SAS : The United Nations of the Air


The Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) claims its earliest origins with Danish Airlines, which was formed in 1918 and is one of three parent companies that make up SAS. Danish Airlines is the world's oldest airline still in operation. In 1946 Swedish Airlines and Norwegian Airlines joined Danish Airlines, and the three companies began operating as SAS on September 17, 1946, when a newly acquired DC-4 flew from Stockholm to New York. The cooperative venture among the three countries quickly earned SAS the moniker, "The United Nations of the Air."

The success of the airline quickly became evident. In 1947 it carried 21,238 passengers on its North and South Atlantic flights (18,406 on the New York route alone), transported 300 tons of cargo, and boasted a staff of 1,100 employees. Just four years later SAS carried more than 480,000 passengers on its intercontinental, European, and domestic flights. The number of employees had increased to 6,630, and the SAS fleet had grown to include 12 DC-6s, two DC-6Bs on order, 10 DC-4s, 63 DC-3s, eight SAAB Scandias, two Sandringhams, and six Junkers Ju-52 seaplanes.

Upon delivery of its first DC-6B in 1952, SAS made an exploratory flight over the North Pole, flying from Long Beach, Calif., to Copenhagen, Denmark. The DC-6B was the first commercial airplane to fly over the Polar region. Two years later SAS became the first airline to fly a scheduled route using the Polar shortcut, with service between Copenhagen and Los Angeles. Acquisition of the longer range DC-7C in 1956 allowed SAS to offer nonstop operation over the Pole as far as Tokyo, making it the first airline to operate an around-the-world route over Polar regions.

SAS began jet operations in 1959 when it became the first airline to introduce the French Sud Aviation Caravelle into service. The following year, the airline introduced the DC-8 on routes to New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo.

In 1966 SAS became the launch customer for the medium-range DC-9 Series 41 and short-range DC-9 Series 21, with orders for 10 of each model. The following year marked three significant milestones for SAS: the introduction of the DC-9 on its European routes, the retirement of its last DC-7C, and the launching of the first long-range DC-8 Series 62 to inaugurate a trans-Asian shortcut to Bangkok and Singapore.

SAS was one of the first airlines to build alliances with other airlines, which helped the airline remain viable during periods of regulation and extreme competition. As early as the 1950s, SAS exchanged carrier traffic rights with other airlines in order to broaden its service outside of Scandinavia. These exchanges eventually led to much stronger alliances, which allowed airline partners to develop a worldwide network with coordinated time-tables. These partnerships permitted SAS to support a much more comprehensive route structure than it could offer alone.

SAS also formed airline alliances for technical cooperation in order to reduce operating costs. In 1958 SAS and Swissair agreed to share maintenance, inventories and training facilities. This agreement eventually led to the formation in 1969 of the KSSU group, which teamed SAS and Swissair with KLM and UTA of France in an effort to pool airplane maintenance, standardize airplane systems, and jointly evaluate future airplane acquisitions.

SAS introduced its first Boeing airplane, a 747-200, into service in 1971 on a flight from Copenhagen to New York. The first DC-10s were delivered three years later and entered service on a Polar route to Tokyo. SAS continued to order DC-9s, and by 1989 operated a total of 60. This number made its Douglas twinjet fleet the largest of any non-U.S. airline, a distinction SAS still holds today.

The 1980s established SAS as one of the most successful airlines in the world. It was recognized as the most punctual airline in Europe in 1982, and in 1984 earned Air Transport World's "Airline of the Year" award. With its distinctive EuroClass service, SAS also won the "Best Passenger Service" award from Air Transport World in 1987.

SAS invested in a $1.5 billion fleet renewal program in 1988, ordering nine Boeing 767s, 63 MD-80s and several orders for Fokker 50 airplanes for commuter service. In 1995 the airline placed its largest order ever: 41 Boeing 737-600s, with delivery to begin in 1998. The following year SAS became the first European airline to operate the MD-90. Its current fleet of 163 airplanes includes Fokker 50s and F-28s, SAAB 2000s, Boeing 767s, a 747-200 freighter, DC-9s, MD-80s, and MD-90s.

SAS celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996, a very productive year: With a staff of more than 21,000 employees worldwide, the airline carried nearly 20 million passengers to 105 destinations in 34 countries. It operated an average of 1,000 flights per day and carried some 250,000 tons of cargo. The continuing success of its cooperation with other airlines culminated with the formation of Star Alliance in 1997. This partnership of SAS and four other airlines represents an integrated, worldwide air transport network with flights to more than 500 cities in 110 countries.

Editor's Note
Boeing Commercial Airplane Group is proud to present the history of SAS, an industry partner whose profitable and safe operations continue with the MD-80, MD-90, and Boeing 767. All content is provided by SAS.

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