The History of Lauda Air

Lauda Air, the second carrier after Austrian Airlines itself to establish a presence in Vienna, had a history of both competition and cooperation with it.

Andreas Nikolaus “Niki” Lauda, the son of a paper factory owner, who forged a very different path than his father when he won the first of three Formula One world racing championships at 26-years-old, capitalized on his notoriety and invested his wealth in an airline that bore his name, Lauda Air Luftfahrt AG.

Acquiring Alpair Vienna’s charter license for ATS 5 million in April of 1979, he commenced charter and air taxi service in cooperation with Austrian Airlines with two Fokker F.27 Friendships.

It quickly became apparent, however, that it could not coexist with incumbent Austrian in such a small home market, and the F.27s were consequently leased to Egyptair.

Entering a partnership with Greek financier Basile Varvaressos, owner of the ITAS travel agency, six years later, he leased two BAC-111-500s, a British twin-jet not unlike the SE.210 Caravelle and Douglas DC-9 in size, range, and design, from Tarom Romanian Airlines, increasing his fleet capacity to 208 seats in the process and operating them on charter and inclusive-tour (IT) services to Greece and other European destinations.

So high did demand become, however, that it soon exceeded capacity and a larger 737-200, this time acquired from Transavia Holland, replaced one of the BAC-111s. Still later, both types were superseded by two even higher-capacity 737-300s, which were operated on a steadily growing charter route network.

In May of 1986, Lauda Air applied to the Austrian Ministry of Transport for a license to operate scheduled international service for the first time. Approved in November of the following year, it signaled the end of Austrian Airlines’ long-held monopoly and a subsequently obtained, 235-passenger Boeing 767-300ER, featuring both business and economy class cabins, facilitated long-range, intercontinental flights. The first, occurring on May 7, 1988, consisted of a single weekly frequency from Vienna to Hong Kong via Bangkok. It was later supplemented by a Vienna-Bangkok-Sydney sector.

Inextricably tied to the management of the airline that bore his name and frequently taking the left seat of his aircraft as the pilot that he was, he sought to differentiate it and hence attract passengers with quality, offering “Amadeus,” instead of simply “business,” class; catering his flights with cuisine from the highly esteemed DO & CO restaurant in downtown Vienna; featuring triangular shaped, porcelain plates during their in-flight service; and toting it all with the slogan, “Service is our success.” It was.

But his signature style was expressed in several other ways, including high expectations of his employees, uniforms that included the red baseball caps and blue jeans he himself wore, a mandatory flight attendant retirement age of 38, and aircraft named after movie stars, singers, and artists, such as Bob Marley, John Lennon, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Elvis Preseley, Janis Joplin, Greta Garbo, Gregory Peck, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway. One, reflecting his own passion, naturally bore the designation “Enzo Ferrari.”

Flamboyant, charismatic, and a racing hero who had also won 26 Grand Prix championships, he was perhaps the Austrian equivalent of Richard Branson.

Filling the need for lower-fare, long-haul, leisure-oriented travel, Lauda Air grew rapidly. In 1985, for instance, it carried 95,768 passengers and flew 2,522 flight hours with 67 employees, while in the first ten months of 1987, it carried 236,730 passengers and undertook 5,364 flight hours with 169 employees, a 147-percent passenger increase.

By 1990, its fleet consisted of five aircraft–three 146-passenger 737-300s and two 235-passenger 767-300ERs–all of which were operated on charter services to Europe, Africa, and the Middle and Far East. The scheduled routes remained those between Vienna, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Sydney.

Subsequently earning its license for European scheduled flights on August 23, 1990–a right thus far only held by flag carrier Austrian–Lauda Air inaugurated service between Vienna and London-Gatwick with five weekly 737-300 frequencies. But growth attracted more than passengers. It also attracted other airlines.

Because Lufthansa saw its growing presence in the Austrian market and its East European route access as potentially lucrative assets, it announced a marketing cooperation with Lauda Air in July of 1992, (which was initially envisioned as an offensive move against the aborted Austrian Airlines, KLM, SAS, and Swissair Alcazar Alliance), sealing the agreement the following January with a 26.5-percent capital increase, by means of its Condor charter carrier, shortly after which the two airlines inaugurated a quad-weekly 767-300ER service to Los Angeles. “Partner of Lufthansa,” advertising the arrangement, appeared on Lauda’s aircraft.

