A Brief History Of Malév Hungarian Airlines

Landlocked in central Europe, Hungary is a country that presently doesn’t have a flag carrier. In fact, ultra-low-cost carrier Wizz Air is the only scheduled operator to be based within its borders, alongside a handful of charter and freight airlines. However, not long ago, the country did have a national carrier in the form of Malév Hungarian Airlines. This is its story.

Malev Tupolev Tu-154
Over the years, Malév flew a mixture of Soviet and Western aircraft. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Over half a century of operations

While Malév Hungarian Airlines commenced operations in November 1954, its roots can be traced back further. After the Second World War, March 1946 saw the foundation of the Hungarian-Soviet Civil Air Transport Joint Stock Company. Known as Maszlovet, this became Malév eight years later when Hungary acquired the Soviet Union’s share in it.

In its early years, the carrier flew an interesting range of Soviet aircraft. Among these was the Lisunov Li-2, which was a Soviet-licensed version of the famous Douglas DC-3. As the airline grew, so did its aircraft, and the acquisition of larger Ilyushin Il-14 and Il-18 turboprops followed in the late-1950s and mid-1960s. Before long, Malév also entered the jet age.

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Malev Boeing 767
The early-1990s saw Malév begin to fly the Boeing 767. Photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia Commons

It did so in 1968, when it obtained Tupolev Tu-134s to unlock services to destinations further afield in Europe and even the Middle East. The larger Tu-154 trijet followed in 1974. However, amid a complex political background, Western-built aircraft also began to play more of a role. This began in 1988, when Malév began flying the Boeing 737-200 in 1988.

A diverse fleet

The events of the late 20th century saw Malév transition from a Soviet fleet to one full of Western aircraft. Having initially operated aircraft from manufacturers such as Ilyushin,  Lisunov, Tupolev, and Yakovlev, the Boeing 737’s arrival in 1988 heralded change.

It wasn’t just US aircraft that graced Malév’s fleet after the late-1980s. Indeed, while data from ch-aviation.com shows that it did fly models from the Boeing 737 and 767 families, other manufacturers also had a presence. These included British Aerospace (BAe 146-200QT), Bombardier (Dash 8 and CRJ families), and Fokker (Fokker 70).

Malév oneworld Getty
Malév joined the oneworld alliance in March 2007. Photo: Getty Images

The end of the line

Moving into the 21st century, Malév withdrew its last Tupolev Tu-154 in 2001. Six years later, it became a privately-owned company, when 99.9% of the airline was acquired by AirBridge. Things were looking up at the time for Malév, which then became a member of oneworld a month later. However, all would change within the next five years.

The mid to late-2000s saw several CEO changes at Malév. Lloyd Paxton replaced János Gönci in July 2007, but resigned two months later, so Péter Leonov stepped in. Martin Gauss then took over the role in April 2009, but the establishment of a salary cap by the following year by the Hungarian government also partially prompted his departure.

Following its renationalization two years beforehand, Malév eventually hit the buffers in February 2012. It was $270.5 million in debt, and had requested further government subsidies to support its ongoing operations. However, the seizure of its aircraft by creditors brought the curtain down for good, ending 66 years of Hungarian aviation history.

What are your memories of Malév Hungarian Airlines? Did you ever fly with Hungary’s former flag carrier? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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