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Dan-Air

Dan-Air (Dan Air Services Limited) is a defunct airline based in the United Kingdom. It commenced operations in 1953 and was absorbed into British Airways in 1992.

History

Dan-Air commenced operations in the United Kingdom in May 1953 with a single Douglas DC-3 "Dakota". It was a subsidiary of Davies and Newman, a shipbroking company originally established in the City of London in 1922, from whose initials the airline had derived its name. The company was incorporated on 21 May 1953 as Dan Air Services Limited. To emphasise the fact that this was a British (rather than a Danish) company, the newly constituted airline's aircraft prominently displayed the suffix "London" along with the Dan-Air name on both sides of the fuselage. (This convention was kept in place until about a year before Dan-Air's takeover by British Airways, when it was decided to drop the "London" suffix from the long-established "Dan-Air London" fuselage titles.)

Main areas of commercial activity

It operated a mix of inclusive tour (IT) holiday charter flights, regional short-haul scheduled services, transatlantic and other worldwide "affinity group"/Advanced Booking Charters (ABC flights), oil industry related support flights and various ad-hoc operations (including all-cargo services) from London Gatwick and a number of other British airports as well as Tegel Airport in what used to be West Berlin in the days prior to Germany's [[German reunification|[re-]unification]].

Aircraft operated

It operated the world's largest fleet of De Havilland Comet aircraft and became the last airline in the world to operate this type when it was finally retired from commercial airline service in 1981. (Dan-Air gradually built up the world's largest De Havilland Comet fleet over a time span of ten years [1966-1976]. This included all remaining 49 airworthy examples of this particular aircraft type although not all of them saw commercial airline service with Dan-Air. [Some of them had specifically been acquired to be cannibalised for spares to support the in-service fleet.] These aircraft commanded a lower purchase price than other comparable second-hand jets. They were also relatively new at that time as many of their previous operators had replaced them with the larger and more economical Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 after only a few years' service with these operators. These airframes therefore had many more years of useful service life left and only cost a fraction of the similarly sized BAC One-Eleven 500 or Boeing 737-200, which were still scarce on the second-hand aircraft market in those days. It also enabled the airline to replace most of its obsolete piston-engined airliners such as the Avro York, the Bristol 170 Freighter and the Airspeed AS 57 Ambassador, which had already reached or were nearing the end of their service lives, relatively cheaply.)

Dan-Air was also the last commercial airline operator of the Airspeed AS 57 Ambassador piston-engined airliner. (A small number of this elegant-looking, high-winged twin-engined plane had survived in the airline's fleet well into the jet era. The last example was retired from service in September 1971 after completing its final Jersey-Gatwick scheduled service.)

The introduction of the first of three former Japan Airlines Boeing 727 100 series aircraft into service on April 13, 1973 made Dan-Air the first British operator of the Boeing trijet, at the time the world's best-selling commercial jetliner.

(Dan-Air's original batch of eight Boeing 727-100s, which entered service between 1973 and 1978, differed from all overseas-registered aircraft of the same type and sub-type in two crucial aspects. The Dan-Air examples featured an additional set of emergency doors on each side of the rear fuselage as well as a special stall-protection system, known as a "stick pusher". The former was necessitated by the airline's requirement to have the aircraft certificated at an increased maximum seating capacity of 150. Providing these additional emergency exits was the only way the CAA's standard emergency evacuation rule, whereby all passengers must be able to leave the aircraft within 90 seconds by using only half of the available exits, could be met. The CAA mandated the latter in the light of previous experience with UK-registered, T-tailed jet aircraft - chiefly as a result of an incident involving a Northeast Airlines Hawker Siddeley Trident. This stall-protection system consisted of a "stick pusher", a "stick nudger" and an independent "stick shaker" for each pilot. It was activated when the aircraft was in danger of entering a stall by physically shaking the pilots' control columns as well as automatically correcting the aircraft's attitude and altitude, in an attempt to increase velocity so as to avert an irrecoverable deep stall. Installing the aforementioned stall-protection system cost Dan-Air US$1m per aircraft.)

As well as the Boeing 727, Dan-Air was a major operator of the Hawker Siddeley 748 and the BAC One-Eleven during the airline's most successful period in the 1970s and 1980s.

In May 1983 Dan-Air became the first airline in the world to put the four-engined BAe 146 regional jetliner into commercial service.

The aircraft types listed below formed part of Dan-Air's fleet at one point or another in the company's 39-year history:

Attaining commercial success

Dan-Air's acquisition of three Avro Yorks in 1954 resulted in the establishment of Dan-Air Engineering as a separate sister company at Lasham Airfield, a disused war-time airfield in Hampshire, to service its growing and varied fleet as well as aircraft belonging to other operators.

Dan-Air transferred its main operational base from Blackbushe to Gatwick in 1960 following the former's closure to all commercial airline traffic.

