David Coltman Managing Director
Sadly David, former BCAL Managing Director, passed away on the morning of 9th June 2011 after suffering a long illness. David's funeral, at his home in Scotland was a private family service.
In January 1981, David Coltman joined us as BCal's Deputy Marketing Director to Gordon Davidson. In May 1985 David was appointed as BCal's Managing Director.
A Service of Thanksgiving in rememberence of David was held at St. Columba’s Church (London) on
Wednesday 9th November 2011
There was a tremendous turnout of around 200-250 people, including many former BCAL colleagues. Peter Smith gave the address relating to David’s aviation career and Peter's words follow:-
A distinguished French airman of the early days of flying, Antoine de Saint Exupery, wrote “ I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things “
Aviation was just such a broad canvas for David and his energy and enthusiasm,
A previous generation, apart from going to war, might have headed to the foreign or colonial service; a future generation to media or finance. But, for young men especially, aviation in the 1960’s was hard to resist. It brought people, ideas, languages and values together. For a new Elizabethan, like David, it was a home for his vision, passions and connections.
David had an exceptional career, both in achievement and in the sense that it did not follow an ordered pattern. He moved from cargo to passenger, from public to private sector, from British to international companies and, latterly, from airlines to the supporting activities of distribution and ground support.
Before I had met him in the very late 1960s, I already knew of his early activities because I lived near Gatwick - a Super Constellation of Ace Freighters, gleaming silver, grumbling from the runway, laden with cargo assembled via a back bedroom of a council house in Crawley.
This year, 40 years on, we talked at Haystoun about airports and opportunities in Scotland, as the prospect of a sale of a lowland airport emerged. And the enthusiasm that got Ace Freighters into the sky was undiminished.
Between these times, David was a big player on various aviation stages, always believing in the possibility of the new and the different:
- in BEA Cargo, by persuading suspicious manufacturers of the economic sense of using air speed. My memory, however, is of a fedora and long coat arriving rather later, or leaving rather earlier, than the rest of us and from more exotic spots than Feltham or Staines.
- later becoming head of British Airways Cargo Worldwide, drawing together the two proud, but rather antagonistic, divisions of BEA and BOAC, with very different mindsets and styles. He introduced 747 freighters to the airline. The 747 was a David-sized aircraft.
- then, to British Caledonian Airways as its Marketing, later Managing, Director. He was the man that brought the world the Caledonian Girls. He well understood the politics of the Middle East, although he warned me that I was “ sending him naked into the desert “ when I failed to deliver briefings on time. But, more importantly, he understood both the airline’s popularity but financial weaknesses, at a time when the Government was struggling to privatise a disgruntled and disliked British Airways. He was a bridge between the two carriers and, although it was very sad to see BCal sold, its shareholders were rewarded, most staff had good careers inside or outside BA and BA was strengthened in a world market.
- at United Airlines, first as its VP Europe and then as a Senior Commercial VP, he was a main participant in acquiring and integrating the transatlantic operations of Pan Am into United and in raising the international standards of the latter around the world. These were transforming activities in what was an over regulated American industry. He gave United an international perspective.
- and time with Galileo and as Chairman of Opodo and, finally, as senior non-executive director of John Menzies, as this old Scottish business developed an aviation arm, to round off David’s notable aviation years.
But, what also distinguished David was that, for all his passion for aviation, it occupied only part, just a sensible appropriate part, of his life. Those that worked with him knew this to be so:
- when he arrived or left in racing clothes or delivered a brace of pheasants with the instructions to “ hang them, pluck them, stuff them and eat them “
- when he gave the definitive rules on the carriage of guns and ammunition by air or, of course, of horses.
- when the contact book trawled up a chum in some terrible part of the world that might just be worth flying to.
- when UAL started a Chicago -Glasgow service, almost an Elk Grove to Peebles service, timed for his weekend at Haystoun where he was clearly happiest.
GK Chesterton wrote “ travel broadens the mind, but you must have a mind “ and Stephen Fry added “ at my age, travel also broadens the behind “. Both aphorisms fit David. His mind travelled further and faster around problems and opportunities. And his girth and behind certainly contributed to larger hotel beds, larger seats and better first class cabins. He would regularly lecture me on his requirements for legroom on Flybe flights from Scotland and what he thought should be charged for his frame. He understood the necessary part played by quality and style in aviation.
He had a wonderful capacity to simplify the complex, to catch the essence of a problem or a solution in a few words. A favourite phrase was that “ it’s perfectly simple …. “ . He had no interest in debating points, but in achieving results. He understood nuts and bolts, but was happy to leave the tightening or slackening to others. An inveterate makers of lists, he seldom forgot or failed to do what was agreed or promised.
However, no man is measured only by achievement. His humanity is central to his memory. In David, this is so clearly reflected, as we have fulsomely heard, outside aviation, but it was present there, too.
He was liked - a simple statement, but not one often applicable at the top tier of business. It is probably not too much of an exaggeration to say he was adored by those who worked closely with him as secretaries and assistants. And he was admired and well respected by colleagues, staff and competitors. People wanted to work with him and for him, as can be seen by the numbers that followed where he went. And I am grateful for those that added their memories of David for me to draw upon - they all recall that it was fun, as well as demanding, to work with David and that their efforts were appreciated and remembered by him.
He was mannered, generous, open with an easy charm; humorous and utterly unstuffy. At all levels, in all parts of the world, from sheiks in shades to Texans in stetsons, he could engage, empathise and encourage. What he did, he did naturally, without pressured effort. It was the character of the man he was. He wore responsibility and authority comfortably.
A good man with good sense, and good for those that knew and worked with him.
At this point, he would undoubtedly be saying “ that’s enough ….. “
But, that desire to reach for the sky lies deep in the human spirit.
For many, many of us here today, and more around the world, it has been good, and will be a lasting memory, that our efforts to reach for the sky have been done in David’s company.
7th November 2011
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