Taking to the skies

Design Anguilla - 11 - DIGITAL_Page_26_Image_0001 Anguilla’s airport is—obviously—its gateway to the world, but it is also a book of sorts that tells a story even before you arrive at the Clayton J Lloyd International Airport, airport commemorates the date—1988—when Wallblake Airport (before it was dedicated to Mr Lloyd) was upgraded. Another plaque on the western end serves the same purpose, this time celebrating the extension of the runway in 2005

And then there is the row of check-in counters at the west end, which provides a detailed account of the history of avition in Anguilla. It starts with LIAT—and rightly so, since in the beginning, long before the breakup with St. Kitts, LIAT alone serviced the island with its distinctive four-engined de Haviland Heron and later its smaller Britten Norman Islander. Next come a series of local airlines that populate the check-in counters all the way to the end of the building—Lloyd’s Aviation, Carl Thomas’s Anguilla Air Services, Lincoln Gumbs’s Trans Anguilla Airways, and the late Kirby Hodge’s Rainbow International Airlines.

All these names and people conspire to ing us back in time. No Anguillian soared the skies before Clayton Jeremy Lloyd, a man who as a child was mesmerised with the sound of the DC-3 that regularly ew in from Puerto Rico to load up with Anguillian lobster. Encouraged by his uncle Jeremiah Gumbs, Clayton trained as a pilot in New Jersey. He obtained a commercial license and partnered with Uncle Jerry to create Anguilla Airways, the island’s rst commercial airline, which they meant to develop into a major enterprise comprising commercial, cargo, maintenance and instructional activities. That was in 1965, two years before the revolution.

Clayton played his part in that, too, ying the rst batch of disarmed policemen back to St Kitts on May 30th, 1967. By then, however, his Piper Aztec carried the name of Valley Air Services (VAS). He had spun off from Anguilla Airways to partner with his childhood friend, Michael Hughes—Anguilla’s second pilot—and an American named John McClees, to found the new airline. During the years of conict with St Kitts, when LIAT and WinAir stopped ying to Anguilla, the value of the service provided by these airlines, as well as by St Thomas Air Taxi, another private enterprise funded by Paul and Vera Randall, was incalculable.

While Anguilla Airways’ ambitious plans stalled, VAS added a second Piper in ’67 and two Beech Twin Bonanzas in ’69, poaching Maurice Connor from Anguilla Airways and hiring another Anguillian pilot, Derek Thompson. At the same time, Kenneth Fleming purchased his own plane and started Fleming Air Transport. The fever had taken hold. Over the next ten years, all three original Anguillian airlines would fold, but others followed on their heels.

The history of aviation in Anguilla is, of course, also a story of innite sadness—from the fateful day when VAS’s Beech Twin Bonanza, piloted by Clayton Lloyd, caught re in Juliana Airport on Christmas Eve 1977 to the dark early morning in 2012, when Captain Kirby Hodge’s Piper Aztec crashed into the sea during his regular paper run from St Croix to St Thomas. From the tragic day in October 1982 when Carib Air’s Piper Navajo got caught in adverse weather conditions on its way to St Thomas to the stormy summer’s day in 1998 when Air Anguilla’s Cessna 402 encountered difculties as it approached Melville Hall airport in Dominica.

THE HISTORY OF AVIATION IN ANGUILLA IS A STORY OF A PEOPLE’S EFFORTS TO SUCCEED IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY.

But at the same time, the history of aviation in Anguilla is a story of progress, of a people’s efforts to meet challenges and succeed in the face of adversity. It is the story of a small dust strip built in the early 1940s, in the midst of a global war, and of its stages of development, from the time when only a small section of its west end was paved through the many years when it welcomed visitors without a control tower, which was not built until 1990. That progress is palpable today, even in the planes parked next to the runway, from Rainbow International Airways’ King Air to the myriad jets serviced by David Lloyd’s xed-base operator business.

Yet, the road travelled has not been erased by the achievements of such progress in Anguilla—not at the airport, not anywhere else. At Clayton J Lloyd International, the Britten Norman Islanders operated by Anguilla Air Services or Trans Anguilla Airways (notice the echo of past airlines in these names!) are in constant dialogue with the Learjets or the Gulfstreams from the north. They evoke the days when LIAT ew STOLs into the island, and they interact with the past through connections less subtle than they might seem: Tyden Air, as Carib Air came to be known after 1984, is still present at Wallblake airport in the gure of former pilots such as David Lloyd and Carl Thomas; and Kirby Hodge, whose face illumes Rainbow’s counter, is somehow in constant conversation with Clayton Lloyd, after whom the airport has been renamed. In that tradition, every time any one of us prots from the facilities at Wallblake, we also contribute a part to the remarkable story of ight on this island.

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