By 1958 Berlin had been served by the airlines of the victorious Western powers for a decade. Operations had settled down to a routine whereby Pan Am, BEA and Air France could compete against each other normally even though the political situation surrounding Berlin was just as volatile as ever. Pan Am had the edge with its Douglas DC-6Bs but that would all change in 1958 as BEA upped the competitive pressure with its own prop-jets.
Berlin Templehof was thriving by the end of the 1950s. Services were not just flown by the national carriers but also by a variety of US supplemental and UK independent airlines. Internal domestic services were however the domain of the flag carriers. BEA had been outsourcing much of its operation to Air Charter but its DC-3s and DC-4s could not compete against the Sixes.
BEA was spurred into action and from November 1, 1958 introduced seven Vickers Viscount 701 turboprops onto the IGS routes. These aircraft had been specially reconfigured to seat 63 passengers and came equipped with built in airstairs. They were more than capable of taking the fight to Pan Am, let alone Air France, which was still using Douglas DC-4s, as well as Sud-Est Languedocs and Lockheed Super Constellations.
In 1960 BEA shifted its entire remaining fleet of Viscount 701s onto IGS routes. On January 2, 1960 Air France introduced the first jet service to Berlin using its new Sud Aviation Caravelle IIIs. Unfortunately to achieve this it had to switch all its operations to the unfavourable Berlin Tegel Airport, as the Caravelles were not equipped with thrust reversers and could not land on Templehof’s short runways with a viable payload. Air France had been operating services to Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, Nuremberg and Paris for a decade but had never been able to make the same impact Pan Am or BEA did.
Despite the arrival of the Viscounts Pan Am’s DC-6s continued to fly the IGS routes, which were the most profitable in its entire network. The DC-6Bs proved very economical and their seating capacity could be extended from an original 76 seat all economy fit out to 84 and then 87 seats. The fleet grew from 15 to 17 aircraft – much larger than the BEA operation. This in turn allowed for higher frequencies, which assisted in attracting business passengers. Pan Am’s market share approached 60% with a 70% load factor.
The DC-6s were not particularly impacted by the faster speed of the Viscounts or Caravelles either due to the nature of the air corridors. Since aircraft could not pass each other the flights had to operate to the speeds of the slowest aircraft, plus the low ceiling within the corridors made jet services less efficient as they couldn't attain an efficient cruising speed. In fact, the jets had much higher operating costs for these reasons due to increased fuel consumption.
Pan Am was actually still operating DC-4s, at least on the new all-cargo services to Frankfurt and Hamburg, but these were finally replaced by extra DC-6s in 1960. With the French Caravelles relegated to Tegel it remained DC-6Bs vs Viscounts through to the mid-60s. BEA added service to Bremen via Hanover twice daily on April 1, 1964 and Stuttgart commenced on June 1, 1965.
BEA’s pilots were based at Heathrow but overnighted at a variety of hotels in Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg as necessary. BEA paid for their block membership of the British Officer’s Club, the Marlborough. BEA, despite the competition from Pan Am, was making around 1 million pounds profit annually from the IGS routes. This has been helped by the introduction of a 20% subsidy following the completion of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961.
This cosy situation was not to last long as both Pan Am and BEA were showing signs of introducing their own pure jets on the IGS network. On December 2, 1964 Boeing demonstrated the performance of its new Boeing 727-100 by leasing an example to Pan Am, which managed to land it at Templehof. This was the first jet to be able to do so. Pan Am placed an order for six aircraft.
The British would not be far behind and the second half of the 1960s would see the jet-age finally arrive at Templehof. This I will look at next in part 3.
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: