Dr William Gordon Watson,

Born: November 11, 1929;

Died: July 7, 2019

From an interest in model aircraft and plane spotting as a schoolboy in Glasgow, William Gordon Watson, made his first solo flight in a Tiger Moth in 1948 and became the BAA's Director of Scottish Airports just thirty years later.

"My time with the British Airports Authority was the most satisfying part of my working life," said Dr. Watson, who graduated at Glasgow University B.Sc (Hons) in mechanical engineering in 1951 and was awarded a Ph. D. for research in fluid dynamics, in 1955.

Evacuated during World War Two, he barely remembered peacetime, although never actually being in danger and it was only much later that he came to understand "how horrible and harrowing these years had been for so many millions."

As a youngster, Gordon lived with his parents and sister Pauline in Somerset Place, Glasgow, within easy reach of the extended family "by way of a two penny fare on one of the ubiquitous tramcars."

A member of the Glasgow University Air Squadron - part of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve - he took part in competitions every year he was eligible and represented Glasgow UAS in 1953 at the Queen's Coronation Procession. Another interest was music, "vamping" as pianist in a semi professional Scottish Country danceband, when he recalled that "In 1951, we were invited to play at a ball in the magnificent Glasgow City Chambers to mark the quincentenary of the University...we did not get paid!"

A member of the Scottish Sporting Car Club - "rallies in these days were amateur affairs, using everyday cars and public roads " - he took part in the 1953 International Tulip Rallye finishing in the Netherlands, with more than 200 starters, seven of them from Scotland, beating the other six.

Election to the Inveroran Salmon Anglers' Club started a lifelong pleasure in occasional angling"in the company of pals."

His national service with the RAF (1955-1957) saw promotion to Flying Officer and included piloting Hastings aircraft, Chipmunks and Ansons.

Flying friendships formed over 16 months with a group designated as 111 University Air Squadron lasted for 60 years during which time he recalled the flying was "exacting" and on Vampires, "it was exhilarating."

Although an officer in Her Majesty's RAF, for a long time he was shy about mentioning it when meeting men who had been in WW2 but if the subject cropped up, would admit to being "an Air Force chap."

In 1961 he married Mary Sandford Campbell and they had two children: Richard Gordon and Hilary Jane.

Working with Scottish Aviation Ltd. (1957-75) as Assitant, Aerodynamics and Flight Test Observer, he flew some 400 hours on flight tests, mainly develping the series 2 and 3 variants of the Twin Pioneer STOL (short take off and landing) aircraft. Then, as Deputy Chief Engineer Gordon initiated four highly detailed design studies for new aircraft: a 'new' Twin Pioneer, a twin engine, four seat plus crew executive aircraft; a single engine, five seat 'touring' aircraft and a single engine two seat aerobatic and with three seats, touring aircraft. “My team of design engineers were immensely skilled but level-headed. This was as close as I ever got to being an aircraft designer.”

When Head of the Project Department, work continued on the studies but his remit included a search for new projects and products for the company, for example, developing the SCAMP electric car - " rightly terminated " however, at a very early stage in development.

By 1967, Gordon had become Chief Engineer, continuing to seek projects which might expand the company and deriving a corporate plan to describe and argue for what were the most desirable types of aviation work within which they should try to find their future and which would "exploit the very wide range of Scottish Aviation's abilities."

Marketing in those days was quite a new idea but there was praise from one of the directors of the Cammel-Laird Group, owners of the company.

A triumph in this was bringing the ex-Handley-Page Jetstream to Scottish Aviation and securing the order for these aircraft for the RAF. His biggest regret, he said, was the company not taking over the Wing 'Derringer' project - a specialist aeroplane which fitted his long term plan ideally.

Gordon later resigned from the company as he felt the holding company were imposing conditions "against my responsibilities to workforce, customers and local community."

In 1968, he undertook training London Business School's executive development programme and in 1969, was made a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, the world's oldest learned aeronautical society.

That year, he purchased his first boat and had a dog - "having a dog or two or three has been a notable and rewarding part of life" he once observed.

Six months' unemployment followed his resignation from Scottish Aviation despite daily searches for and writing off for work. Out of the blue came an approach by the Fairey Company, asking him to be Managing Director of the subsidiary Britten-Norman (Bembridge) Isle of Wight.

