What Happened To Sterling Airlines?

When it comes to air travel in Denmark, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is comfortably the biggest player. However, the country is also home to several smaller scheduled and charter airlines that play an important role in the Danish aviation sector. Historically speaking, there have been several more of these smaller carriers, including low-cost operator Sterling Airlines. Let’s take a look back at the history and fate of this former Danish carrier.

Sterling Airlines Boeing 737
Almost all of Sterling’s aircraft when it folded were 737s. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons

Origins as a charter carrier

All in all, the use of the Sterling name in Danish commercial aviation lasted nearly half a century. The story began in 1962, when the Tjæreborg travel agency decided it would acquire aircraft to start an airline to serve its package holidays to the Mediterranean.

The planes it started operations with were a pair of ex-Swissair Douglas DC-6s. Tjæreborg flew these four-engine piston-powered aircraft under the name Sterling Airways. This marked the beginning of over three decades of charter operations for the carrier.

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Sterling Airways Sud Aviation Caravelle
Sterling entered the jet age with the SE 210 Caravelle. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons

As the airline grew, it acquired further DC-6s in 1963. Two years later, Sterling Airways received its first jetliner in the form of the French-designed Sud Aviation SE 210 ‘Caravelle.’ By the time of its 25th anniversary, in 1987, it had 19 aircraft and 1,300 employees.

A change of emphasis

Unfortunately, the original Sterling Airways went bankrupt in 1993. One of the aircraft that left the airline in the aftermath of this, a Boeing 757, has since gone on to be acquired by former US President Donald Trump for use as a private jet. However, the airline was revived in 1994 (albeit as a smaller three-aircraft affair) under the name Sterling European Airlines.

Donald Trump Boeing 757
Donald Trump’s recognizable black 757 used to belong to Sterling. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr

At the turn of the century, Sterling opted to shift its focus from holiday charter operations to low-cost scheduled services. It continued to fly from Scandinavia to southern Europe under this model, while also adding intra-Scandinavia services between Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo. It merged with Maersk Air in 2005, and was renamed as just Sterling Airlines.

The end of the line

The merger seemed a promising move at first, with the newly-established Sterling Airlines expanding its offering by adding a buy-on-board catering and duty-free service. Passengers even had the option to pre-order their items. However, various factors prompted Sterling Airlines to cease operations just three years after the Maersk Air merger.

Cimber Sterling Boeing 737
Cimber revived the Sterling brand between 2009 and 2012. Photo: Scott Wright via Wikimedia Commons

2008 saw the carrier face a dual-pronged crisis that consisted first of a rise in fuel prices in the opening half of the year. Then, in October 2008, the Icelandic financial crisis caused one of the airline’s key investors to take a significant financial hit.

This was the final nail in the coffin, and Sterling declared bankruptcy on October 29th, 2008. It ceased its operations at this point, grounding its entire fleet. The Sterling name briefly returned in 2009 when Cimber Air acquired the carrier to form Cimber Sterling. However, the airline went bankrupt within three years, bringing the story to an end in May 2012.

Do you remember Sterling Airlines and/or its predecessors? Perhaps you even flew with the carrier at some point during its existence? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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