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TBT (Throwback Thursday) In Aviation History: Interflug
After the end of World War Two, Germany was divided in two. West Germany was left to the Americans, French, and British, while East Germany was a part of the Soviet Union. Initially, air service in the two countries was only allowed by the occupying forces. By the 1950’s the two countries were allowed to start their own airlines, and resume commercial operations.
Initially, in East Germany, air service was operated by Deutsche Lufthansa, which operated from 1955 to 1963. The airline was founded with help from the Soviet Union, and as such, the fleet and crews were both majority Soviet. In West Germany, another airline was formed using the Lufthansa name, which caused legal problems for the East German carrier.
To provide a backup in case the East German Lufthansa was forced to shut down, the East German government formed Interflug in 1958. As well as being a backup for a potential shutdown of Lufthansa, the carrier would also complement the East German aviation industry by providing charter flights. In 1963, the inevitable happened when the East German Lufthansa was forced to shut down. All assets of the company, including aircraft, staff, and routes, were immediately transferred to Interflug, which took over as the East German flag carrier.
The airlines fleet was comprised of Soviet aircraft from Antonov, Ilyushin, and Tupolev. The airline was owned by the state under the National Defense Council. This meant that a majority of pilots were reserve officers for the National People’s Army. Also, the East German government had the ability to requisition any Interflug aircraft when they deemed necessary.
The airline also had stringent hiring requirements and crew policies. For example, crews were screened for their political allegiance. This was to minimize the amount of people who would attempt to escape the nation when traveling to western countries. The crews were also prohibited from socializing with non-socialist flight crews when traveling.
The airline grew throughout the 1960’s, expanding its domestic market in East German using the Ilyushin Il-18. In 1969, the first jet aircraft, the Tupolev 134, joined the fleet. The aircraft was deployed on the airline’s routes within Europe. A majority of these European routes were to follow Soviet bloc countries.
In the 1970’s, the carrier began serving holiday routes in the Mediterranean. Despite being an East German carrier, these flights were run to cater to West Germans. West Germans could purchase tickets with Interflug either in West Berlin or West Germany. West Berliners had a special shuttle that would take them across the border to Schoenefeld Airport to board Interflug flights.
Also because Interflug was not a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airline could undercut the pricing of its flights to better attract Western travelers. Intra-German flights were initially rejected by the Western Allies, however, were finally allowed in 1989. Both Lufthansa and Interflug were awarded rights to fly over the Iron Curtain.
In 1971, the Ilyushin Il-62 was added to the fleet. This enabled long-haul routes for the first time. Destinations were limited to similarly socialist countries, such as Cuba. However, the global fuel crisis and increase in fuel costs hurt Interflug throughout the 1970’s.
The airline later dismantled its domestic routes in East Germany, focusing on European routes and long-haul routes. The last domestic route for the airline was at the beginning of the 1980’s. This left Berlin and Leipzig as the only East German cities served by the carrier.
With the airline stopping domestic flights, other new issues also began to arise. The fuel efficiency of the Soviet fleet became a major problem for costs, as well as the noise produced by the Soviet engines. For a majority of the decade, western built aircraft were banned from being sold to Soviet bloc countries. This changed in 1988 when aircraft were exempted from the trade embargo on Soviet bloc countries.
Following suit from LOT Polish Airline and Malev Hungarian Airlines, Interflug placed an order for three Airbus A310 aircraft. The new, western aircraft were delivered in 1989. Maintenance for the aircraft was performed in West Germany as well as training for the East German crew that would fly the new aircraft.
In November of 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany began its process of reunification. Both foreign and domestic carriers sought to control pieces of the company. As it was state run, the airline had not been profitable, however, the airline’s operations from Berlin were considered especially desirable. Multiple airlines including Lufthansa and British Airways submitted bids for the carrier, though all were rejected.
By 1991, no suitable investor had been found for the airline. On February 7, 1991, it was announced that the airline would be liquidated. The last flight for the airline operated on April 30, 1991, on the Berlin-Vienna-Berlin route.
After the shutdown, several former employees purchased some of the airlines Il-18’s and set up a cargo airline in Germany. The new Airbus A310’s were sold to the German government and used as VIP transport planes for members of the government. Also, several ex-Interflug aircraft have been preserved across Germany.
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