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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Braathens SAFE
For years Braathens plowed the Norwegian skies as the largest domestic carrier in the country. The airline was founded in 1946 by Ludvig Braathens, as a subsidiary of his shipping company, Braganza. The airline was originally named Braathens South American and Far East Air Transport, or shortened to Braathens SAFE.
His original plan for the airline was to fly crew and supplies to his and other shipping company ships across the world. Braathens traveled to the United States to purchase used Douglas C-54 aircraft from the United States Air Force. The first aircraft named Norse Explorer was delivered to Oslo on December 26, 1946.
The airline’s first flight took off on January 30, 1947 and traveled from Oslo to Cairo, making stops in Copenhagen and Paris. The airline became the third airline to operate from Europe to the Far East when flights were launched from Oslo to Hong Kong, making stops in Amsterdam, Marseille, Cairo, Basra, Karachi, Calcutta, and Bangkok. The flight took 46 hours in the air and nine to ten days to complete with overnight stops in Cairo, Karachi, and Bangkok.
In 1947, Braathens not only flew out to Hong Kong, but also New York and Johannesburg. The airline purchased Douglas DC-3 aircraft in order to more efficiently operate shorter charter flights. Trial flights to South America began the next year. International flights continued until 1954, when Braathens lost their international operating provision from the Norwegian government. Norwegian Air Lines, which became Scandinavian Airlines System, was given a monopoly for Norwegian domestic and international scheduled flights. Braathens flights were charters, but were regular enough to require the concession.
The airline instead opted to focus on the domestic market. Braathens received permission to fly from Oslo to Stavanger via Tønsberg Airport, utilizing its acquired de Havilland Heron for these flights. The airline expanded domestic operations throughout the 1950’s but still struggled as their Far East operation accounted for 90% of the airline’s revenue. Soon enough Braathens replaced the DC-3’s and the Herons with the Fokker F-27 in 1958, becoming the second airline to take delivery of the aircraft.
In addition to the airline’s scheduled services in Norway, Braathens also conducted charter flights for Mediterranean tour operators. The airline entered the jet age in 1965 with the Boeing 737-200, as well as deciding on the Fokker F-28 for domestic operations. The airline slowly expanded throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, limited on domestic service by the government, the airline focused on charter operations. Braathens continued to grow with eleven 737’s being added in the 1970’s including some with larger fuel tanks to allow non stop flights to the Canary Islands.
Braathens added Boeing 767-200 in 1980 but were undersized for charter operations and were sold in 1986. The same year the airline removed the F-28’s from the fleet allowing a unified Boeing 737 fleet. The -200 variant were upgraded to the -400 variant, and the -500 variant was used for charter and scheduled services, with all of the Boeing 737-200 aircraft being removed from the fleet by 1994.
Deregulation in Norway began in 1987, and Braathens was permitted to compete with SAS on certain domestic routes. The market was completely deregulated in April of 1994, allowing free competition on all domestic routes. Braathens was concerned however because they believed their high debt would mean they would struggle in a price war. In order to help the airline’s financial situation, Braathens reached an agreement with its employees trade union to freeze wages, as well as began an initial public offering on the Oslo Stock exchange. After deregulation, domestic services expanded and contracted as profitable routes were added while unprofitable routes were dropped.
In 1996 Braathens purchased Transwede Airways, the second-domestic airline in Sweden. The airlines began network integration in June of 1996 and Transwede was renamed to Braathens Sverige. The airline also replaced the Fokkers of Transwede with Boeing 737’s. In 1998, Braathens entered into a strategic partnership with KLM, seeing profit sharing and coordination between the two airlines. The same year, Braathens SAFE was renamed to just Braathens and a new corporate identity was revealed.
The airline expanded heavily through the end of the 1990’s, adding 20% in capacity. However, passenger count only increased by 5.2%. The airline also got into a price war with SAS, resulting in both airlines losing a combined 1 billion Norwegian krone. After the price war, the airline cut routes and increased prices in fares, ultimately causing the airline to struggle. In November of 1999 all domestic services in Sweden, inherited from Transwede were discontinued. The early 2000’s saw a cutback in flights while ticket prices increased. On May 21, 2001, it was announced that a 69% stake in the airline, owned by Braganza and KLM, would be sold to SAS. Initially the merger was rejected by the Norwegian Competition Authority, however Braathens was on the verge of bankruptcy and would close without the purchase. The deal was approved on October 23, 2001.
The airlines split routes between themselves on April 2, 2002. Braathens lost many routes out of Oslo, as SAS instead had them concentrate on services to Northern Norway. On the March 10, 2004, SAS announced that the two brands would be merged into a single company, SAS Braathens. The license and operating license of Braathens remained from the merger. On the June 1, 2007 SAS Braathens was rebranded Scandinavian Airlines, to match sister airlines in Sweden and Denmark, leaving the Braathens name to fade into the history books.
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