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Last Updated: Friday, 10 February 2006, 10:05 GMT
Obituary: Sir Freddie Laker
Millionaire entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker has died in Miami aged 83, after spending most of his life devoted to the aviation industry.

Sir Freddie Laker
Sir Freddie Laker took on the world's biggest airlines

The high point of his career came in the 1970s, when - with his bold entrepreneurial style - he took on the combined might of the world's major airlines by offering cheap transatlantic flights.

Ultimately, his Laker Airways operation was squeezed out by more powerful rivals.

But his vision inspired the following generation, with the likes of Sir Richard Branson taking up his mantle.

Sir Freddie started his working life on the bottom rung of the ladder - as floor-sweeper in an aircraft factory in Rochester, Kent.

During his school days in Canterbury, he had always told teachers that he wanted to be a millionaire, and his rise from tea boy to tycoon was rapid.

He studied aero-engineering and served for three years in the RAF.

After World War II he went into business as a war-surplus aircraft dealer, making his first fortune.

Dream

The Soviet blockade of west Berlin paved the way for Sir Freddie to move into civil aviation.

The Berlin airlifts of 1948, when all available craft were used to get supplies into Berlin, allowed his business to flourish.

By 1954 he was using his aircraft to fly cars and their passengers from Southend to Calais.

Sir Freddie Laker
Sir Freddie lived a quiet life after the failure of Skytrain

After various company mergers, he became managing director of British United Airways in 1960 - but his dream was still to own his own airline.

In the mid-1960s Sir Freddie split from British United, forming Laker Airways - an airline that would be more like a train.

Travellers could arrive without booking and buy a cheap flight, and in-flight meals would be paid for separately.

His next battle came when he tried to launch a transatlantic service.

He spent years persuading governments and business rivals before launching the hugely popular Skytrain in 1978.

The six largest airlines flying between the UK and the US - including Pan Am and TWA - held meetings to plot Laker's downfall.

With Sir Freddie struggling with debt and a fall in the value of the pound, it was Pan Am's decision to cut economy fares by 66% which finally killed off the Skytrain.

In 1982, Laker Airways collapsed.

Thatcher's icon

Sir Freddie worked on smaller projects and kept a lower profile for the rest of his life, but still gave the occasional interview.

He told the BBC in 2002: "I had 29 airlines ganged up against me - I was [Margaret Thatcher's] icon when she was talking about competition.

"But of course as soon as the heat was put on, she got me kicked out."

Sir Freddie, who was married four times, died in Florida, where he had spent much of the past 20 years.


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