The company was named after a nickname of the town of Broken Hill, Australia, where one of the airline's owners (the Zinc Corporation) operated mines. Silver City was first based at Langley Aerodrome, but moved to Blackbushe Airport in 1947 when Langley was forced to close due to the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
Initially, the company bought three Avro Lancastrians (civil version of the Lancaster Mk.3 bomber), which it operated until 1949. The airline's first commercial flight was in November 1946 when Lancastrian G-AHBW flew to Johannesburg and return. In 1947, three additional ex-military aircraft (Dakota or Douglas DC-3 transports) were acquired and used for shorter charter work. Also in 1947, the first Bristol Freighter was leased. Along with one of the Dakotas, this aircraft took part in the airlift of Hindu refugees from Pakistan following Partition of India in 1947. The Bristol Freighter was significant in the development of the airline, and the fleet soon expanded to four aircraft, three of which were used in the Berlin Air Lift in 1948.
The first managing director was Wing Commander "Taffy" Grimth James Powell, a keen and impatient traveller. Powell realised he could adapt the Bristol Freighter to fly passengers and cars from Britain to Continental Europe and Jersey. This "air ferry" would allow British holidaymakers to avoid waits for sea ferries. On the 13 July 1948, the airline made its first flight with a car, from Lympne in Kent to Le Touquet on the northern coast of France. The ferry service was a success, and new cross-Channel routes were introduced, along with shorter-lived services from Stranraer to Belfast. However, it soon became apparent that the grass runway at Lympne was not suitable for the increased volume of traffic.
The airline moved to Southend Airport where its headquarters remained. Following a further move to West Malling in 1953, the company decided to build its own airport near Lydd, in Kent which it called Ferryfield. In July 1954, after six months' work and a cost of £400,000, it started operations at what was the first post-war airport in the United Kingdom. The Duke of Edinburgh opened Lydd Airport (now London Ashford Airport) on April 5, 1956 and his flight to Le Touquet carried two cars. Regular flights across the English Channel to France were available between 7.30am and 11pm for £25 a car, £4 per passenger. Between 1953 and 1957, 137,000 cars and 500,000 passengers flew with Silver City from Lydd Airport.
In the late 1950s, Zinc Corporation sold the airline to the British Aviation Services Group (a subsidiary of the P&O Shipping Group, trading under the name Britavia). Silver City took over Air Kruise in 1958 and the group also acquired Lancashire Aircraft Corporation, Manx Airlines and Dragon Airways. On February 27 1958, a Silver City charter flight from the Isle of Man to Manchester crashed in bad weather on Winter Hill, Lancashire. Thirty-five people were killed. Between 1959 and 1962, the airline used the larger Handley Page Hermes to operate passenger flights marketed as the Silver Arrow between Manston and Le Touquet and on holiday flights throughout Europe.
In addition to airports mentioned above, the airline also operated air ferries from Southampton, Hurn, etc., to continental destinations.
In 1962, Silver City was taken over by Air Holdings, parent of British United Airways which operated similar services to the continent from Rochford Airport in Essex. By the end of 1962, all Silver City aircraft were either in British United colors or had been retired, and so the name ceased to be used. The operation became part of British United Air Ferries, later simply British Air Ferries.
Following the opening of the Channel Tunnel, specialised trains known as "Le Shuttle" perform a similar role for motorists wishing to cross the English Channel, meeting a demand even Taffy Powell is unlikely to have foreseen. On their short journeys, these shuttle trains share tracks with the inter-city passenger Eurostars and dedicated, longer distance freight trains.