TAROM is Still Alive, and It’s On the Right Path

Why the heck am I writing about TAROM, you ask? Good question. In a lot of ways, TAROM, the national airline of Romania, is your typical small European flag carrier. It had grand plans, lost a ton of money, and now is looking for comfort under one of the big three (in this case, Air France/KLM). And that’s what it should be doing. But I’m really writing about this, because, well, I was asked to. The gauntlet was thrown down, and I’m not one to back away. Can I make a post about TAROM interesting? Let’s see.

Let’s start with the basics. This is Romania:

Romania

My worldly readers may scoff at the need to throw a map out there, but my guess is that most Americans couldn’t find it. (I mean, most Americans can’t find Iowa, so it’s a safe bet.) As you can probably figure out, Romania was firmly behind the Iron Curtain. (Pay attention, kids. Back when the Soviets were our mortal enemies, the Iron Curtain was the western extent of their political influence into Europe.) So it won’t surprise you to know that most of TAROM’s history is filled with old Soviet aircraft.

The airline was actually started as a joint venture between the Soviets and the Romanians after World War II. In 1954, the Romanians bought out the Russians to make it their own. But in reality, nothing was their own. It was still under heavy Russian influence.

From there, the airline’s trajectory followed that of many others. It started by growing its European operation and then, in the 1970s, decided to plant the flag by flying regular service to New York. Throw in some far east and middle east destinations and you’ve got your typical small-country European airline at the time.

One of the more interesting things about TAROM is that it operated a fleet of BAC 1-11s. How the heck did that happen? Well, in one of the more spectacular failures in aircraft manufacturing, Romania’s government decided to effectively buy the BAC 1-11 production line and move it to Bucharest. Seriously. The BAC 1-11 was first delivered in the mid-1960s, but it was running out of steam in the late 1970s. So, Romania had grand plans and brought the production of the soon-to-be-restyled ROMBAC 1-11 to Romania.

The expectation was for up to 80 airplanes to be built. Wanna guess how close they got? Nine. That’s right. A total of nine airplanes were finished with another two that never quite made it that far. Want to guess where the vast majority of those 1-11s went? TAROM. By the 1980s when they were going into service, they were obsolete, however. Good times.

Once communism collapsed throughout Eastern Europe, TAROM, like other airlines in the region, was faced with one question. What the heck do we do now? Every Eastern European country was trying to find its place, and that usually meant nationalism was strong. The airlines were there to fly the flag around the world, usually regardless of economic relevance.

If you’re in TAROM in the early 1990s, where do you go? How about Montreal and Bangkok. I mean, can you imagine Montreal to Bucharest being a barn-burner? Yikes. But hey, it happened . . . for a year or two.

Mercifully, over the next 10 years, TAROM realized that long haul operations just simply weren’t going to work. The last long haul destination, the all-important New York market, went away in 2003. Not coincidentally, TAROM finally made a profit in 2004.

In the last decade, TAROM did what every small-country European airline should do. It learned its place. There’s not enough demand from most of these places to justify long haul nonstop service. Even Delta’s attempt at Bucharest service failed, and today you won’t see any flights out of Europe from Bucharest except for the Middle East.

TAROM at the SkyTeam Teat

At the same time, the low cost carriers began their assault. Blue Air is one that’s actually based in Romania and has grown rapidly. There’s also the hilariously-named Wizz Air growing around the country. Even easyJet and Ryanair fly around the edges, putting the squeeze on TAROM. So how could TAROM survive?

There’s no other option. TAROM had to go for the business traveler crowd. The low cost carriers in Europe have generally gone for the low frequency, no frills type of operation. That means business travelers aren’t well-served. But business travelers need to travel all over with ease, so TAROM did what any smart airline would do – align itself with one of the big three in Europe.

For TAROM, it went with Air France. This has now blown into a full-blown relationship where TAROM adopted the Flying Blue frequent flier program and has now become a full member of SkyTeam. With this move, TAROM can bring Romanians all over the world and it can benefit from those elsewhere in the world who come to Romania. It is, effectively, a regional specialist, focusing on moving people from around Eastern Europe and the Middle East into Bucharest where it can now funnel them into the global SkyTeam network. That’s a good thing.

