From Boom To Bust – The Ambassador Airways Story

Ambassador Airways (B3) was another British charter airline founded during boom times in the European leisure market.

Formed in 1992 as the in-house airline of tour operator Best Travel LTD, management had spotted a gap in the market following the collapse of Air Europe (AE) in 1991.

Off to a Flying Start

Operations began on May 21, 1993 using a pair of Boeing 737-200 Advanced (G-BAZH and G-BFVB) both sourced from Britannia Airways (BY). The inaugural flight took off from Newcastle bound for Larnaca.

Boeing 737-200 Advanced G-BAZH would go on to serve with WestJet Canada before its retirement. (Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons)

Initial routes focused on holiday flights to Greece, Cyprus and Mediterranean hotspots from London Gatwick (LGW), Newcastle (NCL) and Glasgow (GLA) bases. Manchester (MAN) and Birmingham (BHX) were later added. 

For the 1992 summer season a pair of Boeing 757s were leased in from Caledonian Airways (KT). The jets were painted in full Ambassador colours.

Boeing 757 (G-BUDX) seen pushing back at a busy London Gatwick. (Photo: Tim Rees (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons)

The carrier had a successful first season. Contracts were added with other holiday companies including Goldcrest and Inspirations and the future of the company looked bright.

An additional 757 was brought in to provide extra capacity for the 1993 season. It was leased out to Colombian carrier Avianca (AV) during the quieter winter period from October 1993 until April 1994.

Boom To Bust

The 1994 was a boom time for Ambassador with rapid expansion to both its fleet and its network.

Three more Boeing 757-200s were acquired in early 1994, bringing the total operated to six.

A pair of Airbus A320s were also added, leased from Orix Capital between May and December 1994. They had previously operated with the Greek carrier Southeast European Airlines (SEEA).

The airlines A320s wore a stylised livery. (Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons)

Also, the Boeing 737s leased from Britannia were purchased outright.

Looking ahead, management had even began to plan long-haul charters for the 1995 season.

Out of the Ashes

However, Ambassador’s owner Best Travel was experiencing severe financial difficulties. Over expansion had led to issues with it being able to fulfil the capacity it had on sale. This, coupled with rising fuel costs and a major economic downturn caused by the 1991 Gulf War, meant the writing was on the wall for the airline.

One of the airline’s 757s pictured at Gatwick. (Photo: Gatwick Airport by Gordon Bain)

On November 28, 1994 Best Travel collapsed, taking with it Ambassador. The fleet was impounded around the UK and despite hopes that a new buyer might be found to resurrect the carrier, Ambassador was grounded.

Sabre Airways (JN) would subsequently be launched to take over the formers commitments. The pair of 737-200s were utilised and Sabre would go on to operate the larger -800, plus the Boeing 727-200, becoming only the second UK carrier to fly the American tri-jet.

Sabre became the second of only two UK airlines, along with Dan Air, to operate the Boeing 727. (Photo: Ken Fielding/ BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sabre would later be renamed Excel Airways in November 2000 before being shortened to XL Airways in November 2006. XL ceased operations on September 12, 2008 after parent XL Leisure Group filed for administration. 

N.B. The author does not own the rights to any of the images included in this article unless otherwise stated.

© Jet Back In Time by Lee Cross

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