English airline entrepreneur and founder of Laker Airways. Laker pioneered cheap transatlantic travel with his ‘Skytrain’ service. Its collapse in 1982 eventually cost him the airline, but he was back as a name in the business ten years later. He was chair and managing director of Laker Airways Ltd 1966–82, then chair of Laker Airways (Bahamas) Ltd from 1992.
Laker formed Laker Airways in 1966 and launched ‘Skytrain’. The airline went bankrupt in 1982. He established Laker Airways (Bahamas) in 1992, and launched Laker Airways Inc. in 1995. He was knighted in 1978.
Laker was born in Kent and educated at Simon Langton School, Canterbury. He started his career in aviation with Short Brothers in 1938, becoming a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1941, Aviation Traders in 1946, and a manager with British United Airways from 1960 to 1965.
In 1966 he formed Laker Airways with 6 planes and 120 employees. It was originally designed as a charter operator for package holidays to Mediterranean destinations. Laker, with a then revolutionary concept of low-fare, no-reservation flights from London to New York, launched the ‘Skytrain’ service. However, overcapacity (including the purchase of three DC10s before the US government had approved the route) and pricing competition from the other transatlantic carriers made it impossible for him to pay the debts which had accumulated in the 1970s, and the airline went into bankruptcy in 1982.
Laker left the UK to run a hotel and casino with British entrepreneur Tiny Rowland on Grand Bahama Island. Having set up Laker Airways (Bahamas) in 1992 to carry passengers between the USA and the Bahamas, he went back into the transatlantic business in 1995, launching Laker Airways Inc. (in which he owns a 49% stake, with the rest held by US oilman Oscar Wyatt). By 1997 it ran scheduled and charter flights between London Gatwick and Florida.