You are viewing the content for Saturday 11 February 2006

Low-cost travel pioneer Freddie Laker dies

AIRLINE tycoons have paid tribute to the "pioneer of low-cost travel" Freddie Laker, who has died at the age of 83. Mr Laker, whose cheap fares opened up a new era in air travel in the 1970s, died of undisclosed causes in Miami.

Virgin founder Richard Branson led tributes to the entrepreneur, saying he had enabled thousands of people to fly "who had never had the chance before him".

Mr Laker set up the Laker Skytrain in 1977, charging €173 (£118) for a ticket from London to New York.

But competitors forced Skytrain out of business in 1982. A court later ruled that other airlines had used illegal price pressure on Mr Laker’s company. Embraced as an underdog, ordinary members of the public donated over £1 million in an unsuccessful attempt to keep his business afloat.

Mr Branson said: "Freddie was one of Britain’s greatest entrepreneurs. He made his first fortune in the Berlin Airlift, personally flying hundreds of cargo planes into Berlin to keep the city open. He went on to be the pioneer of low-cost travel, enabling thousands to fly who had never had the chance before him.

"He was driven out of business by British Airways and paid £10m by them in compensation."

Tributes were also paid by members of the budget airline elite of today - Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary and EasyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Mr O’Leary said: "The airline industry is missing one of its greatest pilots."

Mr Haji-Ioannou said Mr Laker "was a true pioneer who inspired all of us in aviation to hang on in there and not be bullied by BA".