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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Dan-Air
In the early history of British aviation, British Airways Overseas Corporation (B.O.A.C.) dominated the landscape. Many independent airlines have tried to challenge the B.O.A.C. dynasty, but most faltered after a few years of operations and failed to make a large impact on B.O.A.C’s dominancy. One of those airlines that tried, and failed, to make an impact to the British aviation market was Dan-Air. Dan-Air focused on charter operations throughout the early portion of its history, but turned to scheduled operations later in its life. Dan-Air’s demise would go on to help spur the growth of B.O.A.C.’s successor British Airways.
Dan-Air was founded in May of 1953 at Southend Airport near London as a subsidiary of the Davies and Newman ship broking firm. The airlines name came from the initials of their parent company, D.A.N. Operations were started with a single Douglas DC-3 aircraft. The airlines first flight occurred in June of 1953 between Southend and Shannon, with a quick stopover in Manchester. The airline decided early on that in order to distinguish itself from Danish carriers, the word “London” would be affixed behind the Dan-Air name on aircraft fuselage, a memorable feature that would last until shortly before the airline’s demise.The airline operated passenger and cargo charters from their base in Southend until the airline moved operations to Blackbushe Airport in 1955. From there, Dan-Air moved to Gatwick Airport, now known as a low cost and charter airline haven. The move to Gatwick brought along two major developments for Dan-Air. One was the airline’s first pressurized aircraft,the Airspeed Ambassador. The other was a major expansion into the inclusive tour charter business, which consisted of holiday packages offered by tour operators that included transportation, lodging and activities at the destination. The airline also began to offer charter operations from Manchester Airport.
The inclusive charter industry (IT) helped Dan-Air expanded quickly, as by 1965 the airline had seven ambassadors operating charter flights. During this time, aging aircraft were the backbone for the airline until the introduction of more modern jetliners. The next year saw the introduction of the first jet with Dan-Air, a British made, ex B.O.A.C. de Havilland Comet. Eventually Dan-Air would become the largest operator of de Havilland Comets. The addition also made Dan-Air the second British independent airline to offer uninterrupted jet service. By the end of the 1960s, Dan-Air had expanded enough to become the second largest operator from Gatwick Airport, behind only Caledonian and British United Airways.
While IT and charter operations had been the focus of Dan-Air’s operation, the airline also forged into offering scheduled service. Initial scheduled services were within the UK on routes linking the mid-major cities together. By 1960, Dan-Air launched international scheduled service to Basel and Rotterdam. The airline also operated a “Link City” service within the UK, offering same day return service between some of the UK’s largest business centers. The scheduled service was continually expanded both domestically and throughout the entire continent during the 1970s and 1980s. Dan-Air also took over many of British Airways loss-making routes within the UK such as between Bristol, Dublin and Belfast.
Dan-Air’s official international expansion began in 1968 as the airline began operating on behalf of German tour operators based in West Berlin. The airline was aided by the fact that no airline could operate in West Berlin unless it was French, British, or American, giving Dan-Air a leg up on many of its competitors. They were also helped by a surplus of UK based Comets that could be redeployed to Germany when the UK commercial travel market went on a decline. The airline set up a base at Berlin-Tegal in 1969 and originally stationed five aircraft there. Most service was charter operations operated for German tour operators to the Mediterranean.
In 1971, Davies and Newman announced that Dan-Air would become a publicly listed entity on the London Stock Exchange. This move helped raise the airline £5 million, and went straight to helping Dan-Air build on to their small regional scheduled operations with a new aircraft fleet. The next year, Dan-Air partnered with Laker Airways to establish a ground handling company at Gatwick. The airline continued to grow, and quickly became the second largest airline at Gatwick after the merger of British United and Caledonian. The airline’s various aircraft in its fleet gave it an slight edge on its competitors by offering tour operators different size aircraft to use based on the demand. Dan-Air also rose to have the second largest airline fleet in the UK behind British Airways.
The De Havilland Comet had made up most of Dan-Air’s fleet up until the last aircraft was retired in 1980. From there, the Dan-Air fleet was made up of a hodgepodge of different aircraft types including the Boeing 707 and 727, the BAe 146-200 and the Airbus A300. One unique features of Dan-Air’s Boeing 727s was the addition of emergency exits at the back of the plane in front the engine. This was done to comply with CAA regulations about passenger evacuations. The aircraft also feature stick shakers and pushers after problems with stalling on British designed T-tailed aircraft such as the Hawker Trident. After the Comets retirement, the BAe 146 and the BAc 1-11 quickly become the workhorse of the fleet.
The success of the 1970s was marked with Dan-Air receiving new branding. The livery was updated to reflect the many new acquisitions of aircraft to the fleet. The changes also stretched to a new interior, and even smaller updates on items like advertisements and stationary. However, this success would have to come to an end soon, as the 1980s signaled a significant change for Dan-Air. Although a steady profit was made throughout the decade, by 1989 the airline was facing a loss. From 1989 till the end of Dan-Air in 1992, the airline continued to hemorrhage cash. By 1992, the airline was placed for sale with debts totaling £50 million. A last minute deal was attempted to be pushed through, which would have resulted in Virgin Atlantic investing £10 million into Dan-Air in exchange for ownership. However, the deal fell through and British Airways ended up purchasing the fledgling carrier for a wholesome sum of £1.
The problems with Dan-Air stemmed from significant competition from other tour firms setting up there own airlines. This heavily cut into Dan-Air’s major tour operations, as well as lowered the cost and therefore profit margin of charter flights. Another major problem that was once used to the company’s advantage was Dan-Air’s unique fleet. The mixture of aircraft meant there was very little compatibility for crew, pilots and all other normal operating staff. The fleet was also quickly aging, meaning higher operating and fuel costs. At the same time, the UK was also in a recession, meaning less people were traveling by air. These numerous problems lead to the ultimate demise of the largest charter operator in the UK, and helped British Airways rise to an even stronger hold on the UK aviation market.
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