In 1967 Dan-Air introduced its first pair of ex-BOAC De Havilland Comet series 4 aircraft, which made it only the second Independent British airline to commence uninterrupted pure jet aircraft operations (after British United Airways). This marked the beginning of a period of sustained, steady and mostly profitable expansion.

By the end of the 1960s, Dan-Air had become Gatwick Airport's third biggest resident operator (after both British United Airways and Caledonian Airways).

Dan-Air's parent company Davies and Newman Holdings became a publicly listed security when it was successfully floated on the London Stock Exchange in late 1971. The entire Davies and Newman group was capitalised at around £5m at the time of its stock market debut. This provided the financial platform that enabled Dan-Air to continue expanding its core charter business as well as to branch out into new areas of the commercial airline business, such as building from scratch a comprehensive network of regional scheduled services between secondary airports across Europe with particular emphasis on the United Kingdom and Ireland, and entering the transatlantic "affinity group"/ABC market, and firmly establishing itself as the leading fixed wing operator providing oil industry support flights. It also enabled the airline to continuously expand its fleet over the coming years, leading to the introduction of a number of new aircraft types into its fleet, including the BAC One-Eleven, Boeing 707, Hawker Siddeley 748, Boeing 727, Boeing 737, BAe 146 and, eventually, the Airbus A300. However, most of these "new" aircraft types were actually acquired second-hand.

In 1972 Dan-Air co-founded Gatwick Handling, a major Gatwick-based handling agent that has since become part of the Aviance group, with Laker Airways. (Each airline owned 50% of Gatwick Handling at the time of its inception.)

By the mid 1970s Dan-Air had become the second biggest resident operator at Gatwick (after British Caledonian and ahead of both Laker Airways as well as British Airtours, the former wholly owned British Airways charter subsidiary that had its headquarters at the airport).

During the 1970s and 1980s Dan-Air also established itself as one of Britain's foremost wholly privately owned, Independent airlines. From the mid 1970s onwards Dan-Air operated the largest of all the UK Independent airlines' aircraft fleets as well as Britain's largest charter fleet. From then on Dan-Air was second only to British Airways, in terms of its overall fleet size. (Throughout most of this period Dan-Air's fleet numbered more than 50 aircraft, it employed a staff of about 3,000 and by the end of the 1980s carried in excess of 6m passengers annually, almost one-third of which were scheduled passengers.)

Dan-Air marked the arrival of the 1980s with a complete corporate makeover. The first stage of Dan-Air's new corporate image entailed the introduction of a new, fleet-wide livery. The new livery was gradually introduced from 1980 onwards. (One of Dan-Air's Boeing 727-100s, the airline's first pair of "stretched" Boeing 727-200 "Advanced" and its first Boeing 737-200 "Advanced" were among the first aircraft to appear in the new livery.) The second stage of the new corporate appearance involved giving the entire fleet, ranging from the 44-seat HS 748 to the 187-seat 727-200 "Advanced", new "widebody look" interiors as each aircraft underwent scheduled maintenance. The last and final stage centred on changing company stationery, ticket wallets, timetable covers, airport signage and baggage tags as well as the way the firm presented itself through its logo in advertisements and PR campaigns.

By the time British Airways took over British Caledonian, Dan-Air had also become Gatwick's second-largest slot holder, accounting for 16% of the airport's slots. (At that time Dan-Air provided the chairman of the Gatwick Scheduling Committee while British Caledonian, Gatwick's largest slot holder at the time, provided the [slot] co-ordinator.)

Overseas expansion

Dan-Air's first overseas expansion occurred during the Cold War in 1968 when Frank Tapling, at the time the airline's sales director, put in place the company's Berlin operation. (F.G. Tapling literally "knocked on the doors of German tour operators" to increase the utilisation of the company's growing Comet fleet, as well as to take advantage of the fact that all airlines other than those headquartered in the US, the UK and France - the airlines of the three Western victorious powers of World War II - were banned from operating at West Berlin. Operating out of West Berlin also enabled Dan-Air to redeploy capacity that had become surplus in the UK due to the introduction of exchange controls the same year, which limited the amount of foreign exchange for each passenger to £50 per trip, and to obtain better rates than in the hyper-competitive and oversupplied UK charter market.)

March 31, 1968 marked the beginning of Dan-Air's long association with West Berlin and the city's Tegel Airport, which was to last for a quarter of a century. On that day, a De Havilland Comet series 4 jet departed the airport for Málaga. This was the first of a series of almost 300 IT flights operated under contract to a major West German tour operator.