The fledgling Austrian carrier, no longer just a shadow of Austrian Airlines, was now aligned with a company far larger than itself and its initial, dual-aircraft fleet quickly quadrupled, now encompassing four narrow body 737s and four widebody 767s, operating between Munich, Miami, and Los Angeles with Condor equipment.

Painfully aware of competition from Austrian Airlines on scheduled inter-European routes, Lauda circumvented what would have resulted in low 737 load factors by ordering six 50-passenger Canadair CRJ-100 Regional Jets in October of 1993 to operate them.

Deployed to Barcelona, Madrid, Brussels, Geneva, Manchester, and Stockholm, they marked the start of the summer timetable, which became effective on March 27, 1994. Singapore, which replaced Bangkok in November of that year, served as its new “bridge” between Vienna and Sydney/Melbourne, and the weekly 767 service was doubled. By the fall it served 11 scheduled and 42 charter destinations.

On March 26 of the following year, Lauda Air established a second European hub, Milan-Malpensa, in cooperation with Lufthansa, which now held a 39.7-percent stake in the fledgling carrier, basing three of its six CRJ-100s there and operating them to Barcelona, Brussels, Dublin, Manchester, Paris, and Vienna. The Canadair Regional Jets, along with an increasing number of 737s, became the backbone of its European fleet.

Its statistics were hardly embarrassments. Indeed, it carried 1.5 million passengers in 1995, a significant percentage of whom provided business class yield, and employed 1,200 by the following year.

It soon become apparent, however, that pending European deregulation was not likely to tolerate dozen-aircraft airlines unless they served very small, specific market niches. Lauda Air had been unable to survive in the face of competition from Austrian Airlines once before. Because both operated medium- and long-range, twin-engine aircraft from bases in Vienna and offered considerable passenger service quality, cooperation between the two became inevitable.

Not surprisingly, it had already been partially consummated in June of 1996, when Austrian Airlines and Lauda Air operated single-aircraft, dual-code flights to Nice, Milan, and Rome with the Regional Jet for the first time.

On March 12, 1997, however, this was expanded, when the tri-carrier Austrian Airlines Group, comprised of Austrian Airlines itself, Lauda Air, and Tyrolean Airways, was formed, each operating within its own niche, based upon its experience, strengths, and aircraft types. The former, for example, remained the flag carrier on scheduled medium- and long-range sectors, while Tyrolean served domestic and regional markets with turboprop and pure-jet airliners. Lauda Air, although initially retaining its scheduled Asian and Australian flights, now primarily focused on leisure-oriented charter destinations.

Nevertheless, on September 24 of that year, it took delivery of its second widebody aircraft type, the 777-200, which it inaugurated into service on the Vienna-Singapore-Sydney-Melbourne route the following month, replacing the venerable 767.

Two years later, all three Austrian Airlines Group carriers announced their intention of joining the Star Alliance as a collective whole and this became effective on March 26, 2000 at which time Niki Lauda relinquished his role as chief executive officer.

As the lower-cost arm within the three-airline group, Lauda provided medium- and long-range scheduled and charter service on leisure-oriented routes with a four-type, 22-aircraft fleet, maintaining its own identity.

But in 2004, the first steps toward integration with the Austrian Airlines brand occurred with the ratification of a joint Austrian-Lauda Air cockpit crew contract, and aircraft OE-LAE become the first of four 767-300s to be repainted in Austrian Airlines livery, introducing a new interior color scheme and a 24-seat business and 230-seat economy class configuration. Lauda Air itself reverted to a single-class, high-density charter carrier within the group, operating a narrow body fleet of Boeing 737s and Airbus A-320s.

Throughout its history, it had operated five basic pure-jet aircraft types, including 12 CRJ-100s, which were ultimately operated by or sold to Austrian Arrows, Tyrolean Airways, Lufthansa CityLine, and Air Littoral. It also flew almost all versions of the Boeing 737, inclusive of the single 737-200 leased from Transavia Holland at the beginning of its climb, three 737-300s, three 737-400s, two 737-600s, two 737-700s, and seven 737-800s, often operating certain frequencies to destinations such as London-Heathrow alongside Austrian Airlines’ A-320-200s or A-321-100/200s at other times. It also flew two of the A-320s itself.

