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Classic Airline Fleets – Sterling Airlines Caravelles

by Matt Falcus

The Sud Aviation SE.210 Caravelle was a classic French airliner which introduced jet travel to many airlines in Europe and further afield.

The early jet airliner was the first to introduce rear-mounted engines, and a T-tail design.

It was also the first to target short- and medium-haul routes, rather than long-range travel like the de Havilland Comet and Boeing 707 which pioneered jet travel.

One of the carriers most associated with the Caravelle was Sterling Airlines.

This Danish company flew the type for many years across its network, and many travellers have fond memories of flying these jets.

Here’s the story.



A History of Sterling Airlines

Sterling Airlines was established in 1962, and quickly carved a niche for itself in the Scandinavian aviation market. The company commenced operations with a fleet of propeller-driven aircraft, initially the Douglas DC-6B, serving regional routes within Europe.

As the company evolved, Sterling adapted, transitioning to jet-powered aircraft in the 1960s, first with the Caravelle, and later introducing the Boeing 727 to its fleet. This shift enabled Sterling to expand its reach, offering flights to popular destinations across Europe and the Mediterranean.


Throughout the ensuing decades, Sterling continued to update its fleet to meet the demands of an increasingly globalized world.

In the 1990s Sterling introduced the Boeing 737-500, and in the early 2000s it embarked on a period of expansion, adding the Boeing 737 Next Generation.

Knak – fotokongen.dk, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

However, despite its successes, Sterling faced challenges in the volatile aviation industry. Economic downturns and shifting market dynamics forced the airline to undergo restructuring efforts, transitioning into a low-cost leisure airline.

In 2008, Sterling Airlines ceased operations, marking the end of an era in Danish aviation history.



Sterling and the Caravelle

OY-STA. Caravelle 10B. Sterling. PMI.

Sterling Airlines first introduced the Caravelle in 1965 when OY-STA arrived.

It initially operated the Caravelle 10B model, flying it in a one-class layout with 105-109 seats, catering for the leisure market the airline was pursuing.

Flights out of Oslo and Stockholm were flown as well as those from Denmark, and routes typically covered the holiday destinations of the Mediterranean, with Spain and Greece popular. The Caravelle’s range allowed these services.

The Caravelle was well-liked with crew and passengers, with galleys serving hot and cold meals and drinks, and plenty of space to stock and sell Duty Free products.

Sterling Caravelle 12 OY-SAC

In 1971 Sterling introduced the Caravelle 12.

This variant was the longest Caravelle model, with seating for 131-140 passengers and good range to reach the Mediterranean.

Sterling initially ordered 12 of the type, but only 7 were delivered as cracks found in the wings led to extended periods of grounding for inspections and repairs to take place.

This somewhat soured the relationship with the French jet, and Sterling started to look at alternatives. It ordered the Boeing 727-200 for delivery in the 1980s, which provided greater range to serve more destinations non-stop from Scandinavia.

Despite this, Sterling’s Caravelles were used on some interesting missions. Charter routes often saw them flying to Dubai, India, Sri Lanka, Florida and the Caribbean – albeit via multiple fuel stops – proving a capable platform for the airline.

With the introduction of the 727, the writing was on the wall for the Caravelle. The 12 models were sold on in 1983, however the 10B model remained in Sterling’s fleet until 1992 when the last example was retired.

The final Sterling Caravelle flight took place on 15 January 1992 between Luxembourg and Copenhagen, operated by OY-STI.


Sterling Caravelle Mishaps

Two incidents tarnished the reputation of Sterling’s Caravelle fleet.

On 14 March 1972 one of the airline’s Caravelle 10B3 aircraft, OY-STL, was flying a service from Colombo (Sri Lanka) to Copenhagen via stops in Bombay, Dubai and Ankara.

Whilst on approach to Dubai, the aircraft crashed into a mountain near Fujairah, killing all 112 aboard. It was attributable to pilot error whilst flying in poor weather.


The second incident occurred on 15 March 1974 when Caravelle 10B3 OY-STK was taxying for takeoff at Tehran Mehrabad airport in Iran as flight 901.

During the taxi the aircraft’s right main landing gear collapsed, causing a fuel tank to rupture and a subsequent fire, which killed 15 passengers. The incident was attributed to metal fatigue.



Sterling Philippines Airways

Photo (c) Clinton H Groves

For a brief period between 1975 and 1980, Sterling Airlines operated a division in the Philippines known as Sterling Philippines Airways.

The carrier flew out of Manila Ninoy Aquino airport on domestic and regional services, and utilised a Caravelle 10B3 aircraft of the Danish parent’s fleet.

This aircraft, RP-C123 (previously OY-STF) appeared in the basic Sterling livery, with Sterling Philippines titles.

The airline became Summit Philippines Airways in 1980, closing down a few years later.



Sterling’s Caravelle Fleet

OY-SAA (270), Caravelle 12, 1971-1983

OY-SAB (271), Caravelle 12, 1971-1980

OY-SAC (269), Caravelle 12, 1971-1980

OY-SAD (272), Caravelle 12, 1971-1980

OY-SAE (273), Caravelle 12, 1972-1983

OY-SAF (275), Caravelle 12, 1972-1980

OY-SAG (276), Caravelle 12, 1972-1982

OY-SAH (88), Caravelle VIR, 1971-1978

OY-SAJ (104), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1977

OY-SAK (99), Caravelle VIR, 1971-1978

OY-SAL (89), Caravelle VIR, 1971-1978

OY-SAM (95), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1980

OY-SAN (98), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1973 W/O

OY-SAO (101), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1972

OY-SAP (90), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1977

OY-SAR (103), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1972

OY-SAY (255), Caravelle 10R, 1969-1971

OY-SAZ (263), Caravelle 10R, 1970-1971

OY-SBV (91), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1974

OY-SBW (93), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1978

OY-SBY (94), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1975

OY-SBZ (114), Caravelle VIR, 1972-1977

OY-STA (183), Caravelle 10B3, 1965-1971 (first Sterling Caravelle)

OY-STC (212), Caravelle 10B3, 1967-1992

OY-STD (186), Caravelle 10B3, 1966-1991

OY-STE (249), Caravelle 10B3, 1968-1979

OY-STF (257), Caravelle 10B3, 1969-1992 (also Sterling Philippines RP-C123)

OY-STG (259), Caravelle 10B3, 1969-1979

OY-STH (262), Caravelle 10B3, 1969-1991

OY-STI (265), Caravelle 10B3, 1969-1992

OY-STK (266), Caravelle 10B3, 1970-1973 W/O

OY-STL (267), Caravelle 10B3, 1970-1972 W/O

OY-STM (268), Caravelle 10B3, 1970-1992


What Happened to Sterling’s Caravelles?

Caravelle 12 F-GCVK, previously OY-SAG, at Merville. Photo (c) Erik Ritterbach

Many of Sterling’s Caravelle fleet was sold on to other operators once the airline had moved on from them.

The Caravelle 10B fleet was sold to carriers like Syrian Arab Airlines, Aerosucre, Central African Republic Government, SATA, Minerve and SEC Colombia. Parts of OY-STD survive on the fire dump at Copenhagen Airport. OY-STE survives at the Les Ailes Anciennes Museum in Toulouse.

The Caravelle VIR fleet was sold to carriers like Airborne Express, Filipinas Orient, the Mauritania Government, the Gabon Government and Catair. None survive.

The Caravelle 12 fleet was sold to Air Inter. OY-SAG survives as a trainer at Merville and OY-SAE is presrved at Paris Le Bourget’s Air & Space Museum.


Sud Aviation Caravelle Timelines

Our new book, Sud Aviation Caravelle Timelines, is a nostalgic look at the history of this early jet airliner through the airlines that flew it.

Full of colour photographs of many of the airlines that flew the type, each with informative captions, it also provides a guide to the different variants, and looks at some of the Caravelles you can still see today.


Order Your Copy Here





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