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A Tribute To Monarch Airlines

Monarch Airlines took to the skies on April 5, 1968 with a charter flight from London’s Luton Airport to Madrid using an ex-Caledonian Bristol 175 Britannia 300.

Fast forward 49 years and the once great airline was in financial turmoil. Years of poor management, Brexit, terrorism and the rise in competition from low-cost airlines all pushed Monarch in to financial difficulties. 

On the morning of on the Morning of Monday October 2, 2017 the devastating news broke that Monarch Airlines has ceased trading. 

Monarch Airlines aeroplanes in secluded parking areas of Gatwick airport, after the airline went into administration on October 2, 2017 – cancelling thousands of flights going forward.

As the UK’s fifth largest airline, it was the biggest to have ever failed in British aviation history and also created the biggest repatriation since World War Two

The utter devastation left by the airlines demise is heartbreaking, not only from Monarch staff but also its loyal passengers. Monarch was a national treasure. They had graced the skies for many years. The ‘Spotty M’ had travelled the globe. Another icon of British aviation consigned to the history books. 

This year the airline would have celebrated its 50th anniversary and while Monarch may be gone it will never be forgotten 

FORMATION AND THE 1970’S 

Monarch Airlines was created on June 5, 1967 by a pair of British businessmen Bill Hodgson and Don Peacock, both of whom had previous airline experience as directors at British Eagle. 

Unlike typical airlines at the time, Monarch was aimed at ordinary families and was founded with the express intent of transporting British holidaymakers to tourism hotspots and desirable getaway destinations throughout Europe.

Bill Hodgson’s daughter, Mary-Anne Hardie, remembers the airline in those days as “One big happy family”. While her father was managing director, her mother designed the first uniforms for cabin crew, in canary yellow. The family tested the in-flight meals at dinner time at home.

Operated as a subsidiary of Globus Getaway Holdings, Monarch had financial backing from the owners of UK-based tour operator Cosmos Tours – the Swiss Sergio Mantegazza family – who would be a part of the airline for many years.

During its second year of operation, Monarch Airlines transported 250,000 passengers – a major milestone, and was operating a fleet of six aircraft.

They entered the Jet age on December 13 1971 following the arrival of the first of three Boeing 720B aircraft that were on order. The introduction of the company’s first jet aircraft type also coincided with the adoption of a revised livery.

The rise in popularity of the package holiday in Britain was an area Monarch was able to capitalise on and during 1972 the airline carried 500,000 passengers for the first time. 

Despite financial difficulties brought about by the 1970’s energy crisis, the airline transitioned to an all-jet fleet by 1976 as a result of the acquisition of a further two second-hand Boeing 720Bs and the addition of a pair of BAC One-Eleven 500s, which had been sourced from British Caledonian and the administrators of the failed Court Line.

“The attitude in the industry was of mutual support” says Ms Hardie, “not as cut-throat as it is now” and Monarch survived. It even took on some of Court Line’s redundant staff – similarly to how Virgin Atlantic and easyJet took some of Monarchs staff when the airline folded.

BOOM TIME IN THE 1980’S

The 1980’s were an exciting time for Monarch. The airline took delivery of its first new Boeing 737-200 Advanced aircraft at the end of 1980 and once of these was based at Berlin’s Tegel Airport at the start of the 1981 summer season, operating short to medium-haul charter flights to the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands under contract to Flug-Union Berlin, at the time one of West Berlin’s leading package tour operators.

The addition of the 737’s expanded Monarch’s fleet to 11 jet aircraft, comprising one Boeing 707-320C, five Boeing 720Bs, three BAC One-Eleven 500s and two Boeing 737-200 Advanced.

In 1981, new bases were opened at Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester, as well as Berlin Tegel and for the first time – Monarch Airlines carried a million passengers in a single year. 

This was also the year Monarch became the first charter airline to order the Boeing 757-200 which would form the back-bone of the fleet for many years. An order for the high-capacity, medium-haul, single-aisled jet represented a major step change for the airline, the first of which was delivered and entered service in the spring of 1983. This coincided with the introduction of an updated livery, the third in the airline’s history.

In spring 1985, the CAA awarded Monarch licences to begin scheduled services to Malaga, Tenerife and Menorca. The first of these scheduled services took to the skies on July 5, 1986 from Luton to Menorca and introduced to the world the new ‘Monarch Crown Service’

In 1986 the airline introduced another new aircraft to their fleet in the form of the Boeing 737-300.

Making milestones yet again on May 1, 1988 Monarch operated the first ETOPs Trans Atlantic flight under CAA regulations. The Boeing 757-200ER (G-MONJ) operated from London Luton to Orlando via Gander (Newfoundland) with 235 passengers – becoming the first UK twin jet to ever cross the North Atlantic with passengers.

At the same time there airline broke through the two million passenger mark for the first time.

THE 1990s

In 1990, Monarch Airlines introduced its first wide-bodied aircraft to its fleet in the shape of the Airbus A300-600R and opened a new purpose-built headquarters at Luton that also housed the airline’s own Boeing 757 flight simulator. 

1993 saw Monarch introduce the Airbus A320 aircraft into its fleet which slowly began to replace the Boeing jets and would become the back-bone of its fleet for the rest of its life. The first of the larger Airbus A321’s joined the fleet in 1997.

The airline also ordered a pair of Airbus A330-200 aircraft to assist with planned long-haul expansion. However due to delays with delivery the airline leased two McDonnell Douglas MD-11’s from World Airways in 1998 to fill the gap. These new A330’s were operated with two different classes onboard, a first for the airline.

