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Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Sat Sep 30, 2000 8:08 pm

In the "SIA Order A3XX" thread, PhilB listed a few airlines that he thought had made unsuitable equipment decisions, for reasons of vanity / keeping up with the neighbours etc. They were Cameroon (747), Mea (747), Syrianair (747SP) and THY (DC10). Not having a pop at the esteemed Mr B, but here are my thoughts on why these weren't vanity purchases. However, some airlines have done just that and I'm wondering if any of you guys can think what they are (other than the US domestics all buying 747s in the early 70s then selling them all)?

Cameroon make money with their 747, so do Air Gabon and Angola Airlines (TAAG). These airlines fly for countries way too poor to lose money in return for some very small amount of prestige. Who outside this forum would think more of Angola as a nation or government just because their national airline has a couple of 747-300s? Who outside this forum even knows what a 747-300 looks like?

And as for the other so-called "unsuitable" equipment choices, MEA's 747s would have been busy and the fleet expanded had it not been for the war. Even with all the fighting, MEA used to lease additional 747s during the summer for capacity. It's only now that the war is finally over that the country is having economic problems, but they'll buy some A330s and go back to long haul flying in the next few years. Remember, there are more Lebanese in Brazil than Lebanon (hence the old twice weekly Beirut-Accra-Sao Paulo 747) and loads in Oz (although the 747 flights from Beirut to Sydney used to lose money, sadly). Syria, Lebanon's parent, fill the 747SPs to London, Paris, the Gulf and India, although the SP range isn't needed and they could have probably used a more efficient aircraft, even if the capacity is right.

And THY needed the DC10, as they have vast traffic to Germany (Turkish guest workers and families) and of course the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca every year.

The most unsuitable "vanity" purchases in airline history I can think of were all the US domestic airlines buying 747-100s and flying them around empty with piano bars (even in economy!) to fill up the acres of empty space, and having horrible reliability problems cos the 747 is really designed to fly to Europe overnight and come back the next day, not fly up and down the east coast (the Kosher Klipper) or back and forth to Chicago. Not surprisingly, none of these airlines had any 747s in their fleet ten years later! Eastern, AA, Delta, Continental, National...come on down!

So, yes, there have been some silly vanity, "Joneses"-influenced equipment purchases, but nearly all in the US and certainly not any of the examples listed above by MrB. Anyone think of any?
fly Saha Air 707s daily from Tehran's downtown Mehrabad to Mashhad, Kish Island and Ahwaz
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RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Sat Sep 30, 2000 8:57 pm

You are so right about the US airlines and the 747, but going back to my original post, if you read the Sunday Times Insight Team book about the Turkish DC10 crash (sorry the name of the book escapes me at present) and other contemporaneous publications, it is glaringly obvious that THY couldn't afford to purchase and operate the DC10.

MDD were desperate to enter the Levant/Mid East market against the L1011 and did everything possible to ensure THY got three big shiny, new aircraft its infrastructure could not support.

The Gastarbeiter traffic by air was not as developed in the 1970s as it became during the 1980s. When I was in Istanbul in 1973, the DC10s were the pride of the fleet, but were vastly underused. Indeed the pax list for the crash near Senlis shows about 80 Istanbul - LHR pax (plus a few who deplaned from the Istanbul - Paris leg). The rest of the list, which filled the aircraft, is pax rerouted from other flights affected by strike action (almost all being England rugby supporters returning from the France-England match the day before).

MEA and the 747 is an interesting one. Perhaps this could be put down to good forward planning blighted by civil war, but my understanding is that the aircraft were ordered immediately after the Yom Kippur war, at a time when travel to the area was undergoing a major downturn. The increase in capacity offered by three aircraft arriving over a period of 3 months in the summer of 1975 was way beyond the company's or the country's need at the time and delivery should, at least, have been deferred. Anyway, EL AL had is 747s and Syrian was about to get its SPs, so not to be outdone, MEA plodded on only to have to lease out the aircraft almost continually from 1977 - 1994.

I'd be happy to be proved wrong on this as I've always been interested in MEA since the days of its Yorks and the immaculate Comets it operated, but it would be interesting to see what the pool partners and competition were flying on MEA's routes at the time.

Syrianair's SPs were a mixture of vanity and political
expediency. The SP was designed as an ultra long range 747 for Pan Am to be able to operate over 6,500 miles non stop on routes not requiring a full size 747.

Syrianair has never needed this range, or the "hot" climb and cruise capabilities of the aircraft. The US allowed the sale to continue as a gesture of "even handedness whilst Dr Kissinger went back and forth around the Mid East.

Many of my friends working for the UK CAA and eligible for "air experience" cockpit rides used to bid for and get the Syrian SP ride Heathrow - Munich in the mid 1970s. Whilst they enjoyed the almost rocket like trajectory of the ride up to FL410, they all reported that the climb was aided by the acres of space on board and the almost empty hold.

Cameroon's economy and infrastructure could never support an airline without French assistance (though their soccer team is first class - well done lads!!).

The standard of its 707 and its 747 have all come under close scrutiny from various airworthiness bodies. They may fill the aircraft but, as they have to pay for fuel, en route charges and other fees in hard currency, the only way they can make real money is by accepting payment in French Francs, Dollars or similar. Perhaps tha's how they charge foreigners, but the locals....?
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RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Sat Sep 30, 2000 11:17 pm

Other poor purchases have been:

Thai's "one of everything" fleet, driven by kickbacks

Iberia, also have a dogs breakfast fleet, don't know why.

CX buy of 777-200 and A330-300 that do exactly the same mission. (the way that CX operates them both short haul only)

Anyone who bought a MD11 pax... or F100 for that matter.

LH and AF A340-200, a useless aircraft, completely superceded by the A330-200, A340-300 and B777. An they knew when they bought it that those other aircraft were on the way. Political pressure I guess

The B747SP, well, it is now worth less than a B727 built in the same year. Maybe make a good theme restaurant.

But for true vanity, the BI fleet! B767's with real gold taps in business class... And when the Sultan sees a nice aircraft, he gets it... a B744 and a A340 as a biz jet. The man's got style

RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Mon Oct 02, 2000 2:58 am

The THY DC-10s were definitely "vanity purchases," again from information about the Paris crash, THY had no need for the DC-10. They were a small airline, and had poor loadfactors on their existing flights - definitely no need for larger aircraft with 345 seats. The flight before the accident was typical, 167 passengers IST-ORY, 50 to leave the aircraft at ORY, 117 to continue to LHR.

THY was actually the first non-US DC-10 operator! They only took the aircraft because All Nippon had postponed their choice between the L1011/DC-10.

This meant DC had to sell the aircraft at very short notice, and they also anxious to gain a market foothold in the Middle East. THY were offered the DC-10 for a very low price, with spares and US$0,5 million worth of crew training thrown in free.

The only time THY needed the DC-10 was at Christmas, when there was strong Gastarbeiter traffic to Germany.

Other "vanity purchases"
SAS B747
This aircraft was always just too large for the needs of SAS. They couldn't fill a 747 now, 20 years ago - they couldn't even come close! The DC-10 was much more appropriate.

SAS A300
SAS ordered 4 A300s in 1977, for use on busy European flights. SAS' traffic forecasts were totally inaccurate, they predicted strong growth by the time the A300s would be delivered, the market actually stagnated. SAS was forced to lease 2 of the aircraft almost immediately to Scanair, and the other aircraft followed soon. Suffice to say, the 8 options were never confirmed.

As a general note on SAS, they seem to be an airline with a poor history of fleet planning. SAS' B767-300s operate with load-factors of around 70%, but in intercontinental terms the B767 is a small aircraft (190 seats). In light of this it is very strange that SAS has ordered the much larger A330-300 and A340-300 to replace them (278 seats) Unless there is a large increase in passenger numbers, these aircraft will suffer from very poor loadfactors and lose SAS a lot of money.

Excalibur DC-10
A successful UK short-haul charter airline that was formed in 1992 operating 4 A320s. A change of ownership, and new management decided to pursue the long-haul market. In 1996 the airline decided to replace all the A320s with 2 DC-10-30s, moving into a totally new market, with a "new" aircraft and totally abandoning their previously successful operation. In a nutshell, the A320s were phased out at the start of May 1996 and the first DC-10 introduced at the same time. The airline was bankrupt by July.

Syrianair's purchase of the 747SP was definitely vanity, who else would order an ultra-long range aircraft to use on flights of around 4-6 hours duration???
If they wanted something smaller than the 747, then the L1011, DC-10 and A300 were all available.

-Luxair's 747SP and A300 (both I think leased from SAA) Did they really need those aircraft.
- British Caledonian's A310s. Why were they such a disaster?

Can anyone explain?


RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Mon Oct 02, 2000 9:29 am

Well done Mr. Jet Setter. Very top examples.

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RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Mon Oct 02, 2000 9:48 am

Luxair might have just have had an excuse as they continued the illustrious history of flights to South Africa started by Trek Airways Super Constellations
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RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Mon Oct 02, 2000 10:01 am

The ultimate vanity purchase has to be

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"There is no victory at bargain basement prices."
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RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Mon Oct 02, 2000 10:11 am

....didn't they get the Concordes for free??
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RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Mon Oct 02, 2000 12:53 pm

Did they? Well, it was before my time.
"There is no victory at bargain basement prices."
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RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Tue Oct 03, 2000 8:04 am

Not sure how much the first Concordes cost BA/AF, not very much, but the last BA Concorde was reputedly handed over for £1
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Air Inter, Court Line, Aer Lingus

Tue Oct 03, 2000 8:31 am

Air Inter
Air Inter's purchase of 14 (!) A330-300 for domestic French routes was definetely a vanity purchase (coupled with political pressure). I mean, come on, this was at a time when the deregulation of intra-European traffic was foreseeable and several French carriers like TAT, Air LIberte and AOM had already made incursions into IT's market. Air Inter operated the 330's briefly on some trunk routes (like ORY-MRS, ORY-TLS), but they were gone within one or two years, being replaced by A320's and A321's of roughly half the size.
Seems like the French customer, like everybody else, prefers frequency above capacity.

