Freddie, of course, is Sir Freddie Laker, the stormy petrel of Britich civil aviation whose Skytrain proved that...



Freddie, of course, is Sir Freddie Laker, the stormy petrel of Britich civil aviation whose Skytrain proved that budget-priced, readily available tickets could greatly expand the air travel market. Here, meticulously researched, is the story of Sir (since 1978) Freddie's long, bumpy journey from RAF flight engineer in World War II to international transport tycoon--short on personal detail, often quite technical, and overall more a history of England's independent (as opposed to state-owned) air carriers than a full-fledged biography. Laker's takeoff occurred during the Berlin airlift when he ran supplies into the blockaded city with a motley fleet of war-surplus planes. Subsequently, he picked up lucrative business ferrying troops to far corners of what was still the British Empire. Then in 1958, at age 36, he sold out for $3 million to a larger passenger/freight independent; and in the course of the consolidation, assumed the managing directorship. Come 1965, he formed Laker Airways, which became involved in worldwide group tours. Along with other so-called tramp carriers, Laker was stung by unscrupulous travel agents who created dubious ""affinity"" groups, putatively entitled to cheap charter rates. Rapped for ticketing violations in both the U.S. and U.K., he spotted a big unsatisfied demand for cheap, railroad-like air service across the North Atlantic--and roughly half the book is devoted to his five-year battle to get Skytrain off the ground. At various times, he had his wings clipped not only by regulatory authorities (Washington's CAB and Whitehall's CAA), but also by fellow independents (British Caledonian, British Airways) and the whole of the rate-setting International Air Transport Association with its 100-some members. The odds on the David-vs.-Goliath matchups were not improved by the 1973-74 fuel crunch, Pan Am's brush with bankruptcy, renegotiation of the Bermuda Treaty (the basic U.K.-U.S. aviation accord), and President Nixon's precipitate departure from the White House. In the end, Laker simply outlasted his opposition. Whether American readers will be enthralled by the detail offered on British aircraft design and economics, regulatory protocols, parliamentary politics, air-fare structures, and related topics remains a very open question. But Eglin and Ritchie (both of the Sunday Times) have produced a well-documented case study of a free-enterprise spirit operating in a mortgaged world.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Rawson Wade--dist. by Atheneum

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1980