Of its exclusively Boeing widebody aircraft, it operated up to 11 767-300ERs at one time or another, which bore registrations OE-LAE, -LAS, -LAT, -LAU, -LAV, -LAW, -LAX, -LAY, and -LAZ. Two also sported French registrations. Aircraft OE-LAV was involved in the inexplicable thrust reverser deployment accident over Thailand in 1991, which resulted in the loss of all 213 passengers and ten crew members on board.

Three 777-200ERs were also operated, registered OE-LPA, -LPB, and -LPC. These, along with six 767s, were eventually flown by parent Austrian Airlines in its own colors and replaced its long-range Airbus A-330 and A-340 fleet.

Completely folded into Austrian, however, Lauda Air ceased to exist on July 1, 2012.

Although Niki Lauda himself seemed to have disappeared from the airline scene with his namesake carrier, his hiatus was brief. Forming another low-fare, short- to medium-range, inter-European airline, Fly Niki, he operated seven 112-seat Embraer E-190s, three 150-seat Airbus A-319s (in Air Berlin colors, of which it became a subsidiary), and nine 180-seat Airbus A-320-200s, carrying five million passengers that year and becoming Vienna’s second-largest based operator, once again providing competition and downward yield pressure for incumbent Austrian Airlines.

All things do, indeed, begin again.

Growth of Air Charter Services in India

India is the ninth-largest in the global segment of civil aviation. Currently, it is reported to be worth over 16 billion US dollars. Market analysts predict that the industry is all set to become the third largest aviation market in the next four years, and will be the largest in the world in 2030.

So what made this possible? It is owing to the growth of air charter companies in India. They offer a range of services like planning the itinerary, ground handling facilities at the airport, arranging accommodation for passengers and their transportation and many other added services.

Air charter companies support operators of both passenger and freight scheduled flights on domestic and international routes.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the world is fixed on Indian aviation, and the credit goes to all stakeholders in the Indian aviation industry. These include operators of charter flight services as well.

Charter companies say that they don’t face some of the problems the general airlines have to tackle. This according to them is because they don’t have equally high payments and operational costs.

For e.g. they only fly after getting the full payment for the flight. On the other hand, a commercial airline has to fly to its designated routes even if many seats are not filled. This will end up in high operational costs and low returns.

The passenger traffic within the country surged by 19.2% and reached 20.3 million in the second quarter of 2015. During the previous year it was 17 million. For e.g if the passenger traffic in June, 2014, was 7.8 million, in June, 2015, it was 8.8 million. That means there was a 13% growth.

In the segment of freight transportation, it was 211,590 tonnes in June, 2014. In June, 2015, it was 222,990 tonnes.

The movement of aircraft across all the Indian airports was 8% higher in June, 2015, when compared to June, 2014. And the credit for this growth goes to the air charter companies in India. They played a crucial role to make this happen.

A New Delhi-based chartered operator transported ISRO Satellites from Bangalore to Cayenne in French Guiana. That’s not all. It also transported life saving drugs and relief material during natural calamities.

This growth curve proves that India, no doubt, is well placed to become the focal point of aviation for the world nations in the years to come.

The History of Delta Air Lines and Its TriStar Fleet

As the oldest existing passenger airline, Delta itself traces its roots to 1925, when, in initial form, it operated crop dusting services as Huff Daland Dusters with the Petrel 31. Nicknamed the “Puffer,” it was the first agricultural airplane specifically designed to protect the cotton fields of the southern United States against the boll weevil.

Independence and a Delta Air Service name three years later placed the fledgling concern on the threshold of gradual growth.

A meager, four-destination route network enabled it to serve Dallas, Shreveport, Monroe, and Jackson as of June 17, 1929.

Shedding its farm image a decade later, it acquired Lockheed L-10A Electra and Douglas DC-3 cabin airliners, facilitating service after a route award to Savannah, Knoxville, and Cincinnati, and from Chicago to Miami in 1946, albeit via these cities with an additional touchdown in Charleston.

