Alpar, Flugplatzgenossenschaft, Bern (1929-1936)

By: Rob Mulder
For: www.europeanairlines.no

This small Swiss airlines company was formed in 1929 and managed to survive the turbulent Second World War. Its fleet consisted of many smaller type of aircraft, but its history is enjoyable reading. It was to connect the city of Bern won the international network and to organise joy ride flights and other flying activities from the airport of Bern – Belpmoos. Its history can be divided into two periods: 1929-1936, when it was called Alpar, Flugplatzgenossenschaft and 1936 – 1947 Alpar, Schweizerische Luftverkehrs AG.

On March 5, 1929 the Alpar, Flugplatzgenossenschaft – Bern, Alpar-Bern was formed with a stock-capital of Sfr 30,000. Founders of the company were the Canton Bern, the municipalities Bern, Biel, Belp, Bollingen, Burgdorf, Interlaken, Köniz, Langenthal, Muri and Thun. In addition local banks, traffic companies, industrials and private persons contributed as well. By the end of 1929 the stock-capital had increased to Sfr 306,000. Aim of the company, known as Alpar-Bern, was to connect Bern on the international network and to organise joy ride flights, to run a flying school and an aerial photographic department.

During the spring of 1929, the Alpar-Bern looked around for a suitable aircraft. The company found in the Netherlands the Fokker F.XI. For many this aircraft was a step back in the development of Fokker-aircraft. In a way this was a modernised Fokker F.II, capable of carrying just 4-5 passengers. The power plant of the Alpar-Bern-aircraft was a 240 hp Lorraine-Dietrich 7A air-cooled radial engine, giving the aircraft a cruising-speed of 165 kmh. The aircraft carried the name Universal, which was not to be confused with the famous American-built Fokker Universal. The Swiss company decided to purchase one Fokker F.XI (c/n 5124) and received the aircraft on the June 8 that year. It was registered CH 188 (later HB-ALO) and was given the name Stadt Bern (City of Bern).

On June 10, 1929 the aircraft opened the company’s first air services: Basel – Biel – Bern. The service was closed down on August 31. Another aircraft delivered that year was a product from the Swiss aircraft manufacturer Alfred Comte, Schweizerische Flugzeugfabrik AG. It was the Comte A.C.4 Gentleman. The aircraft carried the registration CH 187 (c/n 18, later HB-ALE) and was also used on the above service. This monoplane had a 105 hp Cirrus Hermes III-engine and seating for two passengers and one pilots.

The Alpar-Bern was closely connected to the management of the airport of Bern, Belpmoos. It was in fact responsible for the running of the airport and flew in addition until 1936 air services. From 1929 to 1935 the company’s president was Fritz Raaflaub and the general manager was Henri Pillichody.

With the Comte A.C.4 the Alpar-Bern made during that year 510 joy ride flights and carried some 1,000 passengers. In addition the two aircraft carried 4,000 kg airmail and 1,000 kg freight and luggage.

In 1930 the service Bern – Biel – Basel was re-opened on May 1 and flown until the end of September, while a new service was opened, connecting Basel with Bern, Lausanne and Genève. This service was operated in co-operation with another Swiss airline company, Ad Astra Aero AG. This network was operate in 1931 as well, but in stead of Ad Astra Aero AG, the successor of this company was the pool partner: Swissair.

The fleet of the company was extended with another product of the Comte-aircraft factory, the A.C.8, registered CH 189 Jungfrau (c/n 31, later HB-ALA). This was an enlarge version of the A.C.4 Gentleman and was able to carry four passengers and one pilot. The 230 hp Lorraine-Mizar engine gave the aircraft a cruising speed of 185 kmh. The company paid Sfr 80,000 for the aircraft. It was not taken out of service until 1946. During the year 1930 and 1931, the company made respectively 1,286 and 1,236 flights and carried 1,835 and 2,250 passengers, 9,000 kg and 14,000 kg of airmail and 7,000 kg and 10,000 kg of freight and luggage.

The following years saw an extension of the network and the co-operation with other Swiss airline companies. On May 1 the network was re-opened after the winter stop and the Alpar-Bern operated the following services:

  • Lausanne – Biel – La Chaux-de Fonds;
  • Basel – Bern – Lausanne – Genève;
  • Bern – Biel – Basel; and
  • Lausanne – Bern.

The first service was new and was operated until August 31 on behalf of the city of Lausanne. The last service was closed down on September 30, while the two other routes were closed down on October 31. On the connection Bern – Biel – Basel, the city of Biel was only served on demand. If there were no passengers, no landing was made either.

The results increased considerably that year: 1,826 flights were made. A total number of 4,193 passengers were carried. Beside the passengers 21,000 kg of airmail and 20,000 kg freight was carried as well.

In 1933 a new aircraft was delivered to the Alpar-Bern: the Monospar ST-4, CH 134 (later HB-ALO) from the General Aviation Ltd., England. This twin engined low-wing aircraft could carry 3-4 passengers and one pilot and had two 150 hp Podboy engines.

The year 1933 saw a further expansion of the network in co-operation with the Ostschweizerische Aero-Gesellschaft, St Gallen-Althenrhein (q.v.) on certain routes. The main new service shared between the two companies was St. Gallen – Zürich – Bern, operated between May 1 and October 31. Beside the routes flown in 1932, the Alpar-Bern extended on May 1 the La Chaux-de-Fonds – Lausanne – Genève service to Basel. It was again a seasonal route, closed on August 31. The same can be said of the Bern- Biel – Basel air route. On October 31 the other services were closed down for the winter. When the season closed the company had made 1,877 flights, carried 3,286 passengers, 33,000 kg mail and 13,000 kg freight and luggage. Another increase of the results could be realised.

A further extension of the fleet was the delivery in 1934 of one de Havilland D.H.85 Leopard Moth, HB-ALI. It was the successor of the D.H.80A Puss Moth and was modified on some points. The new aircraft had a stronger construction and improved passenger’s cabin. Alpar-Bern’s aircraft had one 130 hp de Havilland Gipsy engine and a cruising speed of 170kmh. In addition the city of Lausanne took delivery of a Comte A.C.11, which it handed over to the Alpar-Bern to be used on the services to and from Lausanne. One 215/240 hp Armstrong-Siddeley Lynx IV CS powered this small high-winged single engine aircraft. The cruising speed was just 120 kmh and it carried one pilot and up to six passengers in a comfortable cabin. It was mainly used on the air service Lausanne – Genève until 1939. It was taken over by Alpar AG and in 1943 sold to the Eidgenössische Landestopographie.

That year the network was improved as well and connection with international air services established. Most important was the Lausanne – Genève route (re-opened May 1, closed September 30), which offered passengers an onward connection to Paris with Swissair and further to London with Air France and Imperial Airways Ltd. Besides the co-operation with Swissair, the Alpar-Bern worked also together with the Ostschweizerische Aero Gesellschaft St Gallen-Althenrhein on the air service St Gallen – Zürich – Bern. Between May 1 and August 31 Alpar-Bern flew between Basel and Bern and continued to Lausanne and Genève until October 31. Basel – Bern was closed down on August 31. A third connection to Genève was the air service Basel – La Chaux-de-Fonds (-Bern) – Lausanne – Genève service. A landing at Bern was only possible when flying in the direction of Basel. This service was closed down on August 31. The last two services (Bern – Biel – Basel and Lausanne – Bern) were operated between May 1 and October 31. This increase in the number of services led again to an increase in the results. The company’s aircraft made 2.499 flights (+33%) and carried on them 5,164 passengers (+57%), 39,000 kg mail (+18%) and 16,000 kg freight and luggage (+23%).

The fleet really needed to be modernised and during the winter of 1934-35, Henri Pillochody met the Dutch aircraft manufacturer Frits Koolhoven during his winter sport vacation in Davos. The two started to talk with each other about a suitable aircraft and before Pillochody knew it, Koolhoven had made some lose sketches for a twin-engine high-wing aircraft for 8-10 passengers. Upon his return in the Netherlands, Koolhoven made up the drawings for this aircraft. Alpar Bern ordered from the drawing board two Koolhoven FK.50’s for delivery in 1935 and 1936. The price for the first aircraft: Sfr 93,600. The prototype was constructed in record time and known as the Koolhoven FK.50 (c/n 5001) it made on August 1, 1935 its first flight from Waalhaven Airport, near Rotterdam, with the Koolhovens regular test pilot Schmidt Cranz at the controls. The aircraft had received the registration PH-AKX, but after extensive tests by the Rijks Studiedienst voor de Luchtvaart – RSL the aircraft received its Certificate of Airworthiness and is handed over to Alpar-Bern on September 18 that year. In Switzerland the aircraft was registered as HB-AMI and used on the network of the Alpar-Bern. The aircraft had two 406 hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior T1-B engines and could reach a cruising speed of 250 kmh. The range was 860 km. Without doubt the Alpar-Bern had now the possession of modern material and could improve the results even further.

Beside the Koolhoven FK.50, the Alpar-Bern ordered a Cierva C.30 (HB-MAB), which was a combination of helicopter and aircraft. Delivered in the spring of 1935, it was used during the air shows and for joy ride flights with passengers during the summer season. It carried beside the pilot one passenger and had a cruising speed of 140 kmh.

The network of the company had been re-opened on April 1, one month earlier that in 1934, but had been closed nearly one month earlier (October 5) as well. All services were flown by Alpar-Bern alone and there was no direct participation of other airline companies. The company flew:

  • Lausanne – Genève;
  • Basel – Bern – Lausanne – Genève;
  • Bern – Biel – Basel;
  • Lausanne – Bern – Biel – Basel;
  • Genève – Lausanne – Bern – La Chaux-de-Fonds/La Loche – Basel.

