Home Classic Airliners Which Airlines Flew the Trident?

Which Airlines Flew the Trident?

by Matt Falcus

The Hawker Siddeley HS.121 Trident was a British Airliner developed in the late 1950s by de Havilland, and launched under the Hawker Siddeley name, with its first flight in 1962.

The Trident was the first airliner to feature three rear-mounted engines, as well as many innovative new systems which would revolutionise aviation and air travel.

Chief among these was the Autoland feature, allowing the aircraft to land in zero visibility, thanks to a sophisticated autopilot computer.

The Trident was developed to a specification by British European Airways (BEA), the government-run domestic and regional airline in Britain. However, these specifications proved to be too limited in scope to attract many other customers, and thus only 117 Tridents were built across the three main variants.

Competitors, such as the Boeing 727, went on to sell many more.

But which airlines flew the Trident? Here’s a summary.


British European Airways

Hawker Siddeley Trident 1C, G-ARPX of BEA (Photo: Christian Volpati, distributed under a GFDL 1.2 Licence)

Hawker Siddeley Trident 1C, G-ARPX of BEA (Photo: Christian Volpati, distributed under a GFDL 1.2 Licence)

The launch customer, BEA was the principal force in the design of early Tridents. It used the aircraft on its European schedules out of London Airport (later Heathrow), and also on its domestic network.

The Trident only the second jet airliner to join BEA’s fleet, after the Comet, and was well liked by passengers and crews.


BKS Air Transport / Northeast Airlines


Hawker Siddeley Trident 1E, G-AVYC, of Northeast Airlines (Photo: Steve Fitzgerald, distributed under a GFDL 1.2 Licence)

BKS was a regional airline formed in north east England in 1952. It operated from a base at Southend, and flew on regional routes.

It ordered and flew the Trident 1E variant which were delivered shortly before the airline rebranded as Northeast Airlines. The aircraft wore both liveries, but were best-known in the yellow scheme of Northeast.

These Tridents were used on domestic schedules, such as Newcastle to London Heathrow, as well as on charter holiday services.


British Airways

Hawker Siddeley Trident 3B, G-AWZG, of British Airways (Photo: Michel Gilliand, distributed under a GFDL 1.2 Licence)

From March 1974, British Airways was formed out of BOAC, BEA, and the group which owned Northeast Airlines and Cambrian Airways.

This resulted in a fleet of Tridents being acquired from BEA and Northeast, which covered four different variants – the 1C, 1E, 2E and 3B.

These were used extensively on European and domestic schedules, and in particular on the Shuttle services out of London Heathrow to the likes of Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester.

The Tridents were well used, but with more modern, quieter types like the Boeing 737 and 757 incoming, they were retired in the early 1980s. The final service took place on 31 December 1985.


Pakistan International

PIA, as the airline is known, was one of the first export customers for the Trident.

It acquired four 1E models in 1966, one of which was used as a presidential transport.

However, the type was not well liked and the aircraft were sold on in 1970.



Hawker Siddeley Trident 2E, B-280, of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) (Photo: Lars Söderström, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 Licence)

China’s state owned airline, CAAC, acquired four former Pakistan International Trident 1s in 1970, before taking on 33 Trident 2E examples from the manufacturer starting in 1972. This was the largest operator after BEA/British Airways.

It also flew the final two Tridents built, which were special ‘Super 3B’ models.

These aircraft were used on domestic and regional services within China and around the Far East.

When CAAC was disbanded in the 1980s, many of its Tridents went on to fly for Air China and China United Airlines.

It is thought that the last Trident flights in China (and indeed the world) took place as late as 1995.


Air Ceylon

4R-ACN Hawker Siddeley HS-121 Trident 1E [2135] (Air Ceylon) Paya Lebar~9V 07/03/1975
The national carrier of the small island of Sri Lanka, which was previously known as Ceylon, ordered a single Trident 1E in 1969.

It flew the aircraft on services to India until 1978, when it became an instructional airframe, only eventually meeting its demise in the early 2000s.


Iraqi Airways

Hawker Siddeley Trident 1E, YI-AEB, of Iraqi Airways (Photo: RuthAS, distributed under a CC BY 3.0 Licence)

Many of the Trident orders were from countries once part of the British Empire.

Iraq ordered three Trident 1Es for its national airline, which were delivered from 1965 and flew on services around the Middle East until 1977.

The aircraft languished at Baghdad for many years before being scrapped.


Kuwait Airways

9K-ACF Hawker Siddeley HS.121 Trident 1E [2114] Bahrain-Int'l~A9C 10/03/1967

Another early operator, Kuwait Airways received three Trident 1E aircraft from 1965.

Two of these suffered mishaps, with one being written off.


Cyprus Airways

Hawker Siddeley Trident 2E, G-AVFB, on lease to Cyprus Airways from BEA (Photo: Ralf Manteufel, distributed under a GFDL 1.2 Licence)

The Trident 2E was a good match for the national airline of Cyprus, which required an aircraft capable of flying short legs to Greece, and longer trips to the UK.

Eventually four different Trident 2Es were flown by the airline, however two were damaged beyond repair during the 1974 invasion of Cyprus by Turkey. One of these aircraft remains on the ground at the abandoned Nicosia airport today.

Another aircraft received minor damage but was flown back to the UK and joined BEA’s fleet.


Channel AirwaysChannel Airways

UK charter and regional operators Channel Airways flew two Trident 1Es from 1968.

These had the distinction of being the highest density Tridents ever, with seven-abreast seating (and not much leg room!).

They were sold on in 1971.


Air Charter Service of Zaire


When British Airways was retiring its Trident aircraft, most were scrapped or sent to fire training schools as instructional aids.

However, five aircraft were sold to Air Charter Service of Zaire, or ACS, and flown out to the African nation in 1984.

There, they operated regional services for two years before being scrapped.


Did you ever fly on a Trident? Leave a comment below!


Title Image: Richard Vandervord, CC BY-SA 4.0 


Lost Airline Colours of Asia

Aside from the UK, airlines in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and China flew Trident aircraft. Find out more about these in Lost Airline Colours of Asia – a book featuring hundreds of photographs of lost airlines and liveries from across Asia and the Middle East.

Take a trip down memory lane! Available at this link: https://destinworld.com/product/lost-airline-colours-of-asia/




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1 comment

Graham Schooling May 22, 2024 - 8:52 am

Yes I flew back from Alicante to Heathrow on a Trident 3B back in 1973


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