KLM Celebrates Their Centenary - Happy Birthday Flying Dutchmen

8 Oct 2019

 

The Flag carrier airline of the Netherlands, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines or Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij on the 7 October 2019 reached the ripe old age of 100 years . Which makes it the oldest airline still operating under its original name, it is the first airline to achieve this feat.

In 1919, a young aviator lieutenant named Albert Plesman sponsored the ELTA aviation exhibition in Amsterdam. The exhibition was a great success; after it closed several Dutch commercial interests intended to establish a Dutch airline, which Plesman was nominated to head. In September 1919, a month before the official founding of the airline, Queen Wilhelmina awarded the "Royal" predicate and so being pledged the support of the Dutch Nation, support that it still receives today.  On 7 October 1919, eight Dutch businessmen founded KLM as one of the first commercial airline companies.

 Albert Plesman

 

The first official KLM flight took place on 17 May 1920, Jerry Shaw the pilot of this historic flight, flew from Croydon Airport in London, to Amsterdam. The flight was flown using a leased  De Haviland DH-16, registration G-EALU, which was carrying two British journalists and some newspapers.

In KLM’s first year of existence they  carried 440 passengers and 22 tons of freight which was a massive feat in 1920, aviation at the time was very much in its infantsy. In April 1921, after a winter hiatus, KLM resumed its services and instituted their first scheduled services using Fokker F.II and Fokker F.III aircraft.

De Haviland DH-16

 

KLM's first intercontinental flight took off on 1 October 1924 from Amsterdam  to Jakarta, 'Batavia' as it was called at the time, in the Dutch East Indies. A Fokker F.VII, registration H-NACC, was used for this ground-breaking flight and was piloted by Van der Hoop. In September 1929, regular scheduled services between Amsterdam and Batavia commenced, until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, this was the world's longest-distance scheduled service by air. By 1926, KLM was offering flights to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Paris, London, Bremen, Copenhagen, and Malmö, using primarily Fokker F.II and Fokker F.III aircraft.

Fokker F.VII

 Fokker II                                             Fokker III

 

The larger, 14 seat, Douglas DC-2 was introduced on the Batavia service in 1934 leading to faster and more comfortable flights for KLM’s growing passenger numbers. The first of the airline's Douglas DC-3 aircraft were delivered in 1936 The DC3 eventually replaced the DC-2s on the service via Batavia to Sydney.  KLM was the only civilian airline to receive the Douglas DC-5; the airline used two of them in the West Indies and sold two to the East Indies government and is thus the only airline to have operated all Douglas 'DC' models other than the DC-1.

Douglas DC-2

 

When Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, several KLM aircraft—mostly DC-3s and a few DC-2s—were en route to or from the Far East or were operating services in Europe. Five DC-3s and one DC-2 were taken to Britain. During the war years these aircraft and crew members flew scheduled passenger flights between Bristol and Lisbon under BOAC registration.

 

The Douglas DC-3 PH-ALI "Ibis", then registered as G-AGBB, was attacked by the Luftwaffe on 15 November 1942, 19 April 1943, and finally on 1 June 1943 as BOAC Flight 777, killing all passengers and crew. Some KLM aircraft and their crews ended up in the Australia-Dutch East Indies region, where they helped transport refugees from Japanese aggression in that area.

Douglas DC-3 PH-ALI "Ibis"

 

After the end of the Second World War in August 1945, KLM immediately started to rebuild its network. Since the Dutch East Indies were in a state of revolt, Plesman's priority was to re-establish KLM's route to Batavia the service was reinstated by the end of 1945. Domestic and European flights resumed in September 1945, initially with a fleet of Douglas DC-3s and Douglas DC-4s.

Douglas DC3                                      Douglas DC4 

 

On 21 May 1946, KLM was the first continental European airline to start scheduled transatlantic flights between Amsterdam and New York City using Douglas DC-4 aircraft. By 1948, KLM had reconstructed its network and services to Africa, North and South America, and the Caribbean resumed.

 

Long-range, pressurised Lockheed Constellations and Douglas DC-6’s joined KLM's fleet in the late 1940’s and were extensively used on their transcontinental, whereas the Convair 240 short-range pressurised twin-engined airliner began European flights for the company in late 1948.

Lockheed Constellations

Douglas DC-6                                      Convair 240

 

During the immediate post-war period, the Dutch government expressed interest in gaining a majority stake in KLM,  Plesman wasn’t in favour of this wanted and KLM to remain a private company under private control.  He did however allow the Dutch government to acquire a minority stake in the airline.  The expansion of the network continued in the 1950's with the addition of several destinations in western North America. KLM's fleet expanded with the addition of new versions of the Lockheed Constellation and Lockheed Electra, of which KLM was the first European airline to fly.

 Lockheed Constellation                      Lockheed Electra

 

On 31 December 1953, the founder and president of KLM, Albert Plesman, died at the age of 64. He was succeeded as president by Fons Aler. After Plesman's death, the company and other airlines entered a difficult economic period. The conversion to jet aircraft placed a further financial burden on KLM. The Netherlands government increased its ownership of the company to two-thirds, thus effectively nationalising the Airline. The board of directors remained under the control of private shareholders.