Dan-Air established its first overseas base at Tegel Airport in 1969. Up to five of the company's aircraft used to be stationed there for over two decades. These initially comprised De Havilland Comets, BAC One-Elevens, Boeing 707s and Boeing 727s. They were later replaced with Boeing 737s, Hawker Siddeley 748s and BAe 146s because they were better suited to the requirements of that market. The Berlin-based fleet operated both charter flights under contract to German tour operators as well as scheduled services to Amsterdam and Saarbrücken. (Gatwick-based aircraft and crew operated most of the regular charter flights as well as all scheduled services linking Dan-Air's Berlin base with London Gatwick, the firm's main operational base.) At its peak during the late 1970s and early 1980s the Berlin operation was staffed by 170, mainly local, employees and handled well over 300,000 passengers annually.

Dan-Air's Berlin-based Boeing 727s had additional, fuselage-mounted fuel tanks fitted to permit non-stop flights from Tegel Airport to the Canary Islands with a full payload. (At 2,200 miles the distance between Berlin Tegel and Las Palmas was greater than that of the shortest transatlantic crossing between Shannon in Western Ireland and Gander in Eastern Canada. Thus, the five-hour non-stop flight from Berlin to Gran Canaria represented the very limit of the 727's economically viable non-stop range.)

Dan-Air operated the first commercial flight to arrive at Tegel Airport's then brand-new terminal building on November 1, 1974 at 6.00 a.m. local time with a BAC One-Eleven that was in-bound from Tenerife.

Scheduled service developments

Dan-Air operated its first seasonal scheduled service during the summer of 1956 between Blackbushe and Jersey.

Dan-Air operated its first year-round scheduled service in 1960. This service linked Bristol and Cardiff with Liverpool. It was initially operated with a pair of De Havilland Doves, which were soon replaced with larger DC-3s. This service was subsequently extended from Bristol to Plymouth. The resulting route pattern became the foundation of the airline's "Link City" network, a bus stop type of scheduled service linking the UK's Southwest with the Northeast via a number of intermediate stops at the main commercial and industrial centres of the Midlands and the Northwest. DC-3s continued plying all domestic "Link City" scheduled routes for the first ten years of operation.

1960 was also the year Dan-Air launched its first international scheduled route linking Bristol and Cardiff with Basle. Further international scheduled services from Liverpool to Rotterdam, Bristol to Basle via Bournemouth as well as from Bristol and Gatwick to Ostend followed during the early 1960s. These services were operated with the airline's DC-3 and Airspeed Ambassador aircraft.

Dan-Air's acquisition of Scottish Airlines and Skyways International, two rival Independent airlines, in 1961 and 1972, respectively, further enlarged the airline's scheduled operation. The acquisition of the former brought a number of additional Avro Yorks into the fleet and enhanced the scheduled operation with a seasonal route linking Prestwick with the Isle of Man. The latter's purchase resulted in four additional HS 748s joining the fleet and led to a major expansion of the scheduled operation with year-round services linking Bournemouth with Jersey and Guernsey, as well as seasonal flights linking Gatwick with Clermont-Ferrand and Montpellier in Central and Southern France, respectively. The addition of these aircraft also enabled the airline to expand its domestic "Link City" operation by adding Bournemouth to the network and reorganising the route structure by introducing two new, distinct South-North route patterns, i.e. Bournemouth-Birmingham-Liverpool/Manchester-Newcastle and Luton-Leeds/Bradford-Glasgow, in April 1972. Schedules were designed to offer passengers same-day-return facilities on week days (Monday to Friday). These ex-Skyways HS 748s furthermore enabled Dan-Air to open a new, seasonal Gatwick-Berne route in June 1972. This marked the first time a direct scheduled air link had been established between London and Switzerland's federal capital. The acquisition of these aircraft moreover resulted in the HS 748 becoming the company's main scheduled aircraft type for the next ten years. (These aircraft replaced the single Nord 262 Dan-Air had acquired from Air Ceylon in 1970 as a DC-3 replacement to operate its Bristol-Cardiff-Liverpool-Newcastle "Link City" schedule.) In addition, the 1972 Skyways takeover had brought a scheduled cross-Channel route linking Ashford (Lympne) in Kent with Beauvais. This air route formed part of a London-Paris coach-air service, which Skyways had pioneered in 1955 with Douglas DC-3s. Dan-Air continued operating this service until the beginning of the 1980s as the lowest-cost travel option between the British and French capitals. (In 1974 the UK departure/arrival airport moved to Lydd when Ashford Airport closed. HS 748s, BAC One-Elevens and Vickers Viscounts leased from other operators used to operate these services at various times.)

In 1973 Dan-Air added Teesside as an additional stop to its domestic "Link City" network and it also inaugurated a new, international scheduled air service between Teesside and Amsterdam.

In 1974 Dan-Air began replacing the HS 748 turboprop aircraft on its seasonal, international scheduled services between Gatwick, Clermont-Ferrand and Montpellier, as well as on its year-round, domestic Luton-Leeds-Glasgow schedule with Comet jet aircraft, the first time the airline had used jet equipment to operate scheduled services. The turboprop capacity thus released enabled the re-introduction of scheduled services between Bristol, Cardiff and Amsterdam, as well as the launch of direct scheduled services between Newcastle and the Isle of Man. During April of that year Dan-Air launched a new year-round, same-day-return Gatwick-Newcastle domestic jet schedule, the airline's first UK mainland domestic feeder route from its Gatwick base. (This twice-daily service, which was jointly promoted with British Caledonian, initially utilised De Havilland Comet 4Bs. From November 1974 BAC One-Eleven 300/400s replaced the Comets on one of the two daily rotations.)

