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Caledonian Wings: Broken Promises
- Lockheed L-1011 TriStar Articles: Volume 6 -
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Special thanks to BWIA West Indies, Delta Air Lines, R&R Aviation, FreeBoot, Matthew Goldberg, Daniel Gonzalo Fisher, Lamonte King, Andrew Lawlor, Holger Ludwig, Olafur Sigurdsson, Nigel Spink and many other resources for contributing so much. I couldn't have completed this work without their help and investigation. All information posted here is believed to be correct, but without any guarantees. For comments or corrections, please email Ryosuke Yano.

"We haven't really talked with Caledonian Wings." was the reply when I asked Delta Air Lines about the airline.

Frequent visitors of this website, or people who know about the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar well, probably thought “What!?” the moment you read this first sentence. Caledonian Wings, formerly known as Celtic Airways, has been known for its humongous, ironic plan that took the airline industry observers by surprise; a plan to purchase 44 L-1011s from Atlanta-based mega carrier Delta Air Lines. Neil Robertson, the Chief Executive Officer of Caledonian Wings has been telling the media since early this year that he is under negotiations with Delta Air Lines, and that talks were progressing smoothly, despite slowly. According to Robertson, the new airline would offer low-fare transatlantic flights from Scotland's Prestwick International Airport commencing April 2001. He claims that the airline will grow quickly, becoming the largest operator of the L-1011, opening and thus developing Scottish tourism. Well, then what did Delta's words mean?

Recently, I had been receiving numerous letters asking whether Caledonian Wings really existed or not. They had announced their existence in spring 2000, and surprised, or should I say took everyone by doubt, when they told the media that they intended to acquire 44 L-1011s from Delta for ACMI (Aircraft Crew Maintenance Insurance) services. Robertson reported that the new airline would be based at Shannon, and that a huge L-1011 overhaul complex would be built there. TriStar enthusiasts around the world were probably delighted to hear this, since it was like a dream coming true. But, when Robertson kept giving similar announcements on and on that he was "making progress, despite slowly", shades of dark clouds started to gather in our minds.

When Robertson first emailed me, he was not asking me to assist in finding an airworthy L-1011 TriStar available at a reasonable price, but instead asked me if I could suggest a good name for his new airline! I replied "Excel" (now used by former Sabre Airways), but then he told me that he had made up his mind on "Celtic Airways", the reason being that "Celtic" was his favorite word. Next, he emailed me a large chart identifying the names and registrations he hoped to apply to the L-1011s he planned to acquire, which he hadn't even submitted to the Ireland's aviation authority. After that, he introduced me Africargo Airlines and told me that they operated ACMI leases worldwide with Boeing 747Fs, L-1011Fs and "many" cargo propliners. He also told me about City Connexions Airlines, which he said was a local airline based in Burundi utilizing a fleet of "fuel-efficient" Canadair CL-44s. I searched for the two airlines in several aviation directories and publications, including "JP Airline Fleets", but I could not find anything about it, and nor did my friends did. Robertson told me that he negotiated with BWIA for three months in acquiring three L-1011-500s. He reports that the negotiations were terminated since BWIA asked too much money for the aircraft. But BWIA has nothing about the discussions on their website. Before summer, Robertson told me that he had plans on setting up a leasing company exclusively for the L-1011 in Gibraltar named Elten Acquisitions Limited, and that Caledonian Wings would lease the L-1011s from them. Well, let's see, what's the point of leasing aircraft from a subsidiary leasing company? Recently, he told me that he would rename his airline "Caledonian Wings" with the "parent company"(?) being named "Wings Holdings", although he didn't tell me any reasons for this move. He then told me his tie up with BPI Aerospace to form a large company to acquire the L-1011s from Delta. But BPI Aerospace has nothing about it on their website either. Anyway, why would anyone form an airline by forming an alliance with a company who's major is in providing spare parts?

One day, a pilot who had lost his job with Kitty Hawk International, because of the airline's bankruptcy, came up to me if I could help him find a new job, of course as a TriStar pilot. At that point of time, I did not know much about Celtic, so I suggested him to try Celtic, and told him Robertson's mail address. The pilot later told me that Robertson answered him, but his words had absolutely no reliability. "The salaries were too good to believe..."

Turning back to the basics, the most important thing for any kind of business is "money." He has boasted of creating 250 jobs at Prestwick with direct flights to Boston, Orlando, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Washington DC for as little as 165 pounds roundtrip. Recently, he said that he was close to clinching a 30 million-pound deal with Delta to buy three of its aging L-1011s. Remember, the "deal" was to have led to Robertson buying 44 aircraft, instead of three. He boasted "We will have no problem filling our seats. It will be carriers like British Airways who will feel the pinch when we start up. As long as we can conclude this deal with Delta, we will be flying by Easter." But a senior Delta source revealed "The last time this news came out, checked and the reality was we have never actually talked with them. We run up against this sort of thing on a regular basis. It enhances their public perception and, in a lot of cases, enhances negotiations with governments and others to say they are talking with Delta Air Lines." An official Delta spokesman said it was their policy not to identify firms involved in buying aircraft until the deal was complete. But in anyway, they revealed that Robertson was an "unreliable client". Robertson's last HQ was an office at Bujumbura Airport in Burundi. A friend of mine who is involved the airline business said that in the beginning of this year, Robertson came up to him and asked if he could find a job! An airline is nothing without aircraft and employees. I tried writing emails to different departments at Wings Holdings to find out more about Robertson's biography, but surprisingly, all of them were replied by Robertson. Is there anyone who works for Robertson?

Talking more about "aircraft", Robertson reportedly purchased N31023 (msn 1080) from PK Airfinance. This fact is extremely hard to believe, since this aircraft is one of the TriStars which have accumulated the highest hours, having logged 71,299 hours. The aircraft would absolutely need a C-Check. In addition, the aircraft has been stored at Kingman, Arizona since its retirement from Trans World Airlines back in September 1997. A photographer shared with me a recent photo of the aircraft sitting on the desert sands at Kingman, and it did not seem airworthy at all. Asking the sources, they said that they haven't heard of Caledonian Wings, and that the aircraft may have to be scrapped soon, since a new owner could not be found. First of all, from an industry observer's point of view, how effective could acquiring 44 overaged, fuel-thirsty widebodies be for a startup airline, when maintenance fees and fuel cost a fortune these days?

Tracing Neil Robertson's biography, it revealed that he is a failed pilot linked to a trail of broken businesses. He claims to have acquired Boeing 707, Douglas DC-8 experience, but according to sources who actually know him, the only genuine pilot he has obtained is a South African PPL and in no ways above that. He is at age 35, and he claims his firm, Caledonian Wings, will pioneer flights from Prestwick International Airport to the USA and Canada. A few weeks ago, he claimed that he was buying L-1011 TriStars which would be flying across the Atlantic by April 2001. But research revealed that the closest Robertson has come to being an airline tycoon was running two clapped-out freight planes from a dusty airstrip in Africa under the name of Africargo Airlines, which was not listed in any airline directories. But, as previously mentioned, Robertson boasted that the airline operated Boeing 747Fs, L-1011Fs and many propliners. And the thing is this even ended up in disaster. Seven months ago, both planes were blown up by explosions which killed more than 100 people. But all of this was flipped over later, as more "truth" started to show from the dark. It came out that both Africargo and City Connexion were "paper" or "internet" airlines. The CL-44, which is reportedly registered 9U-BHI, does have that registration but has never been owned or operated by neither City Connexions nor Robertson. This was revealed by one of the actual owners of the aircraft. The "Sunday Mail" has taken up Robertson many times, and they can also reveal that he, who calls himself "The Guvnor" on PPrune and "Ceilidh" on Airliners Net, has been involved in more than 10 "airlines" - few, if any of which ever made it into the air. According to their information, his bases have included a string of war-torn African countries notorious for diamond and arms smuggling. Robertson, whose only pilot's qualification is a lapsed licence he bought in Nigeria for 60 pounds, returned home to England to set up Caledonian Wings. Plugging the firm on TV and in the Press, he said it would be Scotland's first international airline. Prestwick's managing director, Tom Wilson, was persuaded that the new airline could get off the ground. He said "If it gets the planes and finance to start up, there is no doubt it will work. We would welcome transatlantic flights back with open arms. It would be a major stimulant for the Ayrshire economy." But they also said that "At this stage Caledonian Wings is an idea - so far the company has not yet purchased aircraft from supplier Delta. We hope of course that finance can be raised however until that happens, Prestwick is not involved." And despite publishing ticket prices and advertising for staff, Robertson's airline has no aircraft or pilots whatsoever. The company's "switchboard" is Robertson's mobile phone, while the "office" is his laptop computer. And the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has never heard of him or his firm. On his website, Robertson still claims he will be raising 350 million pounds to buy and overhaul 44 L-1011s.