The results achieved on this network were according to the annual report satisfying: 2,627 flights made and 5,597 passengers carried. The mail figure sank to 34,000 kg, while freight and luggage sank to 12,000 kg. The year 1935 was also the last year the company operated the network. The Alpar-Bern founded as an airport authority had exceeded its goal and wanted to concentrate on its primarily work: the management of the airport of Bern. Therefore a new company was formed in the spring of 1936 that would operate the network: the Alpar, Schweizerische Luftverkehrs AG – Alpar AG.

Alpar, Schweizerische Luftverkehrs AG – Alpar AG

(1936-1945)

The Alpar, Schweizerische Luftverkehrs AG – Alpar AG was formed on April 7, 1936 as a Swiss airline company. The president of the Board of Directors became Paul Cardinaux, while Henri Pillichody became the first managing director. He was in 1937 succeeded by Dr Hermann Aeschbacher.

During the 1936-season, Alpar AG extended its field of operation. The network was extended with the Koolhoven FK.50. The network consisted out of the air services numbers:

  • 532: Basel – Bern – Lausanne – Genève;
  • 532a: La Chaux-de-Fonds – Biel – Bern;
  • 534: Basel – Bern – Lausanne;
  • 535/541a: Zürich – Bern – Lausanne – Genève;
  • 536: Genève – Lausanne – Bern;
  • 537: Basel – Biel – Bern; and
  • 541a: Genève – Lausanne – Zürich (see 535).

All services were again mainly flown between April and October, but plans for the expansion into the winter season were under preparation.

In addition charter flights to Paris, London, Lyon and Marseille were made with the Koolhoven FK.50. The second ordered aircraft (c/n 5002) was delivered in March 1936 as HB-AMO. This aircraft cost the company Sfr 94,000. It could also carry ten passengers and had a crew of two. The first year of operation brought good results. 2,267 flights were made, on which 4,576 passengers, 73,379 kg airmail, 14,749 kg freight and 11,374 kg luggage could be carried. The aircraft flew 232,657 km in 1,799 flying hours. Although this not as good as the last year of Alpar-Bern-operations in 1935, the company was content.

In 1937 the Alpar AG had to register its first sever accident. On September 10, 1937 the second Koolhoven FK.50, HB-AMO crashed into the mountain Kelleköpfli (near Waldenburg) on a flight from Basel to Bern. The pilot Walter Eberschweiler and two passengers were killed immediately, while the wireless operator Hans Huggler survived the accident but severely wounded. The aircraft had to be written off.

Changes in the network were only minor. On the air service 532: Basel – Genève an extra landing at Biel on the leg Basel – Bern was added between June 1 and September 11. The remainder of the service was flown between April 5 and October 2. Between May 1 and September 11 there was an additional service running from Bern to Biel and La Chaux-de-Fonds. Flying in the direction Bern – La Chaux-de-Fonds, the aircraft did not land at Biel. It was only on the return flight.

On air service number 534 Lausanne was not served anymore and 536 was changed into Lausanne – Genève and operated between June 15 and August 15 only. Air Service number 535 remained unchanged, while 541a was changed in such a way, that a stop at Bern was added on the leg Zürich – Lausanne. The stretch Bern – Lausanne – Genève was operated only between May 1 and August 14, while the service Zürich – Bern was flown from May 1 and October 2. To make it even more confusing, the return flight Bern – Zürich was already opened on 5 April and connected with air service 532 to Lausanne and Genève.

Results in 1937 declined again: 2,214 flights, 61,108 kg airmail, and just 4,545 kg freight. But the number of passengers increased to 5,374 and they took more luggages along compared with 1936: 13,111 kg. The aircraft flew 250,796 km (during 1,747 flying-hours). An interesting statistic is the number of Swiss citizens on Alpar AGs aircraft. On the service to Basel this was 55%, to Zürich 70% and to Genève 98%!

To replace the loss of the Koolhoven FK.50, the Alpar AG ordered a new aircraft. Koolhoven improved the aircraft and made it more streamlined. The aircraft (c/n 5003) was ready in April 1938 and its main change against the FK.50 is the twin fins and rudders and much slimmer engine nacelles. The nose was modified and the fuselage was now thirty centimetres longer. It was delivered in May 1938 with the registration HB-AMA. The price of the aircraft was considerable higher than the other aircraft: Sfr 168,000.

Alpar AG continued to fly its domestic network in 1938 as well, despite the declining results. Some services were opened as early as March 28. The Koolhoven FK.50 and FK.50A and the Fokker F.IX were widely used on the air services, while the Comte A.C. 11 was used between Lausanne and Genève (Air Service No.1112) between May 2 and September 17. The company operated the Koolhoven-aircraft on the Air Service No. 1101: Zürich – Bern – Genève; 1102: Zürich – Bern – Lausanne – Genève and 1105: Bern – Basel. The Fokker F.XI helped the Koolhoven FK.50 on the service 1103: Zürich – Bern – Lausanne – Genève and flew solely between Bern and Lausanne (Air Service No.1111 between May 2 and September 17). The last service Bern – La Chaux-de-Fonds was served by both types.

In March-April 1939 the company purchased as an addition to its fleet with two biplanes from the de Havilland Aircraft Co Ltd, at Hatfield Aerodrome, Herts, England: the D.H.89 Dragon Rapide with the registration HB-AME (c/n 6437) and HB-AMU (c/n 6438). They could each accommodate six passengers and had a crew of two. Powered by two 205hp Gipsy Six engines from the de Havilland Aircraft Co Ltd, they were each bought for the price of Sfr.70,000.

At the start of the 1939-season, the fleet consisted out of the following aircraft: one Koolhoven FK.50, one FK.50A, two D.H.89 Dragon Rapide, one Fokker F.XI, one Comte A.C.8, one D.H.85 Leopard Moth and one Comte A.C.4. Latter was used for the special assignments, such as aerial photograph.

For the first time the network was operated during the winter season as well. Flights were resumed on January 3 and continued until April 15, after which the summer schedule was implemented. The Koolhoven FK.50 operated during the winter season the Air Service no 1101 Bern – Zürich. On March 16, 1939 this aircraft (HB-AMI) was damaged at Dübendorf Airport after it collided on the ground with an Air France Potez 62 (F-AOTU). The aircraft had to be taken out of traffic, was repaired in the workshop of Alpar AG and entered service again after approximately three weeks.

The summer season was operated between April 16 and August 27 and included the following services:

  • 1101: Genève – Lausanne – Bern – Zürich (departure Genève 7.10am, arrival Zürich 8.35 am, return departure 5.45 pm and arrival Genève 7.15 pm);
  • 1102: a second service between Genève, Lausanne, Bern and Zürich with departure Genève at 11.30 am, arrival Zürich 1.10 pm, departure Zürich 1.45 pm, arrival Genève 3.40 pm;
  • 1103: Early morning flight over the same route as 1101 and 1102, but starting in Zürich at 8.50 am, arrival Genève 10 am, return at 4.55 pm with arrival Zürich at 5.15 pm:
  • 1104: Afternoon flight Zürich – Bern in connection with inter-national flights and only operated if passengers available.
  • 1105: Bern – Basel, with in Basel connection on London – Glasgow and Lausanne – Genève;
  • 1106: Basel – Bern – Lausanne with in Basel connection to London. Bern – Lausanne only operated if international passengers available on the flight;
  • 1107: Basel – Bern with connection on the night air mail service Basel – Frankfurt and in Bern on the international air service Lausanne – Genève – Marseille – Barcelona. This service was opened in May 1;
  • 1112: Lausanne – Genève with connection on Lyon – Paris – London, opened on May 15. The Comte A.C.8 flew on this line.
  • 1114: La Chaux-de-Fonds – Bern, with connection at Bern to London, Zürich – Berlin and Wien, Lausanne and Genève. Opened on May 15.

New in 1939 was also that Bern – Zürich was operated on Sundays as well. It was opened in order to have better connection on the international Sunday-services of Swissair.

Due to the general tensed political situation all flights were closed on August 27. This was followed by a general mobilisation of the Army on September 2. However, it did not affect the results for the Alpar AG in 1939. With some minor changes, the network could be operated. The results over the last two years were as follows:

1938 1939
Kilometres flown 266,696 268,982
Flying-hours 1.942 1,91
Passengers 6,255 8,564
Luggage (kg) 12,451 16,966
Freight  (kg) 8,052 10,152
Mail (kg) 75,596 97,238
Regularity 97.7 % 98.2 %
Occupancy 33.4 % 33.4 %

But for Alpar AG it was impossible to start up any services. It depended largely on foreign travellers and as Swissair had closed down its services as well, the Alpar AG had no one to transport. During the Second World War Swissair operated a number of international service, but Alpar AG had to postpone its services. At the end of the War (May 1945) the Alpar AG increased its stock-capital from Sfr.250,000 to Sfr.1,200,000 and was allowed to start up business again. It purchased four Czechoslovak Douglas DC-3 Dakota’s (OK-WAL, OK-WBC, OK-WDI and OK-WDL) to start scheduled international air services in 1946, but Swissair was appointed the national carrier and Alpar AG could not start up. On August 18, 1947 the Alpar AG stopped all services and filed bankruptcy. Switzerland’s sole domestic airline had ceased to exist.