In 1975 Dan-Air commenced a year-round scheduled service between Newcastle and Bergen, one of the twin centres of Norway's oil and gas industry, as well as two new, seasonal scheduled routes linking the Isle of Man with Aberdeen and the airline's base at Gatwick. The latter route was the first-ever non-stop scheduled air service between Gatwick and the Isle of Man. 1975 was also the year the airline converted its seasonal Gatwick-Berne scheduled service into a year-round operation. During that year the company furthermore extended its seasonal, international scheduled service between Gatwick and Clermont-Ferrand to Perpignan, and it introduced One-Eleven jet equipment on its seasonal, domestic Gatwick-Jersey schedule. 1975 also saw the acquisition of two former Zambia Airways One-Eleven 200s as dedicated "scheduled" aircraft, the first time the firm had acquired jet aircraft to be exclusively operated on its scheduled services. (One of these aircraft was based at Gatwick while the other was stationed at Newcastle.) Moreover, that year Manchester became the sole stop in the Northwest on Dan-Air's "Link City" network.

In 1976 Dan-Air commenced a year-round scheduled service between Newcastle and Stavanger, one of the Norwegian oil and gas industry's twin centres.

In 1977 Dan-Air launched a new scheduled route from Gatwick to Strasbourg.

1978, Dan-Air's silver jubilee year, saw the launch of a new scheduled service linking the airline's Gatwick base with Bergen.

In November 1979 Dan-Air replaced British Airways as the incumbent scheduled carrier between Gatwick and Aberdeen, an important feeder route for those working in the oil industry who depended on well-timed connections between the centre of the UK's North Sea oil industry and other global oil industry centres via London's second airport. 1979 also saw the launch of a new Gatwick-Toulouse scheduled service.

In April 1980 Dan-Air took over British Airways' loss-making regional services from Bristol, Cardiff and Newcastle to Belfast and Dublin, as well as from Bristol and Cardiff to Jersey, Guernsey and Paris Charles de Gaulle, and from Leeds/Bradford to Guernsey.

1981 saw Dan-Air launch a new scheduled route linking its Gatwick base with Cork, the first time it had operated a scheduled service from Gatwick to Ireland, as well as the launch of a new, seasonal scheduled service linking Newcastle with Jersey and a new, year-round combined Gatwick-Newcastle-Aberdeen week-end schedule. During that year the airline also inaugurated scheduled services between Berlin Tegel and Amsterdam Schiphol, the company's first scheduled route from Berlin as well as its first scheduled route not to touch the UK at either end. Furthermore, in November of that year, Dan-Air decided to withdraw its application to the CAA to take over British Airways' Highland and Islands scheduled operation.

During 1981 and 1982 Dan-Air leased three HS 748s to British Airways to supplement the latter's 748 fleet, which operated that airline's Scottish internal routes at the time.

The partial liberalisation of the Anglo-Irish bilateral air services agreement during the early 1980s enabled Dan-Air to commence scheduled operations on the London (Gatwick)-Dublin trunk route in 1982, marking the first time the airline had been permitted to operate a scheduled service on one of the busiest international air routes in Europe. As the severe recession gripping Britain at that time began to bite and the number of passengers availing themselves of Dan-Air's unprofitable "Link City" scheduled services started to dwindle, the company decided to contract out the operation of these services to lower cost, "third level" regional airlines operating smaller aircraft that were better suited to this type of operation. Consequently, 1982 saw Metropolitan Airways, a subsidiary of Alderney Air Ferries (Holdings) Ltd., taking over the operation of Dan-Air's Bournemouth-Cardiff/Birmingham-Manchester-Newcastle "Link City" schedule.

In March 1983 Dan-Air took over British Airways' loss-making Heathrow-Inverness route and managed to make it profitable. This was the first time the airline had operated a scheduled service on its own account out of London's premier airport. May 1983 marked the beginning of Dan-Air's commercial 146 operation when the company flew the world's inaugural BAe 146 scheduled service between Gatwick and Berne with a BAe 146-100. This occasion also marked the first time a commercial jet service had been operated into the small airport serving the Swiss federal capital. The same year the company started scheduled London (Gatwick)-Zürich flights, the second time it had launched daily scheduled services on a European trunk route. In November 1983 Dan-Air joined Travicom, the CRS then widely used by travel agents in the UK.