THE NEW MILLENNIUM AND A CHANGE IN STRATEGY 

The year 2000 saw growth and change for the carrier. The airline was facing increased competition from low-cost, no frills airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair. 

“With the low-cost airlines it was easier to book direct; that’s when Monarch started to struggle really”, says Ms Hardie.

The focus moved away from customer service towards those who offered the cheapest fare.

In 2001, Monarch Airlines launched its first tool for online booking, permitting passengers to reserve flights straight with the airline without the need to book through a travel agent or to speak to a call center.

In 2002 they unveiled a brand-new livery – the airline’s fourth.

Monarch Crown Service was renamed simply ‘Monarch Scheduled’ and continued to offer a full service product, including free catering, bar service, hot towels, newspapers and In-flight entertainment (IFE).

The airline had operated a single McDonnell Douglas DC-10 since 1996 and this was retired from service in 2002 and was donated to Manchester Airport Aviation Viewing Park. 

By 2004 the impact of the no-frills airlines was becoming more apparent and Monarch adopted a modified low-cost model featuring additional charges for food and drink.

New scheduled bases were opened in Manchester and Birmingham in 2005. The airline grew to become the second largest airline by passengers carried at Manchester Airport in 2005.

In August 2006 an order was placed for six Boeing 787-8 Deamliner aircraft. Delivery was planned to start in 2010, but delays to the 787 project meant delivery dates were pushed back to 2013. In September 2011 the airline cancelled its order following a review of the business and its decision to concentrate on its scheduled short/medium-haul operations.

Monarch was named the Leisure Airline of the Year at the annual Travel Trade Gazette Awards, in both 2006 and 2007.

In March 2007, online reservations made via http://www.flyMonarch.com surpassed the 90% for the first time.

On 27 April 2007, Monarch Airlines started flights to Ibiza partnered with club brand HedKandi naming the partnership “FlyKandi”. One of Monarch’s Boeing 757s – G-MOND – received a special FlyKandi livery. The partnership lasted for the 2007 summer season, with flights to Ibiza being sold from four major UK airports. It was then renewed for the 2008 summer season, offering the same services. This time FlyKandi livery was applied to G-MONJ. HedKandi CDs and radio stations were available for purchase and to listen to onboard the aircraft.

In 2008, Monarch provided the aircraft, an Airbus A321, to launch the ITV programme ‘Celebair’. A group of Z-list ‘Celebrities’ were trained and took on duties performed by airline staff, such as cabin crew. The flights carried fare-paying passengers and the programme first aired on September 2 2008. Lisa Mafia ended up winning the series, with Amy Lame and Chico Slimani finishing second and third respectively.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

After many years of operating profitably, Monarch Group, the parent company of Monarch Airlines and Cosmos Holidays, reported a large pre-tax loss of £32.3m in the financial year ending in 2009. This necessitated a £45m cash injection from the Mantegazza family. The airline also continued to focus on becoming a predominantly scheduled ‘leisure airline’ with a target of 80% of its business being scheduled (compared with only 20% in 2005)

The carrier began investing heavily in services around the Mediterranean, including destinations in North Africa. The airline made a small profit in 2010, but the next year experienced a £45 million loss. This was caused by an increase in the price of fuel, and trouble in sun destinations in North Africa and Egypt causing demand to drop.

Monarch also received two Airbus A320 aircraft to support the increased level of activity. The addition of these aircraft marked the first stage of a medium-term plan to increase the fleet size to 40 aircraft in support of the airline’s goal to carry 10 million passengers annually by the time the final stage has been fully implemented.

On 3 November 2011, Monarch received a £75m rescue package to stay in operation. After this the airline continued to add aircraft, receiving two Airbus A320 aircraft to support the increased level of activity. 

In July 2014, a surprise order was announced for 30 Boeing 737MAX aircraft at the Farnborough Air Show to replace the Airbus fleet.

During 2014 the Mantegazza family declined to put in any more money to help the ailing airline and in October 2014, Monarch Holdings was acquired by Greybull Capital. The group added £125 million in new capital to the airline. The new owners restructured the airline, eliminating long-haul flying and charter operations. The new model focused on low-cost, short to medium haul flights and the fleet was also reduced from 42 to 34 aircraft.

Sadly it was a case of too little too late. In September of 2016, rumours began to circulate that Monarch was nearing bankruptcy, which the airline denied. The airline received fresh investment and was awarded a renewal of its ATOL license. In addition to fresh investors, Greybull inserted an additional £165 million investment.

A year later, the same troubles began emerging. On September 30, the CAA extended Monarch’s license for another 24 hours. However, the CAA began to charter spare planes to rescue any Britons stranded abroad. On the evening of October 1, a flight to Ibiza was cancelled during the boarding stages due to the uncertainty facing the airline’s license renewal.

Finally, on October 2, the CAA announced that the airline had entered administration and was declared bankrupt. Passengers abroad were rescued as the CAA chartered 34 aircraft to rescue travelers. The demise ended 50 years of operations for the airline and left 1,900 people without a job.

Monarch was a fantastic airline. One that will be remembered as an icon of British aviation. Sadly, through a combination of misjudgment and poor management over recent years, the airline simply ran out of runway.

Although the ‘Spotty M’ may be gone it will never be forgotten and will live on forever in the hearts of its loyal staff.

Click on an image below to enter our Monarch gallery and a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who sent me their pictures.

© confessionsofatrolleydolly.com by Dan Air

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