Ghanian Cargo Airlines
By Michael Zoeller
We all know that Gemini Air Transport as Geminair operated a cargo Bristol Britannia between it’s bases in Accra and Luton in the mid to late 1970s right up to 1981. The other side of the airline was it’s Boeing 707 operations mainly using a Rolls-Royce Conway powered 707-430 formerly operated by Lufthansa. It is their early Boeing 707 operations which I have concentrated on.
The formation of Gemini Air Transport
A new form of service was offered by Gemini Air Transport in January 1971, they were providing type-trained, experienced pilots exclusively for contracting on long or short term contracts, they hoped to build up a well organised and readily available source of supply for any airline requiring crews.
The company was registered in Nassau, Bahamas as Gemini Air Transport (Nassau) Limited. The board had four directors, three of whom are practising pilots. A small British agency was set up at Concord House, Feltham, Gemini’s home for many years. The managing director was Bob Tackley.
Plans for the future included contracting out aircraft as well as crews and maintenance staff. “We have been doing our sums and exploring the possibilities for some time,” Tackley said during an interview with Flight International in January 1971, “but we really got off the ground early last year when I negotiated contracts with Cambrian Airways, Bavaria and Paninternational. Since then I have received a contract from Ghana Airways to supply pilots and engineers. My chief engineer is out there now. Another German company, just forming, has approached Gemini to supply three captains and three engineers as training staff for a Boeing 707.” Already an early Ghanaian connection could be seen.
Pilots’ associations did not favour seasonal employment, but in Gemini salaries were not dependent on contracts. “We work quite differently from an employment agency. If Gemini succeeds, and there seems no logical reason why it should not, airlines will be able to contract for the crews and aircraft they require from our central pool. I imagine such an arrangement would be of special interest to companies on seasonal charter work.” He continued.
In January 1971 Gemini employed 14 pilots on permanent contracts. One stipulation was that they must be prepared to work anywhere in the world. Starting salaries were higher than top rates paid by British independents and compared favourably with the international average. The company pension scheme was acknowledged by BALPA as
one of the best it had seen. Not surprisingly, there was a waiting list of applicants, but nobody was employed unless the company had a year’s salary laid aside in advance.
Tackley said “We must be prepared to carry people sometimes. This safeguards us and our employees against unforeseen gaps between contracts, sickness, annual leave and so on.”
The formation of Gemini Air Transport (Ghana)
Business boomed for Gemini from 1971 to such an extent that by 1974 the company felt confident enough to take the opportunity to launch a small airline.
Gemini Air Transport (Ghana) Ltd was formed in 1974 the connection with Gemini Air Transport (Nassau) Ltd. was R E Tackley was on the board of both, not , as Flight International stated, that GAT (Nassau) owned 30% of GAT (Ghana). At least this was the story told to me by Mrs I M Tackley on 1st December 1977 when she wrote to me on Gemini Allied Trading letterhead answering my request for information about Geminair. Mrs Tackley’s letter was quite guarded, and I got the feeling she did not want people enquiring about her airline (she was on the board of directors of Gemini Allied Trading). Ghanaian business interests held an unspecified amount of stock. Some reports suggest that Templewood Aviation formed Geminiair (the operating name of Gemini Air Transport (Ghana) Ltd), though this has not been substantiated. Though Templewood may have made use of Geminair’s AOC and may have invested in the airline to support it’s own ACMI service. Gemini Air Transport initially proposed operating passenger charter flights using Boeing 707s and scheduled all-cargo flights using an ex-RAF Britannia 300 freighter. Services between Accra, Frankfurt and Luton were scheduled to start towards the end of 1975.
In 1975 their Head Office was at: PO Box 7238, America House, Tudu, Accra, Ghana.
The airline’s management staff consisted of: Chairman, W. K. Enin; Deputy Chairman, Robert E. Tackley; Managing Director, E. K. W. Anane-Tabury; Director, Harry H. Pusey; Secretary, V. Owusu. Bob Tackley took on the role of Deputy Chairman. Harry Pusey had a multitude of jobs and therefore experience in airline management; in the 1950s he had worked for Arab Airways, based in Jordan; mid 1960s with Seaboard World and in the early 1970s he’d worked as a consultant to Field Aircraft Services at Heathrow; by 1977 he’d moved on to become CEO of Royal Swazi Airways Corporation. And by 1984 he had set up his own aviation consultancy, interestingly using the same SITA as Geminair (LHRZZGP) and his telex was 919006(GEMAIR).
