Pioneer of low-cost air travel

Sir Freddie Laker: Sir Freddie Laker was a true pioneer of the skies who broke through over-regulation and overpricing to provide…

Sir Freddie Laker: Sir Freddie Laker was a true pioneer of the skies who broke through over-regulation and overpricing to provide cheap air travel for the masses. The launch in Britain of his transatlantic Skytrain service in the 1970s provided people who had not flown on aircraft before the chance of affordable tickets to America, and his low-priced model would be a blueprint for airlines such as Virgin, Easyjet and Ryanair.

With his ebullient, entrepreneurial style, Laker took on the aviation establishment, made up of major carriers such as Pan Am and British Airways. And although Skytrain eventually collapsed in 1982, Sir Freddie had laid the foundations for the low-cost carriers which proliferate today.

Sir Freddie was born Frederick Alfred Laker on August 6th, 1922. His father was a former naval rating but deserted the boy and his mother when Freddie was very young.

The young Laker went to Simon Langton School in Canterbury, Kent, where his academic career was very dull. When a schoolmaster asked him what he wanted to be he replied: "A millionaire." The other pupils laughed at him, saying he could not even succeed at his lessons.

His schoolmates' prophecy seemed to be fulfilled when he took his first job at Short brothers in Rochester, Kent, as a floor sweeper at their aircraft factory.

But his rise was rapid. He studied aero-engineering at Shorts, and then served for three years in the RAF before going into business for himself as a war-surplus aircraft dealer.

His fortune was secured by the Berlin Airlifts of 1948, when all available craft were used to beat the Soviet blockade.

After the airlifts ended, he continued the war-surplus work and in 1954 began air services flying cars and their passengers between Southend, Essex, and Calais.

In 1958 his various companies merged with others to become Air Holdings, which in 1960 became British United Airways with Laker as managing director. But his dream was still to own his own airline.

Laker Airways was born in April 1966 as a charter airline carrying passengers for the fledgling package holiday industry but found the rules governing package travel were designed to keep fares high.

When he proposed an airline service that would act like a train - travellers could turn up without booking and buy a cheap flight - Laker took on both Labour and Conservative governments, the US authorities and the might of the leading airlines.

After Laker spent years winning approval from governments on both sides of the Atlantic, in September 1978 the first Skytrain to Los Angeles took off in a blaze of positive publicity.

However, the six largest airlines operating between the US and Britain - BA, Pan Am, TWA, Air India, Iran Air and El Al - held secret meetings to plot Laker's downfall.

After Laker had run into debt problems and been hit by the falling value of the pound, it was Pan Am's decision to cut its economy fares by 66 per cent which finally killed Skytrain. In February 1982, Laker Airways collapsed.

In a settlement three years later, BA and other airlines paid him almost £6 million and met the claims of his creditors.

Sir Freddie, who was knighted in 1978, lived in Florida.

He was married four times.

Freddie Laker: born August 6th, 1922, died February 9th, 2006