Even larger, faster, and more advanced quad-engine piston liners improved its image, the Douglas DC-4 replacing the DC-3 on the Midwest-Florida run, the DC-6 replacing the DC-4 in December of 1948, and the DC-7 replacing it on April 1, 1954.

Its coverage significantly increased four years later, on May 1, when it merged with Chicago and Southern.

Delta entered the jet age on September 18, 1959 with the Douglas DC-8-10 and this was followed less than a year later with the Convair CV-880 on short- to medium-range sectors. Despite the speed advantage achieved with its Rolls Royce Conway engines, it was both ear-shattering and fuel-thirsty.

A southern route authority, granted in 1962, elevated Delta to transcontinental carrier status, enabling it to operate from Dallas to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Other service expansions included those from Atlanta to Jacksonville and Orlando and those to Phoenix and Las Vegas. Like Eastern, however, it remained a primarily East Coast airline.

Too large and offering more range than necessary, the DC-8 and CV-880 were replaced by the Douglas DC-9 twin-jet in 1965 on short-range, low-capacity US domestic sectors.

The carrier’s widebody era dawned at the beginning of the next decade with the Boeing 747-100 in 1970, the McDonnell-Douglas DC-10-10 two years later to provide needed capacity during the Lockheed L-1011 delivery delays, and the TriStar itself.

Acquiring Northeast Airlines on August 1, 1972 to obtain its much-demanded sun routes, it acquired Boeing 727-100 tri-jets and was able to inaugurate service from Montreal and Boston to Miami and count Bermuda and Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas in its network.

Operating from an Atlanta hub, with secondary traffic centers in Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Memphis, New Orleans, New York, and Tampa a decade later, Delta had expanded into the third-largest carrier, transporting 34.7 million passengers in 1979 and operating 1,300 daily flights to 80 destinations in the US, Canada, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and West Germany. Its slogan, appropriately, was “Delta is ready when you are.”

Its growth, accelerated with purchases of Pan Am’s European routes and Western Airlines, became exponential. As evidenced by the voluminous, 433-page July 1, 1988 edition of its system timetable, it operated more than 2,200 departures with some 380 aircraft to 156 destinations in 42 US states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and 11 foreign countries, including Canada, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Mexico, Ireland, Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, principally from its Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City hubs.

A considerably mixed Boeing, Lockheed, and McDonnell-Douglas fleet encompassed 727-200s (12 first class and 136 coach passengers), DC-9-30s (12F and 86Y), 737-200s (either 12F and 95Y or 8F and 107Y), DC-10-10s (36F and 248Y), L-1011-1s, -250s, and -500s (which featured several configurations, including 32F and 270Y, 12F, 54C, and 203Y, 12F, 40C, and 189Y, and 18F, 64C, and 140Y), MD-88s (14F and 128Y), 737-300s (8F and 120Y), 757-200s (16F and 171Y), 767-200s (18F and 186Y), 767-300s (24F and 230Y), and DC-8-71s (18F and 194Y).

Whereas the emphasis had once been on fleet standardization and a minimum number of aircraft types to reduce crew training, maintenance, and spare parts inventories, the then-emerging megacarriers, such as Delta, which, by definition, served every route length and density, from the 100-mile feeder sector to the transcontinental and intercontinental high-capacity journey, necessitated a broad range of types and versions, since one integrated airline effectively had to do the job of many: commuter, large regional, US national, major, and megacarrier.

As a result, four large US regionals, operating as the Delta Connection, collectively offered 3,900 daily departures to 240 cities over and above Delta mainline flights and included Atlantic Southeast Airlines with DHC-7s, SD3-60s, EMB-120s, and EMB-110s, Business Express with F.27s, SD3-60s, S-340s, and B1900s), Comair with S-340s, Fairchild Swearingen Metros, and EMB-110s, and Skywest with EMB-120s and Swearingen Metros as this time.

Having been the world’s largest TriStar operator, with three versions and two sub-variants, Delta, considering it the “queen of the fleet,” placed its initial order for 24 L-1011-s in 1968 to supplement its existing DC-8s, yet offer increased, widebody comfort and quieter, more fuel efficient high bypass ratio turbofans, once advertising, “The magnificent $18 million TriStar, newest member of the Delta Air Lines wide-ride fleet.” It left most of its other US carrier competitors, including American, Continental, National, Northwest, United, and Western, to order the competing DC-10-10.

Forced to intermittently operate five of the McDonnell-Douglas counter parts because of the Rolls Royce bankruptcy program cessation, it ultimately sold them to United, although they were leased back between 1972 and 1975. It also deployed 747-100s on its transcontinental routes prior to that. Their capacity, in the event, eclipsed demand.

Its first L-1011-1, registered N701DA, was configured for 50 first and 200 coach passengers. But it was just the beginning of a history with a type that would prove synonymous with the Atlanta-based carrier, with 40 more acquired between 1973 and 1983.

Because its route system predominantly consisted of short- to medium-range sectors, it was airborne for about two hours at a time, connecting cities less than 1,000 miles apart.

Exceeding the range of its first transatlantic route award, from Atlanta to London-Gatwick, it was supplemented by two L-1011-100s leased from TWA, and these were eventually also deployed to Frankfurt and Tokyo.

In 1980, it took delivery of three truly intercontinental L-1011-500s.

A second-hand TriStar acquisition program proved extensive. Fourteen L-1011-500s (six from Air Canada, three from Pan Am, and five from United) were purchased between 1984 and 1992 and ten L-1011-1s were acquired from Eastern between 1991 and 1992.

Aside from leasing two L-1011-200s powered by RB.211-524B engines, it modified one L-1011-1 to -200 standard and the remaining six to -250 configurations, enabling each to operate longer-range sectors.

Instrumental in serving the European transatlantic routes it acquired from Pan Am, with up to 80 daily flights in the summer of 1992, the type, in its -500 guise, regularly made the 5,074-mile Anchorage-Hong Kong trans-Pacific crossing, its longest.

Although budgetary constraints precluded Lockheed from offering what could have been the definitive replacement in the form of the stretched L-1011-400, the type continued to ply Delta’s route system until only about 30 daily flights counted for TriStar service by the end of 2000, progressive replacements having taken form as the Boeing 767-200, -300, and -400 and the MD-11, perhaps McDonnell-Douglas’s ultimate triumph over Lockheed.

First delivered in November of 1979, aircraft N728DA, an L-1011-1, operated Delta’s last scheduled flight, from Atlanta to Orlando and return, on July 31, 2001, receiving a double water cannon salute after touchdown on Georgia soil. It had flown almost 31,000 flight cycles, 66,000 hours, and more than 27 million miles during its career.

The 70 TriStars of all versions that Delta had eventually operated during more than a quarter of a century represented 30 percent of Lockheed’s total production run.

The History of American Trans Air

Indianapolis-based American Trans Air, once an emerging carrier, continually searched for an identity.

Established in 1973 as an aircraft provider for the Ambassadair Travel Club, it inaugurated service with a single Boeing 720 dubbed “Miss Indy,” doubling its fleet five years later with a second, “Spirit of Indiana.” But its March 1981 issuance of common-carrier certification enabled it to operate in its own right.

Retaining its Indianapolis roots, it acquired ever larger aircraft, including eight 707s; its first widebody, a former Laker Airways DC-10-10 registered N183AT in 1983; and an ex-Northwest Orient DC-10-40, itself bearing registration N184AT. The quad-engine 707s were eventually replaced by more fuel efficient 727-100 tri-jets.

Annual passenger totals climbed: 96,426 in 1981, 269,086 in 1982, and 618,532 in 1983.

Relying upon Northwest for additional DC-10 acquisitions, but forced to substitute the comparable TriStar when it elected to retain its aircraft, American Trans Air purchased its first in 1985, ultimately operating 15 L-1011-1s, one -100, and four -500s.

It assumed a new operational profile when it inaugurated limited scheduled service on the JFK-Belfast-Riga (Latvia), Indianapolis-Fort Myers, Indianapolis-Las Vegas, and San Francisco-Kahului (Maui)-Honolulu routes, billing itself both as “American’s vacation airline” and “The nation’s largest charter airline.”