 

On 25 July 1957, the airline introduced the Douglas DC-7C, KLM’s last piston powered aircraft, which opened the transpolar route from Amsterdam via Anchorage to Tokyo on 1 November 1958.  Each crew flying the transpolar route over the Arctic was equipped with a winter survival kit, including a 7.62 mm selective-fire AR-10 carbine for use against polar bears, in the event the plane was forced down onto the polar ice.

Douglas DC-7C

 

The four-engine turboprop Vickers Viscount 800 was introduced on European routes in 1957 taking the airline into a new era. KLM introduced the four-engine turboprop Lockheed L-188 Electra onto some of its European and Middle Eastern routes in September 1959 and in March the following year 1960, the airline introduced the first Douglas DC-8 jet into its fleet.

Vickers Viscount 800                           Douglas DC-8 

 

In 1961, KLM reported its first year of losses and this led to the airline's president Fons Aler being replaced by Ernst van der Beugel. This change of leadership, however, did not lead to a reversion of KLM's financial difficulties, Van der Beugel resigned as president in 1963 due to health reasons. Horatius Albarda was appointed to succeed Ernst van der Beugel as president of KLM in 1963 Alberda initiated a reorganisation of the company, which led to the reduction of staff and air services.

 

In 1965, Alberda died in an air crash and was succeeded as president by Dr. Gerrit van der Wal, Van der Wal forged an agreement with the Dutch government that KLM would be once again run as a private company and by 1966 the stake of the Dutch government in KLM was reduced to a minority stake of 49.5%.

 

In 1966, KLM introduced the Douglas DC-9 on European and Middle East routes and in 1968 the stretched Douglas DC-8-63 ("Super DC-8") entered service. With 244 seats, it was the largest airliner at the time.

Douglas DC9

 

KLM was the first airline to put the higher-gross-weight Boeing 747-200B, powered by Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines, into service in February 1971,  this began the airline's use of widebody jets. In 1972, it purchased the first of several McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft, McDonnell Douglas's response to Boeing's 747.

 Boeing 747-200B                            McDonnell Douglas DC-10

 

In 1973, Sergio Orlandini was appointed to succeed Gerrit van der Wal as president of KLM. At the time, KLM, as well as other airlines, had to deal with overcapacity. Orlandini proposed to convert KLM 747s to "combis" that could carry a combination of passengers and freight in a mixed configuration on the main deck of the aircraft. In November 1975, the first of these seven Boeing 747-200B Combi aircraft were added to the KLM fleet. The airline previously operated DC-8 passenger and freight combi aircraft as well and currently operates Boeing 747-400 combi aircraft.

DC-8 Combi

 

The 1973 oil crisis, which caused difficult economic conditions, led KLM to seek government assistance in arranging debt refinancing. The airline issued additional shares of stock to the government in return for its money. In the late 1970s, the government's stake had again increased to a majority of 78%, re-nationalizing the airline once again the company management remained under the control of private stakeholders.

 

In 1983, it reached an agreement with Boeing to convert ten of its Boeing 747-200 aircraft into Boeing 747-300s with the stretched-upper-deck modification. The work started in 1984 at the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington, and finished in 1986. The converted aircraft were called Boeing 747-200SUD or 747-300, which the airline operated in addition to three newly built Boeing 747-300s manufactured from the ground up. In 1983, KLM took delivery of the first of ten Airbus A310 passenger jets.

Boeing 747-300                                  Airbus A310 

 

In 1986, the Dutch government's shareholding in KLM was reduced to 54.8 percent. It was expected that this share would be further reduced during the decade. Sergio Orlandini retired in 1987 and was succeeded as president of KLM by Jan de Soet

 

With the liberalization of the European market, KLM started developing its hub at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol by feeding its network with traffic from affiliated airlines. As part of its development of a worldwide network, KLM acquired a 20% stake in Northwest Airlines in July 1989, about the same time they introduced the Boeing 747-400 to their fleet.

Boeing 747-400

 

KLM president Jan de Soet retired at the end of 1990 and was succeeded in 1991 by Pieter Bouw, under who’s guidance KLM introduce a frequent flyer loyalty program, which was called Flying Dutchman.

 

The United States Department of Transportation granted KLM and Northwest Airlines anti-trust immunity, which allowed them to intensify their partnership in 1992 and the following year the airlines operated their flights between the United States and Europe as part of a joint venture. In March 1994, KLM and Northwest Airlines introduced World Business Class on intercontinental routes another first for KLM.

 

In January 1996, KLM acquired a 26% share in Kenya Airways, the flag-carrier airline of Kenya spreading their footprint into Africa. Pieter Bouw resigned as president of KLM and was succeeded by Leo van Wijk, not long after van Wijk took the reins he repurchased all regular shares from the Dutch government to once again make KLM a private company.

