Captain Ernest Edmund "Ted" Fresson, OBE, lived from 20 September 1891 to 25 September 1963. He was a pioneer aviator who is primarily remembered for establishing Highland Airways, which inaugurated a passenger service between Inverness, Wick and Kirkwall on 8 May 1933. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Ernest Edmund Fresson was born in Surrey and was the son of Mitchel Fresson, a stockbroker, and Marian Robins, an artist. He was the oldest of a family of four boys and two girls. Ted Fresson trained to be an engineer and in 1911 was sent by the company he worked for to China. During World War One Fresson volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps, and in 1918 trained in Canada to be a pilot. After the war he returned to China, where he started to build aircraft, initially from parts shipped out from Britain, but eventually to his own design.
Fresson returned to Britain in 1927 and began to make a living offering aeroplane joy rides to people from improvised airfields the length and breadth of the country. This gave him the idea of starting a scheduled airline service serving the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. He formed Highland Airways Limited in 1933, with considerable support from local businesses such as the Inverness motor engineers Macrae & Dick. On 8 May 1933 Highland Airways started its first scheduled service between Inverness, Wick and Kirkwall. In October 1933 he expanded into charter flights when he flew three businessmen from Aberdeen to Shetland. Scheduled services from Aberdeen began on 7 May 1934, and on 29 May 1934 he was awarded the Royal Mail's first domestic airmail contract. Services followed throughout the Highlands and Islands and Argyll with links to Aberdeen, Perth and Glasgow.
At the start of World War Two Fresson, who by now had landed in almost every likely field in Scotland, advised the Air Ministry on the establishment of the many military airfields which rapidly appeared around the country. Meanwhile, Highland Airways became part of Scottish Airways, which Fresson played a key role in running throughout the war. In 1947 all UK domestic air services were nationalised into British European Airways, and Fresson (and many other early pioneers of air transport) were evicted from their businesses without compensation. Ted Fresson moved abroad, but returned to Scotland in the 1950s, continuing to fly occasional charters using his own aircraft.
Ted Fresson died in Inverness on 25 September 1963. He is remembered in a display at the Highland Aviation Museum near the modern Inverness Airport: and in the pattern of air services he established serving the Highlands and Islands, many of which continue to operate today. His name also lives on in the "Fresson Business Park", on the site of the original Inverness Aerodrome near the Kessock Bridge and used by Fresson in the 1930s. The airfield he established at Wideford near Kirkwall, a mile west of what is now Kirkwall Airport, is marked with a cairn and an information display.