Unlike Germany, Italy had a national airline less than two years after World War Two had ended when the British government helped setup, and took a 30% stake in, the new Alitalia. The airline grew strongly through the 1950s and was a major international force during the 1960s, by which time jets had supplanted the piston props in the fleet.
Initial operations, in keeping with the postwar reconstruction of Europe, were faltering and it wasn’t until 1952 that the airline recorded a profit. By then the fleet consisted of DC-3s and DC-4s though these gave way to Convair 340s and DC-6s in 1955. The airline grew substantially with the 1957 merger of Linee Aeree Italiane and by 1960 was ready to move into the jet age - despite having taken on new DC-7Cs in late 1957. Technically it was already there as it had received 6 Viscount 700s as part of the LAI merger and added 4 more from 1958, but though no doubt marketed as prop-jets these turboprops couldn't really compete in the minds of the public with turbojets.
In April 1960 Alitalia introduced its first pure jet, a DC-8, and the type became the backbone of the carrier’s long-haul fleet throughout the 1960s. Initially 4 Conway powered DC-8-42s were delivered (registered I-DIWA,E,I,O) which were followed by 11 DC-8-43s (I-DIWB,D,F,G,L,M,P,R,S,T,U). Unfortunately I-DIWD 'Lanzerotto Maloncello' was lost on July 7, 1962 less than three months after entering service, and with less than a 1000 hours flying time, when she struck a hill descending into Bombay. Her sister-ship I-DIWF 'Antoniotto Usodimare' crashed just over six years later, on August 2, 1968, also after hitting a hillside - this time on approach to Milan.
For its short-haul jet needs Alitalia focused, as did most European national carriers, on the French Caravelle (though additional ex-Capital Viscounts were also added). Upgrades to the Rolls-Royce Avon RA-29 engine enabled Sud-Aviation to upgrade the Caravelle several times and the Caravelle III arrived after only 32 Caravelle I/IAs had been made. It was the best-selling version with 78 sold. The first delivery of the type was I-DAXA to Alitalia who put it into service on the Rome-London service from 23rd May 1960. She was the first of 14 ordered by the Italian flag carrier, but only four Caravelle IIIs were delivered as subsequent aircraft were all upgraded Caravelle VI-Ns. The four Caravelle IIIs were modified to VI-N status and 21 of the type eventually saw service with Alitalia, deliveries continuing until 1966. I-DAXA was named ‘Altair’ and sold to SAETA as HC-BAD in 1977. She was withdrawn only a few years later and stored at Quito but was not seen after 1988 so was presumably broken up.
1967 was another milestone year in the development of Alitalia's fleet when the airline standardised on Douglas products. The first of 47 DC-9-32s (many operated initially by ATI) arrived in August and were joined from October by 9 extreme range DC-8-62s. Alitalia's series 62s were an interesting range of three sub-types. I-DIWY and WZ were both standard series 62s P&W JT3D-3B engines whilst I-DIWH,J,K,N,V,W,X were seris 62Hs with more powerful P&W JT3D-7s. Alitalia also bought two convertible freighter DC-8-62HCFs registered I-DIWC and DIWQ. I-DIWV was the second aircraft and named ‘Gioacchino Rossini’. She served for a decade until leased to DETA Mozambique. Returned in 1979 she was stored at Marana until sold in 1983 to Guy American Airways. She became N39307 with Sun & Sea Avtn then CIS Corp until sale to MGM Grand Air in 1988 where she became N803MG. In 1995 she was converted to a freighter and joined Trans Continental as N181SK. Her last operator was Air Cargo Chartering in March 1999 as 9G-REM. In October 99 she was written off in a crash on landing at Kinshasa.
The 1960s were a good time for Alitalia which had the fourth longest route network in miles and was the twelth largest airline in the world (and third largest in Europe) based on revenue and passenger numbers. In 1969 Lufthansa formed the ATLAS grouping with Alitalia, Air France, Iberia and Sabena to undertake joint maintenance of aircraft and this had an impact on procurement also. Several of the airlines already had 747s on order but it was Alitalia’s DC-10 June 1970 order that finally swayed Lufthansa away from the Tristar. For Alitalia the choice of the Douglas product was hardly a difficult decision given its good experience with the manufacturer's products. By the time of the DC-10 order Alitalia had already placed its first 747s into service (I-DEMA 'Neil Armstrong' joined in May 1970) wearing the new stylised A livery which would serve the airline so well. Four others would follow (1 series 100 and 3 series 200s) before the fleet was rolled over from 1980 with new 747-200s.
In 1972 despite the introduction of the first widebodies the DC-8s could still be found on the majority of the extensive long-haul network which at the time stretched all the way to Australia (via several Aian destinations). The DC-8-62s were by then primarily used on the impressive South America network. This included services from Milan Linate, to Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santiago, and Rome to Caracas and Lima (both also served via Milan Malpensa). The series 62s also saw service on routes to Chicago, Johannesburg, Philadelphia and Tehran. The 747s were initially limited to North American routes alongside both types of DC-8s. The DC-8-43s could also be found on the North african network and operating high density European and even domestic routes (the latter including Rome-Palermo and Rome-Catania). Gradually the DC-8s were retired from 1976 though the series 62s mostly made it into the 1980s in AZ's green and red.
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: