The “Inter-esting” History of Interflug
When you think of a German airline, the first carrier that probably comes to mind is Lufthansa. But did you know that Germany had two national airlines prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism? Lufthansa (West Germany) and Interflug (East Germany). Let’s take a trip down memory lane and learn the history of the unique airline known as Interflug.
Interflug, known in German as (Interflug Gesellschaft für internationalen Flugverkehr m.b.H), was the national airline of the German Democratic Republic between its founding in 1963 until its demise in 1991. The airline was based in East Berlin and flew from its hub at Berlin Schönefeld Airport.
Up until 1945, Deutsche Luft Hansa proudly served as the flag carrier in Germany. Once World War II ended, and the allied powers occupied Germany, all of the aircraft were seized and the airline was liquidated. In 1954, a West German company bought the Lufthansa trademark and in 1955, Deutsche Lufthansa was created as a rival East German flag carrier. This meant that there would be two separate and distinct companies operating in Germany under the same name.
Once it became apparent that the East German “Lufthansa” would lose their lawsuit, they created a backup carrier named Interflug on September 18th, 1958. This airline was intended to operate using charter flights, however, in 1963 the East German Lufthansa was officially liquidated, and the remaining fleet, staff, and route network were transferred to Interflug.
Interflug was a state owned airline with approximately 8,000 employees. Each of these employees was under the control of the National Defense Council, whom had control over the East German armed forces. A majority of the pilots working for Interflug were reserve officers of the National People’s Army, and flight attendant’s needed to be approved by the Stasi to assess their “political reliability” to minimize escape attempts when traveling abroad. Interflug crews were banned from associating with employees of airlines from non-socialist countries.
Through the 1960’s, Interflug saw rapid growth and development. The Ilyushin Il-18 turboprop aircraft became the backbone of the airlines fleet and primarily flew their short haul routes. The airline was intended to be the launch customer and primary operator of the East German made Baade 152 (an early jetliner), however, it never developed past the prototype phase and was abandoned in 1961.
In 1969, the Tupolev Tu-134 entered the fleet and was the first jetliner operated by Interflug, primarily on routes within Europe. The Ilyushin Il-62 entered service in 1971 and flew the airlines long range routes. This was the same year that the airline surpassed the 1 million passenger mark for those 12 calendar months.
After the energy crisis of the 1970’s, Interflug slowly reduced and ended its domestic route network, with the final flight taking place between East Berlin and Erfurt in April of 1980.
The 1980’s were an even rougher time period for Interflug. The airline was forced to deal with problems from it’s aging fleet and the fuel efficiency problems these old aircraft had. The Russian built Tupolev and Ilyushin aircraft were inferior in comparison to Western airliners, and with the noise protection regulations implemented in various countries around Europe, they were forced to pay increased landing fees and even faced bans from certain airports.
Due to the CoCom embargo, airlines of the Soviet Bloc were banned from purchasing Western airliners from Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and Airbus. Once the Perestroika movement began, these rules were gradually relaxed, with LOT Polish Airlines ordering six Boeing 767’s, Malev Hungarian Airlines ordering various Boeing aircraft, and Interflug joining the party by ordering three Airbus A310 aircraft for their long haul flights.
Interflug had their first new Airbus A310 delivered on June 26th, 1989. The crew training and maintenance took place in West Germany due to the lack of experienced trainers and parts in East Germany. The first route flown with the Airbus A310 was a non-stop flight to Cuba. Prior to the introduction of the Airbus A310, the airline had to make a refueling stop in Gander International Airport in Canada. The Airbus A310 would also fly to Moscow, Bangkok, and Singapore.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989, a number of foreign airlines expressed interest in taking over the massively unprofitable Interflug. Many airlines wanted to jump into the German market, especially a re-unified Berlin. Lufthansa attempted to acquire 26% of Interflug in March of 1990, but was blocked by the Federal Cartel Office. British Airways also attempted to take over Interflug, but those plans fell through as well. In response, British Airways created the airline Deutsche BA in 1992.
Interflug joined the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on July 1st, 1990. However, just three short months later, the airline came under the administration of the Treuhandanstalt, and on February 7th, 1991, Interflug was liquidated. At the time of its liquidation, the airline employed 2,900 people and had a fleet of 20 aircraft. The last operating flight was between Berlin – Vienna – Berlin on April 30th, 1991 using the Tupolev Tu-134 aircraft.
The three Airbus A310 aircraft were transferred to the Federal Republic of Germany and operated by the German Air Force. They are used to transport VIP politicians and the German Chancellor.
Interflug Historical Fleet:
- Aero Ae45 (1956-1961)
- Airbus A310 (1989-1991)
- Antonov An-2 (1957-1962)
- Antonov An-24 (1966-1975)
- Dash-8-100 (1990-1991)
- Let 410UVP (1991)
- Ilyushin Il-14 (1955-1967)
- Ilyushin Il-18 (1961-1991)
- Ilyushin Il-62 (1970-1991)
- Tupolev Tu-124 (unk)
- Tupolev Tu-134 (1969-1991)
- Tupolev Tu-154M (1991)
Interflug was a state owned company and had an important role to secure foreign exchanges since the East German mark was a weak currency. Since Interflug was not a member of the IATA (until right before its demise), they could undercut the ticket prices of any European airline. During the 1970s onward, they focused on operating charter flights to Mediterranean and Black Sea holiday resorts catered towards West Germans (since East Germans were restricted from traveling). Passengers traveling on Interflug from West Germany could take a scheduled shuttle bus or cross the special checkpoint at Waltersdorfer Chaussee.
The rock bottom ticket prices of Interflug created problems for airlines operating out of Berlin Tegel Airport in West Berlin. Airlines could not compete with Interflug, and the pilots of Pan Am even offered to operate flights without pay to allow their airline to compete with them.
The Tupolev Tu-154M’s that wore Interflug colors were actually delivered to the NVA Nationale Volksarmee for VIP flights. In a socialist state like East Germany, the head of state had to be seen flying in the same manner as everyone else, even though the inside of the aircraft was obviously not the same as a traditional passenger carrying Interflug plane.
Interflug also attempted to setup a charter division in cooperation with Condor named “InterCondor”. The airline would operate Boeing 757-200 aircraft on flights to Spanish destinations (Spanish mainland, Balear Islands, Canary Islands). The joint venture even printed postcards, but the operation never materialized.