight on this important air base, taken over by the Newfoundland government as a civil operation on March 31, 1946.  Defense installations, including hundreds of acres of buildings, hangars, and works and including the most modern apparatus for the control of transatlantic flying, were transferred under special  agreement between Ottawa and London, to the Newfoundland government for a sum of $1,000,000; a far cry from the millions expended upon this property during the war years.

Kingpin of Newfoundland aviation is Squadron Leader H.A.L. Pattison, who told the writer that the government will continue to run Gander as an international airport, catering to international airlines.  The future hopes of this strategic airdrome are based on whatever operating revenue may accrue to the government.  It has been estimated by airport officials that Gander operations will cost $2,000,000 per year.

Transatlantic flights on regular schedule are now being run through Gander Airport by Pan American Airlines;  American Overseas Airlines; Trans World Airlines; British Overseas Airways Corp; Trans Canada Transatlantic Air Lines; Air France and recently, the Belgian Airlines.  Other Atlantic crossings between Europe and America are being conducted on less frequent schedules by SILA (Swedish Airlines); Danish Dutch Airlines (KLM); and Norwegian Airlines.

The general operation of Gander and the maintenance of radio control facilities entail the employment of approximately 500 civil personnel.  One hundred are engaged in radio and other technical activities and the balance are absorbed in general staff activities and catering. 

Large huts which formerly housed USAAF personnel are now used to accommodate air travelers who are forced to stopover due to weather conditions or aircraft trouble.  These accommodations, reconverted recently by the Newfoundland government into pleasant private quarters, proved a boon to commercial airlines in July, when over 300 passengers were stranded after Washington had grounded Constellation airliners.

The airlines “Mess” can accommodate 250 persons at each sitting and is operated on a 24 hour round-the-clock schedule, qualified French chefs, 46 Newfoundland-born waitresses, 50 waiters and kitchen assistants (10 percent of them being ex-servicemen) form the personnel of the catering staff who serve meals to the passengers of about 16 transatlantic airlines daily.

If future air traffic through Gander warrants it, the airlines operating the transatlantic flights are contemplating the erection of a modern hotel with every convenience.  They are also blueprinting plans for an up-to-date streamlined air terminus building.

Although, the Canadian government has relinquished all control of Gander Airport, the meteorological section of Gander is still under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transport of Canada.

H.H. Bindon is senior meteorological officer.  His pioneer days at Gander go back to 1937.  The weather bureau staff consists of 32 personnel, which includes 10 forecasters.  Their job is to supply flight forecasts for aircraft for any place they wish to go.  A battery of teletypes in one room brings in 100,000 words daily on weather conditions from all over North America.  European weather reports come from European sources by radio.  Forecasts from Gander are based on the route from Gander to Rineanna, Ireland and to Prestwick, Scotland.  They also cover Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam.  On occasion, further flight forecast checks are mad to Arabia, Iceland, and the Azores – these on a point-to-point check basis.

Radio communications and control of Gander boast transmitter facilities worth in the neighborhood of $5,000,000, equipment which many aviation experts claim is superior to that used even at LaGuardia Field.  The development of radio communications  and control operations is now under the jurisdiction of Squadron Leader C.M. Brant, controller of Aviation Radio for Newfoundland.

Trans Canada Air Lines, up to the time of writing, has the exclusive privilege of transferring passengers to and from Newfoundland, although Pan American World Airways recently secured permission to inaugurate flights from Gander to England and from Gander to New York.

British Overseas Airways Corp., which recently abandoned flying-boat service from Botwood, is acquiring huge American airliners, probably Constellations, to operate between Newfoundland and England; and at time of writing, negotiations were proceeding to put this route into effect.  Up until the present time, Newfoundlanders going to England could only do so by going to New York or Montreal and backtracking to Gander for the ocean “hop.”

