Wednesday 12 May 2021

For Eternity’s Sake: The Story of BEA’s A300s

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
For everyone that ever landed at Istanbul Atatürk International Airport while sitting on the right hand side of the plane, the aircraft featured in header image should be an all too familar sight. Three blue and white Airbus A300s standing in a remote corner of the airport near Yeşilköy, seemingly waiting for their inevitable scrapping in the near future. Ever since landing at Atatürk Airport for the first time, I've taken an interest in the three aircraft. Why were they parked there? How long did they operate in this livery before eventually being retired?
These questions would plague me until recently I decided to gather as much information as I could to eternalise these A300s in an article before one day they're scrapped and forgotten. To the average reader looking for their daily piece of military analysis perhaps this isn't quite what they craved, but for those who take an active interest in civilian aviation, and the harsh fate of some of the airlines and airliners operating in a business known for its stiff competition, you should feel right at home with this one. This is the story of Bosphurus European Airways' (BEA) three A300s.

BEA was originally founded as a charter airline in 2001 and commenced its first flights in March 2002 with a fleet of three Airbus A300B4 passenger aircraft, each with a seating capacity of 298 and a cargo capacity of some ten tonnes. [1] The three aircraft, TC-COA, TC-OIM 'Kaan' and TC-OYC 'Hakan', were some twenty years old at the time of their acquisition by BEA in December 2001. All three had originally been delivered to Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) in the early 1980s before being passed on to Danish charter airlines Scanair, Conair and Premiair (and leased to several other airlines in between). [2]

It may be assumed that the months following the A300's delivery were spent training the crews in gaining familiarity with the aircraft in anticipation of the start of the 2002 holiday season. As a charter airline, BEA's most important clientele would be tourists visiting holiday resorts on the Turkish coast, soccer fans attending matches throughout Europe and Turkish citizens working in Europe. Throughout its short existence, BEA operated flights to several destinations in Europe and the Middle East, including Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, England, Cyprus, Iran and Iraq. [1] [3]
Unfortunately for BEA, the average lifespan of a Turkish charter airline was exceptionally short during the 1990s and early 2000s. For example, just seven years earlier (1995), Akdeniz Airlines too attempted to break into the charter airline business with three Airbus A300s. Although services began in June 1995 with high anticipations, they would cease again by December 1995, operating for just six months. [4] BEA's fate was to be no different, and its operations too lasted for only six months (from March until August 2002) until money ran out. BEA's achievements thus amount to little more than the curious feat of having its aircraft photographed more while standing abandoned on the ground than when they were operational and in the air.

A300 'TC-COA' at Frankfurt Airport. Note the massive U.S. C-5 Galaxy transport planes in the background at what was then still the USAF's Rhein-Main Air Base

A300 'TC-OIM' 'Kaan' coming in to land at Manchester International Airport

As the 2002 summer holiday season drew to a close, so did the flying operations of BEA. Its aircraft were placed in long-term storage at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, and BEA officially ceased operations in 2004, likely waiting so long to give the remote possibility of a relaunch with new investors a chance. But as months turned into years, this prospect began to appear increasingly unlikely. Initially stored in front of the maintenance halls at Atatürk Airport along with several other abandoned aircraft, the fate and general condition of the A300s looked progressively bleak as time passed.
At first stored in a manner that could quickly allow their reactivation in the case of a relaunch of BEA or acquisition by another airline, eventually even the covers protecting the engines were removed from the aircraft, fully leaving the A300s to the mercy of the weather and Turkish climate. Note that the engine covers still had 'SAS' written on them during this period, even though the aircraft had only operated for SAS from 1981 to 1983/1984. [2]
Interestingly, one aircraft TC-OYC 'Hakan' was saved from its fate of storage and leased to another Turkish charter airline Fly Air for two months in August 2003, and then to Sudan Airways for a few weeks(!) in October 2003. [2] In service to the latter, the plane received Sudan Airways titles while retaining the BEA livery and lettering on the tail. This would be the only respite from the slow march towards oblivion any of our aircraft would receive, and it soon rejoined the two others in storage at Atatürk Airport. All three A300s were eventually moved to their current location in 2015 so the space in front of the maintenance halls could be used.

TC-OYC 'Hakan in 2017 with its nose cone removed. Also note the An-12 cargo aircraft (TC-KET, formerly operated by CAT Cargo) parked under its right wing

Sometime during the past years, the familiar blue colouring and BEA lettering on the tail of two of the A300s was removed. Although the exact reasoning behind this move remains unknown, in January 2021 it became known that all three aircraft were being auctioned off for a price of $73.954 per aircraft. [5]

These days Atatürk Airport is closed for commercial passenger flights, with only cargo, business and VIP flights still making use of its facilities. Still, driving past the airport one can't miss the tails of the aircraft standing high, pride unbroken by years of negligence. Abandoned and forgotten, it is certain that none of the aircraft will ever fly again, and a second lease of life as a quirky köfte restaurant doesn't seem to be in the books either. But now that they have been eternalised in an article, the claws of the scrap yard excavator may do their worst; BEA's A300 aircraft will not be forgotten.