Freddie Laker

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Skytrain titles on a Laker Airways Douglas DC-10 at Manchester Airport in 1979

Sir Frederick Alfred Laker (6 August 1922 – 9 February 2006) was an English airline entrepreneur, best known for founding Laker Airways in 1966, which went bankrupt in 1982.

Known as “Freddie Laker”, he was one of the first airline owners to adopt the “no-frills” airline business model that has since proven to be very successful worldwide with companies such as Southwest Airlines, Norwegian Air, Ryanair, easyJet, AirAsia and WestJet.

Laker came from Canterbury in Kent, and attended the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, from which he was expelled, before starting work in aviation with Short Brothers in Rochester. He was a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary during and immediately after World War II (1941–46).

He then worked briefly for British European Airways (BEA) and London Aero Motor Services (LASM). Having borrowed £38,000 from a wealthy friend to top up his own savings of £4,500, he subsequently went into business as a war-surplus aircraft dealer.

The Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948–49, during which all available aircraft were needed to fly essential supplies into West Berlin, allowed his business to flourish as this provided more than a year’s work for his planes and employees almost immediately. This period often saw Laker flying the aircraft himself.

By 1954, Channel Air Bridge, his second airline venture, was flying cars and their owners in Bristol Freighters from Southend Airport (Rochford) to Calais.

In 1958, he sold Air Charter, Aviation Traders and Channel Air Bridge to Airwork.

All three companies joined the Airwork group in 1959. Following the Airwork–Hunting-Clan merger in 1960, he became managing director of British United Airways.

He departed British United in 1965 and formed his own airline, Laker Airways, in 1966, initially operating charter flights with a pair of turboprop planes acquired second-hand from British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

The livery was a mixture of black and red with a bold LAKER logo on the tailplane. He offered a brand-new, revolutionary concept of economic air travel requiring passengers to purchase their tickets on the day of travel as well as to buy their own food. These flights were operated by Laker Airways and marketed under the Skytrain trademark.

Following the successful launch of Skytrain in 1977 he was knighted the following year in recognition of his services to the airline industry.

He received an honorary degree from the University of Strathclyde in 1981.

Sir Freddie Laker divided his final years between his waterfront home in Princess Isle, Grand Bahama Island, where he kept his yacht, The Lady Jacqueline, and Florida. Sir Freddie died at the age of 83 in a suburban hospital in Hollywood in Florida, following complications from cardiac surgery to implant a pacemaker.

He was survived by his fourth wife, Jacqueline Harvey, a former airline hostess he married in 1985, and also by his two children. His daughter, Elaine, was by his first wife Joan with whom he also had a son, Kevin, who died in 1965 at the age of 17 after crashing a sports car Freddie had given him for his birthday. His son Freddie Allen Laker – also a successful entrepreneur – was born to his third wife, Patricia Gates, with whom he also had another son who died in infancy.

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