Austrian Airlines' Return to the Transatlantic Market

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Operating a modern, fuel-efficient fleet over an expanding route system and carrying almost 1.5 million passengers in 1986, Austrian once again contemplated intercontinental service, now both to New York in the west and to Tokyo in the east, and toward this end converted its previous order for two medium-range Airbus Industrie A-310-200s to the long-range A-310-300 version on June 25, 1986. The original memorandum of understanding for the A-310-200s had been signed as far back as 1979 or a decade before the service would actually get off the ground. Three factors could be cited as to why the time may have been ripe for the relaunching of this service:

Firstly, in the 15-year interval since its first and only intercontinental service was discontinued, its home market had considerably grown, as demonstrated by the several increases in nonstop US-Vienna service, by Pan Am, Royal Jordanian, and Tarom from New York, and by American from Chicago.

The Vienna hub had been significantly developed and was now able to offer many more connecting possibilities with both Austrian and other carriers to virtually anywhere in the world. Because of the country's proximity to these destinations, Austrian, specifically, maintained one of the most extensive East European route networks. Added to the geographical location was the fact that its compact Schwechat hub was able to facilitate connections in as few as 25 minutes and theoretically enabled a passenger to fly from New York to any of the East European countries with a stop in Vienna in less time than a later departing nonstop would have with one of the East European flag carriers, such as Aeroflot, CSA, LOT, or Tarom. As a result, Austrian was known as "the western airline to Eastern Europe" and "the link between the west and east." Glasnost had also provided the impetus for unprecedented interest in East European travel at this time and was seen as promoting higher transatlantic load factors to feed East European flights. Its route system in general also offered excellent connections to West European, North African, and Middle Eastern destinations.

Finally, the properly sized, long-range aircraft that could facilitate profitable, year-round operations had finally been designed. Even the then-smallest long-range widebody airliners, such as the DC-10-30 and the L-1011-500, would only have been profitable during peak travel periods, such as during the summer and holiday seasons. The smaller-capacity A-310-300 made year-round operation possible for numerous carriers like Austrian, which were otherwise unable to sustain sufficient load factors to fill larger aircraft, and was therefore ideal for long, thin routes, like those between Lyon and New York (Air France), Frankfurt and Newark (Lufthansa), Istanbul and New York (THY), and New York and Stockholm (Pan Am).

The decision to reinstate intercontinental service, scheduled for the spring of 1989, was officially made two years earlier, on June 25, and was envisioned as being operated by two Pratt and Whitney-powered A-310-300s that would serve the Vienna-New York and Vienna-Moscow-Tokyo routes, the latter in cooperation with Aeroflot and ANA All-Nippon Airways. Both heavily depended upon the transit passenger for profitability. On the New York route, for example, a 66-percent, break-even load factor was needed during the first year of operation, which was envisioned as consisting of US-originating, Austria-originating, and connecting passengers, but both relied on the high-yield frequent business traveler. Austrian Airlines offered a first class cabin on its A-310-300s for the first time in its history.

Deliveries of the airline's first widebody, twin-aisle aircraft, respectively registered and named OE-LAA "New York" and OE-LAB "Tokyo," occurred in December of 1988 and January of 1989.

Returning to the US transatlantic market two months later, on Easter Sunday March 26, Austrian Airlines' twin-engine Airbus, sporting a red-white-red livery and accommodating 12 first class, 37 business class, and 123 economy class passengers, taxied to the International Arrivals Building (IAB) amidst warm spring weather.

Operating as Flight OS 502 and piloted by Captain Braeuer and First Officer Kutzenberger, the aircraft was tug-maneuvered away from the gate at 1900 after a brief turn-around with 121 passengers, who were served by nine cabin attendants, and took off into the deep purple dusk at a 153,603-kilo gross weight, of which 40,300 consisted of fuel for the Atlantic crossing. The flight had been 18 years in the making.

Airport, reservations, sales, and marketing staff subsequently gathered in the Icelandair Saga Lounge used by its business class passengers for a celebratory drink and a group photograph.

The Tokyo route followed in the summer and the four A-310s, registered OE-LAA, -LAB, -LAC, and -LAD, served as Austrian's intercontinental widebody type, operating to multiple US, African, and Far Eastern destinations in a final two-class configuration.

By the summer of 1989, Austrian Airlines' route system encompassed 54 cities in 36 US, European, North African, Middle Eastern, and Japanese countries with an unduplicated route length of 100,358 kilometers, and were served by 26 Fokker F.50, McDonnell-Douglas MD-81/82/83/87, and Airbus A-310-300 aircraft, which carried an average four-year age. Austrian Airlines described these types as follows.

Airbus A-310-300: A long-range, medium-capacity, wide-body, twin-aisle, twin-engine jet airliner--Austrian Airlines' intercontinental jet. Austrian Airlines dubbed it an "intercontinental European."

McDonnell-Douglas MD-81: A medium-range, medium-capacity, narrow-body, single-aisle, twin-engine jet airliner--Austrian Airline's European, North African, and Middle Eastern workhorse. Austrian Airlines described it as a "universal medium-haul airliner and the mainstay of its fleet."

McDonnell-Douglas MD-82: The carrier ordered this variant "for special-duty scheduled and charter services."

McDonnell-Douglas MD-87: The short-fuselage, lower-capacity version was "tailor-made to its needs in capacity and range."

Fokker F.50: A short- and regional-range, low-capacity, narrow-body, single-aisle, twin-engine turboprop airliner operated by its Austrian Air Services subsidiary on domestic and select long, thin international routes. Austrian Airlines considered it "a propjet specialist in city-hopping."

In addition to Austrian Air Services, Austrian Airlines owned 80 percent of Austrian Air Transport (AAT), which operated worldwide charter and inclusive tour (IT) flights with both Austrian Airlines and Austrian Air Services aircraft, carrying 506,000 passengers in 1988. It also maintained a close marketing agreement with Tyrolean Airways, which operated services from Innsbruck with 37-passenger de Havilland of Canada DHC-8-100s and 50-passenger DHC-7-100s at the time.