This doesn’t mean that TAROM is completely out of the woods. It still has an oddball fleet with two old A310s and a few of the black sheep A318s to complement its 737s and ATRs, but I’m sure that can be worked out eventually. I wouldn’t be surprise to see TAROM one day become a subsidiary of Air France, just as others around Europe have done under Lufthansa.

But for now, TAROM is on its own, just hiding under the wing of Air France. Other national carriers in similar situations should probably follow this model if they hope to survive.

[Original photo via Flickr user slasher-fun]

37 Responses to TAROM is Still Alive, and It’s On the Right Path

  1. Konstantin says:

    Speaking of the Rombac 1-11, anyone remember Kiwi International Air Lines who had ordered a modernized version of it (Rombac 1-11 2500) with RR Tay engines…?

  2. Benji says:

    unrelated, but i don’t feel like emailing this to your separately LOL… http://www.steeletravelblog.com/2010/08/continental-unveils-boeing-787.html

  3. Allan says:

    Where in the middle east do they fly to and why? Dubai, Tehran or Tel Aviv would be my guess but even those don’t make sense. I can’t see the demand for direct service.

    • Allan in the middle east they go to Tel Aviv, Beirut, Amman, Damascus and also to Cairo.

      • Allan says:

        One out of three isn’t a bad guess. I still don’t get it.

        • Ron says:

          What’s there not to get about Bucharest–Tel Aviv? Israel has lots of immigrants from Romania and their descendants (totaling hundreds of thousands), plus a substantial population of transient workers from Romania. Right now the line supports up to 5 daily flights: 2 El-Al (1 on Fri and Sat), 1-2 Tarom, 0-1 Romavia.

  4. Uhh. Teets are usually in the middle of a mammal

    What is at the tail end is…..

    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a lewder airplane picture.

  5. Gray says:

    Yeah, definitely thought that was a scrotum, Cranky.

  6. Cranky,
    Congratulations, you did make the post interesting, and an American journalist is never amiss to point out basic facts like where is Romania. But, please, give some background on their oddball plane. In which country was it originally manufactured? thanks.

  7. While I’ve never been to Romania, years ago I did see a Tarom airplane at Oakland airport. It was parked at the World Airways maintance base which you had to pass to get to the terminal. I didn’t know if it was their for contracted maintance work or just parked there as it may have been a charter flight (or both).

    Over the decades Oakland got a lot of charter flights since it was cheaper then SFO to use and not as congested or ‘fogged’ in, so in the summer months you could always see a lot of different airlines from around the world that you might have never see.

  8. Jason H says:

    Excellent read.

    You had me at Tarom.

    I think I need to go buy your book now.

  9. Daren S says:

    So glad you managed to get the BAC1-11 into one of your posts! Fond memories of flying them on those cross-channel hops.

  10. Brian says:

    Thanks for the Iowa shout-out! Just like the shirt says, make sure you wave the next time you fly over: https://raygunsite.com/shop/men/t-shirts-34/fly-over-6694-6694 (I am not affiliated with this site, I just like the shirt).

  11. Jim Sack says:

    I flew Tarom twice, once when the commies were in charge and later, in the mid-90s when it was “free.” The commie version was basic, so I was not expecting much on the subsequent flight which was, surprisingly, one of the most pleasant flights I have ever taken. Nothing went wrong, nothing. The food was better than mom’s. I remember a very tasty meal, an equally surprised Brit seated next to me and a cabin crew that was charmingly efficient. I hope they do well. The Romanians feel a special tie to France for historic reasons, but they would be better off with Lufthansa.

  12. Andrew says:

    A very interesting post. You should consider teaching World History. You could definitely add a nice touch to every lesson, lol.

  13. coldtusker says:

    So SkyTeam accepts anyone, anytime?

    What happened to the ‘associate’ designation that allowed airlines to build up capacity/service to what’s expected of an International Alliance…

    • CF says:

      The associate designation is gone. Star did the same thing with its regional partners. So you’re either in or you’re out now.

