Loftleidir Icelandic Airlines

First customer to buy the commercial version of the CL44

Loftleidir has a very special role in the CL-44´s history. They bought a total of four CL-44 aircraft which all had been built but not found an owner. In total Loftleidir operated a total of five on scheduled transatlantic passenger flights. Loftleidir's specification number was CL-44D4-8 but was only applied to three aircraft. (The four that were bought new from Canadair got stretched later and became CL-44J. The stretch existed in a drawer at Canadair. It was a sensation that an existing aircraft in scheduled revenue flight was cut in pieces and stretched by 15ft.)

Iceland is a big rough country of 103000 SqKm and air transport is ideal to connect distant area. It took three attempts to get an airline going. In 1919, 1923 and a successful attempt was finally made in 1938 when "Flugfélag Íslands" was founded. FI used the English name "Icelandic Airways ltd" and later "Icelandair".
In 1943 three friends who had been learning to fly in Winnipeg came back to Iceland with a Stinson S.R. 8 CM Reliant and were hoping to fly for "Flugfelag Islands". This was refused by FI and in their need for work the three friends founded "Loftleidir" which means Airways in English. Loftleiđir fought a hard battle for post and passengers on the small Icelandic domestic market. Loftleiđir was seeking more work and soon started looking for international routes. Around 1950 the Icelandic government was worried about safety and decided to split the local routes and gave all the good routes to FI, and the rest to Loftleiđir. This decision forced Loftleiđir to leave the local market and concentrate on international routes and they became highly successful on transatlantic routes flying from the US via Iceland to Luxembourg. Loftleiđir never joined IATA because their core business was to fly on lower fares then IATA. In the beginning Loftleiđir started flying DC-4 then DC-6. In early sixties Loftleiđir had the problem that their DC-6B fleet was ageing and that IATA had let them undercut tariffs because they flew via Keflavik and on slow propeller driver aircraft. They knew that if they would acquire jets such as the DC-8 or 707 this meant war to IATA members. This is why Loftleiđir decided to buy Canadair´s CL-44.(The Lockeed L-188 Electra, Bristol Britannia and Vickers Vanguard had been considered but rejected) Loftleiđir had heard from Seaboard that the plane was expensive on maintenance and therefor Loftleiđir had Canadair committing to include maintenance cost in the acquisition contracts. All maintenance was done in New York by Lockheed, subcontracted by Canadair. Loftleiđir knew that the seating capacity on the CL-44 would not satisfy their needs and therefor was a stretched version of CL-44 targeted. Canadair's engineering office worked out the "stretch" but Loftleidir owned the modification rights. The work was done in Montreal by Canadair increasing seating from 160 to 189. The first CL-44D4 was delivered to Loftleiđir on 2-May-1964. (c/n 35 TF-LLF). The last plane to be delivered was (c/n 39 TF-LLI). It was the last built CL-44D4 and the first to be stretched. It was delivered as CL-44J.
At the time the CL-44J was the biggest passenger plane on the transatlantic routes. The jets flown by most airlines could not match the 189 passengers on the CL-44J.
Later Loftleiđir acquired a fifth CL-44 from the Flying Tiger Line (c/n20 TF-LLJ) which was never stretched. This aircraft was operated on the UK and Scandinavia routes. Airlines such as SAS and the BEA or BOAC and other put pressure on their governments not permit Loftleiđir to operate their CL-44J into their countries because of the high capacity and low fares. In the end a compromise was found only to use a CL-44D4 with 160 seats and the existing DC-6B.
Loftleiđir was very good in marketing their cheaper fares in the USA. When the transition was made from Douglas DC-6B, a very well known plane, to the CL-44 one of the major problems was to win the customers confidence. For this Loftleiđir used a little PR gag. The CL-44 was powered by four Rolls Royce Tyne turboprop engines and its speed was about 400 mph. So Loftleiđir advertised the planes as "Rolls Royce 400". RR was and still is a highly recognized brand and this is why the CL-44 became known as the "Rolls Royce 400 Jet Prop". In 1970 Loftleiđir needed to sell their CL-44 but could not find any buyers so they contributed their CL-44 aircraft to the foundation of Cargolux Airlines in Luxembourg.
Loftleiđir was a pioneer in low air fares and this little airline was probably the airline to break the IATA fare wall over the Atlantic ocean. Until then all Airlines member of IATA had kept an alliance on keeping airfares up. It should also be said that this would never have been possible without the Luxembourg government who protected Loftleiđir from aggressions from mostly european national airlines, such as Lufthansa, Air France, Sabena etc.
In 1979 both Icelandic Airlines "Flugfelag Islands - Icelandair" and "Loftleiđir - Icelandic Airlines" where troubled as many airlines around the world. On governmental pressure both airlines where merged and out came "Flugleiđir - Icelandair" that still exists today.

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