12thLufttransport-Unternehmen GmbH (abbreviated LTU) was founded in 1955 as a way to offer charter and commercial flights from Germany to leisure destinations. The airline started with short flights using Vickers VC-1s that operated around the neighboring countries. The de Havilland DH-104 and Fokker F28 were added to help supply the growing route map. LTU saw rapid growth out of Dusseldorf and moved headquarters there in the 1960s as well as starting jet service with the arrival of the Sud Aviation Caravelle. The airline started to specialize in charter operations over commercial traffic due to the high expenses of operating a continuous service.
While LTU continued to fly inside of Germany on a daily basis, the airline expanded rapidly south of the country. New flights to Spain, Italy, and Greece became common as the leisure markets proved to be popular with Germany’s people. The low fares offered by LTU held national carrier Lufthansa in check and allowed for an alternative to the German markets, especially in northern Rhineland and Dusseldorf. Most flights to Spain operated out of Dusseldorf and most Italian and Greek routes were operated out of Munich, but originated in Dusseldorf as well. Fellow German charter carrier Condor Flugdienst and national carrier Lufthansa kept LTU from getting much attraction in Frankfurt, and also hurt some passenger numbers in Munich, but these stats never kept the airline from adding newer or overlapping routes.
In the mid-1970s, LTU decided to start flying to the Americas and purchased ten Lockheed L-1011s to help achieve this goal. The carrier shifted focus to expanding their long haul market opportunities and continuing to offer a German based alternative to Lufthansa. The airline started flying to New York and the Caribbean soon thereafter, and found some success doing so. The Boeing 757 was added to help with the Mediterranean flights and allow for an ability to seek newer markets, specifically the Cape Verde Islands. The L-1011s were flown until the mid-1990s when they were replaced with the Boeing 767 and McDonnell-Douglas MD-11s.
Florida, Asia, and Africa came to be popular options for the airline in the 1990s, with Miami and Tampa service coming to the Dusseldorf hub. Asian routes to Singapore, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives helped expand the carrier eastward while staying true to their leisure market priorities. Service to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mauritius, and South Africa continued to show the airline’s ability to serve the corners of the earth.
LTU, known for their ability to give reasonable fares to leisure routes, also had a very noticeable livery. The carrier focused on the color red, with the airline’s livery being nicknamed the “red rood” due to its overall red color. The planes had a red top and tail; a white cheatline surrounded the windows but was enclosed by another red stripe. The belly and lower fuselage was gray, with white engines. The word “LTU” appeared in three locations, on the tail in white, on the engine in red, and between the forward door and cockpit in red. The livery would fly with LTU from the 1970s until their buyout in 2007.
As the new century started, LTU transitioned to become an all-Airbus fleet, as A320s and A321s replaced the Boeing 757s, and Airbus A330s took over long haul operations. Route expansion slowed and the carrier only added Phuket, Thailand to the route map, but a codeshare with Bangkok Airways allowed for a way to reach more destinations. One Airbus A320 would be transferred to a new airline, LTU Austria, who would operate between Vienna and the Mediterranean. LTU Austria was formed in 2004, but dissolved in 2008. In 2007, Air Berlin announced they would take over LTU, allowing the merged airline to be the fourth largest European airline by traffic count. LTU continued to operate as normal but the aircraft were painted into an Air Berlin livery with LTU titles.
In 2006, just prior to the merger with Air Berlin, LTU made an agreement with Deutsche Polarflug to fly one Airbus A330 on a thirteen-hour flight to the North Pole. The flight was titled the Arctic and North Pole Sightseeing Flight, leaving Dusseldorf and flying over Norway, the North Pole and coming back by way of Greenland and Iceland before returning to Dusseldorf. The flights would operate once a year in the spring and would not land at any point of the flight except for the arrival back to Dusseldorf. LTU operated the first flight in May 2007, with one occurring each April or May of every year since.
In 2008 Air Berlin announced they would finish the merger with LTU and cease to use the LTU name. The carrier’s last flight was in 2009 and was dissolved in 2011 when LTU’s air operator’s certificate expired. All LTU aircraft were given the full Air Berlin livery, removing the LTU logo before the airline’s AOC was terminated in 2011.
Air Berlin continues to operate most of LTU’s former fleet and most of LTU’s former routes, even adding more to the previous hub at Dusseldorf. The Arctic and North Pole Sightseeing Flights previously operated by LTU are now flown by Air Berlin with the next scheduled for April 23, 2016. One aircraft still wears the LTU logo, with a de Havilland DH-104 (D-INKA) being preserved in LTU colors and being used for sightseeing flights in northern Germany.