In January 1984 Dan-Air took over Touraine Air Transport's scheduled internal German operation between Berlin Tegel and Saarbrücken, the first time the airline had operated a scheduled route entirely within another country. That year also saw Dan-Air assuming British Midland's scheduled UK domestic route between Gatwick and Belfast International Airport as well as the launch of a new scheduled Manchester-Zürich service. Furthermore, in May 1984 Dan-Air began stationing an aircraft in Jersey, thereby enabling the company to increase the frequency of its scheduled service to Gatwick and to convert it into a year-round operation. In addition, 1984 was the year Metropolitan took over Dan-Air's remaining "Link City" schedules between Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Glasgow.

In 1985 Dan-Air inaugurated a new, seasonal scheduled route linking its Gatwick base with Innsbruck, which was operated with one of the airline's BAe 146 regional jetliners. Innsbruck was the airline's first scheduled destination in Austria, which began receiving commercial jetliners on a regular, scheduled basis for the first time in its history as a result of the new Dan-Air service. 1985 was also the year Dan-Air launched a new, year-round Manchester-Newcastle-Oslo scheduled route, the first time the company had operated scheduled services to the Norwegian capital.

In 1986 Dan-Air launched a new, year-round non-stop Manchester-Amsterdam scheduled service.

In 1987 Dan-Air began a scheduled service between London (Gatwick) and Lisbon, the first time it had operated scheduled services on one of the main trunk routes between the UK and the Iberian peninsula. The same year the airline joined IATA as a Trade Association member.

Following British Airways' takeover of British Caledonian in December 1987, Dan-Air's scheduled services, which were initially hosted in that airline's CRS, transferred to Texas Air's System One CRS.

In 1988 Dan-Air commenced scheduled services between London (Gatwick) and Madrid, the prime trunk route between the UK and the Iberian peninsula. Towards the end of that year the airline also assumed the former British Caledonian routes from Gatwick to Paris Charles de Gaulle, Manchester, Aberdeen via Manchester and Nice, thereby gaining access to what were Gatwick's most important feeder routes as well as some of the densest and most lucrative, short-haul European trunk routes at the time. At the start of the 1988-1989 winter timetable period Dan-Air became a two-class scheduled airline when, under the stewardship of Vic Sheppard, it introduced its "Class Elite" business class between London Gatwick and Paris Charles de Gaulle as well as between Gatwick and Nice on three refurbished One-Eleven 500s. (Vic Sheppard had joined Dan-Air from British Caledonian.)

In 1989 Dan-Air introduced its "Class Elite" business class on all scheduled flights from Gatwick to Dublin, Zürich, Lisbon, Madrid and Toulouse.

In 1990 Dan-Air introduced new, year-round two-class scheduled services from its Gatwick base to Berlin Tegel and Vienna. The airline's new scheduled Gatwick-Tegel route marked the first time the company had linked its main operational base in the UK with its long-established overseas base on a regular, scheduled basis. At the start of the 1990-1991 winter timetable period the firm also replaced one of the two Berlin-based HS 748 turboprops with larger, more modern BAe 146 jets on its Berlin-Amsterdam schedule and introduced new, direct scheduled services linking Berlin with both Manchester and Newcastle via Amsterdam. In addition, during that period the company took over the important Gatwick-Amsterdam feeder route from British Airways.

Following Air Europe's demise at the end of the first week of March 1991, Dan-Air began assuming most of the scheduled routes the failed carrier had operated from Gatwick, starting with Gatwick-Brussels and Gatwick-Oslo. Dan-Air's former rival's collapse also enabled it to increase frequencies and to introduce larger aircraft on the busy Gatwick-Charles de Gaulle and Gatwick-Manchester trunk routes. At the start of the 1991-1992 winter timetable period Dan-Air increased the frequency of its Gatwick-CDG services to up to nine return flights per day and the Gatwick-Manchester service frequency to up to eight daily return flights. The airline also replaced BAC One-Eleven 500s with Boeing 737s on both routes. From then on Dan-Air carried more scheduled passengers than British Caledonian, Britain's leading Independent international scheduled airline and the country's so-called "Second Force" from its inception in late November 1970 until its takeover by British Airways in December 1987, had ever carried in any one year throughout its entire existence.

The massive expansion of Dan-Air's scheduled operation at its Gatwick base continued throughout 1992, resulting in the resumption of service on the former Air Europe routes from Gatwick to Stockholm Arlanda in February and from Gatwick to Rome Fiumicino in April. In addition, Dan-Air launched a brand-new Gatwick-Athens route in March and re-launched the Gatwick-Barcelona route in May. During that period Dan-Air also became Gatwick's largest resident, scheduled operator controlling 18% of all slots (21% of all morning peak time slots between 8.00 a.m. and 9.00 a.m.)

In addition to operating scheduled services on its own account, from time to time Dan-Air was also contracted by other airlines to operate both scheduled passenger and cargo services on their behalf.

