The state of Transjordan came into being in 1922 following the dubious carve up of the Middle East by the British and French after World War One. It became fully independent in 1946 and was renamed as Jordan in 1948 by its Hashemite rulers. The nation like several others in the Middle East was artificially constructed, but despite involvement in several of the various Arab-Israeli conflicts it has somehow managed to avoid the majority of the bloodshed that has engulfed almost all of its neighbours. This is in a large part due to the canny leadership of King Hussein. The fact that Jordan is also poor of natural resources like Oil and Water has also probably favoured stability.
The jet age came to Jordan in 1965 with a trio of new Caravelle 10Rs and allowed a first European service – to Rome.
London and Paris followed in 1966 but it wasn’t all onwards and upwards as the Arab-Israeli war not only disrupted operations in 1967 but also led to the Israeli’s destroying both the DC-7s in an air raid. At least it wasn’t the Caravelles that fell victim and the DC-7s were quickly replaced by a pair of Fokker F27s. The loss of Jordanian control of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) was a setback but the loss of Jerusalem as a destination was offset by continued international growth. Athens was added and following full nationalization in 1968 so were other regional destinations - Nicosia, Benghazi, Dhahran and Doha.
The 1970s would be the decade when Alia grew from a regional airline to a long-haul flag carrier. The fleet was still small and by 1970 consisted only of the trio of Caravelles. Circumstances did not immediately look very promising as Jordanian forces had to fight to remove Palestinian Fedayeen fighters (including Arafat’s PLO) which were openly calling for the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy. This led to what is known as Black September but it wasn’t until July 1971 that the Fedayeen forces were finally expelled.
During this period failing ties with neighbouring Syria, and indeed open combat between Jordanian and Syrian forces in September 1970, saw Syrian airspace closed to Alia, which with its Beirut service more than quadrupled in length to 4.5 hours due to the necessary re-routing led to the service’s closure.
Nonetheless King Hussein had high hopes for Alia, which acquired a pair of new 707-3D3Cs from Boeing in 1971. These were supplemented further by a pair of second-hand Boeing 720s from Pan Am in 1972. New services reached out as far as Copenhagen, Madrid and Karachi.
JY-ADS was originally D-ABOQ ‘Essen’ delivered to Lufthansa in March 1962 and sold onto Pan Am as N787PA ‘Clipper Guiding Star’ in Feb 1966. Her sister JY-ADT had a similar vintage. The pair of 720s appear to have directly replaced two of the Caravelles which left the fleet in March and December 1973, leaving just the single remaining 10R to soldier on until April 1975.
The ups and downs continued for Alia as one of its pair of 707s was destroyed on January 22, 1973 whilst on lease to Nigeria Airways when it landed short of the runway at Kano, with the loss of 176 out of 202 occupants. Even so re-equipment plans continued aided by Jordan’s reasonably good ties with the USA. A trio of new Boeing 727-200 Advanceds arrived from July-November 1974.
In 1975 Geneva, Amsterdam, Brussels and Bangkok joined the network and four extra Boeing 707s were acquired on the second-hand market. Two of these were ex-Olympic frames whilst the other two were former Pan American aircraft. Unfortunately, one of the ex-PA aircraft had a very short career with Alia as it was written off on August 3, 1975 (only four months into its Jordanian career) when it struck a mountain ridge on approach to Agadir, Morocco. Once again, the aircraft was not operating for Alia at the time, having been chartered to Royal Air Maroc. All 188 aboard perished and it remains the worst accident involving a 707 in history. In December a replacement 707 was purchased, again ex-Pan Am.
Despite some serious trials Alia successfully navigated a tricky first 12 years. In 1975 it carried 380,000 passengers and recorded a profit of 647,000 British pounds. Its network had more than doubled since 1970 and was operating to 28 destinations, 2 of which were in Asia and 9 in Europe. Far from accepting this however the aviation mad King Hussein wanted the carrier to continue to grow and the disintegration of Lebanon into civil war gave Alia the chance to take up the mantle of long-haul services.
In part 2 we’ll look at Alia as it grew into widebody operations in the second half of the 1970s. Press the button below to go to part 2:
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: