SAS, a major international airline, was formed by three national Scandinavian air carriers.

History and Organization

Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) is a major international airline. Its headquarters are in Stockholm, Sweden. Three national Scandinavian air carriers, through a consortium agreement, established the airline. The carriers were Det Danske Luftfartselskab (DDL), the Danish airline; Det Norske Luftfartselskab (DNL), the Norwegian air carrier; and AB Aerotransport (ABA), the Swedish airline. On September 17, 1946, Dan Viking, the first DC-4 painted in SAS’s colors, made its premier flight from Stockholm’s Bromma airport to New York via Copenhagen, Prestwick, and Gander. The flight took twenty-seven hours. By November 30, SAS had inaugurated its second route, to Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo.

In 1947, SILA (from Sweden), DDL, and DNL operated to North and South America under SAS’s colors. DDL, DNL, and ABA operated their own domestic and European services and all three had plans to open routes to the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The three airlines had difficulties in developing their traffic, hampered by heavy restrictions on travel and how much currency people were allowed to bring with them. The three carriers often offered parallel services, and passengers were few.

In 1948, on the initiative of the Swedish government, privately owned SILA and state-owned ABA were merged on a fifty-fifty ownership basis and named ABA. An agreement was made with DDL and DNL to coordinate European traffic. The cooperation agreement was called ESAS (European SAS) and Copenhagen was made the operational center. All aircraft used by ESAS were painted in SAS colors, and offices abroad were merged. ESAS did not provide the economies of scale that had been anticipated and the three companies struggled with major financial problems.

In September, 1949, the Norwegian Department of Transport urged DNL to withdraw from ESAS. Instead of a complete collapse of the cooperation, a new SAS Consortium comprising the total traffic of the three companies was established. On February 8, 1951, ABA, DDL, and DNL ceased to exist as independently operating airlines. Their share of the new consortium remained three-sevenths, two-sevenths, and two-sevenths, respectively. Ownership of each of the three companies was distributed fifty-fifty among government and private interests.

Corporate Activities

SAS as of 2001 operated scheduled passenger, freight, and mail flights between nearly one hundred cities in about fifty countries. The company also offered tour and catering services, and operated hotels in Scandinavia, Greenland, and the rest of the world under the SAS Radisson brand. Since 1990, SAS has owned and operated its own flight academy as a subsidiary company. The SAS Flight Academy is headquartered at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm and is responsible for training pilots, cabin attendants, and mechanics for SAS and other airlines. SAS Media, founded in 1972, is also a subsidiary of SAS. The company has offices in Stockholm and Oslo employing forty-one people, with an annual turnover in 2001 of $10 million.

The airline operates a fleet of several types of aircraft, most of them made in the United States. In addition to the Boeing B-767-300 ER, which is used for its long-haul flights, SAS operates for its short- and medium-haul flights the Boeing B-737-600, 700, and 800 series, the McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) MD90-30, the McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) MD-81-82 and -83, the McDonnell Douglas MD-87, the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, the Dutch-made Fokker F-50 and F-28, the Swedish-made SAAB 2000, and the Canadian De Havilland Q-400.

The SAS route system is built around nonstop flights to and from the Scandinavian capitals and offers its customers a global traffic system. This is a hub-and-spoke network, which attempts to provide customers with convenient and efficient travel connections between continents, countries, and towns.

A notable first in flight operations for SAS took place on February 24, 1957, when a SAS DC-7C took off from Copenhagen to Anchorage and Tokyo. Simultaneously, another SAS DC-7C departed from Tokyo. At 9:10 p.m. the two aircraft met over the North Pole. By tying together the southern route and the polar route, SAS was the first airline to fly over the pole and around the world.


In an attempt to solve some of the problems connected with SAS’s geographic position in the far north, in an area with a relatively sparse population, SAS entered into agreements with a number of airlines having strategically better locations as early as the 1950’s. Among those were Austrian Airlines, Thai Airways International, and Gamsa of Mexico. In order to keep down the costs for training, maintenance, and equipment for their newly acquired Boeing B-747’s, SAS entered into the KSS (for the initial letters of each partner) agreement with Swissair and KLM in 1971.

In May, 1995, a strategic alliance with Lufthansa was signed, and implemented on February 1, 1996. This agreement was the impetus for Scandinavian Airlines System to found, along with Lufthansa, Air Canada, Thai Airways International, and United Air Lines, the Star Alliance in 1997. In subsequent years, membership grew to include Air New Zealand, ANA (Japan), Ansett Australia, Austrian Airlines, British Midland, Lauda Air (Austria), Mexicana Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Tyrolean Airways (Austria), and Varig Brazil. The Star Alliance grew significantly and by mid 2001 it encompassed fifteen airlines and a network of 130 countries and 815 destinations, making it the world’s largest alliance.

In addition to its Star partners, SAS has cooperated with several other airlines. The cooperation encompasses, among other things, code-share flights and the participation in each other’s frequent flier programs. In the Scandinavian market, SAS offers a comprehensive network together with its regional partners Cimber Air, Widerøe, Skyways, Air Botnia, and Maersk. SAS is also regional partners with Estonian Air in the Baltic and Spanair in Spain. All in all, SAS can offer more than eight thousand departures daily to over 815 destinations in 130 countries. SAS has proven that through cooperation, three relatively small nations are able to create an airline of international magnitude.


  • Groenewege, Adrianus D. The Compendium of International Civil Aviation. 2d ed. Geneva, Switzerland: International Air Transport Association, 1999. A comprehensive directory of the major players in international civil aviation, with insightful and detailed articles.
  • Weimer, Kent J. ed. Aviation Week and Space Technology: World Aviation Directory. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. An excellent introductory guide on all global companies involved in the aviation business. The information is very basic but very essential as a first introduction to each company.

Air Canada

Air carriers

Fokker aircraft


MD plane family

Singapore Airlines