From Viscounts To Boeing 777s – The History Of Austrian Airlines

Austrian Airlines is a key member of the Lufthansa Group. Based in Vienna, the carrier flies more than 60 jet-powered narrowbody and widebody aircraft to a range of European and intercontinental destinations. A Star Alliance member since 2000, Austrian marked 63 years of operations this year, although we can trace its history back further.

Austrian Airlines Boeing 777 Getty
Austrian Airlines’ largest aircraft are presently its Boeing 777s. Photo: Getty Images

Austrian Airlines came into existence as an Aktiengesellschaft (joint-stock company) in September 1957, and commenced operations the following March. Initially flying Vickers Viscount turboprops on European routes, it soon entered the jet age. This enabled it to forge an intercontinental network, which it retains today as a member of the Star Alliance.

Formed through a merger

Air travel in Austria dates back to before the Second World War. A carrier known as Österreichische Luftverkehrs AG served the country from 1923, eventually becoming Europe’s fourth-largest airline. However, Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1939 eventually led to the company being deleted from the commercial register.

After the war had ended, Air Austria and Austrian Airways were established in 1955 to rebuild Austrian aviation in this new era. However, they merged just two years later to form the carrier that we know today as Austrian Airways. This new airline commenced operations in March 1958, flying a leased Vickers Viscount from Vienna to London via Zürich.

Austrian Airlines Vickers Viscount
Austrian leased its first Vickers Viscounts, before buying later models. Photo: Austrian Airlines via Wikimedia Commons

Into the jet age

The Vickers Viscount was a key aircraft for Austrian’s early development. It even ended up buying later models to replace its earlier leased versions. However, moving into the 1960s, new propulsion technology was becoming available. As well as seeing the launch of Austrian’s first domestic services, 1963 also saw the carrier order its first jetliner.

The aircraft in question was the Sud Aviation SE 210 ‘Caravelle,’ a French-built rear-engined twinjet. It configured these planes with 80 seats, and the type provided the backbone of Austrian’s fleet for a decade. By the end of the 1960s, Austrian had entered the long-haul market, flying to New York via Brussels in co-operation with Sabena.

In the 1970s, Austrian also began flying US jetliners such as the Douglas DC-9. This twinjet later replaced the Caravelle as the core of Austrian’s fleet. In the 1980s, Austrian took delivery of several different McDonnell Douglas MD-80 family variants, having been the first carrier to place an order for the type back in 1977. But how about its more recent history?

From Viscounts To Boeing 777s – The History Of Austrian Airlines
Today, Austrian’s Boeing 767s are among its oldest aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

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21st-century developments

Austrian ended the 20th century with several acquisitions, wholly buying Tyrolean Airways and also taking a 35% stake in Lauda Air. Moving into the new millennium, March 2000 saw it become the eighth member of the Star Alliance. It was just the third non-founder to join the group, following Air New Zealand and ANA the previous year.

Following the airline’s privatization, it was acquired by the Lufthansa Group, of which it is now a subsidiary, in 2009. The 2000s also saw Austrian implement a fleet standardization program, which largely remains in place today. Its long-haul jets are all Boeing designs, while its (non-regional) narrowbody fleet is an all-Airbus affair. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Austrian to close its non-Vienna bases, so it will be interesting to see how it recovers.

What do you make of Austrian Airlines? Have you had any particularly memorable flights with the carrier? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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