Compete aircraft - unfurnished, unpainted and without customer options - were bult at Avions Fairey in Belgium and Romania. All were delivered to Bembridge for storage until they were customised to order and delivered. Gordon found the Belgian production " spasmodic” and costs “horrendous" whereas the Romanian aircraft were cheaper, of excellent quality "and delivered bang on schedule."

As he settled into the job, two positive features occurred to him. Bembridge was the design authority and design and development centre for the "Islander" and "Trilander" aircraft. The first, "an excellent product" showed annual sales of between 80 - 110 aircraft over ten years. The Trilander, however, was less successful. Gordon was struck by "the truly exceptional skills and enthusiasm of the men at Bembridge; “they were simply marvellous which gave me a base on which to build.” However, market research was lacking and his time there “came to an abrupt halt when the Fairey Group went into receivership.”

In 1978, BAA appoionted Gordon Director of Scottish Airports. “To my surprise and delight, “ he said, “I found BAA to be a very disciplined and tightly controlled organisation staffed by high quality professionals dedicated to running 'the best airport system in the world' and that is what was created.”

Landing charges in those days were derived by central head office, but he gradually got this changed to being generated in Scotland with approval for a significant increase spread over three or four years.

“Airlines grumbled but paid up and continued to do more business.”

He also waged a three year fight to win a different depreciation policy for Scotland “which boosted our profit by nearly £4m each year.” BAA did not run the Duty Free shops and Gordon got his staff to propose prices for Scotland based on Scottish high street prices. Prices were lowered but turnover and profit were higher.

Prestick was underutilised and a main concern, so with the Scottish Tourist Board, he started 'Gateway' missions to the US and Canada, promoting the idea of visiting the UK using Prestwick and staying a few days in Scotland. “The Board 'flew the flag' and Scottish Airports provided subsidies.”

Such trips were gruelling, visiting 11 or 12 widely spaced cities, and Gordon was on nine of them. When he took over, Scottish airports' losses were £8m per year whereas in the final year of his responsibility, there was a profit of £9m.

Divorced in 1987, he married Claire Campbell and they moved to Mauchline, Ayrshire. With little time for hobbies, Gordon bought a boat whch needed 'fitting out' to his requirements and provided great sailing.

“My time with BAA was the most satisfying part of my working life,” he said. After retirement he was a Counsellor with Enterprise Initiative, a government scheme to encourage small businesses . He took on some 80 cases, checking credibility and defining needs.

“The great majority were straightforward but I also had the privilege of meeting about half a dozen people or couples of outstanding character and drive.” The Initiative ceased, as planned, around 1993/4.

A directorship with Cumbria Crystal based in Ulverston, followed. “Cumbria produced the best quality crystal in the UK, superior to names like 'Edinburgh' or 'Caithness' ” he claimed. “It had products of the highest quality - a niche market and workforce whose dedication to their skills and products was staggering.”

Becoming interested in the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, and its “excellent collection of old aeroplanes” Gordon complained to the National Museums of Scotland that they were presented in a very ad hoc manner.

“In vain I urged them to realise that aviation was on of the incredible stories of the 20th century and that with their marvellous collection of models, a few explanatory leaflets and maybe the odd short video, they could excite public imagination about the amazing technical advances and courage of the pioneers and developers. I got nowhere."

Even their treatment of Concorde, he claimed, was similar. “No story of the concept: the technological masterpiece that was created and - little understood - the dramatic effect Concorde had on the world wide civil aircraft industry.”

Despite this “total failure,” he became involved in the Aircraft Preservation Society of Scotland, serving as chairman for seven years. “Members are a marvellous group of aviation enthusiasts, most with vast experience of aircraft manufacture or maintenance who voluntarily preserve, overhaul indeed rebuild the aircraft.” They changed the nameof the organisation to 'Aviation Preservation Society of Scotland' and launched a publication: 'Fortune Teller'

Chairmanship of Argyll and Bute Young Enterprise Scotland for five years saw him encouraging 5th and 6th year secondary school pupils to form companies to find or invent a product, then trade and account for their actions and results to "shareholders."

With 12 grandchildren, boats became of great interest and were used a lot, though he also continued designing model gliders - somethng that had begun on his first day of retirement - as well as two, full sized boats, one taking eight years before it was right.

“I was not given the talent to be a lifesavng brain or transplant surgeon , great Shakespearian actor or statesman who strives to bring peace. I'd rather have been one of these, making a far greater contribution than the small cog in 'industry' which is what I was” he said in his late 80s.

“But my luck allowed me to fulfil my potential and for that and so many other aspects of my life I am respectfully and continually grateful.”