East Germany never became the shining example of Socialist superiority that the Soviets hoped it would become, partly because of the widespread looting of anything and everything within the geographic area that became the new country by Soviet forces after World War 2 finished. Instead it became a ruthless authoritarian police state always in the shadow of its prosperous and free Western neighbor and forced to build a giant wall to keep the population of its capital city from escaping to the West.
Nonetheless you have to feel sorry for the majority of the population that was trapped within East Germany’s borders and impressed by how they kept their lives going in such circumstances. From an aviation perspective the national airline Interflug was one of the larger of the Warsaw Pact airlines and built its fleet around three modern Soviet types during the 1960s – the large turboprop Ilyushin Il-18, small twinjet Tupolev TU-134 and long range Ilyushin Il-62.
As with most things under Communist influence profitability was hardly an important factor, however the failure of the Communist model to support itself was clear by the mid-70s. By 1982 the Soviets and their six Eastern allies owed Western commercial banks $65.4 billion a debt that had increased eight-fold since 1970. Economic turmoil in the early 80s, a credit freeze on lending to Warsaw Pact countries and the nation’s own internal contradictions was leading East Germany on a pathway to ruin economically.
Above: The jets arrive by 1968 and 1970
One of the side effects of the economic problems was that there was a long period of underinvestment in research and capital goods including commercial airliners. This perhaps explains why Interflug’s fleet remained effectively static during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The majority of the burden was still taken by Tupolev TU-134s only 5 of which had been delivered after 1975. Many of the fleet were delivered new to the NVA Nationale Volksarmee but all were seemingly transferred to the airline by the early 80s.
Ilyushin IL-18s also continued in service, admittedly in dwindling numbers with some converted to cargo use, into the late 1980s. It is certainly curious that Interflug did not acquire TU-154s as did its fellow Warsaw Pact national carriers Malev, LOT, CSA, Balkan and Tarom. In fact, technically it seems Interflug never operated the TU-154 at all although two did receive Interflug colours.
Curiously Interflug did continue to receive new Ilyushin IL-62Ms during the mid-80s so quite why the trijet eluded them is hard to say as they would appear to have fitted their network needs well. Instead Interflug persisted with the TU-134s which began to fall foul of noise regulations at Western airports as well as being fuel inefficient (not that the TU-154 was much better). It wasn’t until commercial airliners were exempted from the CoCom embargo that western types could be acquired and even then Interflug focused on long haul aircraft (A310s) over 737s or A320s.
Both aircraft were 1989 build frames and were registered DD-SFA and SFB. The pair arrived just in time to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the East German state. SFA joined in May, followed by SFB in September with the wall falling in October. By that time Interflug had optimistically ordered TU-204s and IL-96s so it seems likely that had the status quo persisted they would have skipped further TU-154s.
The collapse of East Germany was far swifter than anybody expected and attempts to keep Interflug operating were ultimately unsuccessful. Its last flight was in April 1991, operated appropriately by a TU-134A (by then re-registered as D-AOBC). Some of the carrier’s assets were shifted over to the German Air Force including some IL-62s and both TU-154s. It seems that the IL-62s actually saw no further use however both TU-154s were pressed into military service as 11+01 and 11+02 with LTG65 Squadron based at Neuhardenburg.
Both frames went on to have productive careers. At least one of the pair (11+02) was modified with cameras and sensors in the fuselage which were used as part of the verification purpose of the Open Skies treaty.
Unfortunately, it was this aircraft, the former DDR-SFB, that was destroyed in a mid-air collision with a USAF C-141B Starlifter (65-9405) on September 13, 1997 off the coast of Namibia. All 33 aboard the two aircraft were killed. The crash was eventually pinned on the German crew, who were flying at the wrong altitude, and deficient air traffic control capabilities. It was also stated that if either of the aircraft had been equipped with TCAS collision avoidance systems then the crash would have been unlikely to occur.
A more detailed description of the crash and the details around it can be found on Wikipedia here.
The second frame remained in service with the Luftwaffe until it was sold in September 2000 to Iran Airtours, where it became EP-MBL (later MCE). By May 2008 it had been onsold to Eram Air as EP-EKC. It appears to have been returned to Iran Airtours and retaken up the rego EP-MCE. Wikipedia shows it at Moscow in 2012:
East Germany and Interflug were an enigma. In hindsight, as with much of the Soviet system, it seems obvious they could not survive but at the time they appeared permanent fixtures. The inability of Interflug to acquire TU-154s appears to me just one of a number of signs of the weakness of the airline, which despite its Socialist credentials relied heavily on stealing Western traffic from Berlin to survive.
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: