The sky is no longer the limit at Harrods

Taxi-drivers who tout for business outside the hallowed doors of Harrods in Knightsbridge are set for a nice little earner, dashing along a motorway to one of three London airports to enable the rich and famous to sample the store's new line in aviation.

Mohamed Al Fayed, the head of the family owners of Harrods, has shelled out pounds 1m to buy Hunting Business Aviation, and an undisclosed sum for a 10-year lease on an executive jet centre at Heathrow.

Mr Al Fayed, who is never knowingly understated and is the owner of a G4 aircraft and Sikorsky helicopter, said: "This is a unique opportunity because this is a unique company. I have an ambitious programme of development and no plans will be spared in making this the best company of its kind anywhere in the world."

Hunting Business Aviation operates out of Luton, Stansted and Heathrow airports. It is being sold by its joint owners, Hunting and British Petroleum. The executive jet centre is being sold by Hunting for pounds 7m to BAA, which will then lease it to Harrod's newly created Metro Business Aviation division.

Harrods' association with aviation predates the foundation of the Royal Air Force. In 1903 the building and decorating department at Harrods was commissioned to build an oversized shed in London's Alexander Park for a Dr Barton (no relation to Dick) who was experimenting with airships.

By 1909 the Christmas stockings at stately homes could be topped off with a toy aeroplane fresh off the shelves in Knightsbridge, and by 1917 pilots of Tiger Moths could bravely go into a dogfight over France kitted out in Harrods' own aviators' fur-lined overcoats - a snip at 16 guineas each - a cap lined with chamois leather and trimmed with beaver fur for 18 shillings and sixpence, and a fashionable pair of goggles for one guinea.

A year after the First World War the department store went into aviation big-time, opening an aeroplane department. The advertisement in Harrod News on 7 April 1919 set out the range of goods available: "Anyone requiring a nice two-seater monoplane at pounds 450, or a fine flying boat at pounds 1,500, the cheapest in the country, can at once be accommodated."

The monoplane, the advertisement added, was just 20ft 6in long - "small enough to land in Piccadilly" - and no more expensive to keep than a "20- horsepower motor car".

Enthusiasm for flying among the public, however, did not appear to translate into sales. The aeroplane department was mothballed in the early 1920s, and was not rolled out of its second-floor hangar again until 1930 when Harrods decided to repackage its aeronautical offering by selling flying lessons and running an aeroplane hire service.

Light aeroplanes were lifted by crane to the second floor, and customers could purchase a bottom-of-the-range Gypsy Moth for pounds 700, and Gypsy Moth seaplanes from pounds 900.

"All prices are subject to market fluctuations," customers were told, although, if they were short of a bob or two, Harrods would willingly "take your car in part exchange".

The department was grounded yet again when the Luftwaffe took to the skies over Europe in 1939. Harrods aviation was not revived after the Second World War.

Mr Al Fayed, though, is keen to take Harrods to the skies once more and in true Harrods style.

"This will be a six-star service," a spokesman said, who added that it was time to put the tiny UK executive jet business on the map.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Jeremy Clarkson
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own