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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: A Look Back at Malev Hungarian Airline
After the Second World War, air travel in Hungary was decimated. Before the war, four main airlines had dominated the Hungarian skies. However, they were all forced to suspend service for the war. After the war, the four airlines were in ruins, and there nowhere to turn other than mergers. The new Hungarian flag carrier was born on March 29, 1946, and was named Hungarian-Soviet Civil Air Transport Joint Stock Company, or Maszolvet.
Initially, the fleet consisted of an Li-2, a Soviet licensed Douglas DC-3, for passengers, and a three seat Po-2, air taxi, that was used for mail runs. Interestingly instead of stopping at cities throughout Hungary to drop off the mail, the crew of the Po-2’s would do precision airdrops of the mail over Hungarian cities. By 1950, Maszovlet moved to the new Ferihegy Airport in Budapest, a base in which they remained for the rest of their history. Four years later, Hungary bought out the Soviet stake in the airline, and the newly renamed Malev was born.
Throughout the sixties and the seventies the airline expanded and added Soviet aircraft. The airline added the Ilyushin-14 turbine aircraft before upgrading to the turboprop Ilyushin-18. The first jet-powered aircraft for the Hungarian carrier was the Soviet Tupolev Tu-134 in 1968. For most of the seventies and throughout most of the eighties, Soviet-built planes like these plowed the Hungarian skies. In 1988, one year before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Malev became the first airline in the communist countries of Central Europe to order a Western-built aircraft. On November 18, 1988, the airline introduced the Boeing 737-200 to the fleet. The 737 would later become a workhorse for the airline, dominating the Hungarian skies until the airline’s demise.
The fall of the Iron Curtain began a modernization for the airline. The fleet of Soviet-era aircraft began to disappear, being replaced with more modern, Western-built aircraft. The airlines last Soviet-built aircraft, a Tupolev-154, left the fleet in 2001. After two years, the airline began replacing the fleet of Boeing 737 classics with Next Generation aircraft. This grew to 18 Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft, as well as four Bombardier Q400s for short haul routes. In 2007, the Russian airline group, AirBridge, acquired 99% of the shares in Malev.
Later that year the airline joined the Oneworld Alliance, despite courtship from CSA and Skyteam. In 2009, AirBridge was clearly struggling, forcing Russian state bank Vnesheconombank to take a 49% stake in the airline group. This led to Russian management being installed at the Hungarian airline. However, the next year the airline was renationalized with the Hungarian government taking control of the airline.
Two years later, the European Union (EU) declared that state aid received by Malev between 2007 and 2010, while the airline was still owned by AirBridge, to be illegal. The EU ordered Malev to pay back $171 million in aid they had received. This amount was equivalent to the entire revenue of the airline for 2010. At the end of January 2012, the airline announced it could no longer fund its operations. Three days later, on February 3, 2012 the airline ceased operations. It could no longer exist as it had its aircraft seized at foreign airports in the previous days.
Malev’s demise brought the end of 66 years of operations for the flag carrier of the country. The main reason for the failure of this airline was simple; they had run out of money. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the European Union’s decision to force Malev to repay funds received from the Hungarian government. Malev left a hole in the Hungarian market, but their demise allowed fellow Hungarian airline Wizz Air to grow even further and build a new airline to serve the many passengers across the country.
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