  14. Bruce says:

    Interesting post. You could have included a wee bit more about the New York operation. When I was at Pan Am in the ’70s, I remember TAROM 707s using the (dreaded) Worldport Terminal. I think PA had some kind of interchange or blocked-space agreement with the carrier. And I believe the flight was routed JFK-AMS-BUH. It must be a tough market in terms of the North Atlantic–DL has gone in and out with the seasons, is now once again out even tho it’s summer.

    • CF says:

      I’m afraid I don’t know a ton more about the JFK operation. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was an interchange.

  15. scott says:

    Reasons they went to YUL and not the USA
    1) OTP-YUL/YMX is 200 miles less than OTP-JFKl and right on the edge of IL62 range
    2) Aeroflot also went to YUL/YMX; so TAROM would have had better access to ground facilities
    3) Canada was seen as kinder/gentler than the USA; and it allowed them to service North America without being friends with a mortal enemy.

  16. John says:

    I had a chance to fly two round-trips on TAROM this March (one between VIE-OTP, another between FRA-OTP; TAROM flew three of the four legs, Lufthansas the other). The TAROM flights were nice. The equipment was relatively new (A-318) and clean. The crew was welcoming, and the food (economy class) was comparatively good. OTP airport did leave a lot to be desired.

    One thing I wondered after reading the piece is why TAROM is going with SkyTeam rather than Star Alliance. At least last spring, the airline appeared to have a good bit of codesharing with Austrian and Lufthansa with a decent amount of service to Star hubs VIE and FRA.

    And if you are taking suggestions of European airlines to profile, what happened to Austrian? That airline appears to have deteriorated considerably since the mid-1990s when I lived in Austria.

  17. Ron says:

    I know someone who had a ticket for a domestic Tarom flight (I think Bucharest–Ia?i) back in the mid-1980s. The flight was full and there was no seat, but then my acquaintance produced a letter of invitation from Zoia Ceau?escu and a space was found. The guy never found out if they had seats blocked out for VIPs, or if they just kicked someone off the plane…

    • claudia says:

      Hi Ron,
      More likely they kicked someone off the plane in order to accommodate your friend. I was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania where I lived under communism for 20 years (’till we killed Ceausescu=monster dictator in 1989). I found a window of opportunity to come to the U.S. and took it in 1990. I have been fortunate enough to work for United Airlines and fly whatever fun destinations United goes to. Thus, never used Tarom, but my mom and friends did. I think for a short period of time they were flying into Chicago as well. As a matter of fact I know they did. That was before 1996!!!! Chicago has a large Romanian community and so as New York! Good Romanian food too! You should try it!

  18. Ron says:

    It looks like the blogging software mucks up the ? (s-with-comma) character — not nice.

  19. lh says:

    Cranky, it would be interesting to hear your take on Finnair and their large Asian operation. They currently have more destinations in Japan than BA and want to become the third biggest airline between Europe and Asia.

    • CF says:

      It’s actually an interesting operation they have up there. Finland’s geography makes for a great stopping point to Asia for much of Europe. It’s actually quite complementary to hubs in Madrid and London for that purpose. I like the little niche they’ve put together.

  20. Jon says:

    The real question is why would anyone NEED to find Iowa in the first place.

  21. Moldo says:

    Thank you for the TAROM article. The second largest Romanian airline, Blue Air, it might disappear, because they have economic problems. They canceled last week all the internal flights and part of international ones. Wizz Air is doing a great job in Romania for that money (I flew a round trip TSR-TSF-TSR with them for just 45$).

  22. Cranky, congratulations. I think you’ve acquitted yourself quite well, this is one of the most interesting write-up about an obscure airline I’ve ever read, not that I go out of my way in search of such topics. I agree with you, though, the TAROM model could be the ticket for many national or regional airlines to survive and thrive in these hard times.

  23. anac says:

    They still have nice stewardesses and great meals as many others [European] carries.

  24. Ex-Yugoslavia was not a part of Eastern block and was not behind the Iron curtain.
    Yes, it was a “socialist” country, BUT never a member of Warsaw pact. YU cityzens travelled freely, while JAT, Yugoslav Airlines had Boeing and DC planes.

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