OTD 1936: First scheduled flight lands on Barra beach

The first scheduled flight landed on Traigh Mhor on Barra on August 7, 1936. Pictured is a  De Havilland Rapide just after arrival. PIC: HIAL.
The first scheduled flight landed on Traigh Mhor on Barra on August 7, 1936. Pictured is a De Havilland Rapide just after arrival. PIC: HIAL.
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Barra is still the only airport in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach with timetables dictated by the ebb and flow of the tide.

August 7, 1936 marked the arrival of the first scheduled flight on the sands of Traigh Mhor after it was officially licensed as an airfield by the Air Ministry.

Before the service began, islanders faced a 12-hour ferry journey to the mainland. PIC: HIAL.

Before the service began, islanders faced a 12-hour ferry journey to the mainland. PIC: HIAL.

The new daily service from Glasgow had been well advertised in the Oban Times with single fares from the city to Barra costing £4 in 1936. A 90 day return was available for £7 17s and 6d.

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Accounts from the early days of the airport note how it was run single-handedly by Barra woman Kitty MacPherson.

A report in The Sphere magazine in 1957 noted how Ms MacPherson would wander down to the sands to ensure the landing path was free of debris before radioing the all clear to the incoming aircraft.

More than 14,000 air passengers now land on Barra every year. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr/Colin Moss.

More than 14,000 air passengers now land on Barra every year. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr/Colin Moss.

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In The Sphere article, she is pictured walking out to collect a piece of flotsam left behind by the tides.

The report added: “When the water is right up, the only indications of any activities are the lonely administrative hut and the fire engine which stands by for emergency calls.”

The beach is now set out with three runways, marked by wooden poles at their ends, which all disappear under the sea at high tide.

Barra is still the only airport in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr/Simaron.

Barra is still the only airport in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach. PIC: Creative Commons/Flickr/Simaron.

Emergency flights occasionally operate at night from the airport, with vehicle lights indicating the centre line of the runway and reflective strips laid on the beach.

Northern and Scottish Airways led calls for an airport on Barra after a passenger terminal was built on a small grass airfield next to Gatwick racecourse in June 1936, according to aviation historian Roy Calderwood.

Air ambulances had operated out of Barra since 1933 but it is clear there was high demand on the island for a quicker link to the mainland.

In 1936, the ferry left three times a week from Castlebay Pier. With an early sailing of 3.15am, it took the ferry 12 hours to reach Oban after calling at Tiree, Coll, Kilchoan and Tobermory.

Those wanting to get to Glasgow would face another 117 miles on the train.

“Once it might have been considered a luxury to have an air service to Barra but now it is a highly valued asset of which the islanders are highly protective,” wrote Calderwood, in his book Times Subject to Tides. wrote.

The introduction to of the air service meant passengers from Barra could be in Glasgow city centre, after arriving at Renfrew Airport, within two hours.

In October 1974, Loganair started operating Glasgow-Tiree-Barra flights under contract to British Airways and they took over the service in their own right in April 1975.

In 1994, the responsibility for Barra airport passed from Loganair to Highland and Islands Airports Limited, which is now owned by the Scottish Government.

Passenger numbers at Barra are now over 14,200 per year with around 1400 aircraft movements. There are also around 60 private light aircraft flights per year.