“We create the comfort. You create the excitement,” it advertised. “At American Trans Air, we know the only excitement you want on a vacation is the excitement you create. That’s why you can count on American Trans Air’s courteous, professional staff, top flight aircraft, consumer conscious prices, and all the little extras that have become characteristic of our growing company.”

Growing it was. Seeking to avoid scheduled airline competition, it had become the United States’ largest charter operator, attributing up to 90 percent of its revenue to both the civil and military divisions of this sector, with the remainder from scheduled operations, wet leasing, third party pilot training, and contract maintenance.

Operating a 23-strong fleet by 1992-including seven 727-100s, 12 L-1011-1s, and four 757-200s-it was profitable for 18 of its 19-year history, posting a $2 million loss the previous year for the first time because of the recession and the travel trepidation created by the Gulf War. It transported 2.4 million passengers that year.

It was that very Gulf War, however, which served as the cornerstone of its military operations, since its aircraft counted as part of the Civil Air Patrol fleet. Carrying 108,000 troops on 494 missions in support of Operation Desert Storm, it was also instrumental in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and provided 727-100 shuttle flights between Nellis Air Force Base and the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

Stretched -200s replaced the -100s in 1993.

American Trans Air once again adopted a new image when it devoted a significant portion of its aircraft resources to scheduled operations from a Chicago-Midway hub, in addition to continuing its military and government contract flights.

To facilitate its intended growth and modernize its fleet, it ordered 39 737-800s and 12 757-200s in 2000, taking delivery of the first of the former (N301TZ) in June of the following year and the first of the latter (N550TZ) two months later, introducing a livery change in the process to emphasize its new scheduled-airline, business-oriented route system, now branded “ATA Airlines.”

Equally seeking feed from small and secondary cities with more suitable turboprop regional equipment, it purchased existing Chicago Express for $1.9 million in 1999 and operated it as a separate “ATA Connection” subsidiary.

Its latest, elevated-image strategy, however, proved unprofitable, forcing it to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection five years later, on October 26, 2004. The best method of keeping it alive, it decided, was to employ its assets for the benefit of a healthy carrier, which, in this case, was deregulation-synonymous Southwest Airlines.

Transferring six of its Midway Airport gates and 27 percent of its nonvoting stock to Southwest in exchange for a life-injecting cash infusion and continued operation under a code share agreement in December of 2004, ATA reduced its number of Indianapolis-served destinations to three and redeployed aircraft to Chicago, now assuming a business airline profile by flying to cities that Southwest did not, including New York-La Guardia, Dallas/Fort Worth, and San Francisco. Midway-bypassing services also enabled it to link Southwest focus cities, such as Orlando, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, with other voids in its route system, Denver and Honolulu among them.

The strategy resulted in a 20-percent revenue increase for Southwest, but did not necessarily suture ATA’s financial bleed.

To further reduce costs, it significantly pruned its fleet, selling 20 737-800s and eight 757-300s and only marginally plugging its capacity gap with the two-year lease, between November of 2005 and November of 2007, of three former United Airlines 737-300s. Even the lease rates, in the event, proved too high.

Coincident service reductions, not surprisingly, were extensive, as the lights dimmed on numerous destinations over a short interval: Boston, Newark, and Minneapolis in October of 2005, Indianapolis and Denver in November, and Orlando, Fort Myers, and San Francisco the following April, leaving little more than the skeleton of its once fully fleshed body. Indeed, 18 daily departures were dispatched form a single gate at Midway Airport and only 52 were offered system wide. A previous court approval had enabled it to sell its Ambassadair Travel Club division to Grueninger Cruises and Tours.

Although a $100 million financial package form the MatlinPatterson investment firm and pre-bankruptcy creditors enabled the now-privatized carrier to briefly emerge from bankruptcy and establish service to New York-La Guardia, Houston-Hobby, Ontario, Oakland, and Hilo (Hawaii), rising fuel prices, the rapid resignation of a shortly-serving CEO, the poorly executed replacement plan of its L-1011s with DC-10s, and the loss of a major military contract caused it to spiral back into bankruptcy, leaving Flight 4586 from Honolulu to Phoenix to mark its last landing at 0846 on August 2, 2008.