Following the collapse of the original Laker Airways in 1982 Freddie Laker took 12 IATA airlines to court for predatory pricing and eventually won nearly $100 million in compensation from them (mainly from British Airways). This allowed him to pay off his debts, but although attempts at getting a second Laker off the ground in the 1980s failed he wasn't done with the airline business.
A by-product of attempts to start a second Laker was a relationship with the businessman Roland 'Tiny' Rowland who controlled the British Lonrho conglomerate, which owned Princess Hotels International - a luxury hotel chain with property in the Bahamas, where Freddie also had property himself (and kept his luxury yacht 'Jacqueline').
Freddie became a consultant to Princess and in 1984 started Princess Vacations International - a Miami based tour operator, which primarily catered for the Bahamas Princess Resort and Casino in Freeport. This 965 room complex partnered with Princess Vacations, which leased capacity from various airlines such as Braniff, Bahamas Air and Carnival to fly tourists to it.
Laker managed to increase traffic by convincing Americans to fly to the Bahamas in the summer for short stays, but by the early 90s Carnival Air Lines were looking to increase their charter prices and this spurred him into action.
Laker partnered with a Texan investor and oilman called Oscar Wyatt and Sir Jack Hayward, the owner of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, to start his own airline using the dormant Laker Airways (Bahamas) Ltd that had been incorporated in September 1985.
The new airline would operate scheduled services primarily between Fort Lauderdale and Freeport, which is only an 18 minute flight, selling the majority of its tickets to Princess Vacations to service the Bahamas Princess Resort. The initial equipment was a trio of 1971/72 build standard Boeing 727-281s. Originally delivered to All Nippon these frames had joined Piedmont in 1983/84 and been merged into the USAir fleet.
The first flight for the new airline was on May 18, 1992 using N743US. The 727s wore a hybrid scheme with large Laker titles over a red cheatline beneath the windows on a natural metal finish, but with no tail colours other than the base USAir blue. All three frames gained names but were only in service until the end of 1993.
They were replaced by a pair of only marginally newer 1973 727-2J7s, originally delivered to PSA, but these aircraft were both the much superior 727-200 Advanced model. The aircraft were in a 175 seat configuration and were leased from Cirrus Leasing - an arm of George Bachelor's International Air Leases.
Despite being relatively old the 727s offered several advantages. Perhaps most importantly the leases were on a pay as you go basis, which suited an airline with relatively low aircraft usage (about 6 hours a day). It translated to about $50-60K a month per aircraft.
Additionally in the early 90s 727 rated crew were easy to find and parts were widely available and also cheap. This was important for an operation that valued reliability above everything else since delays meant not only a loss to the airline but also to its main customer, the hotel and casino.
Laker Airways Bahamas was quickly profitable and expanded by late 1994 to include services on a variety of medium haul routes to cities such as Baltimore, Birmingham, Chicago, Greenville, Memphis, Raleigh, Richmond and West Palm Beach. In 1995 Cleveland and Hartford were added.
In its early years Laker was heavily involved in his Bahamas operation but presumably the creation of the UK based Laker Airways in 1996 took him away from the day to day operation. Laker Airways Bahamas appears to have been fairly stable operating the same pair of 727s until early 1999 when they were replaced temporarily by another pair leased briefly from Riverhorse Investments. It is perhaps telling that by 1999 the 727s wore Princess vacation rather than Laker titles.
Stability returned to the fleet in late 2001 when a final pair of 727s were leased from Aviation Capitol Group. Both of these aircraft were 1981 build ex-American Airlines 727-223 Advanceds. The aircraft wore their red and black colours over the old AA cheatline with a large Bahamian flag on the tail. In May 2002 IATA presented Laker Airways Bahamas with a plaque in recognition of 10 years of dedicated service to civil aviation while the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and Ministry of Tourism recognised the airline for outstanding contributions to the industry and economy of the Bahamas.
Unfortunately all was not necessarily going well. In December 1998 the Lonrho group had sold the Bahamas Princess Resort. The hotel and casino changed its name to 'Crowne Plaza Golf Resort & Casino at the Royal Oasis' and was owned by Grand Bahama Vacations, part of the Driftwood Hospitality Management Group. This change looks like it had a negative impact on the relationship between the airline and resort.
In August 2004 Laker Airways Bahamas broke from Grand Bahamas Vacations, seemingly somewhat acrimoniously. Laker Airways Bahamas pivoted away from serving the hotel market directly and began to fly independently between Nassau, rather than Freeport, and Fort Lauderdale. They had already launched service from Nassau to Columbus (Rickenbacker Airport) in July.
This change in strategy was always going to be tough but it was no doubt not helped in August and September when the Bahamas was hit by two Hurricanes (Frances and Jeanne) in quick succession. These had a massive impact on the tourist market and rather ironically were also partly to blame for the closure of the entire Crowne Plaza hotel resort, which remains closed to this day.
It is unclear quite what the order of events was that led to the split between the airline and hotel, and whether the hurricanes happened before or after it, but the impact of both is clear. Laker continued to operate charter services into 2005 but in February both the 727s were leased to Lloyd Aereo Boliviano and the carrier ceased operations. Sir Freddie Laker himself died on February 9, 2006 aged 83.
Laker Airways Bahamas clearly never reached great heights but it appears to have done its job well for over a decade and allowed Sir Freddie Laker to keep himself engaged in the aviation world and in with a chance of launching his second attempt at Transatlantic services in 1996.
Wegg, J. Laker Airways Bahamas: Flying High With Sir Freddie at the Helm. Airways May/June 1995
World Airline Fleets News #201 - September 2004
2004. Laker Airways Bahamas. Airliners.net
â2004. Laker Bahamas Starts Service. Airliners.net
Sir Freddie Laker.com - Laker Bahamas
âBahamas OKs Princess Towers sale. Travel weekly, Dec 1998
âBahamas Princess Resort & Casino. Catobear.com
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: