The Falkland Islands Government Air Services (FIGAS) has been an integral part of Falkland life since 1948. Nowadays, by common consent, it is referred to solely in the singular as, the FI Govt Air Service. The service has gradually evolved from air ambulance, mail service and carriage of officials to passengers, freight, fishery patrol and scenic flights.
In 1938 Governor Sir Herbert Henniker-Heaton had recognised the need for an air service. However, it was not until 1946 that Governor Sir (Geoffrey) Miles Clifford came to appreciate how isolated the islands population could feel living in remote communities, especially at times of illness. As the small population of the Falklands couldn’t finance a road system it was decided that the way forward was to establish a Government backed air ambulance service and in 1948 the FI Government purchased two light single engine Auster aircraft.
Captain Vic Spencer was appointed as the first FIGAS pilot along with Maurice Smith as first engineer. The aircraft arrived in the Falklands in November and were assembled at the Stanley racecourse which was originally used to take off and land. The first test flight was conducted from there by Vic Spencer on 19 December 1948. Shortly after this first test flight, on 24 December, a small girl suffering from Peritonitis was flown from North Arm settlement to Stanley. This resulted in the first passenger/medical flight undertaken in the Falklands.
As a result of poor and often soft airstrips and the proximity of all settlements to the sea, it was decided to convert in the UK one of the two Austers G-AJCH (VP-FAA) to a floatplane: the other, G-AJCI (VP-FAB) remained as a landplane. Another two floatplanes, an Auster 5 (VP-FAC) and a Norseman V (VP-FAD) both formerly with FIDS (Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey), were added to the fleet and the increased capacity enabled the fledgling air service to develop and passengers began to be carried on a more regular basis.
In 1953 FIGAS officials realised that replacement aircraft needed to be procured and the rugged and reliable De Havilland (Canada) DHC-2 Beaver was selected. The Beaver, when equipped with floats, would fulfil FIGAS requirements for the foreseeable future. The first Beaver entered service in August 1953 with a second in 1955. When the last Auster was retired in 1956 Beavers were the sole aircraft type operated by FIGAS until 1979.
In 1977 a FIGAS review committee was formed to consider suitable types of twin engine landplanes for future operations. Landplanes were considered to be more economical to operate than seaplanes and easier to maintain as they were less prone to salt water corrosion. The Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander emerged as the most appropriate aircraft. One was subsequently ordered (VP-FAY) and it landed at the recently opened Stanley Airport on 4 October 1979.
Immediately post the 1982 Falklands conflict, due to the lack of any serviceable FIGAS aircraft, a former Argentine UH-1H Iroquois helicopter (VP-FBD) was unofficially dallied with followed by a temporary Beaver VP-FBE which was used initially as a floatplane but latterly as a landplane prior to an Islander fleet being adopted as standard.
FIGAS remains an essential part of the Falklands transport infrastructure and way of life. The fleet now consists of five Islanders, one of which is a dedicated Maritime Patrol aircraft. Flying is becoming increasingly more seasonal with ground-based tourists; Cruise Liner passengers and local passengers making up most of the traffic. Round Robin flights, freight, fishery zone surveillance patrols, commercial charter operations and scenic flights complement the core business.
The FIGAS flight operations are maintained to a very high standard and supported by the FIGAS Maintenance Section which is responsible for the servicing of the aircraft at Stanley Airport.
Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of FIGAS this stamp issue features 4 of the aircraft operated by FIGAS over the years.
G-AJCI (VP-FAB) Auster 4
Constructed in 1944 the aircraft was purchased by the FI Government and arrived in Stanley November 1948 and test flown by Vic Spencer, FIGAS’ first pilot who can be seen on the stamp holding a map, the following March. The aircraft remained marked as G-AJCI until late 1949 when the FI Registration Certificate (VP-FAB) was issued but the FI Registration Letters were never worn. Its last known flight was 30 October 1951, after which it was withdrawn from service.
VP-FAD Norseman V
Purchased by FIDS in 1949 for an Antarctic rescue mission VP-FAD was involved in the rescue of 5 of 11 men who had become marooned on Stonington Island, Graham Land. After this it was loaned to and then purchased by FI Government in 1950. It was withdrawn from service in 1953 due to advanced corrosion.
VP-FAH DHC-2 Beaver
VP-FAH was purchased new by the FI Govt for FIGAS. Wearing a "Consolidated Blue" cheat line on a silver airframe, it was shipped on 'Fitzroy' to Stanley, arriving there in July 1958. Unpacked and assembled as a floatplane prior to being flight-tested from Stanley Harbour by Jim Kerr of FIGAS on 19 August 1958. Despite being damaged in 1960 at Shell Point, Fitzroy, when it was driven on to a rocky beach at high tide whilst being maneuvered through some narrows, it was repaired and remained in service until 1967 when it was sold.
VP-FBM BN-2B-26 Islander
VP-FBM entered service in May 1989 and is one of the 5 Islanders currently in service with FIGAS.
We acknowledge with thanks the help and assistance of Falkland Islands Museum & National Trust, BAS, Douglas A. Rough and Vernon Steen.
Designer Bee Design
Printer: Cartor Security Printing
Process: Stochastic Lithography
Perforation: 13 ¼ x 13 ½ per 2cms
Stamp size: 42 x 28mm
Sheet Layout: 10
Release date: 19 December, 2018
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd