LONDON – Today in Aviation, Malév (MA) employees woke up to the news that their second family was gone. The Oneworld airline ceased operations in 2012, leaving Hungary without a national airline.
While it may seem like a bankruptcy of a small airline, MA was a national icon and a family for its employees. It is hard to imagine for those who did not work there.
While most people consider Maszovlet (1946-1954) as the beginning of MA history, the airline actually started much earlier. 1922 marks the birth of Malért, the first major Hungarian airline, which operated until the Second World War. It flew between Budapest, Vienna, Belgrade and Prague.
The airline merged with Maefort in 1946 into Maszovlet. Maszovlet later operated domestic services in addition to flights to the Eastern Bloc.
In 1954, Hungary bought the Soviet’s share in the airline and founded Malév. In addition to being an airline, it performed other duties: it controlled air traffic, operated Budapest Airport (BUD) and investigated crashes. This changed in 1973, when Hungarian authorities founded LRI, which overtook MA’s other duties and it “became” an airline. It opened the first Western flight in 1956 to Vienna.
Shortly after, Hungarians fought for their freedom in the 1956 revolution, which resulted in a 1-year flight ban. Flights soon resumed under the lighter but still communist regime. MA acquired Tu-134s in 1968, then Tu-154s in 1973. As Malév was not forced to make revenue, it focused on being a good-quality airline both for passengers and employees. This culture lived on even after the change of regime in 1990.
Malév, Maszovlet, Malért..?
These three airline names are a Hungarian blend of words. Malév stands for Magyar Légiközlekedési Vállalat, which means Hungarian Aviation Company. As mentioned above, Malév was not only an airline; it performed other aviation-related duties.
On its part, Maszovlet stands for Magyar-Szovjet Polgári Légiforgalmi Részvénytársaság, which means Hungarian-Soviet Civil Air Traffic Joint Stock Company. Malért is much easier: Magyar Légiforgalmi Rt., aka. Hungarian Air Traffic JSC.
Change of Regime – Change of Malév
In 1988, Hungarian composer Gábor Presser made Malév’s nationally famous signal music. The airline changed its logo and started ordering Western aircraft to replace its Tupolev and Ilyushin fleet. It ordered Boeing 737s, which functioned as MA’s flagship until its demise. The airline received its first Boeing 767 in 1993 and used it for flights to Japan, New York (JFK) and Toronto (YYZ).
The financial chaos started in 1992 when Alitalia (AZ) and an Italian bank bought a 35% stake in MA. Hungarian banks repurchased the share in 1997 and the Government operated the carrier. MA joined the Oneworld alliance in 2006 and became a full member a year later.
Boris Mikhailovich Abramovich, a Russian aviation businessman, bought Malév in 2007 but left it two years later. The Government acquired it again in 2010, but the new administration’s study found the airline inviable.
Wizz Air (W6) sued MA as it considered the re-acquirement an illegal state subsidy. The European Commission backed W6 and gave the Hungarian Government an ultimatum. If it submitted a reorganization plan, the airline would not have to repay the subsidy.
As they did not submit a restructuring plan, the EC ordered the carrier to pay Ft100bn on January 9, 2012. One month later, in the early morning of February 3, authorities in Tel-Aviv impounded one of the airline’s Boeing 737s and the airline stopped its operations.
To understand the last few years of the airline, MA’s previous Vice CEO, Géza Fehérváry gave an exclusive interview to Novekedes.hu. The article details the airline’s last stretch and the issues it faced.
Unsuccessful New Airlines
Following MA’s demise, many parties tried to found a new Hungarian national airline. Right after the bankruptcy, employees started a community-financed plan to launch Manlév by offering shares worth US$4. However, Sólyom Hungarian Airways (HUN) came the closest to relaunching the airline, as it received a Boeing 737-500 but failed to receive an OL. Alas, Hungarian World Airways and other projects have not achieved any luck.
Since 2012, Hungary lacks a national carrier. While W6 is Hungarian-registered and operates as the biggest airline in the country, it is not a national airline. LOT Polish Airlines (LO) opened a new base at BUD and planned further improvements, but its future is now unsure.
The Malév Family and Legacy
Something I cannot stress enough is the importance of the Malév family. Employees loved working at MA and its subsidiaries; they created an atmosphere where everyone loved working in. Employees knew each other, and regardless of your position, you were respected and made feel valuable. The Government, however, did not respect this family unity, and left MA employees without pay for years.
While I did not have the chance to work at MA, I joined its legacy, Malév Ground Handling (MGH) in 2019. Before that, I did not understand the importance of the Malév family. The Hungarian Government dissolved MGH last summer unexpectedly, ending the Malév name.
The employees held a goodbye party last September at the Malév-themed aviation museum, Aeropark. It is now the owner of the Malév trademark and it does its best to preserve the memory of Malév – Hungary’s aviation history.
Featured image: Roland Rimóczi / Airways Magazine Instagram: @everyw_air