Featured image: Aldo Bidini/GFDL 1.2

7/08/1999: Aegean Airlines Takes Flight

DALLAS – Today, in 1999, Aegean Airlines (A3) made its maiden flight from Athens (ATH) to Heraklion (HER) and Thessaloniki (SKG).

The airline can actually trace its history back to 1987. After the deregulation of the Greek aviation industry, Antonios and Nicolaos Simidglades formed Aegean Aviation, a small private air-taxi operator.

Aegean would subsequently become the first airline to be issued an Independent Air Carrier Licence by the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority in 1992.

Rival Air Greece was purchased in December 1999. Photo: Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland/CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Aegean Airlines is Born

The carrier was then purchased by the Vassailakis Group in 1994 and was rebranded as Aegean Airlines in May, with the vision of creating ‘a high-quality carrier in Greece to rival Olympic.’

Scheduled domestic flights were launched using two brand new 100-seat Avro RJ100s. Six of the type would be operated, before the final example was retired on May 2, 2011.

In December 1999, A3 purchased its rival Air Greece (JG) and the combined carriers became the second largest in Greece overnight. The purchase also gave the airline its first international routes to Cologne (CGN), Düsseldorf (DUS), and Stuttgart (STR) from SKG and HER.

A further merger was completed in March 2001 with Cronus Airlines (X5) following a "period of dynamic development of both companies in parallel courses."

Looking resplendent in A3’s new livery is A320neo (SX-NEA). Photo: John Leivaditis/Airways

Fleet Upgrade

Aegean had previously operated a varied fleet of ATR-72s, RJ100s, Fokker 100s, and Boeing 737-300/400s, some of which had been added following the two mergers. In 2005 the decision was made to replace these with a single fleet type.

A battle ensued between Airbus and Boeing and following a ‘lengthy and detailed’ evaluation it was the European manufacturer who won the fight. Eight A320s and options for a further twelve were ordered in December 2005

The first (SX-DVG) arrived on February 22, 2007, and by June that year, the order had swelled to 25 including two A321s. As the new Airbus jets were delivered, the 737s were retired, with the last -400 series leaving in June 2011.

In March 2018, an order was placed for 30 A320neos, including at least ten A321neos with twelve options. The first of this order joined the fleet on February 13, 2020. The arrival of the new aircraft also saw the unveiling of a complete overhaul of the carrier, including a smart new livery and refreshed onboard product, unveiled at a lavish handover ceremony.

Olympic Air Dash 8-Q400 (SX-OBA). Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

Olympic Merger

In 2008, Greece went through a severe economic crisis that severely impacted both Aegean and its main rival, Olympic. In September 2009, the flag carrier was finally shut down by the government. A new privatized and rebranded “Olympic Air” was then born in a vain attempt to revive the once great airline.

But Olympic continued to generate losses, while Aegean continued to ramp up the pressure on its competitor. This paid off and in 2009, Aegean overtook its biggest competitor for the first time, carrying 6.6m passengers.

In February 2010 Aegean attempted to merge with its rival. But this was blocked by the European Commission on competition grounds. The combined carriers would have created a ‘quasi-monopoly’ controlling over 90% of domestic travel in Greece.

After two previous bids for the ailing airline, a further takeover attempt was finally accepted by authorities in October 2013. Olympic Air became an Aegean subsidiary, with the two operating under their own respective brands.

The featured image an A3 RJ100s from its six. The final example was retired in 2011.

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