Boeing 707-321 9G-ACB was leased from Tempair (qv) in December 1974, she was named ‘Romulus’ and operated Hadj flights for Nigeria Airways. She was returned to Tempair at Stansted on 29th May 1975 after a six month lease and was stored with Geminair titles. Their other Boeing 707-321 9G-ACD was also leased from Tempair, she was named ‘Remus’ and departed Stansted for Accra and Lagos on 11th December 1974 to fly Haji’s on behalf of Nigeria Airways. She was returned to Geminair in January 1975 to Stansted. In June she was sub-leased to Saudia and in July she operated for Sterling Airways (during the temporary grounding of their Caravelles) carrying Tempair stickers. Again she was used by Saudia in August before being finally returned to Tempair in September 1975.
9G-ACE a Britannia 253F (c/n 13514. Formerly with the RAF as XM520) was delivered to Geminair on 16th September 1975 at Luton wearing Geminair titles and their ‘G’ logo on the tail, but otherwise in basic RAF colours.
In March 1975 the crew support side of the business was being advertised in Flight International as Supportair Limited. The address was the same as Gemini Air Transport at Concord House, High Street, Feltham.
Britannia operations and a Boeing 707-430 is acquired
Britannia 9G-ACE was leased to Redcoat from 7th May 1976 till 6th May 1977 and was used by Redcoat on a weekly cargo service linking Luton to Accra. Though it may have been that Redcoat was just providing management of the airline’s operations, I am not sure. The service was so successful that Geminair wanted to run the service themselves once the lease to Redcoat was finished, this lead to some friction between the two companies. This came to a head when Redcoat’s Britannia G-AOVS was refused permission to land at Accra by Ghanaian authorities. The aircraft had to divert to Sal, Cape Verde Islands to refuel then return to Luton still with it’s Accra-bound load on board. There followed some high-level discussions to the extent suggesting that if Redcoat was refused permission to land in Ghana then perhaps Geminair might not be allowed to fly into the UK. Matters were finally resolved and Redcoat was allowed to fly into Ghana, and on 27th May 1977 G-AOVS landed at Accra with 17.5 tonnes of cargo on board.
In August 1977 Geminair started using Boeing equipment again. A Boeing 707-430 9G-ACK was acquired on 22nd August from Lufthansa (c/n 17721 ex D-ABOF). This high-time 707 had 61706 hours on the clock, the acquisition was organised by a Hank Warton front company, Air Trine, who negotiated a scrap-value price for the aircraft helped by Warton’s for colleagues who still worked for Lufthansa. On 23rd August she flew Hamburg-Kano using the Geminair call-sign GP101F. She possibly operated for Transasian (qv) around the end of 1977, in December 1977 I wrote to Geminair at their Feltham, UK address( at this time they had a UK office in Stanwell, Middlesex as well) enquiring about their 707 operations, they were very cagey. My letter was passed on to their General Manager, W H Mike-Easey who informed me that ‘The Boeing 707[-430] operation mainly comes under Trans Asian (sic) and the crews in general are supplied by Templewood of Windsor’. . . What is certain is that she was she arrived at Heathrow on a Nigeria Airways flight on 26th November - she carried out a memorable missed-approach followed by a low-level circuit over the Wimbledon area to get herself back onto the glide-path. I remember the windows rattling and the thick trail of smutty engine exhaust well!
Continued Boeing 707 and Britannia operations
The Britannia settled down into regular services between Luton and Accra, but was also seen at Basel, Frankfurt, Milan and Ostend on cargo charters. On 21st February 1979 -ACE suffered a nose wheel collapse at Valencia, this put the aircraft out of service for some time, she was temporarily replaced by Aer Turas’s Britannia 253F EI-BBH. -BBH was leased from 23rd March 1979 till May 1979 when 9G-ACE re-entered service after repairs had been carried out by Airline Engineering at Luton.
The airline expanded it’s staff in 1978 adding D Mayes as Operations Director based in the UK; Sale Manager D Green and General Manager Capt. W H Mike-Easey (formerly with Saber Air - Singapore). In 1979 C. Sekawalor became Sales Manager, replacing D Green; Capt J. Ginns became General Manager, replacing Capt. W H Mike-Easey and P. Okine became Finance Director (was General Manager with Gemini Airlines by 1985).