In 1959 British European Airways awarded Dan-Air a two-year contract to operate its six-times weekly scheduled freight service between Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow's old Renfrew airport using Avro York freighters. From 1960 onwards, BEA also awarded Dan-Air additional contracts to operate its freight services from Heathrow to other destinations in the UK and Continental Europe. The airline eventually replaced the DC-3s, which it had initially used to operate these latter services, with Avro Yorks.

For a couple of months starting in October 1968 Kuwait Airways contracted its entire scheduled operation out to Dan-Air, who supplied all flight deck crews to man that airline's Comets, while their own pilots underwent conversion training on the Boeing 707 in the US.

During the 1970s IAS Cargo Airlines sub-contracted Dan-Air to operate Zambia Airways' weekly scheduled Heathrow-Lusaka all-cargo service with a small fleet of dedicated 707 pure freighters that wore a hybrid Dan-Air/IAS Cargo Airlines livery.

Important Dan-Air milestones

Dan-Air became the first airline anywhere to successfully transport a live dolphin by air during its formative era, prior to the introduction of jet aircraft.

Dan-Air placed its first-ever order for a brand-new aircraft in 1969 with Handley Page for a single Jetstream turboprop as a replacement for the DC-3 that was assigned to its "Link City" scheduled domestic operation. However, the order eventually lapsed, following Handley Page's bankruptcy in 1970.

Dan-Air operated its very first transatlantic charter flight in October 1969 from Gatwick to Trinidad with a De Havilland Comet.

Dan-Air was one of the first UK-based airlines to employ female pilots with up to four ladies among its 450-strong pilot community during the second half of the 1970s. It was also the first UK airline to have a female pilot in command of jet aircraft, a Mrs Yvonne Sintes, who became one of Dan-Air's BAC One-Eleven captains in 1975. She regularly sat in the left-hand seat of the airline's BAC One-Elevens and De Havilland Comets until her retirement in 1980.

Dan-Air changed its long-standing policy of exclusively employing female flight attendants only in 1986.

During its 39-year history Dan-Air also passed several important passenger number milestones.

It carried 500,000 passengers in one year for the first time in 1969. 1971 saw the airline carrying more than 1m passengers in a year for the first time. 1973 was the first year the company managed to carry more than 2m passengers. 1977 was the first time the firm transported more than 3m passengers in a single year. The 4m passengers per annum mark was reached for the first time the following year, the airline's silver jubilee. It took until 1985 to reach the 5m passengers per annum mark. In 1989 over 6m passengers flew with Dan-Air, the highest number ever. (From 1975 onwards Dan-Air's annual passenger numbers were greater than the total number of passengers British Caledonian managed to carry in any one year.)

Increasing financial woes

1989 marked a watershed for the airline's financial fortunes. It was the first year since the airline's formative era prior to the decision to introduce jet planes into its fleet in the mid 1960s, and the only time apart from a "blip" in the 1981-1982 trading year, when the company lost money over a whole 12-month period. Its loss at the time stood at £3m. This was in stark contrast to the healthy profit of £10m the business had achieved the year before. (Like most charter-focused operators, Dan-Air used to make a loss during the lean winter months because of the seasonal nature of its business. However, this was compensated by the profit it made during the peak summer holiday period enabling the firm to show a modest profit for the entire 12-month financial period.)

Unfortunately, the company's financial position rapidly deteriorated during the early 1990s. It was estimated that it lost £24m during the last six months of its existence until October 1992 alone. (The firm had incurred a loss of £35m in 1991, its last complete 12-month period of operation.)

Causes of commercial decline

Among the main reasons for the airline's sudden "financial tailspin" and its ultimate demise were a lack of "vertical integration" with a major UK tour operator. (Dan-Air was the last remaining major "independent" provider of charter airline seats to numerous large, medium-sized as well as small tour companies based in the UK and overseas, at a time when most of the UK's large tour firms had already decided to set up their very own in-house airlines. These airlines then aggressively competed with Dan-Air for the bulk of those operators' business, leading to a general decline in charter rates. This also resulted in a gradual decline in Dan-Air's importance as a business partner for these tour operators, effectively reducing its status from main supplier to "marginal swing" provider.)

Another important reason that was said to have contributed to Dan-Air's failure was the fact that its fleet contained too many different, incompatible aircraft types, and that some of these planes were considerably older and far less efficient than the latest state-of-the-art aircraft operated by some of its competitors, such as fellow Gatwick-based Air Europe. This made the Dan-Air fleet costlier to operate and maintain. The Boeing 727s in particular, which Dan-Air continued to acquire from various previous operators throughout the 1980s (including some that were brought into its fleet on what turned out to be highly unfavourable leases), proved to be a major "financial millstone" around the airline's neck.

Furthermore, some industry analysts viewed Dan-Air's decision to embark on a major expansion into scheduled services from its Gatwick base at a time when the UK economy was still mired in the early 1990s recession, exacerbated by the after-effects of the first Gulf War, as an important factor that actually made the airline's financial position worse rather than improve it.

