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Inspired by Martinair?

It’s been nearly 10 years since the French and Dutch flag carriers merged. In the past four the airline has amassed large losses – but is now implementing the ‘Martinair way’. Jim Devine talks to the departing senior vice president sales and distribution, Mattijs ten Brink

If you’re waiting in reception at the Schiphol East building shared by KLM Cargo, Martinair and Transavia, you might find yourself in conversation with a former Martinair flight attendant.


You can be assured the reminiscence will not be boring. Ex-Martinair employees – at least those working for the company until its full merger with KLM – will often refer to it as “family”.


Martinair (or Martin’s Air Charter) was formed in 1958 by ex-air force pilot J. Martin Schröder, and John Block, who later split with Schröder and formed his own charter airline, Transavia. Both airlines are now owned by KLM.


Operating the same aircraft as KLM, Schröder ran Martinair based on complementary lines of business – supplementing KLM’s scheduled network, inclusive tour holidays to European tourist destinations, and worldwide cargo charters. It was a strategy that came to be known, at least in the Netherlands, as “the sheep with five legs”, or a company that had a “bit extra” and was extremely nimble. 


In the four decades the six-foot, five-inch tall Dutchman led the airline, there was only one year it didn’t make a profit – when it acquired its first jet – and he was often referred to as the best president KLM never had.


The key to the airline’s extraordinary success was its operational flexibility – which is why almost all of the aircraft were converted from passenger to freight. Martinair was the first to operate a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 convertible; and it could disembark 115 holidaymakers from a DC-9-30CF, and then load it up with 15 tonnes of day-old chicks in barely over 30 minutes.


While KLM concentrated on scheduled network operations, Martinair developed a unique talent for opening up fresh markets with new products and services.


This is what Mattijs ten Brink, former senior vice president sales and distribution for Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo, and now managing director of Transavia, likes to call the “Martinair flair”.


He thinks it’ll make all the difference to the Franco-Dutch cargo group that is trying to re-invent itself while integrating three different cultures, management styles, IT platforms and network operations in a global market where capacity outstrips demand, un-cooperative intermediaries block access to shippers, and business is switching to integrators and ocean transport.


No wonder ten Brink thinks running a low-cost airline is more attractive. The passengers do all their own booking, pay before they fly, generate little or no paperwork, and board the aircraft like five-legged sheep. >>

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