Trans Canada Air Lines started operating in and out of Newfoundland on May 1, 1942, and today makes four landings daily at Gander.  Refueling is carried out at Gander Airport before proceeding on to Torbay airport, just outside St. John’s, the capital city, which is only 40 minutes flight away.  Although TCA Lancasters bound for England fly straight from Montreal, Gander Airport is marked as a “must” stop when bad weather prevails.

The policy of the various airlines operating in and out of Newfoundland is to hire a maximum of local personnel to replace the present American and Canadian staffs.

Gander’s airport runways originally consisting of three strips, 4,800 ft. long by 600 ft. wide, had been extended during the last year of the war to take care of heavier wear transport ships then being brought into service.  This expansion has proven invaluable to the transatlantic airlines of today.  The main runway, known as the No. 3 strip, is now 1200 ft wide and 6,000 ft long.  Light sport planes could land very comfortably across its width.

 Other Newfoundland Airports

Torbay Airport – Situated just outside St. John’s, was built in 1941, as a result of a Canadian proposal that an airport be built in that spot purely as a defense medium, shortly after the fall of France.  During the war, Torbay Airport was managed by the RCAF and recently Canada concluded an agreement to retain Torbay, granting special permission to TCA for operating the only airline scheduled in and out of that airport.

Buchans Field – Actually two landing strips at right angles to each other are operated by Department of Transport of Canada, at Buchans, site of Buchans lead and zinc mines.  This site has been constructed purely as an emergency landing strip for aircraft which may find it necessary to use the field for emergency purposes.  The refueling requirements at Buchans are so occasional and so simple that local employees of Buchans Mines handle the requirements.

Harmon Field – Located near Stephenville on the west coast, is an American airfield run by the U.S. Army.  It isn’t, however, as generally supposed, part of the famous U.S. Destroyer Lend-Lease deal.  It was a gift from Britain.  Imperial Oil has 19 men there, refueling commercial planes which land and also refueling U.S. Atlantic Transport Command ships which belong to the North Atlantic division.

The other U.S. air base in Newfoundland – apart from U.S. Base Command at Fort Pepperell – is, of course, Argentia, which is operated by the U.S. Navy.

PAA has a 45 min. transit through Gander.  During one week recently, 11 PAA transatlantic airliners were checked through.  One of the ships was refueled, maintenance checked, an oil leak repaired, plane cleaned out, special frozen food put aboard – all in 29 min.  The frozen food is shipped from New York to St. John’s by boat and then shipped to Gander.  These frozen meals used during the transatlantic hops consist of steaks, hams, chicken, turkey (with all the trimmings) and special supplies of cakes and sandwiches, as well as specialized foods for young babies and light snacks.

American Overseas Airlines operates nine schedules weekly from the United States on transatlantic crossings.  They are – Chicago-London, Washington-LaGuardia-London; Washington-Philadelphia-London.

The other four flights originate at LaGuardia Field – three of these to London and the other to Stockholm and Amsterdam. 

At the present time, American Overseas airlines are using C-54 Douglas passenger planes carrying 34 passengers.  It is expected that they will shortly add Constellations to the routes.  Their passenger traffic averages a total of 450 passengers weekly.  American Overseas Airlines have 60 on their staff carrying out Gander operations of which two thirds are Newfoundlanders.  All will be increased as time goes on.

 The need for internal air service in Newfoundland is recognized by the government.  Director of Civil Aviation, Pattison stressed the  point that air communication to serve the scattered Newfoundland population is being seriously considered. 

With regard to governmental policy on such operations, officials in Newfoundland have made it plain that there is nothing to stop the formation and the operation of companies to undertake part or the whole of the various services contemplated.

Squadron Leader Pattison says – “We could never, however, allow anyone without sufficient resources to operate these services as their operations would fall below the required standards and they would be a danger to the public.  Government service which will most likely be required to assist aircraft operators in the interests of safety would possibly be in the form of weather, radio and navigational services and, whatever possible, assistance will be required to provide facilities at other locations, which have none at present.

researched by Carol Walsh


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