The then prevailing unfavourable economic conditions in the UK meant that actual revenues fell far short of the budgeted revenues in Dan-Air's 1991-1995 business plan, which aimed to return the airline to sustained profitability by 1995 (transforming 1991's £35m loss into a £42m profit). This, in turn, meant that an injection of £49m of additional working capital into Dan-Air's parent company as a result of a successful share issue in 1990 was insufficient to fund the airline's future needs. Therefore, the additional funds raised through the issue of new shares were insufficient to pay for a complete renewal of Dan-Air's fleet which was to be standardised on only two aircraft types, i.e the Boeing 737 300/400 series and the Avro RJ115 (an updated version of the BAe 146-300 that was eventually never built). For this reason these funds were also insufficient to finance Dan-Air's ambitious transformation from a "cheap-and-cheerful" charter-oriented carrier with a motley collection of a small number of poorly performing, "low visibility" regional scheduled routes into a top quality, "high visibility" mainline short-haul scheduled operator, primarily plying trunk routes.

Some airline insiders, including Dan-Air's last chairman David James, also cited the airline's generally weak marketing and its persistent "charter mentality", even after the decision had been taken to make the provision of high-profile scheduled services the prime focus of all commercial activities, as one of the reasons it failed to achieve the results it had hoped for. (What they meant was that instead of making Dan-Air the airline of choice for high-yield business travellers on prime scheduled routes where it had become a major player in the wake of British Caledonian's and Air Europe's demise, such as London Gatwick to Paris Charles de Gaulle for instance, through carefully targeted marketing and publicity campaigns, Dan-Air continued "flogging off" sizable chunks of its scheduled seat inventory to consolidators and discount travel agencies, almost in the same way it had always sold its charter seat inventory to package tour operators. The airline saw this as a "risk minimisation" strategy to help it fill seats on its scheduled services that might otherwise have remained empty. However, the downside of this strategy was that Dan-Air surrendered control over its scheduled seat inventory to third parties whose sales were entirely volume-driven. This, in turn, deprived Dan-Air of the opportunity to boost the profitability of its scheduled operation by concentrating on maximising revenues from high-yield travellers.)

Closing chapter

Following inconclusive and ultimately abortive discussions with Virgin Atlantic regarding a deal to "save" Dan-Air in return for an investment of £10m, the airline was eventually sold in an "eleventh hour" rescue arrangement to British Airways in 1992 for a nominal £1 and absorbed into that airline's Gatwick operation. Under this arrangement British Airways had agreed to take on its erstwhile competitor's total financial commitments of about £50m (including Dan-Air's debts), only 12 of its most modern Boeing 737s, a similar number of its short-haul scheduled routes from Gatwick and only about one-fifth of its 2,500-strong workforce. On 27 November 1992 Dan Air Services Limited changed its name to British Airways (European Operations at Gatwick) Limited. This "rump" of the former Dan-Air then formed the nucleus of what British Airways had intended to be a "low-cost" short-haul feeder operation for its Gatwick-based long-haul scheduled services, with the ultimate aim of helping to put British Airways' heavily loss-making Gatwick operation on a path to sustained profitability. This goal has so far proved to be elusive.

Incidents and accidents

Fatal accidents

Throughout Dan-Air's 39-year history the airline suffered seven fatal accidents involving the loss of aircraft and lives, three of which resulted in the loss of lives of fare-paying passengers. These accidents are listed below:

  • G-AMUV: an Avro York crashed on the 25 August 1958 while attempting a forced landing at Gurgaon, Haryana, India, after an engine had caught fire en-route from Karachi to Delhi. The radio operator was the sole survivor among the aircraft's five occupants, all of whom were crew members. (There were no passengers on board as this was an all-cargo flight.)
  • G-ATFZ: a Piper PA-23 Apache 160 operating a positioning/crew ferry flight from Gatwick via Lasham to Bristol below cloud in poor weather conditions crashed on the 1 September 1966 at Loxhill, Hascombe, near Godalming, Surrey, England. The aircraft was destroyed and both pilots killed when it collided with trees on the top of a hill near Godalming.
  • G-APDN: a De Havilland Comet series 4 operating a charter flight from Manchester to Barcelona crashed on the 3 July 1970 into a mountain near the village of Arbucies in Catalonia in northern Spain. The aircraft was destroyed and 105 passengers and seven crew died. This was the airline's first fatal accident resulting in the loss of lives of fare-paying passengers.
  • G-BEBP: a Boeing 707-321C freighter on a non-scheduled international cargo flight crashed on the 14 May 1977 near Lusaka Airport at the end of a service from Heathrow operated on behalf of IAS Cargo Airlines, which itself had been contracted by Zambia Airways to operate this service. The aircraft's right-hand horizontal stabiliser - including the elevator assembly - had become detached during the approach to its final destination as a result of undetected metal fatigue, causing a loss of pitch control. Other important factors contributing to this accident included the rear spar structure's inadequate fail-safe design, the safety regulator's design assessment and certification procedure as well as the inspection procedure adopted by the aircraft's operator. The accident killed all six occupants on board this flight. It also sparked a major industry debate on the maintenance requirements as well as service life limitations of high-time "geriatric" jets.
  • Flight 0034: a Hawker Siddeley 748 series 1 (registration G-BEKF) operating an oil industry support flight crashed on the 31 July 1979 at Sumburgh Airport in the Shetland Islands, Scotland. The aircraft failed to become airborne and crashed into the sea. The accident was due to the elevator gust-lock having become re-engaged, preventing the aircraft from rotating into a flying attitude. The aircraft was destroyed and 17 persons died of drowning.
  • Flight 1008: a Boeing 727-46 (registration G-BDAN) crashed on the 25 April 1980 while preparing to land at Los Rodeos (now Tenerife North Airport), Canary Islands, at the end of a charter flight from Manchester. The aircraft flew into high terrain when it turned the wrong way in a holding pattern. The aircraft was destroyed and all 146 occupants perished. This accident also marked the worst air disaster involving a British-registered aircraft in terms of loss of life.
  • Flight 240: a Hawker Siddeley 748 series 2 (registration G-ASPL) crashed on a regular postal flight from Gatwick to East Midlands Airport on 26 June 1981 near its final destination at Nailstone in Leicestershire. The plane's right rear door had sprung open in mid-air. It subsequently detached, hit the horizontal tailplane and became stuck on the leading edge. This resulted in a loss of control causing the aircraft to enter a steep dive, during which its wings and tailplane failed as a result of overstressing. Both pilots as well as the postal assistant on board of this flight lost their lives.

Non-fatal incidents

In addition to the fatal accidents listed above, Dan-Air suffered a number of non-fatal incidents, most of which occurred during the early years of the airline's existence in the piston-engined era. These usually damaged the aircraft involved beyond repair but did not cause any loss of lives.

Listed below are three incidents that helped Dan-Air make the headlines of the local and/or international media for all the wrong reasons:

  • In 1971 one of the airline's Comets operating a charter flight carrying Turkish migrant workers from Berlin Tegel to Istanbul was "escorted" by Bulgarian fighter planes into Sofia. The crew flying the aircraft was attempting to take the shortest route to Istanbul when leaving Yugoslav airspace by entering Bulgarian airspace, instead of taking the longer route through Greek airspace. Being new to West Berlin, they were still unaware of a decision taken by the then communist government of Bulgaria not to let any aircraft enter its airspace whose flight had originated or was going to terminate at a West Berlin airport, without stopping en-route at another airport outside West Berlin. The aircraft landed safely at Sofia. It was released along with its crew and passengers when the flight's commander paid the fine the Bulgarian authorities had imposed for violating their country's airspace with the company's credit card.
  • In 1972 Somalian fighter aircraft forced a Dan-Air Boeing 707 flying through Somali air space en-route from London Gatwick to the Seychelles and Mauritius to land at Mogadishu Airport. The aircraft was flying through Somali airspace in violation of the prescribed procedure to apply for permission to do so in advance, as a result of an "administrative oversight" on the airline's part.
  • A particularly "notorious" incident occurred during the mid 1970s. One of the company's Boeing 727s on a charter flight from Luton to Spain hit the localiser antenna while taking off at Luton Airport, thereby rendering the airport's ILS equipment inoperative. After being told by Luton ATC about the incident, the crew flying the aircraft elected to divert to London Gatwick where it landed safely.

Notes

References

  • Simons, Graham M. (1993). The Spirit of Dan-Air. GMS Enterprises. ISBN 1-8703-8420-2.
  • Simons, Graham M. (1999). It was nice to fly with friends! The story of Air Europe. GMS Enterprises. ISBN 1-8703-8469-5.
  • Aviation News - UK and Irish airlines since 1945 (Part 34 [Dan-Air Services], Vol. 64, No. 12, December 2002. HPC Publishing. (Aviation News online)
  • Civil Aircraft Accident - Report on the Accident to Piper PA23 series 160 G-ATFZ at Loxhill, Hascombe, near Godalming, Surrey on 1st September, 1966, 1967. Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
  • Berlin Airport Company - February 1975 Monthly Timetable Booklet for Berlin Tempelhof and Berlin Tegel Airports (German language edition only), 1975. Berlin Airport Company.
  • Welcome Aboard - Dan-Air's English language in-flight magazine (1967-1977), various copies 1972-1976. Dan Air Services Ltd.
  • In Flight - Dan-Air's English language in-flight magazine (1978-1992), various copies. Dan Air Services Ltd.
  • Kompass - Dan-Air's German language in-flight magazine, various copies 1975-1990. Dan Air Services Ltd.

External links

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