 

KLM renewed its intercontinental fleets by replacing the Boeing 767s, Boeing 747-300s, and eventually, the McDonnell Douglas MD-11s with Boeing 777-200ERs and Airbus A330-200s, the MD-11s however remained in service until October 2014. The first Boeing 777 was received on 25 October 2003, while the first Airbus A330-200 was introduced on 25 August 2005.

Boeing 767

McDonnell Douglas MD-11

 

On 30 September 2003, Air France and KLM agreed to a merger plan in which Air France and KLM would become subsidiaries of a holding company called Air France–KLM. Both airlines would retain their own brands; both Charles de Gaulle Airport and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol would become key hubs.  Since 5 May 2004, Air France–KLM has been listed on the Euronext exchanges in Paris, Amsterdam and New York. In September 2004, the merger was completed by creation of the Air France–KLM holding company, the  merger resulted in the world's largest airline group and should have led to an estimated annual cost-saving of between €400 million and €500 million.

 

It did not appear that KLM's longstanding joint venture with Northwest Airlines—which merged with Delta Air Lines in 2008—was affected by the merger with Air France. KLM and Northwest joined the SkyTeam alliance in September 2004. Beginning in September 2010, KLM integrated the passenger division of Martinair into KLM, transferring all personnel and routes. By November 2011, Martinair consisted of only the cargo and maintenance division. KLM and InselAir reached an agreement for mutual cooperation on InselAir destinations, thus expanding its passenger services. KLM passengers could fly to all InselAir destinations through InselAir's hubs in Curaçao and Sint Maarten. This cooperation was extended to a codeshare agreement in 2012.

 

KLM received the award for "Best Airline Staff Service" in Europe at the World Airline Awards 2012. This award represents the rating for an airline's performance across both airport staff and cabin staff combined. It is the second consecutive year that KLM won this award; in 2013 it was awarded with this title as well. KLM made the first transatlantic flight fuelled partly by sustainable biofuels to Rio de Janeiro. This was the longest distance any aircraft had flown on biofuels.

 

In 2019, KLM celebrates its centennial, as it was founded in 1919. Since it is the oldest airline still operating under its original name, it is the first airline to achieve this feat.

 

KLM's corporate leader is its president and chief executive officer (CEO) Pieter Elbers, who replaced Camiel Eurlings suddenly on 15 October 2014. The president and CEO are part of the larger Executive Committee, which manages KLM and consists of the statutory managing directors and executive vice-presidents of KLM's business units that are represented in the Executive Committee. The supervision and management of KLM are structured in accordance with the two-tier model; the Board of Managing Directors is supervised by a separate and independent Supervisory Board. The Supervisory Board also supervises the general performance of KLM. The Board of Managing Directors is formed by the four Managing Directors, including the CEO. Nine Supervisory Directors comprise the Supervisory Board.

 

KLM Asia is a wholly KLM-owned subsidiary registered in Taiwan. The airline was established in 1995 to operate flights to Taipei without compromising the traffic rights held by KLM for destinations in the People's Republic of China. The livery of KLM Asia does not feature Dutch national symbols, such as the flag of the Netherlands, nor KLM's stylised Dutch Crown logo. Instead, it features a special KLM Asia logo. KLM Asia aircraft are also occasionally used to service other destinations in the wider KLM network.

 

KLM has utilized several major liveries since its founding, with numerous variations on each. Initially, many aircraft featured a bare-metal fuselage with a stripe above the windows bearing the phrase "The Flying Dutchman". The rudder was divided into three segments and painted to match the Dutch flag.

 

 Later aircraft types sometimes bore a white upper fuselage, and additional detail striping and titling. In the mid-1950s, the livery was changed to feature a split cheatline in two shades of blue on a white upper fuselage and angled blue stripes on the vertical stabilizer. The tail stripes were later enlarged and made horizontal, and the then-new crown logo was placed in a white circle. The final major variation of this livery saw the vertical stabilizer painted completely white with the crown logo in the centre. All versions of this livery had small "KLM Royal Dutch Airlines" titles, first in red, and later in

 

 

The Tenerife disaster, which occurred on 27 March 1977, remains the accident with the highest number of airliner passenger fatalities, as well as the most recent and notable incident involving a KLM aircraft. 583 people died when a KLM Boeing 747-200B attempted to take off without clearance and collided with a taxiing Pan Am Boeing 747-100 at Los Rodeos Airport on the Canary Island of Tenerife, Spain. No one on the KLM 747 survived while 61 of the 396 passengers and crew on the Pan Am aircraft survived. Pilot error from the KLM aircraft was the primary cause. Owing to a communication misunderstanding, the KLM captain thought he had clearance for take-off. Another cause was dense fog, meaning the KLM flight crew was unable to see the Pan Am aircraft on the runway until immediately prior to the collision. The accident had a lasting influence on the industry, particularly in the area of communication. An increased emphasis was placed on using standardized phraseology in air traffic control communication by both controllers and pilots alike, thereby reducing the chance for misunderstandings. As part of these changes, the word "take-off" was removed from general usage and is only spoken by ATC when clearing an aircraft to take-off.

Congratulations KLM may you continue to grace the world skies for many more years.

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