Europe as a region is no stranger to large Boeing 737-800 fleets. Indeed, areas in the continent that Ryanair’s many 737-800s don’t serve or come close to are few and far between. Another significant 737-800 operator in years gone by was German carrier Air Berlin. Let’s take a look back in history to examine these numerous narrowbodies.
A brief history of Air Berlin
Let’s begin by taking a quick look at the lifespan of what was once Germany’s second-largest airline. Air Berlin commenced operations as Air Berlin USA in 1979, having been founded the previous year. Being a US carrier, Air Berlin USA had access to West Berlin’s Tegel Airport, from which it operated charter flights to Mediterranean holiday destinations.
Following East and West Germany’s reunification in 1990, Air Berlin became a German carrier, and drop the ‘USA’ suffix from its name. By 1997, it had begun operating scheduled flights alongside its charter operations. During the 2000s, it acquired part or all of various airlines, including Belair, DBA, LTU (unlocking long-haul routes), and Niki.
Etihad became Air Berlin’s largest shareholder, when it acquired a 29.1% stake in December 2011. However, consecutive years of losses plagued the airline in the years that followed. Despite restructuring efforts, Air Berlin filed for insolvency in August 2017, and eventually ceased operations amid bankruptcy proceedings two months later.
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Air Berlin’s first Boeing 737-800s
According to Boeing’s orders and deliveries data, Air Berlin placed its first six-aircraft order for the 737-800 in December 1994. It added two pairs in March and May 1998. Data from ch-aviation.com shows that 1998 also saw Air Berlin’s first two 737-800 deliveries. D-ABAQ came onboard in October, and D-ABAR followed a month later.
1999 saw Air Berlin order a further 10 737-800s. It placed these in January (four aircraft) and December (six aircraft) that year. 1999 was also when its next pair of 737-800s joined the airline, with D-ABAS being the first to do so in February. Air Berlin also ended the year (and indeed the decade, century, and millennium) with D-ABAV’s arrival in December 1999.
21st-century orders and deliveries
Boeing’s data shows that Air Berlin ordered a total of 112 737-800s between 1998 and 2007. The bulk of these took place after the turn of the century. Indeed, the German carrier placed orders for 92 examples of Boeing’s popular narrowbody during the first seven years of the new millennium. By far its largest cohort was a 60-aircraft order in December 2006.
Of the 112 737-800s initially ordered by Air Berlin, Boeing’s data shows that the US planemaker ultimately delivered just 84 to the carrier. While this is still an impressive tally, this does still represent 25% of the ordered planes not being delivered.
As you can see in the graph below, Air Berlin received its 21st-century 737-800s at a fairly steady rate following the turn of the century, peaking in 2011 with 12 deliveries. It is worth noting that a handful of the 737-800s that Air Berlin received post-2000 were used aircraft.
Milestones and other 737s
Air Berlin achieved several milestones with specific 737-800 deliveries. For example, 2001 saw it and fellow German carrier Hapag-Lloyd Flug become the world’s first airlines to fit their 737-800s with winglets. One of these more efficient aircraft went on to set a distance record for the type when it was delivered non-stop from Seattle to Berlin in 2001.
Another thing that is worth noting is that the 737-800 was not the first variant from Boeing’s popular narrowbody family that Air Berlin operated. Indeed, ch-aviation notes that examples of the -300, -400, and -700 also graced the airline’s fleet over the years. Meanwhile, ATDB.aero also notes the presence of the -200 and -500 variants in limited numbers.
Where did they end up?
Air Berlin’s former Boeing 737-800 fleet went on to fly for a huge range of carriers located all over the world. The last nine examples all left the airline at the same time in March 2017, amid restructuring efforts as the ultimately doomed airline looked to save itself. All nine joined Niki, where they retained their German registrations and were operated by TUI.
As it happens, batches of Air Berlin’s 737-800s left the carrier together to join the same airline several times over the course of its history. One such beneficiary of this was Dutch low-cost carrier Transavia in April 2004. Transavia leased several 737-800s to Air Berlin in its early years. Similarly, five joined Shenzen Airlines in November and December 2007.
Other departures of these aircraft were more sporadic, rather than being bunched together as above. This resulted in a diverse mixture of airlines slowly receiving ex-Air Berlin 737-800s over the years. To name just a few, such carriers included Air Jamaica, Blue Air, Corendon Airlines, Excel Airways, Garuda Indonesia, Jeju Air, and SunExpress.
Air Berlin Turkey
A handful of Boeing 737-800s also flew for a sub-brand of the airline known as Air Berlin Turkey. The carrier established this charter operator in 2011 in partnership with Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines. The idea behind this new operation was to specifically target the lucrative charter flight market between Germany and Turkey.
According to data from ch-aviation, Air Berlin Turkey operated a total of three Boeing 737-800s as part of this joint venture. These bore the registrations TC-IZB, TC-IZC, and TC-IZF. Furthermore, ATDB.aero observes that these aircraft all joined the new carrier on lease deals from Izmir Airlines, hence their shared ‘IZ(X)’ registration suffixes.
Two of these aircraft joined Air Berlin Turkey in November 2011, with a third coming onboard in May 2012. Another two were set to join the airline from Air Berlin itself in April 2012, but these acquisitions ultimately ended up being canceled.
Air Berlin Turkey ultimately proved to be a short-lived venture. Data from ch-aviation shows that all three of its Boeing 737-800s left the carrier in early 2012 (two in March and one in April). At this point, its operations were absorbed into Pegasus Airlines itself.
Izmir Airlines, otherwise known as IZair, suffered a similar fate in December 2018. Of the aircraft that flew for Air Berlin Turkey, TC-IZF remains active at TUI to this day. Meanwhile, TC-IZB and TC-IZC are in storage, having last flown for Brazilian carrier GOL.
What are your memories of flying on Air Berlin’s 737s? How many did you fly on back in the day? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!