The history of Lauda Air

Lauda Air, the second airline after Austrian Airlines 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 mill owner, who blazed a very different path from his father when he won the first of three Formula One world championships at age 26, took advantage of his notoriety and invested his wealth in an airline named after him, Lauda Air Luftfahrt AG.

Upon acquiring Alpair Vienna’s charter license for 5 million Austrian shillings in April 1979, he started the charter and air taxi service in cooperation with Austrian Airlines with two friends Fokker F.27.

However, it soon became clear that it could not coexist with the predominant Austrian in such a small domestic market and consequently the F.27s were leased from Egyptair.

In partnering with Greek financier Basile Varvaressos, owner of the ITAS travel agency, six years later, he chartered two BAC-111-500, a British twin-jet similar to the SE.210 Caravelle and Douglas DC-9 in size, range, and design, by Tarom Romanian Airlines, increasing its fleet capacity to 208 seats in the process and operating charter services and inclusive tours (IT) to Greece and other European destinations.

However, demand became so high that it soon exceeded capacity and a larger 737-200, this time purchased from Transavia Holland, replaced one of the BAC-111s. Later, both types were replaced by two higher capacity 737-300s, which were operated on an ever-growing network of charter routes.

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

Inextricably linked to the management of the airline that bore his name and frequently taking the left seat of his plane as the pilot that he was, he sought to differentiate it and thus attract quality passengers, offering “Amadeus”, instead of simply “business,” class; stocking your flights with cuisine from the highly esteemed DO & CO restaurant in downtown Vienna; with triangular shaped porcelain plates during her service on board; and carrying it all with the motto “Service is our success”. Was.

But his trademark style was expressed in a number of other ways, including the high expectations of his employees, uniforms that included the red baseball caps and blue jeans that he himself wore, the mandatory retirement age of a 38-year-old flight attendant, and planes named after movie stars, singers, and artists like 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.

To meet the need for lower-fare, long-haul and leisure travel, Lauda Air grew rapidly. In 1985, for example, 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 performed 5,364 flight hours with 169 employees, an increase of 147 percent of passengers.

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

Subsequently, obtaining its license for regular European flights on August 23, 1990, a right until now only in the hands of the Austrian airline, Lauda Air inaugurated the service between Vienna and London-Gatwick with five weekly frequencies 737-300. But the growth attracted more passengers. It also attracted other airlines.

Because Lufthansa saw its growing presence in the Austrian market and its access to Eastern European routes as potentially lucrative assets, it announced a marketing cooperation with Lauda Air in July 1992 (which was initially conceived as an offensive move against the aborted Austrian Airlines, KLM, SAS and Swissair Alcazar Alliance), sealing the agreement the following January with a capital increase of 26.5 percent, through its charter airline Condor, shortly after the two airlines inaugurated a quarterly service 767- 300ER to Los Angeles. “Lufthansa Partner”, announcing the deal, appeared on Lauda’s plane.

No longer just a shadow of Austrian Airlines, the fledgling Austrian airline was now aligned with a company much larger than it, and its initial fleet of two aircraft quickly quadrupled, now encompassing four narrow-body 737s and four fuselage 767s. wide, operating between Munich. Miami and Los Angeles with the Condor team.

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

Deployed in Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Brussels, Geneva, Manchester and Stockholm, they marked the start of daylight saving time, which came into effect on March 27, 1994. Singapore, which replaced Bangkok in November of that year, served as its new “bridge” between Vienna and Sydney / Melbourne, and 767 weekly service doubled. In the fall, it served 11 scheduled destinations and 42 charter flights.

On March 26 of the following year, Lauda Air established a second European hub, Milan-Malpensa, in cooperation with Lufthansa, which now had a 39.7 percent stake in the fledgling airline, basing three of its six CRJ-100s there. and operating. to Barcelona, ​​Brussels, Dublin, Manchester, Paris and Vienna. Canadair’s regional aircraft, along with a growing number of 737, became the backbone of its European fleet.

His stats weren’t embarrassing. In fact, it carried 1.5 million passengers in 1995, a significant percentage of which provided business class performance, and employed 1,200 the following year.

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

Unsurprisingly, it had already been partially consummated in June 1996, when Austrian Airlines and Lauda Air operated single-plane, dual-code flights to Nice, Milan and Rome with the Regional Jet for the first time.

However, on March 12, 1997, this was expanded, when the Austrian Airlines Group of three airlines was formed, consisting of Austrian Airlines itself, Lauda Air and Tyrolean Airways, each operating within its own niche, based on their experience, strengths and aircraft types. The former, for example, remained the flag carrier in the mid- and long-range scheduled sectors, while Tyrolean served the national and regional markets with turboprop aircraft and pure airliners. Lauda Air, while initially maintaining its regular Asian and Australian flights, has now focused primarily on leisure-oriented charter destinations.

However, on September 24 of that year it received its second type of wide-body aircraft, the 777-200, which it entered service on the Vienna-Singapore-Sydney-Melbourne route the following month, replacing the venerable 767.

Two years later, the three Austrian Airlines Group airlines announced their intention to join the Star Alliance as a collective whole and this became effective on March 26, 2000, at which point Niki Lauda resigned as CEO.

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

But in 2004, the first steps towards integration with the Austrian Airlines brand occurred with the ratification of a joint Austrian-Lauda Air cabin crew contract, and the OE-LAE aircraft became the first of four 767-300s in be repainted with Austrian Airlines livery. featuring a new interior color scheme and a 24-seat Business Class and 230-seat Economy class configuration. Lauda Air itself was once again a single-class, high-density charter airline within the group, operating a narrow-body fleet of Boeing 737s and Airbus A-320s.

Throughout its history, it had operated five basic types of pure jet aircraft, including 12 CRJ-100s, which were eventually operated or sold to Austrian Arrows, Tyrolean Airways, Lufthansa CityLine, and Air Littoral. It also flew almost all versions of the Boeing 737, including the only 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. , which often operate certain frequencies to destinations such as London-Heathrow in conjunction with the Austrian Airlines A-320-200 or A-321-100 / 200 at other times. He also flew two of the A-320s.

Of its exclusively Boeing wide-body aircraft, it operated up to 11 767-300ERs at one time or another, which had registrations OE-LAE, -LAS, -LAT, -LAU, -LAV, -LAW, -LAX, -LAY and – LAZ. Two also sported French license plates. The OE-LAV aircraft was involved in the unexplained 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 as OE-LPA, -LPB and -LPC. These, along with six 767s, were eventually flown by parent Austrian Airlines in its own colors and replaced its fleet of long-range Airbus A-330s and A-340s.

Fully converted into Austrian, however, Lauda Air ceased to exist on July 1, 2012.

Although Niki Lauda himself appeared to have disappeared from the airline scene with the eponymous airline, his hiatus was brief. In forming another short to medium-range, low-fare inter-European airline, Fly Niki, it 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, which carried five million passengers that year and became Vienna’s second-largest operator, once again creating competition and downward pressure on performance of the traditional Austrian Airlines.

In fact, all things start anew.

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