Why SAS Is The Flag Carrier Of Three Countries

Flag carrier airlines play an important role in representing their home country on an international level. They are often among a nation’s most recognizable brands, and have close ties to the culture and heritage of the country in question. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) serves this role for three different nations, but why is this the case?

SAS Getty
SAS has been in existence since 1946. Photo: Getty Images

Intercontinental consolidation

SAS, whose full name is Scandinavian Airline Systems, came into being shortly after the Second World War. The idea of a collective airline for the region first arose when three Nordic carriers joined forces to consolidate their intercontinental traffic. These airlines were:

  • Det Danske Luftfartselskab (flag carrier of Denmark, founded in 1918).
  • Det Norske Luftfartselskap (flag carrier of Norway, founded in 1927).
  • Svensk Interkontinental Lufttrafik (Swedish airline formed in 1943 by influential banker Marcus Wallenberg Jr).

The three carriers officially formed their partnership on August 1st, 1946, under the presidency of Per Norlin from Svensk Interkontinental Lufttrafik. Just over six weeks later, the group had operated its first consolidated intercontinental service. This maiden voyage saw SAS fly from the Swedish capital of Stockholm to New York City.

A preserved Douglas DC-3 wearing an early SAS livery. Photo: Towpilot via Wikimedia Commons

The official merger

SAS grew steadily in its early years, and even set a record for the heaviest single piece of transatlantic cargo carried on a scheduled passenger airliner. This saw it ferry a 1,400-pound (635 kg) electrical panel from New York to Sweden, for use by Sandvik AB.

1948 saw Swedish flag carrier AB Aerotransport join the party, when it coordinated its European operations with the SAS network. Three years later, in 1951, the four member airlines solidified their partnership by officially merging to form the SAS Consortium.

The three-country nature of the airline’s makeup is reflected in its legal name. While we passengers only see SAS or Scandinavian Airlines, the company is legally known as ‘Scandinavian Airline Systems Denmark-Norway-Sweden.’

SAS Airbus A340 San Francisco
When SAS was officially formed, Sweden had the largest share. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Each country had its own share in the airline, of which private investors owned 50%. Meanwhile, their governments possessed the other half. The breakdown of the shares was:

  • SAS Danmark – 28.6%.
  • SAS Norge – 28.6%.
  • SAS Sverige – 42.8%.

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SAS today

With Sweden having the largest stake in the airline, it is perhaps unsurprising that its present headquarters are situated in Stockholm. However, interestingly enough, its largest hub is situated at Copenhagen-Kastrup Airport in nearby Denmark.

SAS Boeing 747
SAS flew 10 747s between 1971 and 1997. Photo: SAS Museet via Flickr

The Danish capital is also home to the airline’s logistics subsidiary, SAS Cargo. SAS’s other major hubs are at Stockholm Arlanda and Oslo Gardermoen. Meanwhile, it also has smaller bases in Bergen, Gothenburg, Stavanger, and Trondheim.

In terms of SAS’s current fleet, Planespotters.net reports that the carrier presently has 135 aircraft. Of these, just over half (70) are active, with the remaining 65 parked. SAS’s present intercontinental routes see service from the Airbus A330 and A350. However, in years gone by, it even operated the Boeing 747. Overall, SAS is a fascinating airline with a rich history that strongly connects the rest of the world with the wonders of Scandinavia.

Did you know that SAS was the flag carrier of three countries? Have you ever flown with the airline? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.