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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: ALM Antillean Airlines
ALM Antillean Airlines was founded on Aug. 1, 1964, as a division of the Dutch national carrier KLM. The Netherland Antilles were a constituent country under the Kingdom of the Netherlands and consisted of Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius.
The islands were separated by the large Caribbean Sea, with three islands on the Leeward Islands in the east, and three islands on the Leeward Antilles in the south. The distance between the islands made air travel a must.
The airline was based in Curaçao and started operations with three Convair 580s to seven destinations. The initial destinations were Aruba, Bonaire, and Sint Maarten in the Netherland Antilles, as well as St. Kitts, Barranquilla, Maracaibo, and Caracas. Tourism surged in the Caribbean, and ALM grew with it. Two Douglas DC-9s were added as well as two Fokker F-27s to replace the Convairs.
At the beginning of 1969, the Antillean government purchased a 96 percent share in ALM from KLM, making the carrier state-owned. Tourism continued to boom in the Antilles, allowing ALM to charter a Douglas DC-8 for direct flights to New York and Miami. From 1970 to 1973 the DC-8 was replaced with a chartered Boeing 727 from Braniff. During this timeframe, the Fokkers were replaced with a third DC-9, and for a short time, the airline became an all-jet operation.
The airline moved into cargo operations during the 1970s with the purchase of a Douglas DC-6 in 1972. The airline also acquired deHavilland Twin Otters to operate shorter routes that were uneconomical on the larger Douglas DC-9. The Twin Otter flights were operated between Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire and were labeled as ABC Commuter. The operation became a success and ALM was profitable through 1978.
The growth of the airline necessitated larger jets and upgraded DC-9s were added to the fleet. Boeing 727s were added for routes to Chicago, New York, and Detroit. The Twin Otters were replaced in 1978 with Shorts 330s. During this time, a partnership with KLM was renewed, with KLM hoping to turn ALM into a Caribbean hub for the carrier.
The companies success began to dwindle in 1979 due to an increase in fuel prices and lower tourist demand. Competition also increased at the same time, with Eastern and American competing with ALM on some of their key routes to the United States. The 1980s saw the carrier end DC-8 flights and sell off the Boeing 727s and Shorts 330, concentrating on four Douglas DC-9s for the fleet. Those DC-9s were replaced in 1982 by three larger McDonnell Douglas MD-80’.
The 1980s saw the airline begin to return to profitability and success and two Fairchild FH-227s were purchased for short-haul routes. The airline’s route map had shrunk, serving only 13 destinations in the Caribbean as well as New York and Miami. The independence of Aruba also caused trouble for the airline, as the new Air Aruba, began competing with ALM between Aruba and Curaçao. Revenue began to dwindle on the route, as the two airlines shared passengers.
The 1990s saw the airline struggle. ALM was facing stiff competition on some of its most profitable routes, as well as a shift in the aviation industry. Despite this, the airline purchased the deHavilland Dash 8-300 to replace the Fairchilds on short-haul routes. In 1991, KLM reinvested in the airline, but the airline continued to struggle financially. The new millennium saw the airline on the verge of bankruptcy.
KLM saw the signs and swapped its Amsterdam flight from Curaçao to Bonaire, leaving a brand new ALM catering building in Curaçao unused. It all collapsed for ALM in September of 2001 when the airline declared bankruptcy and shut down. The 37-year-old airline had been facing losses for most of the 1980s and 1990s. In its place, a new airline, Dutch Caribbean Airlines, took over some routes, however, they closed in 2004.
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