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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 09:34 GMT
Air legend Sir Freddie Laker dies
Sir Freddie Laker

Sir Freddie Laker, the British pioneer of charter airlines, has died in the United States at the age of 83.

Sir Freddie, who introduced cheap air travel to the world in the 1970s, died of undisclosed causes in Miami, a family friend said.

At its peak, Laker Airways offered London to New York tickets for 118, but was forced out of business in 1982.

Fellow airline tycoon Sir Richard Branson paid tribute to Sir Freddie as "one of Britain's great entrepreneurs".

Price wars

Sir Richard, owner of Virgin Atlantic, described him as a pioneer.

"I think we all have a lot to thank him for," he said.

"If it hadn't been for Sir Freddie you wouldn't most likely have had Virgin Atlantic. You wouldn't have had the Easyjets of this world."

Sir Freddie, who was knighted in 1978, served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and went on to work for British United Airlines.

He was a larger-than-life figure, with a wicked sense of humour and a great friend
Sir Richard Branson

He left British United to launch Laker Airways in 1966 - using a business model similar to the budget carriers of today.

The pinnacle of his venture came with the launch of the Laker Skytrain in 1977 - the first low-cost transatlantic operation.

Although popular with the public, Laker Airways became embroiled in price wars with more powerful companies and eventually went bust, owing 270m.

Smaller projects

Members of the public set up a "save Laker" fund and raised more than 1m in donations in a bid to see his company resurrected.

Sir Richard Branson (L) and Sir Freddie Laker
Sir Richard Branson named a plane after Sir Freddie

He made several attempts to re-launch the airline, but was eventually blocked by the Civil Aviation Authority.

He then moved to Miami, and later to the Bahamas, where he stayed in the airline business working on smaller projects from his home.

Sir Richard said: "Virgin Atlantic named one of our planes Spirit of Sir Freddie in recognition of our respect for him.

"He was a larger-than-life figure, with a wicked sense of humour and a great friend."

Easyjet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou said he had been inspired by Sir Freddie.

"Arguably he was a true pioneer because he was ahead of his time," he told BBC Breakfast.

"He was competing with British Airways and the American Airlines back then, before there were the laws to support him and protect him and therefore the big airlines succeeded in putting him out of business.

"He only succeeded a few years later in getting compensation out of them in court so it was a landmark case in unfair competition and he sort of inspired all of us to carry on and survive."

BBC Radio 2 presenter Janice Long told listeners to her show of her days as a Laker Airways stewardess, regularly flying to New York, Toronto and Barbados.

She said: "He really brought those places to the man in the street. And it was incredible. You didn't have to pay for headphones or anything like that, you know. It was all inclusive.

"And he was so good to his staff as well. Occasionally it would be like - right tomorrow he's taking all of you lot out to Majorca. And off you'd go. He was lovely. He was a really good man."


SEE ALSO:
Freddie Laker: Your Comments
09 Feb 06 |  Have Your Say


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