Court Line
Do Y'all remember funky and colorful Court Line from the early Seventies? Court Line was a fairly profitable charter carrier in the late 60's, but they had to be at the forefront of technology by ordering the L1011. By coincidence, the arrrival of the TriStars in 1973 (the first ones in Europe!) happened virtually at the same time as the first oil crisis. Rising fuel costs and gross overcapacity were the final nails to Court Lines coffin.

Aer Lingus
I'm not totally sure about this one, but as much as the 747's might have been suitable for EI's North Atlantic routes in summer, they must have been a nightmare to operate in winter, when every other airline of even larger size was having troubble to fill them across the Atlantic.
A DC-10 or L1011 would have been a perfect choice and I guess EI is very happy now with its A330's.

Homer: Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!

RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Wed Oct 04, 2000 3:17 am

Finally, I thought of another type of vanity purchase. Not a specific airline, but a type of airline together with a particular type of aircraft....

I'm of course talking about any airline that decides to start (passenger) operations with the Boeing 747!
As far as I recall, the only success being Virgin Atlantic and that was mainly because they started flights on the world's busiest air route with very strong financial backing.

Some of the 747 start-up failiures (some had aircraft but never even flew!)
Orion Air
Highland Express
Metro International
Air National
Lion Air
Tower Air
I'm sure there must be more...

I think the problem is that potential startups see there is demand for the capacity of the 747 - there usually is. But when the airline is new, and unknown, the 747 is very hard to fill and expensive to fly half empty. By the time the loads start to improve, the airline is on it's last legs (financially)

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RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Wed Oct 04, 2000 5:27 am

Re Court Line Tristars, they were ordered for the bulk routes to Spain and Greece and I can promise you that in the summer of 1973 they were very full all the time. They were also cost effective, in as much as they covered work that would have had to be done by 3 very fuel thirsty 1-11s.

I was in Constanta, Romania, in September 1973 and the Court Line weekly service was full each week, in and out, and that was one of the least popular destinations.

The fuel crisis after the Yom Kippur war (coupled with the three day working week in the UK, brought in to preserve fuel stocks) meant that the British IT market didn't happen in 1974, except where heavy discounting took place.

Court Line's main customer was Clarkson Holidays (from the same group). Clarkson was months behind in payments to Court Line - who also ran LIAT in the Caribbean and Court Line Helicopters in South Africa, both of which survived the bankruptcy as legal entities in their own right.

Clarkson couldn't fill its hotel rooms and foreign hoteliers pulled the plug. The collapse of Clarkson caused Court Line's demise, not the far sighted purchase and use of the L1011.

Re the Aer Lingus 747s, that was partly a progression from the 747, partly a decision based on leasing out spare capacity in the winter, as they always did with the 707s.

The partial collapse of the Irish ethnic market, the success of the supplemental carriers in the 1970s and the eventual competition on the Irish routes from scheduled carriers has whittled the ethnic market even further but, in the late 1960s, based on historic patterns and forecast traffic growth, the 747 was a seemingly obvious choice.
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RE: Airlines Making Vanity Purchases

Wed Oct 04, 2000 10:26 am

Actually, the American domestics needed the 747's in the early 1970's, after being delayed by the DC-10 and L1011. And some of the domestics leased their 747's from Pan American (eg-Eastern), not purchasing them, while waiting for the Tri Jets to arrive. They were not only used on the north-south routes, but also to places such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico and Hawaii where larger domestics like National and Eastern were operating to. No, they may have not made much money on the operating costs, but they had no choice to cede any competitive edge. Also a factor in the early 70's was demand was increasing so rapidly, especially coast to coast services, that it far out grew the capacity of the DC-8-61/63, the most capacious aircraft at the time. Many airlines had no choice but operate a 747, because the Trijets were not yet availible.

Actaually, the worst vanity purchasers of aircraft are some of the third world countries, where the purchase of an A330 or 747-400 takes precedence over such "things" as schools and hospitals. Commerce is very important, especially for developing countries. Airports and airlines are great sources of "national prestige". However, 757's, 767's and a 300/310s are more economical to operate than an aged 747SP (even though they are "cheap" on the second hand market they tend to be maintenance hogs) or an old DC-10 (which an A300, 767 match in capacity and require less fuel). Third world countries are better off leasing more modest aircraft (combi's/freighters/ all-pax) which are more efficient and economical. Bangladesh Biman has used 757 Combi's effectively, as well as Ethiopian using 767's. For special situations, such as the Hajj, very high capacity aircraft could be short term leased, instead of being operated year round at a possible loss. You also have to wonder how many people actually have the $$$ to fly around when their incomes are below poverty levels??

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