Following his first retirement from Formula One, Austrian driver Niki Lauda quickly realized his desire to start his own airline. The ex-Ferrari driver had taken up flying during the 1970s and was a pilot of a private jet. Lauda’s passion for flying led him to create Lauda Air in 1979, a charter and air taxi company based in Vienna, Austria. The airline’s plans were stalled when Lauda returned to Formula One for three seasons in 1983 at McLaren. After his second retirement in 1985, the carrier started operations with BAC 1-11s leased from TAROM and operated short-haul charter flights from Austria. The Boeing 737 was quickly added as the carrier expanded operations. The BAC 1-11s would be replaced with Boeing 737s and Fokker F27s.
Lauda Air saw continued expansion through the end of the 1980s as the carrier added long haul flights on Boeing 767s to southeast Asia, Australia and Miami. An executive branch was also created during the late 1980s. Lauda Air Executive was formed shortly after with the help of three jets; one Cessna Citation, one Bombardier Learjet 60 and a Dassault Falcon 20. The jets were available for individual use and could seat between 7 and 12 people.
The carrier suffered its first major setback when a Boeing 767-300ER operating Lauda Air Flight 004 between Bangkok and Vienna lost control and crashed 20 minutes after departing Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport. The flight suffered a breakup when the left reverser opened inflight, causing the plane to spiral out of control. During this time, Niki Lauda was quick to push for answers from the investigation team and Boeing to fix the reverser problem. As a result of the crash, Lauda Air saw a sharp decrease in bookings, especially the Sydney-Bangkok-Vienna route which saw a 20% decrease after the crash.
Even though the crash hurt bookings overall, the airline continued to look for new ways to expand. An Italian branch of Lauda Air was formed in 1993 named Lauda Air S.p.A. and operated long-haul operations to the Caribbean, Maldives and Africa. The Boeing 767s in Lauda Air’s fleet would transfer to Lauda Air S.p.A. while new Boeing 777s would be added to the Lauda Air fleet. The regional operations saw a change in planes as the Fokker F27s were replaced with Bombardier CRJ-100s. Larger Boeing 737s were added with the updated Boeing 737-700 and 737-800 replacing the Classic 737s.
The livery for Lauda Air was focused on the color grey. The airline had a light grey fuselage with a dark grey belly. Eve the engines maintained a dark grey color. The tail of the plane was grey with two red lines spanning the leading edge of the tail and then turning in the corner and running down the base of the tail. The word “Lauda” was written on the forward fuselage above the windows, with the “L” being the same design as the tail. The same logo also appeared in white and red on the engine cover. For Lauda Air S.p.A., the plane was different from the normal Austrian livery by having the larger of the two red lines on the tail being in green to better match the Italian flag.
With hit and miss results and a slowing European market, Austrian Airlines took over Lauda Air and made the airline the holiday service and charter arm of Austrian. Small changes to the carrier by Austrian Airlines executives led Niki Lauda to leave the carrier in 2001 to focus on starting another carrier on his own, named Fly Niki, and go back to racing as being the non-executive chairman of Mercedes AMG Petronas.
Lauda Air S.p.A., how under the control of Austrian, replaced their Boeing 767s with Airbus A330s. Long haul operations on Lauda Air ended in 2007 when the Boeing 777s and Boeing 767s were slowly removed from the fleet. The CRJ-100s were also removed from the fleet in favor of an all Boeing 737 fleet. Lauda Air continued to operate until Austrian Airlines merged into Tyrolean Air in 2012. With the addition of Tyrolean Air and a European economy in recession, Austrian Airlines decided to suspend operations in 2012. The role of Lauda Air was replaced with Austrian myHoliday, which still operates today under the Austrian Airlines brand. Niki Lauda’s second carrier Niki also still operates today, but as the Austrian branch of Air Berlin.