The forerunner of Scandinavian Airines was founded 101 years ago, making the national carrier of Demark, Norway and Sweden one of the oldest carriers in the world. Kevan James reviews its growth into an Airbus operator.
The airline world has lost some of its most famous names over the tumultuous times of the past two-and-a-half decades. Well-established companies like Pan American and TWA from the USA; Belgium’s Sabena, Swissair and Hungary’s Malev from Europe to name just a few – there are more. Commercial air transport has always been a volatile business but years ago, the regulated nature of the industry tended to keep even big loss-makers in business, especially if they were state-owned.
One airline that has survived is SAS, or to give it its full name, Scandinavian Airlines System. It is also one of the world’s oldest, first founded in 1918 with the creation of Det Danske Luftfartselskab A/S (DDL) in Denmark. In 1924 AB Aerotransport (ABA) in Sweden came along followed by Norway’s Det Norske Luftfartselskap A/S (DNL) in 1927.
As with almost everywhere else, World War II interrupted things a little but following the ending of hostilities, in 1946 SAS was formed by the three companies and the first intercontinental flight was flown, from Stockholm to New York. The rest as they say, is history, a history peppered with achievements for the airline. Its distinctive ‘Viking’ themed livery became known world-wide; the first trans-polar flight from Copenhagen to Los Angeles in 1954 and in 1957, going over the North Pole from Copenhagen to Anchorage and on to Tokyo being two examples. As with numerous other airlines, SAS expanded greatly during the 1990s, being one of the founding carriers of the Star Alliance in 1997 but, again like others, found the steady dismantling of old protectionist methods having an adverse effect.
Unlike some others however, SAS’s senior management have adapted to the changing face of the industry by selling subsidiaries and other assets acquired during prior expansion and altering the company’s business methods in a continually evolving process. One difficulty not faced by anybody else is the necessity to maintain links from three capital cities rather than just one; Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo.
Nevertheless, with some juggling of aircraft fleets and co-ordinating schedules more effectively, the airline has managed to fulfill its responsibilities to all three and maintain its national carrier status. Even so, despite the strenuous efforts of the past few years, SAS has had to cope with a flow of red ink on its balance sheet but having gone through a series of cost-cutting measures and renewing its commitments to both staff and passengers, the light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter.
From the enthusiastic fleet observer’s point of view, one of the most obvious is the change to an all-Airbus fleet. At one time, SAS was a dedicated user of Douglas (and subsequently McDonnell-Douglas), the DC-6 and DC-7 being the types with which the airline began to develop its pioneering global reach. The DC-8 followed on long haul routes, although its first jet was the French-built Sd Aviation Caravelle on European services. Staying with Douglas, the DC-9 soon became the standard workhorse for short-haul flying and SAS eventually operated a big fleet of McDonnell Douglas MD-80 family aircraft.
Boeing managed to break into Scandinavian thinking with the 737-600, -700 and -800, some of which are still currently operated but the airline’s stated goal is to have an all-Airbus fleet by 2023.
With the A320 now becoming the aircraft of choice for short and medium range routes, the airline will also be taking delivery of eight A350s over the next two years.
(see also related stories in News Commentary and The Aviation Oracle on the pilot's strike at SAS)
Text © Kevan James, photos © Scandinavian Airlines, and Tyler McDowell