The History of Royal Jordanian Airlines

1. Early Jordanian Carriers

When Jordan attained its independence in 1946, it sought to increase its identity by establishing its own airline, which took form on January 1 of that year as Arab Airways. Inaugurating service to Beirut, it spread its wings to Baghdad and Cairo by August of 1947, and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) became its principle investor.

Evolving into Arab Airways Jerusalem, Limited, six years later, it operated a fleet of twin-engine de Havilland Rapides from Jerusalem itself to Beirut and Cairo, but eventually added Aden, Amman, Baghdad, and Jeddah. It was not the region’s only carrier, however.

Air Jordan, established in 1950 by H. E. Ismail Bilbeisi Fasha, had itself commenced service from Amman with Airspeed Consuls, but a 1953 cash infusion by Trans Ocean Airlines, a non-scheduled carrier that operated charter and contract flights, enabled it to modernize its fleet with 21-passenger Douglas DC-3s. These ultimately connected Amman with Kabul via Kuwait and Kandahar.

Mirroring what had now become its competitor, Arab Airways Jerusalem equally acquired this aircraft type.

Vying for much of the same passenger base, but facing competition from other Middle Eastern airlines, they elected to merge and form Air Jordan of the Holy Land.

Initially operating two Convair CV-240s leased from Trans Ocean, it purchased a DC-4 in 1960, with which it was able to serve longer routes, such as those to Rome from its Amman hub. Despite the promise this larger, quad-engine aircraft offered, the fledgling airline was forced to cease operations on September 1 of the following year when its license was canceled.

Only a month elapsed before a successor was established-in this case, Jordan Airways, which was jointly owned by private interests (40 percent), the Jordanian government (25 percent), and Middle Eastern Airlines (also 25 percent), the latter of which provided it with three leased, turboprop-powered Vickers V.700 Viscounts and flight crews. Its reign was equally brief.

2. Flag Carrier

Seeking to create the country’s definitive international carrier, King Hussein of Jordan, who himself was a pilot, asked Ali Ghandour, then vice president of Lebanon International Airways, to devise plans for a flag airline, intended, according to the king himself, to serve as “… a national carrier to be our ambassador of goodwill around the world and the bridge across which we exchange culture, civilization, trade, technology, friendship, and better understanding with the rest of the world.”

Named after his eldest daughter, the resultant company was christened Alia Royal Jordanian Airlines. Although its structure was only finalized on December 8, 1963, the king issued one additional request-namely, that it become airborne within a week.

Achieving what could only have been considered an impossible goal, Ghandour was able to transform plans into planes, acquiring two Handley Page Herald 207s leased from the Royal Jordanian Air Force and a single Douglas DC-7C, with which he inaugurated service from Amman to Beirut on December 15. Cairo and Kuwait were added the following week and a second DC-7 enabled it to serve Jeddah.

Piston engines subsequently yielded to pure-jet ones, with the acquisition of Sud-Aviation SE.210-10R Caravelles, the first of which was delivered on July 29, 1965, and the type facilitated high-speed, above-the-weather services to Europe, principally to Rome and Paris.

Ever combating adversity and obstacle, however, it once again faced an enemy. Seizing control of Jerusalem two years later, in June, Israel instantly pulled the plug on two of the country’s most important resources–tourism and agriculture-significantly decreasing demand for the new carrier’s services, which resulted in low aircraft load factors.

It was during this latest crisis that the Jordanians discovered a third resource-namely, themselves-and only with determination and dedication did Alia remain aloft. The government’s subsequent acquisition of it gave it the necessary financial support.

Having successfully navigated its latest turbulence, it marked its entrance into the 1970s with the acquisition of its first long-range jet aircraft, receiving the first of two Boeing 707-320Cs on January 19 of the following year, and these facilitated route expansion, specifically to Karachi in the east and Madrid, Casablanca, and Copenhagen in the west.

A joint, although brief, service was also operated from Karachi to East Africa with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

The 707 was only the first of several Boeing types acquired. Two 720Bs, for instance, were obtained in 1972 for medium-range, lower-density sectors, while three 727-200 Advanced tri-jets were purchased for short- to medium-range operations. Equipped with a more flexible and economical fleet, it was able to expand within the region and to the European continent.

Entering the widebody era, Alia received the first of two Boeing 747-200Bs on December 15, 1976, which facilitated the launch of transatlantic service from Amman to New York and Houston via Vienna or Amsterdam in July of the following year, the first Arab carrier to do so. It became the first of two widebody types to be operated.

