Remembering Inex Adria Aviopromet: The Precursor To Adria Airways

Adria Airways, Slovenia’s flag carrier that declared bankruptcy last year, was a 58-year old airline created in Yugoslavia that previously also operated under the brand names of Inex Adria Airways, Inex Adria Aviopromet, and Adria Aviopromet. Let’s take a look at the history of this airline, which started out with a base in Zagreb Airport until it moved to Ljubljana Airport in Slovenia, where it then operated for over five decades.

Inex Adria Airways Bremen Ljubljana DC-9
An Inex Adria Airways McDonnell Douglas DC-9 aircraft in Bremen, on a charter flight from Yugoslavia in 1978. Photo: Oxfordian Kissuth via Wikimedia

1. The founding: Adria Aviopromet

Adria Airways was founded in 1961 under the name Adria Aviopromet, as per its own archived history page. The year 1961 was a time when Slovenia was a part of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As such, it was founded as a state enterprise, and its operations were somewhat constrained by the government’s protectionism of the Yugoslav flag carrier JAT Yugoslav Airlines. Still, Adria Aviopromet positioned itself as a charter airline, in contrast to JAT’s scheduled services. The two airlines cooperated by sharing a staff training center and through code-share agreements on domestic routes.

Adria started operations with a fleet of used Douglas DC-6B aircraft. This aircraft was too large to land in Slovenia’s Ljubljana Airport at the time, so Adria Aviopromet used Zagreb Airport as its base until 1964. The Douglas DC-6B aircraft were acquired from KLM, to which they were delivered in 1952.

One of these DC-6Bs, registered YU-AFF, has been parked on display since 1972 in Slovenia, at Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport. YouTube user Han de Ridder posted a video of this aircraft’s interior and exterior.

2. The early years: International presence

From the routes that Adria Aviopromet operated for the first few years since its founding, it is evident that the company was created as a charter airline. In a 60-year old document seen by Simple Flying, Adria Aviopromet announced the details of one such charter arrangement. On 26th June 1963, an Adria aircraft left Zagreb, Croatia, heading for Toronto. On its way there, it made a stop in Shannon, Ireland. The total duration of the flight was over 19 hours. This is almost twice the current length that Air Canada Rouge and Air Transat schedule for flights between Zagreb and Toronto.

On its way back, the Adria Aviopromet aircraft flew Toronto-Gander-Shannon-Zagreb, carrying 81 Yugoslav nationals back for summer holidays. The 81 passengers then returned to Canada on 27th August 1963. Adria continued to operate such charter flights to Canada and the USA with greater intensity in 1964, in cooperation with Pan American and Canadian Pacific Airlines.

Inex Adria Aviopromet
Adria modernized its fleet with 150-seat McDonnell Douglas DC9 aircraft in 1969, when it became Inex Adria Aviopromet. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia

3. The 1970s in Yugoslavia: Inex Adria Aviopromet

Adria Aviopromet actually declared bankruptcy in 1968, following which it was incorporated in a company based in Belgrade, according to Alen Šćuric. This was also when Adria Aviopromet changed its name to Inex Adria Aviopromet.

In the 1970s, Adria capitalized on the status of Yugoslavia as a coastal European country open to Western visitors. The airline embarked on a serious expansion of operations from the coastal Adriatic cities of Dubrovnik, Split, Pula, and Tivat. From there, it flew to all of Yugoslavia’s mainland airports to serve domestic tourists, and to destinations in Germany, France, Scandinavia, and Britain, for charter operations hired by European travel agencies.

For this expansion, the airline also modernized its fleet. In 1969, the Douglas DC-6B aircraft were replaced with McDonnell Douglas DC 9s. As tourism to Yugoslavia grew, Adria acquired more aircraft. At the start of the 1980s, the airline received new 167-seat McDonnell Douglas MD-80 airplanes. By 1984 it also added two 48-seat Dash 7 aircraft so that it can connect smaller regional airports of Yugoslavia to the Adriatic coast.

4. The 1980s: Tough start to the decade

In 1981, Inex Adria Aviopromet suffered the first and the deadliest of all crashes involving a McDonnell Douglas MD-81, when Flight 1308 crashed in Mont San-Pietro, in France. The aircraft was heading from Ljubljana to Ajaccio with 180 people on board.

Ahead of the break-up of Yugoslavia, towards the end of the 1980s, Adria also maintained scheduled flights to Munich, London, and Paris. The airline managed to serve 1,740,000 passengers in a single year, which was a record in Adria’s 58-year history. The airline never reached numbers this high after Slovenia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Adria’s fleet also saw a major expansion just before Slovenia’s independence, with the arrival of three new Airbus A320 aircraft between 1989 and 1990.

This was also the time when Adria returned back to being an independent company headquartered in Slovenia, and so it changed its name from Inex Adria Aviopromet to Adria Airways.

Adria Airways MD-82 London Gatwick Ljubljana Slovenia
Adria Airways aircraft operated charter flights to Western Europe, including London Gatwick, pictured. Photo: Tim Rees via Wikimedia

5. The national airline of Slovenia: Adria Airways in the 1990s

When Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Adria’s major expansion came to a halt. Yugoslavia’s Civil Aviation Administration was still in charge of Slovenia’s airspace at the time. It decided to make use of this power to ban Adria from flying. Furthermore, the Yugoslav Federal Air Force attacked Adria’s hangar and damaged much of its assets. This included severe damage to the brand new Airbus A320 aircraft. Some aircraft escaped damage hours before the attack because Adria sheltered them in Austria.

Military hostilities in Slovenia ended relatively quickly. However, with wars ongoing in Croatia and Bosnia, Adria was left with a severely reduced market. Adria started leasing out its aircraft because it could not make use of the fleet.

Following Slovenia’s declaration of independence, Adria Airways abandoned its purpose as a charter airline and became a flag carrier operating mostly scheduled services. For this purpose, the airline signed its first code-share agreements with Lufthansa in 1995, as it started positioning itself as a regional feeder airline. Four MD82s, one MD80, two Dash 7s and three DC 9-30s are all sold, and gradually replaced with four CRJ 200 aircraft.

Adria Airways received brand new Airbus A320 aircraft starting in 1999. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia

6. The early 2000s: searching for new markets

Following the loss of its major domestic market of Yugoslavia, and having down-sized as an airline, Adria Airways tried to position itself as a link between Western Europe and Bosnia, Macedonia, and Albania, via its hub in Ljubljana. For example, Adria was the first airline to fly to Pristina since the Kosovo War ended in 1999.

In 2002, Adria became the first authorized Bombardier maintenance facility for CRJ aircraft. Subsequently, by 2005 it acquired its fifth CRJ 200 airplane. CRJ900 aircraft joined the fleet in 2007, and two CRJ900NextGen were acquired in 2008 and 2009. With a fleet of such aircraft, Adria capitalized on its status as a regional connector airline by stepping up its partnership with Lufthansa to a near-full code-share coverage of its own network. In 2004, Adria joined Star Alliance. Later on, Adria also became a Star Alliance feeder from Tirana in Albania and Kosovo in Pristina, to the Lufthansa Group hubs in Europe.

The decade that then followed was loss-making and tumultuous for Adria Airways. It would eventually lead to privatization and, ultimately, bankruptcy. We’ll cover this period in the second part of this article, on Wednesday next week.

Have you ever flown with Inex Adria Aviopromet or Adria Airways? Let us know of your experience with this airline in the comments below.