The below model is one of 4 versions of a Malev 737-200 produced specially for CORudy by Aeroclassics and sold only at model fairs. I dedicate this post to CORudy, and Adrian Balch who helped me acquire this excellent model.
Aside from in Romania, which had a relatively independent foreign policy for a time, it was not possible for the airlines of the Warsaw Pact nations to purchase Western equipment from the mid-60s onwards (LOT and CSA had previously operated Viscounts and Britannias respectively). As the 1980s progressed and Communism failed to adapt to the global economic situation, or indeed anything else, its façade began to crack and the nations of eastern Europe began to look west for inspiration.
Since the 1956 revolution against Soviet rule, which led to the deaths of nearly 20,000 Hungarians, Hungary had actually experienced a relatively free society including, from 1968, limited elements of a free market economy. Indeed it was known with some black comedy as “the happiest barrack” within the Eastern Bloc.
Despite relatively high living standards for a Communist state the economic recession of the early 1980s had a statewide negative impact on Hungary. This led to changes implemented by the government partly no doubt designed to enable easier access to foreign currency. Malev, the flag carrier, lost its right to be the sole international airline, whilst other airlines could sell tickets in the Hungarian currency and transfer the money out of the country.
These moves jolted Malev out of its inertia and the carrier implemented a new ‘comfort’ class product, restructured its fares and provided Pierre Cardin designed uniforms for its crews. Of course what Malev really needed to compete was more efficient equipment, which could only come from outside of the influence of the Soviet Union. The fleet primarily consisted of the usual Russian fare of Tupolev Tu-134s, longer Tu-134As and Tu-154Bs. These had replaced the IL-18s in passenger service by 1987 but hardly constituted an efficient fleet by Western standards. At the peak in 1988 there were 12 Tu-134s and 12 Tu-154s in operation.
The first of four Yak-40s was added in 1987 but a small trijet regional airliner hardly suggests economic common-sense. Ironically therefore Malev’s first efficient western airliner was a four engine regional airline! The first Western transport to be delivered to Hungary since World War II was a BAE 146-200QT to be used for a new joint venture cargo operation with TNT. This aircraft went into service on December 1, 1988 and along with a leased 707 enabled retirement of the last pair of IL-18 freighters. At night the 146 flew TNT’s international freight service from Budapest to Cologne and then Luton. During the day it was available for Malev’s own freight schedule.
That left the passenger fleet in need of modernisation, although hard currency was distinctly lacking for the root and branch sort of fleet renewal that was required even if the political situation was slowly beginning to thaw. The short bodied Tu-134s (delivered from 1968-70) were retired by the end of 1988 leaving six Tu-134As which themselves dated from 1971-1974. The Tu-154Bs dated from 1973 to 1982 but were hardly much more modern.
Malev entered into unusual, for the time, negotiations with the Irish lessor Guiness Peat Aviation (GPA) for the dry lease of 3 737-200s for 4 years. The aircraft were hardly the vanguard of modern US equipment but were still much more efficient than comparable Russian types. They also were impacted by sanctions against the Soviets and all engine and equipment overhauls, spares storage, crew and maintenance training needed to be undertaken outside of Hungary. Malev used Lufthansa for the technical side and Olympic for crew training.
The 737s although all from GPA were of various marks indicating their multi-airline backgrounds. HA-LEA for example was a 1979 build aircraft delivered new to TEA as OO-TEM. She joined America West in late 1983 as N133AW and later as EI-BTR served for 6 months with British Midland.
The 3 Boeings proved the equivalent of 5 Tu-154Bs. Although they carried less passengers (106:143) they burned less than half the fuel per hour at cruising speed (3.5 tonnes: 8 tonnes). Even better they were twice as active as the Russian jets since they required a lot less maintenance time. The 737s were active for 10 hours a day compared to only 5 for the trijets. Then of course the icing on the cake was the two man crew compared to the Tupolev’s three man crew. Utilisation amounted to 2,700 hours per year compared to only 1,250 for a Tu-134 and 1,200 for a Tu-154B.
Free elections were held in Hungary in May 1990 and despite continuing economic difficulties Malev continued the path towards that of a modern Western airline. A trio of 737-300s was leased from GPA in 1991 and a pair of new 767-200ERs were ordered from Boeing for new long haul routes. Further 737-200s were also added and the series 200s continued in service into the 2000s.
Malev’s future would ultimately be clouded by failure (it went bankrupt in February 2012) however the addition of 737s was an important chink in the aviation armour of the Eastern Bloc nations, which would subsequently turn into a flood of orders for Boeings and Airbuses from the traditional flag carriers of the East.
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: