KLM- Royal Dutch Airlines. Founded on October 7th 1919 is the first airline to operate for 100 years under its original brand name. Whilst other airlines including British Airways and Air Serbia can trace back as far as 1919 and 1923, those airlines have changed identities since their initial days as Imperial Airways and Aeroput. All though it should be noted KLM operations did suspend during World War 2, their planes and crews operating on behalf of BOAC and other airlines.
KLM’s first aircraft were Fokker F.II delivered in 1920, this a replica is on display at the Aviodrome.
KLM made their first flights in 1920 using a leased DeHavilland DH-16 from Amsterdam to London Croydon. The airline’s first main fleet was formed by Fokker F.II and F.III, starting a loyal co-operation between the Dutch flag carrier and Dutch aircraft manufacturer for over 95 years.
One of the last remaining airworthy Douglas DC-2 in the world preserved at Lelystad Aviodrome in Holland. This aircraft type wasn’t as popular as its successor the DC-3.
In late 1924, in time for the airlines 5th Anniversary- KLM introduced the Fokker F.VII “Tri-Motor” to launch inter-continental flights to Indonesia, which at the time was part of the Dutch Empire.
The Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation was the last long-haul propeller driven aircraft in the KLM fleet retiring 6 years after the Douglas DC-8 was introduced and 5 years before the Boeing 747s arrival. This example preserved at Aviodrome is airworthy despite not flying for a number of years.
In 1934, the airline would take on its first Douglas aircraft from the United States. Mainly the Douglas DC-2 and Douglas DC-3. This would begin another long-standing loyalty with the airline using both Douglas and Fokker products at the centre of their fleets for the next seventy five years.
The Douglas DC-3 was a staple of the KLM fleet for decades, this one is preserved in Lelystad, but another ex-KLM DC-3 (PH-DDA) is airworthy and often flies at events in Holland wearing a later KLM livery.
The airline began to rebuild its operations following the end of World War 2 in 1945. Various aircraft were introduced to modernise and re-build. Douglas provided the likes of the DC-4 and DC-6 alongside the Lockheed Electra-14.
The flight deck of PH-KZU on October 28th 2017. It had landed in LHR, and was preparing for its final service back to AMS. Was such a pleasure to take part in it!
Come the late 1950s, KLM decided to join the jet age to compete with the likes of BOAC, Pan Am and TWA on trans-Atlantic routes and in 1960 the airline became part of the so-called “Jet-Age” with the introduction of the Douglas DC-8, the airline operated various models of DC-8 until the final examples retired in 1985.
Introduced in 1971, and the last examples due to retire in 2021, the Boeing 747 will have enjoyed a 50 year run in KLM’s long haul network over 3 models. Currently the longest served aircraft type in the fleet.
Keeping with McDonnell-Douglas (the company that succeeded Douglas Corporation) the airline replaced its short haul prop liner fleets which by now included: Lockheed L-188 Electra, Vickers Viscount and Douglas DC-3 with the Douglas DC-9. Like with the larger long haul equivalent the DC-9 would fly with KLM under various models until 1989. A nose section of a DC-9 remains at Amsterdam Schipol outside an aircraft enthusiast shop which visitors can explore the retro cockpit and cabin of the aircraft.
The classic Boeing 747 cockpit featured on Boeing 747-200SUD PH-BUK at Lelystad Aviodrome.
In 1971, the airline evolved its long-haul fleet again, joining the “Jumbo Jet” bandwagon by introducing a fleet of Boeing 747-200. Whilst this was able to bring mass air travel to Holland and cut down travel times across their network, one of their Boeing 747’s was about to put KLM into the history books for the wrong reasons….
The fuselage of Boeing 747-200(SUD) PH-BUK with KLM Cityhopper Fokker F100 PH-OFA behind.
On March 23rd 1977, KLM Boeing 747-200 PH-BUF named “Rijn” after the Rhine River was en route to Gran Canarias from Amsterdam Schipol. The flight crew consisted of Captain Jacob vanZantan, First Officer Klaas Meurs and Flight Engineer Willem Schreuder. During the final hour of the flight news came to the crew that a bomb had exploded at Gran Canarias, and they were to divert to Tenerife Los Rodeos, alongside another dozen planes including another Boeing 747, Pan Am 1736 operated by the “Clipper Victor” N736PA air frame. After a prolonged wait, during which Captain vanZanten decided to refuel his Boeing 747-200, the plane was cleared to taxi to the end of the runway and hold while the Pan Am 747 followed behind and turned off at the third exit. A thick fog descended onto the airport by this time and the KLM crew were running out of hours they could operate this flight. The crew was desperate to not cause further delays or operational problems.
The cabin of PH-BUK, the same cabin design used on the “Classic” Boeing 747s in the 1990s-2004 (above) and a Boeing 747-400 (below) cabin design in early 2018.
The KLM Boeing 747 got to the end of the runway, turned around ready for take off and despite not being given take off clearance, Captain vanZanten began his take off roll. The Spanish ATC handling KLM told the pilots to stand by, but his message was drowned out by the Pan Am 747 informing both parties they were still on the runway. F/E Schreuder managed to make part of the Pan Am’s message out and question his colleagues, but the captain appeared to brush it off. However seconds later, the crews on both planes realised that a collision was about to happen. As the Pan Am tried to accelerate and steer off the runway, Captain vanZantem tried to climb out over the Pan Am, the only thing he could do. But the KLM 747 was weighed down by the fuel they had taken on earlier and unfortunately both planes collided on the runway at Los Rodeos. All 248 persons on the KLM 747 perished when the plane exploded and careered down the runway. The Pan Am was heavily damaged and only 61 of 396 made it off the burning wreck.
Boeing 747-200 (above) and Boeing 747-400 (below) wing views over the engines.
The disaster at Los Rodeos is the deadliest aviation accident of all time with 583 deaths from both planes. It is the only major disaster in KLM’s last 50 years. It is their latest fatal disaster. The crash led to a total overhaul of how flight crews operate and lead to drastic changes in communication with in aviation.
Despite this horrific watershed moment, KLM has a reputation of being one of the safest airlines both in Europe and World Wide.
Following the retirement of the Douglas DC-9 in 1989, the Boeing 737 has been the main feature of KLM’s short haul network for the mainline airline. The 737-800 is the main aircraft of the fleet. The Boeing 737 “Classic” aircraft retired in 2011, the “Next Generation” aircraft arrived in early-mid 2000’s.
During the end of the 1980s, long after the Tenerife Disaster, KLM underwent a major fleet overhaul to bring in the most modern and up to date aircraft. The airline switched from Douglas to Boeing for its short haul operations bringing in the Boeing 737-300/-400 and the Douglas DC-8 was replaced by new Airbus A310 aircraft. Making this the first time KLM dabbled with the young European manufacturer. KLM by now had Boeing 747-200 and Boeing 747-300 in their fleet, but wanting to update- they became an early customer for the updated Boeing 747-400, a plane with better range, fuel efficiency, better capacity and the new LED cockpit screens removed the need for a Flight Engineer. By now the airline had also introduced the McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 and was looking at the updated version McDonnell-Douglas MD-11.
KLM and its regional subsidiaries have used Fokker aircraft from 1920 until 2017 when the last Fokker F70 (airframe PH-KZL, above) was retired, this was partly down to the bankruptcy of Fokker in 1996, leading to them needing planes from other sources- settling on Embraer E-jets (E-190 PH-EZL bellow).
In 1991, KLM’s regional subsidiary “Nederlandse Luchtvaart Maatschappij” also known under the brand NLM Cityhopper, re branded as KLM Cityhopper. The airline carried on using Fokker built planes, namely the Fokker F27 propliner and Fokker F28 regional jet, but was in process of bringing in upgraded Fokker F50, F70 and F100 models, alongside Saab 340 and Jetstream 31 planes. The new KLM Cityhopper continues to operate to this day using a young fleet of Embraer E-175/190 regional jets.
NLM (and its successor KLM Cityhopper) continued Fokker aircraft-based operations for its parent airline since 1966. This ex-NLM Fokker F27 is preserved at Lelystad in front of a replica 1950’s AMS Terminal.
Also around this time, KLM started to operate a joint code-share venture with Minneapolis/St-Paul based Northwest Airlines. The two airlines using their hubs as connecting points between the USA and Europe, an early rumbling of the modern alliance group system. The two airlines eventually joined Skyteam in 2004 alongside Air France and Delta Airlines who both founded the alliance in 2000. KLM and Air France now operate as an umbrella group that consists of KLM, Air France, KLM Cityhopper, HOP! and holiday airline Transavia. Northwest merged into Delta in the late 2000s, but the presence of Amsterdam as a major Delta focus-city is courtesy of the long alliance held by KLM/NWA.
BA has London, Air France has Paris, QANTAS has Sydney… KLM has always had Amsterdam Schipol!
In 1996, Fokker went into bankruptcy. KLM had a huge fleet of F50, F70 and F100, but the airline new that their partnership with Fokker and their planes would have to end and seek replacements in the near future elsewhere. In 2009, KLM retired their last Fokker F50 prop liners. The Fokker F100 followed in 2011 following the 2009 introduction of the Embraer E-190 and in 2015 the airline began introducing the Embraer E-175 which replaced the Fokker F70 fleet in October 2017. Ending 98 years of KLM/Fokker relations. However at Amsterdam Schipol, Fokker F100 sits open to the public on the Panorama Viewing Terrace and various KLM/NLM Fokker planes have retired to Leylstad Aviodrome to be on preservation for generations of Dutch citizens to observe, look back on and for Fokker enthusiasts around the world to see examples in real life.
Since retiring in 2010, KLM Cityhopper Fokker F100 PH-OFE has been preserved as an attraction at the Amsterdam Airport’s viewing terrace, meaning a KLM Fokker will always be present at AMS!
More changes in KLM’s fleet were to come. In the 2000s the airline introduced the brand new state of the art Boeing 777 aircraft alongside the Boeing 737-700/-800/-900 from the “Next Generation” line of Boeing 737. The Boeing 737-Classic, Boeing 747-200/300 were retired, with 747-200 PH-BUK going to Leylstad Aviodrome in favour of the Boeing 747-400 and Boeing 777s. In the early 2010s, Airbus A330s arrived and KLM retired their McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 ending a 75 year run of using Douglas/McDonnell-Douglas planes as well as being the final PAX operator of the type. The mid 2010s have confirmed the introduction of the Boeing 787-9/-10 and the up coming Airbus A350-900 which will replace the Boeing 747-400 who are ageing into their 30s.
KLM Boeing 737-800 PH-BXA wore the 1950s corporate design as a “Retro-Jet” from 2009 to 2018 for KLM’s 90th and 95th Anniversary. It now wears the current 2014 “Dolphin” Livery.
My only sighting of a KLM MD-11 at LHR in 2013. The airline was the final passenger airline to operate the type, retiring the last one in late October 2014 from the Montreal service. Its retirement also saw the end of Douglas Corporation/McDonnell-Douglas aircraft operations at KLM after 70 years.
On October 7th 2019, KLM will become the first airline to meet their centenary under their original name and brand. The first KLM Boeing 787-10 is going wear a special “[email protected]” livery. From 2009 to 2018 a KLM Boeing 737-800 (PH-BXA) sported the airlines 1950s colourshceme across the airlines 90th & 95th Anniversary.
KLM has had the same blue top livery design since the early 1970s, albeit with minor changes, this Boeing 777-300(ER) wears the latest design.
A lot of changes are happening to KLM as they reach their Centenary, and all I can say is good luck to them on the next 100 years! I’m sure it will be a ride not to miss!
As KLM flies into its 100th Anniversary, its introducing the latest generation of long-haul airliners including the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. A lot has changed in 100 years, and another lot are coming during the next 100 years!
I have flown KLM a number of times since my first flight in March 2015, so I thought I would end this article with some pictures and memories from my enjoyable flights with KLM which have included……….
From May 2016 to October 2017, I made 5 flights on the KLM Fokker F70 from the UK to Amsterdam. Given their impending retirement I wanted to make the most of them!
My first KLM flight on March 28th 2015 was on Boeing 737-700 PH-BGP “Pelikaan”, I later made my first business class KLM experience from LHR-AMS on the same plane nearly 3 years later! KLM is due to phase out their 737-700s for more Boeing 737-800 & Embraer E-jets by late-2022.
One of the best moments in my Frequent Flyer life, getting a ride on the final KLM Fokker flight on KL1079 from AMS to LHR on October 28th 2017. I wore a special t-shirt I designed and managed to get all 6 crew members to sign it! Thank you KLM!
In January 2018, I made my first solo trip to the United States, I flew there on KLM Boeing 747-406M PH-BFH from Amsterdam to Los Angeles. I couldn’t have chosen a better option for this particular trip!
I’ve flown various KLM Boeing 737-NG aircraft from London (LHR), Paris (CDG) and Oslo (OSL) to Amsterdam over the last 4 years and I am certain more are to come!
Air-frames I’ve flown so far include: PH-BGP, PH-BXH, PH-BGL, PH-BCA and PH-BXG.
On my 22nd birthday (17-02-2019) I flew from New York JFK to Amsterdam on a Boeing 787-9 (PH-BGH) and it was a total pleasure. Great crew, nice cabin and plenty of IFE to keep me entertained.
KLM Business Class breakfast on a LHR-AMS service in Oct 2017 (above) against a KLM Economy Class meal (below) provided on an AMS-LAX service in Jan 2018.
KLM “Upper Deck” Business Class cabin on a Boeing 747-400 after a 12 hour flight from AMS-LAX in 2018.
Whilst I never got to fly the Boeing 747 to Sint Maarten, I did get a nice ride from Amsterdam to Sint Maarten with this KLM Airbus A330 (PH-AOD) and its safe to say I got some shots of KLM A330s at SXM!