Deviating from its all-Boeing fleet, it ordered six Lockheed L-1011-500s. Entering service in October of 1981 between Amman and London-Heathrow, the tri-engine type enabled the carrier to serve European destinations and several Middle East destinations, such as those to the Gulf States, with widebody aircraft for the first time.

Supplementing its 747s, it operated the Amman-Vienna/Amsterdam-New York routes on select days, as well as a newly inaugurated one to Los Angeles with an intermediate stop in Chicago. The JFK sector was also upgraded to nonstop status and some flights operated through Montreal.

By 1982, it operated seven 707-320Cs, one 720-030B, six 727-200 Advanceds, three 747-200Bs, of which two were in combi configuration with main deck cargo loading capabilities, and two L-1011-500s.

After retirement of the four-engine narrow bodies, by 1985 its fleet centered around the 747 for long-range, high-density routes, the TriStar 500 for medium- to long-range, medium-density segments, and the 727 for short- to medium-range, low-density sectors.

December 15, 1986 marked several milestones: the Jordanian flag carrier celebrated both its tenth anniversary of Middle East-United States service and its silver, quarter century jubilee, marking the occasion with a new corporate image and name, the latter amended from Alia to, simply, Royal Jordanian Airlines, in order to emphasize its identity.

“The new corporate name,” said Ali Ghandour, its Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, “is the embodiment of our sense of heritage, as well as our sense of destiny, of our accomplishments and aspirations, and in the process the ‘royal’ connection that we have maintained since the very beginning is identified, emphasized, and recognized.

“Last but not least,” he concluded, “I wish to stress that we did not seek change for its own sake, but to demonstrate to ourselves and to the world that we are progressive in our outlook, determined in our efforts to forge ahead, and confident as well as full of hopes of a bright future.”

Royal Jordanian’s route system, as of January 1, 1987, consisted of 41 cities in 34 countries on four continents.

Of these, three were long-range North Atlantic routes, including the Amman-Vienna-New York, Amman-Amsterdam-New York, and Amman-Vienna-Chicago-Los Angeles sectors, and two were long-range Far Eastern ones, inclusive of Amman-Bangkok and Amman-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore.

Two North African routes were established, from Amman to Tripoli and from Amman to Tunis and Casablanca, while a single destination was served in the former Soviet Union, Moscow.

European destinations included Amsterdam, Athens, Belgrade, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Geneva, Istanbul, Larnaca, London, Madrid, Paris-Orly, Rome, and Vienna.

Not surprisingly, a heavy Middle East route concentration encompassed Abu Dhabi, Amman, Baghdad, Bahrain, Cairo, Damascus, Dhahran, Doha, Dubai, Jeddah, Karachi, Kuwait, Muscat, Riyadh, and Sana’a.

Its sole domestic sector was that between its hub and Aqaba.

Two joint services were also operated–those to Beirut with Middle Eastern Airlines and to East Berlin with Interflug.

During the five-year period from 1979 to 1983, the annual number of passengers carried included the following: 1979: 915,000; 1980: 1,100,000; 1981: 1,440,000; 1982: 1,667,273; and 1983: 1,457,334.

3. Subsidiaries

Aside from the airline itself, Royal Jordanian counted several airborne- and ground-based subsidiaries within its portfolio.

Of the former was Arab Air Cargo. Succeeding Jordanian World Airways, which itself had been established in 1974, it was founded in March of 1982 as a joint Jordanian-Iraqi venture and inaugurated cargo service on May 1 of the following year with two 707-320Cs in freighter configuration.

Both a member of the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), it flew to cities such as Amman, Amsterdam, Baghdad, Brussels, Dubai, Larnaca, London, and Rome. Six hundred twelve flights were undertaken in 1985, during which 4,521 revenue hours were flown and 21,166 tons of cargo were carried, netting $16.6 million.

Arab Wings, its second subsidiary, provided rapid, on-demand business jet charter service to remote and inaccessible parts of the Middle East and was then the only operation of its kind in the region. Jointly financed by the government of Oman (one-third) and Royal Jordanian itself (two-thirds), it inaugurated service in May of 1975 and operated two six-passenger Gates Learjet 35s and a single eight-passenger Rockwell Sabreliner 75A from Amman and Muscat flight bases.

During the three-year period from 1981 to 1983, it respectively carried 1,636, 2,116, and 1,390 passengers.

A separate branch, Arab Wings Flying Ambulance (AWFA), provided aeromedical service and first took to the sky in 1978.

Sierra Leone Airlines, its third subsidiary, was formed in 1982 to succeed the 1958-established Sierra Leone Airways and inaugurated service that November from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to London, with shared ownership by Royal Jordanian (20 percent), private interests (20 percent), and the Sierra Leone government (60 percent).

Subsequent expansion resulted in the inauguration of international services from Freetown-Lungi to Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Accra (Ghana), Dakar (Senegal), Lagos (Nigeria), Las Palmas (Canary Islands), London, Monrovia (Liberia), and Paris, while domestic flights, based at Freetown-Hastings, connected the airport with Bonthe, Kenema, and Yangema, all with one 707-320, one 720, and two Britten-Norman Trislanders. These were later replaced by CASA C-212-200 Aviocars.

Aside from these subsidiaries, Royal Jordanian also had several ground-based ones. These included Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA), which opened on May 25, 1983 and featured two inter-connected terminals with 12 gates and could annually handle up to five million passengers.

Hospitality Service, which had the capacity to prepare 20,000 daily meals for in-flight catering purposes, the terminal restaurant, the snack bars, and the staff cafeterias, managed the four-star, 315-room Alia Gateway Hotel, which opened in 1985 and was used by transit passengers and flight crews. It also oversaw the airport duty free shops.

Royal Jordanian’s training center was subdivided into the Technical Training Institute and the Commercial and Management Center.

Consisting of both civil and military branches, the Royal Jordanian Air Academy, yet another subsidiary, was designated the Regional Technical Center for the Middle East in 1985 by IATA.

Several other concerns included the Queen Noor Civil Aviation Institute; Arab Air Services, which was the engineering consultative branch that aided in the design and construction of the airport itself between 1979 and 1983; the Royal Jordanian Folklore Group; the Alia Art Gallery; and Royal Tours.

4. RJ Today

Fleet modernization marked the last decade of Royal Jordanian’s 20th century history and signaled a loyalty shift from long-time Boeing and Lockheed products to Airbus Industrie aircraft, the first of which was the A-310-300.

Powered by two high bypass ratio turbofans and flown by a two-person cockpit crew, it replaced the 727s on routes where demand exceeded its capacity or proved too thin for its L-1011s, yet offered twin-aisle widebody comfort. Because of its range capability, it even operated the one-stop Jordan-US transatlantic sectors, particularly during reduced-demand periods.

These, however, were primarily flown by a second Airbus fleet addition, the quad-engine A-340-200, which eventually replaced both the 747s and the TriStars.

Bonafide 727 replacements, on regional, Middle Eastern, North African, and European segments, took form as the twin-engine, narrow body A-319, A-320, and A-321 family, while short- and regional-range routes were flown by yet another type, the dual-class configured Embraer E-175 and E-195, which respectively accommodated 72 and 100 passengers. Both were well-suited to the 45-minute hop between the capital and the Red Sea resort of Aqaba.

Accepted as a member of the Oneworld alliance in 2007, Royal Jordanian continued to upgrade its long-range fleet, acquiring 233,000-kg A-330-200s configured for 24 Crown and 259 economy seats between 2010 and 2011 and 227,930-kg 787-8 Dreamliners respectively accommodating 24 and 247 passengers between August and November of 2014. The A-310s had intermittently been converted into freighters with upward-opening, main deck cargo doors and the A-340s, because of their no-longer economical, four-engine fuel consumption, were altogether removed from service.

Poised on the threshold of its golden jubilee on December 15, 2012, Royal Jordanian introduced a 50th anniversary livery on one of its aircraft, which re-enacted the carrier’s first scheduled route to Beirut.

Having combated obstacle and regional conflict, it had served as a vital contributor to the country’s culture and economy. With few natural resources, and its agriculture and tourism having once been locked in the occupied West Bank, it had served as the air bridge to the rest of the world, becoming one of the country’s primary revenue sources, and for this reason viewed connecting passengers as vital to its continued existence. As a result, it had, to a significant degree, served as the foundation upon which the country itself had depended.

Reflecting on the carrier’s history during the golden jubilee ceremony held at Queen Alia International Airport in December of 2012, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Nasser Lozi, said, “When His Majesty King Hussein launched Alia-as RJ used to be named-on December 15, 1963, he wanted it to be the national carrier of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with the aim of contributing to the progress of Jordan and promoting interaction with other cultures and establishing relations with other nations… (Today) we are proud of being the national carrier that connects Jordan and the Levant with the world.”

Looking back at its growth, which saw its number of annual passengers increase from 87,000 in 1964 to more than 3.3 million in 2012, President and CEO Amer Hadidi said, “Royal Jordanian has been a pioneer in establishing a solid base for the air transport industry locally and regionally.”

Operating three E-175s, five E-195s, four A-319-100s, six A-320-200s, two A-321-200s, three A-330-200s, and five 787-8s by the end of 2014, Royal Jordanian served 54 destinations on four continents and seemed well profiled to continue the mission its founder established.

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