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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Monarch Airlines
On Oct. 2, 2017, Monarch Airlines, a British charter airline, closed its doors permanently after nearly 50 years of service. The demise is one of the largest in the United Kingdom and left 110,000 people stranded. The airline has a long history and its demise left many people in shock and thousands unemployed.
A Modest Tour Operator
The airline was founded in June of 1967, with backing from the Mantegazza family. At the time, the family also owned UK tour operator Cosmos Tours. The airline began operations ten months later with a charter flight from London Luton to Madrid, with the initial fleet consisting of two Bristol Britannias.
By the beginning of the 1970s, the airline had expanded to a fleet of six Britannias and also carried 250,000 passengers in a year. Monarch entered the jet age in 1971 with the Boeing 720B. By 1976, the airline had sold off all of its original Britannias and was now an all jet fleet. The new fleet now consisted of three Boeing 720 aircraft, as well as two BAC 1-11’s.
The airline was successful in flying charter flights for tour operators, and by 1972, the 500,000 passenger mark was passed for the first time. Expansion continued as Monarch added two brand new Boeing 737-200 jets. One of these new jets would be based in Berlin, under a contract with German tour operator Flug-Union Berlin.
Expansion and New Aircraft
In 1981, the airline was experiencing great success. New bases had opened up at London Gatwick and Glasgow, and the airline carried 1,000,000 passengers for the first time in its history. To help continue to grow, Monarch ordered the Boeing 757, which it received in 1983. With this order, the airline became the first charter carrier to order the new jet.
In 1985 the CAA awarded Monarch with a license to operate scheduled flights for the first time in its history. The airline began scheduled service from its London Luton base to Malaga, Menorca, and Tenerife. To help separate scheduled service from charter service, this new service was called Monarch Crown.
The airline continued to grow into the 1990s, receiving its ETOPs certificate in 1988. The first service under this new certificate was from London Luton to Orlando, with a fuel stop in Gander. This was the first time that a U.K. operated twin jet had crossed the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, the airline broke through the 2 million passenger mark for the first time.
The turn of the decade saw the first wide-body jet join the fleet, with Monarch acquiring the Airbus A300. The airline also built an official headquarters and training center at its London Luton home in 1990. The 1990’s also saw the addition of the future backbone of the Monarch fleet, the A320. To help with long haul expansion, the Airbus A330 was added to the fleet in 1999. These new A330’s were operated with two different classes onboard, a first for the airline.
Into the new millennium saw growth and change for the carrier. Monarch Crown was simply renamed to Monarch Scheduled. A new scheduled base was added at London Gatwick and provided service to Alicante, Faro, and Malaga. A new base was opened abroad in Malaga in 2005, however was closed after two years due to low demand.
In 2004, the airline began to switch strategies to echo low-cost carriers, such as Easyjet. Additional charges were added for food and drinks onboard. New bases were opened in Manchester and Birmingham, with services to sun destinations in Spain. The airline grew to become the second largest airline by passengers carried at Manchester Airport in 2005.
In 2006, an order was placed for the Boeing 787, however delays in the program, and a strategy switch by the airline, prompted the order to be cancelled. In 2008, Monarch was part of an ITV television program called Celebair. The show featured celebrities trained and working as cabin crew on select Monarch flights. Each week a different celebrity was eliminated until there was a winner.
In 2009, the Monarch Group, owner of Monarch Airlines, posted a loss for the first time in many years. This necessitated the Mantegazza family to inject £45 million into the group. The injection of money also came with a strategy change for the airline. The airline shifted from being a charter airline to primarily a leisure scheduled airline.
The airline began investing heavily in services around the Mediterranean, including destinations in North Africa. The airline made a small profit in 2010, but the next year experienced a £45 million loss. This was caused by an increase in the price of fuel, and trouble in sun destinations in North Africa and Egypt causing demand to drop.
A Need for Capital
As a result, the airline received a £75 million rescue package to stay in operation. After this the airline continued to add aircraft, and eventually returned to a profit in 2013. At this time, a large order was announced for the Boeing 737MAX to replace the Airbus fleet.
In October of 2014, Monarch Holdings was acquired by Greybull Capital. The group added £125 million in new capital to the airline. The new owners restructured the airline, eliminating long-haul flying and charter operations. The new model focused on low-cost, short to medium haul flights. The fleet was also reduced from 42 to 34 aircraft.
In September of 2016, rumors began to circulate that the airline was nearing bankruptcy, which the airline denied. The airline received fresh investment and was awarded a renewal of its ATOL license. In addition to fresh investors, Greybull inserted an additional £165 million investment.
Expiring License and Administration
A year later, the same troubles began emerging. On September 30, the CAA extended Monarch’s license for another 24 hours. However, the CAA began to charter spare planes to rescue any Britons stranded abroad. On the evening of October 1, a flight to Ibiza was cancelled during the boarding stages due to the uncertainty facing the airline’s license renewal.
On October 2, the CAA announced that the airline had entered administration and was declared bankrupt. Passengers abroad were rescued as the CAA chartered 34 aircraft to rescue travelers abroad. The demise ended 50 years of operations for the airline and left 1,900 people without a job. Other U.K. airlines, such as Virgin Atlantic, have since set up programs to hire pilots and cabin crew that have been affected by Monarch’s closing.
The demise of Monarch is caused by a combination of issues, with the downfall of travel to North Africa and Middle East, as well as increased competition, being two of the main drivers. Unfortunately, a perfect storm of factors lead to the end of the fifth largest airline in the U.K., and the largest failure in U.K. history.
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