Freddie Laker - environmentalist
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Few people regarded Freddie Laker, the airline pioneer who died yesterday, as an environmentalist.   They found it difficult to see beyond the flamboyant entrepreneur who brought a new rolls Royce every year, owned a yacht and enjoyed horse breeding and racing.   But he was one.

He made his first fortune helping to save the west from Communism.   In 1948 he had bought 12 Halifax bombers converted for carrying cargo and he used them in the Berlin Airlift.  During the year-long Russian blockade his aircraft flew 2,577 round trips and carried 12 percent of the total tonnage.

His company later bought and sold surplus wartime combat aircraft for scrap, making him the only man to “turn Spitfires back into saucepans”.

His finest hour came when his low cost transatlantic airline “Skytrain” broke the government cartels of BOAC, and Pan Am in 1977. 

It is difficult to recall how primitive airlines were, before Laker.  The rich paid over the odds and were served champagne on the flight.  The poor had to fight their way through regulatory red tape and pretend to be members of so called “affinity groups” of like minded individuals travelling together to be entitled to reduced fares. 

The hidden inconveniences were huge.   It was difficult to fly on the day you wanted, lawyers had a field day deciding which groups were genuine, and the planes flew half empty. 

Laker’s Skytrain changed all that.   Passengers turned up, bought their tickets and boarded. When the flight was full, they waited for the next. They bought their own food, and the fares were low.   Safety wasn’t compromised and none of the planes crashed.

He was profitable because he cut costs. His planes flew full.  He pioneered reduced-thrust takeoffs, which meant longer flying hours per aircraft and fewer overhauls.   He reduced over manning and paid his staff the market rate, with incentives for efficiency.

The best environmentalists reduce waste and run their operations efficiently, and Laker did just that. 

He was eventually brought down by a secret cartel of British Airways, Pan Am, and TWA.   Pan Am cut its economy fares by 66 per cent and in February 1982 Skytrain was forced into receivership.  

Eventually Laker and the receiver recovered £88 million in an anti-trust action, most of which went to pay his creditors, Pan Am went deservedly bust, TWA was acquired by American Airlines and British Airways was privatised. 

Laker’s legacy lives on in the shape of Easy Jet, Ryan Air and the other low cost airlines. 

So the next time some champagne socialist bemoans the environmental damage of low cost airlines encouraging poor people to fly, ask him who is damaging the environment more.  The businessman spread out in BA's half empty Club Class, or the economy passenger on Easy Jet? 

If they fail to get the point ask them whether it’s better to drive to work in a Hummer or a Polo?

Today iGreens mourn Freddie Laker, a great environmentalist. 

10 Feb 2006


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Last modified: September 20, 2006