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The Newfoundland Airport

by Frank Tibbo

It was 1936 and Hitler had been in control of Germany for three years, research on long-range aircraft was intense, and regular air service between Great Britain and the American continent seemed a dream to some and a sure thing for the optimists.

The United Kingdom, the Irish Free State, and the Canadian and Newfoundland governments had just signed an agreement for the establishment of a transatlantic aerial service.

United Kingdom’s Under-Secretary for Air, Sir Philip Sassoon, made an announcement in the London House of Commons on July 30, 1936, regarding Newfoundland's place in the scheme of things for the establishment of a regular transatlantic air service.

"An experimental service will be established as soon as possible, to be followed eventually by a mail and passenger service on a minimum schedule of two flights weekly in each direction. The service will be operated by Imperial Airways in association with a Canadian and Irish Free State company, participated in by the Pan-American Airways on a reciprocity basis. The rights guaranteed by the several Governments for this service will be exclusive in respect of transatlantic air service for a period of fifteen years."

That announcement gave practical effect to the compact (sic) entered into between the United Kingdom, the Irish Free State, Canada and Newfoundland at the Ottawa Conference in 1932 when the Air Communication Committee submitted a report on transatlantic air service, which included the recommendation that:

"The Governments concerned should give every possible preference in the development of transatlantic air service to the route connecting the United Kingdom, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland and Canada, and that they should not actively support the development of any other route by granting privileges to any foreign government for the establishment of transatlantic air service without full and prior consultation with each other."

Shortly after the following account was written by J.T. Meaney:

“The Imperial Airways Airport now under construction in this country is situated at Cobb's Camp, 213 miles by railway from St. John's. Its location is about 500 feet above sea-level, on a high, dry plateau, without obstruction from any direction. There will be four runways – three of 1500 yards long and 200 yards wide, one of 1600 yards long and 400 yards wide.

The foundation will be on rock-bottom, and the runways will be capable of sustaining an impact of five tons to the square foot. It will be equipped with the most modern appliances which the science of aviation has so far produced. Airline beacon lights, field floodlights, and electric guides for blind landing will be installed, and nothing that efficiency demands will be omitted. Gander Lake. Which lies a quarter of a mile south of the field, may be advantageously utilised as a seaplane port. It is twenty-five miles long and one mile wide at its narrowest part, and has the advantage – a rare one in these latitudes – of seldom freezing over except during very hard frost. When other lakes are frozen solid, Gander Lake has open water. However, it is not contemplated to make Gander Lake the seaplane port of service, though it may be made use of for seaplane anchorage for casual purposes, because of its proximity to the airport, being less than a quarter of a mile there from.”

researched by F. Tibbo

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