Tens & Trouble: Spantax in the 80s
For Part 1 of this series see:
In 1978 Spantax was still operating a wide variety of services including those to North Africa and inter-island excursions. These were operated by the last operational DC-6 (all the DC-7Cs had gone by then) whilst a DHC-6 was used on a scheduled service between Malaga and Melilla under contract to Iberia. The DHC-6 was kept as a back up after the delivery in May 1978 of the airline’s sole DHC-7 (a second Twin Otter had been traded in as a down-payment for the new aircraft). The DHC-7 upgraded seats on the Melilla route from 17 to 54. This service appears to have lasted until mid-1981 as the DHC-7 was returned to De Havilland Canada on May 3rd.
At the other end of the scale the airline had begun to use the 253-seater stretch DC-8s on transatlantic charters to North America. In 1979 these charters were extended to reach as far as Los Angeles. The airline was keen to grow these services and in October 1978 the first DC-10-30CF joined the fleet. This was an almost new aircraft acquired from Overseas National. It had only joined ONA in June 1977 but ONA collapsed in 1978 and N1034F became EC-DEG.
The DC-10 was used on charters to New York via Madrid from Palma as well as some of the longer Northern European routes. The airline was tentative about purchasing the trijet, worried that passenger numbers did not warrant such a large type and that night flying restrictions at many major European airports would limit the aircraft’s utilization, and so profitability. It had looked at the Airbus A300 instead but the Airbus was not capable of operating Helsinki to the Canary Islands non-stop.
In the rest of the fleet the Convair 990 continued to reign supreme with 12 still on strength into 1979. Even so it was clear that the type could not go on forever and it was increasingly expensive to fly. The Douglas DC-9 was identified as a replacement but Spantax struggled to find frames to buy at the right price. A third DC-9-10 joined in January 1980 and a quartet of DC-9-32s gradually joined from April 1982. These began to allow for the slow retirement of the Convairs.
By 1983 the Coronado fleet was down to 5 aircraft. The airline implemented a new and exciting livery in 1983 and it was even applied to the remaining Convair 990s.
Unfortunately, by this time Spantax was in financial trouble. It appears it was already losing money in the early 80s but sadly the DC-10 proved not to be the boon the airline it had hoped, as on September 13, 1982 it was destroyed in a spectacular crash at Malaga when an aborted take-off went wrong. The aircraft failed to stop in time to avert an overrun and continued across the highway at the end of the runway striking a number of vehicles before hitting a railway embankment. Fifty of the 394 occupants were killed and 110 others hospitalized. The resulting investigation cleared the crew but the publicity was disastrous, especially as it was not the airline’s first incident.
The aircraft was replaced with a sub-leased Air Florida example, which became EC-DSF in January 1983. This was itself replaced in April 1984 by a purchased example, the former Swissair HB-IHB, which became EC-DUG. This aircraft only lasted in the fleet for two years and was sold to Continental in October 1986. It was replaced by a DC-10-10 registered EC-EAZ leased from World Airways in a World hybrid scheme. The last DC-10 replaced EAZ and was another lease. N52UA lasted only from January to March 1988.
This turbulence in the DC-10 fleet was another symptom of the carrier’s weak financial position. Although the DC-10s had opened a trans-polar route to Tokyo, with a stop in Anchorage, the airline was in trouble. It faced high fuel costs, a poor reputation and intense competition.
Boeing 737-200s began to join the fleet in 1983 and all the DC-9s were returned to their lessors in early 1984. This meant that even though 737s were joining the Convairs could not be fully replaced. As operations contracted by 1985 however just two Coronados were still in use.
Unfortunately, the airline was on a downward trajectory. The two original DC-8-61CFs were sold in late 1984 to GPA and replaced by leased examples. 737s came and went on season long leases.
1986 proved to be a poor year for the airline partly due to strike action undertaken by its pilots and maintenance staff in June, right in the middle of the busy summer season. The airline was forced to charter in replacement aircraft and crews at huge cost.
The end for Rudi came in 1986 when the carrier was taken over by the Spanish government and he was ousted. He was then 76 years old. Spantax owed at least 13 billion pesetas to the Spanish government.
In April 1987 Spantax was sold to Aviation Finance Group of Luxembourg who promised to revitalize the airline. The new owners committed funds and the carrier’s debts were refinanced. A fleet renewal plan was put into practice and a pair of new McDonnell Douglas MD-83s were acquired on lease from GPA Group in October 1987. Unfortunately, the airline continued to lose money and collapsed on March 29, 1988 stranding about 7,000 passengers.
Rudi himself died on October 1, 2000 aged 89 years old. His airline is famous for giving the Convair 990 a second life but he should also be seen as a pioneer of civil aviation in Europe. Fittingly one of the CV-990s still survives and for many years there has been talk of restoring EC-BZO, which has been gradually rusting away for the past 34 years at Palma de Mallorca. Hopefully one day it may happen.
Spantax CV-990 Page
1979. Horseman. M. Spantax: Spain’s Dynamic Charter Airline. Airline Quarterly Vol 3, No 2
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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: