Airline with a green heart: 50 years of Transavia

What do Transavia and the dance company Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) have in common? In a nutshell, everything! Members of this company were passengers on the first ever Transavia flight, exactly 50 years ago today. Yet another KLM subsidiary to make it to half century.

Transavia is actually a year older, because it was founded in 1965 as Transavia Limburg. The founder’s original aim was to operate passenger and cargo flights from Beek airfield in the southern Dutch province of Limburg. This brand-new airline initially aimed to serve passengers in the holiday market with a single DC-3. But, it was precisely at this time, the mid-sixties, that the holiday market took off. And for that growth the DC-3 was found to be too small. So instead of the DC-3 they chose the DC-6 with its four engines, 83 passenger seats and six crew members – three in the cockpit and three in the cabin.

50 years of Transavia


To Schiphol

Beek also became unsuited to the ambitions Transavia’s new director, John Block, had in mind for the airline. He wanted to operate from Schiphol, but there were snags. The arrival of what was now called Transavia Holland, was viewed with deep suspicion by the competition and was even described as an “irresponsible distortion of the market”. The last licence was finally issued on 14 November and there stood a new, fully kitted-out airline with aircraft, pilots, cabin crew and other personnel.

The first Transavia flight departed Schiphol for Naples on 16 November 1966, carrying the Nederlands Dans Theater and Ballet Orchestra. The passengers were all given a slice of cake to celebrate the maiden flight. The famous Dutch ballet stars, Han Ebbelaar and Alexandra Radius, who were on board this first flight, recalled how bad weather over Italy caused the flight to arrive late. Although the company had to race to the venue and abbreviate their warm up, the performance didn’t suffer.

50 years of Transavia

Rapid growth

The years that followed saw rapid growth at Transavia, both in passenger and freight traffic. Within three years the fleet had doubled in size to three DC-6s, a Boeing 707, and two Caravelles – a French aircraft type that was popular at the time. This is also the time when building work began for the first head office at Schiphol. A year later later Transavia received official recognition, which allowed it to use its own mechanics to carry out aircraft maintenance. Four years after its first commercial flight, Transavia was truly up and running.

Heroes in the global press

It was for a very different reason in 1974 that Transavia and a Boeing 707 made world headlines. And not a very pleasant one at that. Japanese terrorists had kidnapped members the French Embassy staff in The Hague and demanded a French aircraft to fly them to a different destination. The French government sent a 707, but its crew didn’t fly the aircraft containing the terrorists. It turned out to be Transavia in the Netherlands that had the experience to fly the 707. And so it was Transavia captain Pim Sierks, co-pilot Ruud van der Zwaal, and flight engineer Bernie Knight who were prepared “to get the job done”. They completed the job successfully and were greeted as heroes back in the Netherlands.

What’s in a name?

Where KLM is the oldest airline in the world to still be operating under its original name, this is far from true for Transavia. Over its 50-year history, the names Transavia HOLLAND, Transavia Holland, Transavia Airlines and have all adorned the fuselages of what it is today Transavia. Each of these names reflects the market philosophy of the day., with just lower case letters, links straight to the website, highlighting the importance of selling tickets through ones own channels. In short, anyone who knows Transavia associates it above all with charter flights to holiday destinations. But this does not do the airline justice.

Flexible product

This market, as is normal in this capitalist system in general and especially in the airline industry, is always subject to change. Charter transport and seasonal holiday traffic – to the sun or snow – was constant for years. But one-off flights too were part of Transavia’s repertoire. Transavia has always tried to find answers to every twist and turn in the development of air transportation. This has ranged from operating flights for other airlines – such as British Airways, KLM and Air Malta – to setting up networks for other airlines. Always trying new ways to fill overcapacity in the fleet during leaner times.

50 years of Transavia

Scheduled services

Transavia applied for its first licence to operate a scheduled service in 1984. This was granted the following year for services to London Gatwick, Malta and Reykjavik. The first Transavia scheduled service was operated to Gatwick in 1986. The charter market was also strong at this time. There was new growth and this brought an expansion of the fleet. The fleet now comprised mainly 737s, marking the start of fleet standardisation. The first Transavia 737-200 joined the fleet in 1974; others followed in a gradual, steady flow. In 1987, one of these aircraft transported the millionth passenger for Transavia. 

KLM subsidiary

Transavia has had many owners and shareholders during its lifetime. The largest ever was KNSM, the Royal Dutch Steamboat Company, which later became a part of Nedlloyd. This company gradually sold its interest in Transavia to KLM and in 2003 Transavia became a full subsidiary of the KLM Group, which also includes KLM Cityhopper. At 50, this subsidiary is now the low-cost carrier of the family and is gradually transforming from an airline that carries people to the sun and snow, to one that is attracting business travellers. And it seems to be working. The Transavia fleet currently contains eight Boeing 737-700s and 34 Boeing 737-800s. The number of Transavia bases was expanded this year to four; in addition to Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Schiphol, four aircraft are now permanently stationed at Munich. And what about passenger numbers? Transavia serves more than 10 million passengers across a network of 110 destinations in 32 countries. A serious business!

50 years of Transavia


Oh yes, before I forget, I had better explain the title of this blog. Green is to Transavia, what blue is to KLM. Green is always somewhere to be found, but Transavia’s flexibility of service and product is reflected in its equally varied use of green. Just take a look at this photo. Always green, but always just a little bit different. Truly Transavia.

50 years of Transavia

Posted by:   Frido Ogier  | 
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Leong Siew Fong


adrien epstein

I was traveling with my family. We checked-in at the Transavia counter at Schiphol airport en route to Tel Aviv. The check-in lady put our 6 bags onto the conveyer belt and after sending them through she realized she still had one bar-coded tag in her hand. She had omitted to tag 1 bag. The untagged bag never arrived in Tel Aviv. It was my mom’s bag with everything she needed for 2 months abroad – she was devastated. I spent every day of the two weeks I was with my parents speaking to Transavia. They were courteous on the surface but in reality they were ruthless. They sent me from one department to another and not person ever took an intelligent approach to try and assist finding the bag. I tried to establish the protocol of where an untagged bag on the Schiphol conveyer belt system goes, but nobody was really interested in helping. They refused for me to speak to a manager and they blocked me every time i expected more than a one-line answer. I was told not to call the call centre and not to use the customer service Whats App. They only wanted me to send emails to one person and I had to wait days for an answer sometimes only to receive a meaningless so-called ‘polite’ answer. The one person I was allowed to liase with went on holiday for a week during the process. I also contacted Schiphol airport – they too were polite in the introductory lines of their emails, but absolutely ruthless in their real approach – totally non-caring. It was a very negligent error by Transavia’s check-in lady and you would think they would make a concerted effort to make things right thereafter. On the contrary, Transavia’s customer service thereafter was absolutely cut-throat – they just wanted me to go away as if I was the problem. It spoilt our holiday and the replacement cost of the bag plus all my mom’s tops, dresses, shoes, toiletries, perfumes etc easily adds up to Euro 4,000 -Euro 5,000. After what we’ve gone through due to Transavia’s negligence do you know what they have offered us as compensation for the lost bag and all my mom’s wardrobe and toiletries? Euro 600. That gives you an idea of the true culture of Transavia.

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