Robertson has been involved at various levels with "airlines" in Equatorial Guinea, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As previously mentiones, the common fact about the areas is that all of them are notorious for its civil wars, corruption and lawlessness. Robertson's firms included City Connexions, SecureAir, FreshAir, TransOceanic, PegasusAir, Lionair, Skymaster Freight, Trans Lloyd Cargo and Africargo Airlines. And not even Africargo operated any aircraft. It was run by Robertson and another of his firms, City Connexions. The two propeller-driven freight planes told to have been operated by Africargo, built in 1961 and 1964, were destroyed, or at least heavily damaged, at Kinshasa Airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo in April anyway. The inferno was blamed on a soldier dropping explosives. At least 100 people died and 200 were injured. Shortly before the catastrophe, Robertson announced that City Connexions were also grounded, blaming it on "political problems". The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said anyone wanting to run an airline in the UK would need both an Air Operating Certificate (AOC) and an Operating Licence. But a CAA spokeswoman said few days ago that they had not been contacted by Caledonian Wings or any other firm Robertson has used for his latest venture - Celtic Airways, Celtic Aviation, Celtic Caledonian, Wings Holdings or the Odyssey Group. Even if they had been contacted, applying for such rights takes more than six months national and an additional four months for international routes. Robertson's plans seem way too premature, don't you think so?

In January 2001, Robertson reported that due to "difficulties", the inaugural flight will not take place until April 2002. But he says that he would take advantage of this period of time making efforts to gain many certificates he needs in order to commence operations. He also says that he has posted the availability of their L-1011s for wet-lease contracts and that the response from the industry was great. Can this be? Even Air Atlanta Icelandic, who is well-known for their ACMI leases, is having some hardships in finding contractors. Later, Robertson released news that he is now ready to place his first TriStar online, which he claims is N31023 (msn 1080), as previously mentioned. He used the wording "ready to rock'n roll", but is the aircraft really going to? Early this year, a representative from an aviation company made a visit to Kingman, Arizona, where N31023 is parked, like most other remaining TriStars which were with Trans World Airlines. He reported that the aircraft was still sitting on sand, missing all of its three engines and many other vital parts, and looking like if it is going to be scrapped soon. According to his report, the aircraft has not been touched for many years. Well, then what did Robertson mean by "rock'n roll"? Is he going to convert the aircraft into a disco or what?

Well, from the points viewed, a man named Neil Robertson is planning to start transatlantic services as Caledonian Wings, but they have no aircraft, no crew, no rights, and they are missing the most important thing of all, cash! Also, as this article points out, there are serious doubts about Robertson's words. It would be a dreams-come-true for us TriStar fans and enthusiasts worldwide, to be able to see 44 L-1011s return to the skies, and it's sure that Scotland would appreciate the development of tourism, but we sure can't hold much hope in this one. Caledonian Wings is likely to end up betraying all our hopes and dreams, turning itself into just a cluster of broken promises...

This article was posted on: April 4, 2001

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