Spantax S.A. was a Spanish leisure airline headquartered in Madrid that operated from 1959 to 1988. Spantax was one of the first Spanish airlines to operate tourist charter flights between European and North American cities and popular Spanish holiday destinations and was considered a major force in developing 20th-century mass tourism in Spain. Its popularity and image faded from the 1970s onward when a series of crashes and incidents revealed safety deficits, which, combined with rising fuel costs and increasing competition, resulted in the company facing severe financial difficulties that led to its demise in 1988.
Spanish Air Taxi Líneas Aéreas S.A. was founded on 6 October 1959 by ex-Iberia pilot Rodolfo Bay Wright and ex-Iberia flight attendant Marta Estades Sáez. The airline was based at Gran Canaria Airport in the Canary Islands, and began operations flying geologists and technicians who were searching for oil in the Sahara and Spanish West Africa. Initial destinations included El Farsia, Gaada, Itguy, Mardesiat, Tindouf, Dakhla, Lagouira and El Aaiún. In 1959 the fleet comprised three Airspeed Consuls, two Airspeed Oxfords, one Auster and a single Avro Anson. A Douglas DC-3 was added to the fleet in 1960.
At the end of 1960, the airline purchased two DC-3s from Swissair and these were placed into service from May 1961 operating tourist flights within the Canary Islands, and were joined by a Piper Apache for short flights. The fleet was joined in 1962 by a Beechcraft Model 18 executive aircraft, and a Bristol 170 which was leased from Iberia. The Bristol was returned to Iberia the following year, and four Douglas DC-4s were acquired; the first in the Belgian Congo and the other three from Aviaco. The pressurised long range Douglas DC-7C entered service with the airline in April 1963, and Spantax would eventually go on to operate eight of the aircraft which served destinations in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe. Between June 1963 and September 1967 the airline also acquired an additional four DC-4s, and in May 1965 it obtained two Douglas DC-6s.
Between 1962 and 1965 the airline operated DC-3s and a de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver on routes for Air Mauritanie, and in 1966 the airline became the first Spanish airline to operate the Fokker F27 Friendship turboprop, which was put into service on routes in the Canary Islands. On 7 December 1965, the airline suffered its first crash, when a DC-3 on a charter flight from Los Rodeos Tenerife to Gran Canaria crashed just after take-off, killing 28 passengers and 4 crew.
After receiving approval from the Spanish authorities to operate passenger charter flights, the airline moved its headquarters from Gran Canaria to Palma de Mallorca. The Balearic base was chosen due to the role that Mallorca had taken in the development of tourism in Spain, allowing the airline to gain prestige in the European market.
The airline entered the jet age when in February and May 1967 two Convair 990 four engine jetliners joined the fleet after being purchased second hand from American Airlines. Between 1968 and 1972, an additional eight Convair 990s would join the fleet; two of which were leased to Iberia Airlines between 1967 and 1969 whilst that airline experienced delays in the delivery of its own Douglas DC-8s. The airline acquired a further four Convairs from Swissair in April, May and June 1975, and the airline would become the world's largest operator of the type. The last one was retired in the mid 1980s.
Requiring an aircraft with intercontinental range, Spantax purchased two stretched Douglas DC-8-61CFs from Trans Caribbean Airways in February 1973, and would go on to operate an additional four of the type. Two DC-9-14s were acquired from Southern Airways in April 1974 in order to meet demand on charter flights on domestic and European routes. In October 1978 the airline put into service its first wide-body aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, and put it into service on charter routes to the United States. By 1980 the airline employed 1,168 people, carried 2,017,000 passengers and had revenues of 9.953 billion pesetas.
In 1983, Spantax became the first Spanish airline to fly to Japan via the polar route, with a stop in Anchorage, and in the same year Boeing 737-200s began to be added to the fleet, to replace the DC-9s. New flights from Palma de Mallorca to Turku, Kuopio, Tampere and Vaasa in Finland were begun with the 737s in 1984, and in the August 1984 the airline undertook charter flights to Venezuela with the DC-10s in conjunction with Iberia and VIASA.
By the mid-1980s, competition in the charter airline market in Europe was intense, and in conjunction with spiralling fuel prices, the fortunes of the airline took a turn. Having an outdated fleet, the company was forced to lease in 737s from SABENA, and two Boeing 747s and a DC-10 from Malaysian Airline System.
In 1987, plagued by financial troubles and labour strikes, Spantax was sold to the Aviation Finance Group, based in Luxembourg. The new owners had committed capital of 3 billion pesetas, and an investment of 4 billion pesetas. Debts to the Spanish authorities totaling 13 billion pesetas were reorganised for payment over a twenty five-year period, and a fleet renewal program would have seen the airline operating fifteen aircraft by 1993. Attempts to revamp and refinance the airline, renew its fleet with McDonnell Douglas MD-83s, and negotiate with China Airlines for acquisition of Boeing 767s were all unsuccessful. After the Kuwait Investment Authority withdrew from a planned offer to purchase the airline, Spantax ceased all operations on 29 March 1988, leaving some 7,000 passengers around Europe stranded.
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