The Boeing 707-430 had an interesting couple of years. She came off lease to Nigeria Airways early in 1978 and flew to Madrid from Shannon for storage on 10th March 1978. By May she was operating for Warton’s Air Trans and was noted routing Shannon-Lisbon on 2nd May. Around June and July she was operated by DETA Mozambique with DETA titles but still in basic Lufthansa colours. At the beginning of July Airline Engineering at Luton repainted the tail white with a large red ‘G’ and at the same time applied larger Geminair titles, she ferried Luton-Gatwick on the 14th July which was to be her base for the rest of the summer. Charters were operated for Sabena, Condor and Dan-Air. She was back at Manston withdrawn from use by 19th November, she departed on 21st December.
The new year saw -ACK working for British Airtours briefly. On 5th February 1979 she ferried Manston for Basel on a two week lease to SATT (Société Antillaise de Transport Touristique). On 19th February she returned to Manston where she was repainted into Geminair’s full pink and purple colour-scheme. Later on she ferried Manston-Gatwick on 29th April for lease to British Airtours again till June 1979, she was also used by Laker at this time. -ACK was ferried Manston-Cairo on 9th August 1979 as HH505F on delivery to Somali Airlines on lease, it was returned to Geminair at Manston on 6th October. She flew a few services for Geminair out of Manston during November and December 1979 and flew a few services for British Airtours again in December with British Airtours stickers. One unconfirmed report says that between 20th and 28th December she was leased to the Azores Government, this seems unlikely, however due to Hank Warton’s apparent involvement there may be an element of truth to this.
A Geminair 707 was reported in Flight International to have flown for Belgian cargo carrier, International Freight Airways for a short while in either late 1977 or 1978. I have reports that Boeing 707-139B S2-AAL (17903) was operated by International Freight Airways circa May/June 1977, which could have been a sub-lease from Transasian - perhaps this was the 707 used by International Freight Airways?
In December 1978 Geminair reserved G-BGFA for the aircraft, the registration was not taken up by May 1979 and was eventually cancelled by March 1981 as not taken up G-BGFB was also reserved at the same time for Boeing 707-430 N9985F (18056), like -BGFA the registration was not taken up and cancelled in March 1981.
Boeing 707-430 EI-BFN (17719) was ferried Stansted-Manston on 2nd February 1979 wearing the registration only under the wing, she was slated to be used for spares by Geminair for 9G-ACK, she came from the same stable as Geminair’s own 707, i.e. Lufthansa and Hank Warton. It is interesting to note that although wearing EI-BFN the registration N90498 had been assigned to M Marshall Landy (a Warton affiliate) with a special permit to fly, N90498 was later worn by 9G-ACK after Geminair had finished with her. In the end the aircraft was not taken up by Geminair (or maybe only served as a Christmas tree?) and by April 1979 she departed Manston for Tripoli on delivery to S.T.A.C (Soc. Transports Aériens Centrafricains) as 5A-CVA.
The final years of Boeing 707 and Britannia operations
9G-ACK spent the whole of January 1980 withdrawn from use at Manston. She departed on 4th March for Cairo on lease to EgyptAir who in turn sub-leased her to Nefertiti Aviation, the aircraft wore EgyptAir-Nefertiti Aviation titles. Services commenced the following day on the (CIA backed) Cairo-Tel Aviv route. She was seen at Orly 13th June on an EgyptAir service and was later ferried Copenhagen-Manston 24th August 1980 as MS782F. After checks she departed for Cairo as MS709F. She did not return to Manston till March 1981, by April she was stored; by July Geminair titles had been removed signifying the end of Geminair’s Boeing 707 operations. In July 9G-ACK became N90498 with Air Trans and went on to serve in Nigeria.
The Britannia soldiered on till September when she was sold as 9Q-CUM to Lukum Air Services in Zaire. At this point Geminair ceased all airline activities.
Some staff from Geminair were involved with West African Air Cargo and the companies may have been affiliated. WAAC was formed in 1976 and in that year applied to the Ghanaian authorities to register two Nord Noratlas aircraft, 9G-ACH and 9G-ACI the owner/applicant was West African Air Cargo Ltd / Gemini Air Transport Ltd. The aircraft were not taken up and never operated.
Gemini Air Transport briefly re-emerged as Gemini Air Lines from 1988 till 1992. The following Boeing 707-320Cs were operated:
9G-ONE (November 1992)
9G-TOO (late 1992)
G-SAIL (November 1983)