Short History of Brunei Aviation

According to observers, the first airplane to fly over Brunei was a seaplane spotted over Tutong in 1922. Prior to the second world war, there was no airfield in Brunei. The first runaway was built by the Japanese during the second world war at the current Old Airport Government Complex. After the end of the war, that runaway was improved upon and a proper airport was built. The first commercial air transport in Brunei only began in 1953 with the establishment of air service links connecting Bandar Brunei (Brunei Town) with Anduki in the Belait district. Initial flights were to Malaysia which was to accommodate travellers from Labuan in Sabah and Lutong in Sarawak.

If you were to visit the Government's Printing Department at the Old Airport Complex (that's why the area is called the Old Airport Complex as the old Brunei Airport was there), that department now occupies what used to the Brunei Airport Terminal Building including the tower. I remembered when my father was the Director there in the late 1970s, the top tower was his office. Returning to his office was quite nostalgic as in the 1960s, my mother and I used to fly to Singapore to visit our family in Johor almost every year and we had to fly via Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) to catch a connecting flight. At first it was the Malayan Airways using De Havilland Rapides aircraft that operated flights between Brunei Town, Anduki, Miri and Labuan with over 4,300 passengers using the Brunei Airport in 1955. The Brunei Airport only served airplanes like the De Haviland, the small Douglas DC3s and later the Foker Friendships.

The Anduki Airport in Seria in the meantime played a very significant role in the aviation history of Brunei. Constructed soon after the end of the second world war, it served the Shell company operating there. It was completed sometime in 1951 and the first plane to land there was a Vickers Supermarine Type 309 (VR-SOL) or better known as the Sea Otter. The Sea Otter is a versatile airplane, it can land both on the water as well as on dry land.

Before Anduki was built, the Sea Otters were flown from Lutong in Miri - from an airport which the Japanese built during the War. One of the interesting things for British expatriates coming to work in Shell in Seria is that their first ever flight tended to be in Brunei. After the World War and the 1950s, the expatriates and their family would arrive by ship in Labuan. Then the Sea Otters would fly them from Labuan to Belait and for many that would be their first ever airflights. The Sea Otters played a very significant role in Brunei aviation before being replaced by the Percival P.50 Prince (photo of aircraft in Anduki Airport photograph). In addition to the that was the small Auster J5B Autocar.

In the 1970s there was a very significant growth in popularity of air travel. The old Brunei Airport was swamped with activity, operating beyond its capacity and prompted the authorities to scout for a new site to build a modern airport, in order to cater to the needs of the growing number of users. The new Brunei International Airport which we all use currently, began construction in 1970, was completed in 1974. Our own Royal Brunei Airlines was also born in November 1974. Ater a year of service RBA 2 Boeing 737-200 jets managed to fly 36,000 passengers. Twin turboprops Fokker (see photograph) were also used. Later Boeing 757-200s and the long range wide bodied Boeing 767-300 replaced all the 737-200s. By 2002, Airbus A319 and A320 were added to the fleet to replace the 757s.

Comments

Faiq Rani said…
wow, great pictures
Anonymous said…
Interesting story. I lived in Seria as a child and have very happy memories of it. I flew in the Prince and Auster and my Dad flew in the Sea Otter. I remember in 1952 looking at the tracks of a big crocodile where it crossed the road near Anduki. Great site. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
I lived in Seria as a child in the early fifties and flew from Anduki.
Great pics and very interesting. Shell also had a Short Sealand, a small anphibious transport. Donald.
Anonymous said…
Does anyone have any pictures of my late father Capt R K Browne who was a helecopter pilot for BSP Brunei around 1956.
I also went to the Panaga Primary school around the same time,and spent many a happy hour swimming in the pool at the Panag Club and also stated to play golf on their wonderfull course.
Anonymous said…
Anyone with memories, photos or documents relating to the Shell Percival Prince aircraft in Brunei is requested to contact Tom Singfield
tom(at)singfield.freeserve.co.uk. Change the (at) to @.
I am a historian of the Percival Prince aircraft.
Many thanks
Tom
man said…
great brunei history....

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