Zantop International Airlines, Inc., (IATA: VK, ICAO: ZAN, Callsign: Zantop ) was incorporated in May, 1972 as a Michigan (USA) corporation, the stock of which was 100% owned by the Zantop family. The same persons had formerly operated Zantop Flying Service and Zantop Air Transport.
Zantop traces its origins to 1946 when the Zantop family set up Zantop Flying Service. In 1952 it was granted a license for commercial flying: The name was changed to Zantop Air Transport and the company operated as a freight airline for the auto industry.
In 1962 Zantop took over Coastal Airlines and through the purchase acquired a license to carry passengers as well as freight.
Aircraft like the piston-engine C-46 of WWII fame launched Zantop's fleet. Later, in the 1960s, the Dart Turboprop Powered Argosy and the DC-6 were added to the C-46 freighters, developing the original Zantop Airlines fleet under Duane Zantop.
In 1967 the Zantop family sold the airline and it became Universal Airlines. This venture went bankrupt in 1972 and the Zantop family restarted operations under Zantop International Airlines, based at Willow Run Airport near Detroit, USA.
Some of the operations were based in Flint, Michigan..
From 1972 to 1978 Zantop used the Douglas DC-6, the Lockheed L-188 Electra, the Convair CV-640 and several DC-8 freighters. In 1978 the DC-8s were also used for passenger charter flights. Duane Zantop guided the company with strong vision and business acumen.
In 1978 Zantop also purchased the freight division of Hawaiian Airlines and with it came more Electras. By this time Zantop was one of the largest airlines in the freight business. In the late 1980s, Duane Zantop's son Jimmy took over after Duane experienced physical problems. Zantop continued to operate through the 1990s, and into the next millennia. In the 1990s, Jimmy continued the LogAir Contract until its expiration in late 1991. Jimmy Zantop led ZIA into contracts with Channel Express, callsign ChanEx, starting December of 1989 and continuing into 1997 and possibly later. Channel Express operated initially from Bournemouth, England, and spread its bases to include Southend, England; Stanstead, England; and Edinburgh, Scotland. Flowers were flown from the Channel Islands, and UPS contracts were serviced through Cologne, Germany. Jimmy developed and maintained US Postal Contracts at Christmas, hubbing from various bases. Jimmy added Roadway Global and its Terre Haute, Indiana hub to Zantop's contracts. Jimmy Zantop added Fred Olsen's Shipping Line of Norway to his contracts, which gave Zantop a DHL hub of Copenhagen, Denmark. Jimmy also reached out to contract with Lynden Air Cargo of Alaska, and this put him back in US Postal Service subcontracts.
The operations specifications were given back to the FAA in the new millennia, and Zantop ceased to exist.
Zantop International Airlines had contracts with the United States Military, including domestic USAF Log Air and USN Quick Trans; there was another military contract that involved overseas flights, as well. ZIA had an oversized cargo hub at Ypsilanti, Michigan; it was fed by DC-8 jets, L-188 turboprops, Convair turboprops, and piston-engine DC-6 freighters. The YIP hub served major cities throughout America on a weeknight basis.
The military Log Air and Quick Trans routes were well served by Zantop, their best on-time performer, at least on paper. Zantop served many military bases from coast to coast. Electra hubs included Robins AFB in Warner Robins, Georgia and Hill AFB in Ogden, Utah; the Convair was flown through Dayton, Ohio and points north. The Electra served a large geographical area from its two bases.
ZIA was contracted to serve the automotive industry on demand, and served very well for decades. When an automotive production line was not going to get a shipment of assembly parts on time, ZIA would be called to fly automobile parts from a subassembly production line to a major production line. This was done because of the economics of shutting down unionized labor assembly facilities.
In addition to the aforementioned contracts, Zantop had contracts with FEMA that elicited hurricane damage response to the Caribbean. U.S. Mail was carried during the Christmas rush out of various hubs, and in Alaska, as well.
In Alaska, ZIA contracted with Lynden Air Cargo, and the US Postmaster was known to come on board to postmark all sorts of freight being transported from Anchorage to the outback. In addition, the Lockheed L-188 Electra was known to carry 30,000 pounds of frozen fish back to Anchorage. Points served in Alaska included Anchorage, Bethel, Aniak, St. Mary's, Dillingham, King Salmon, Nome, Kotzebue, Kodiak, and several other cities.
ZIA also contracted with the Norwegian shipping and air cargo carrier Fred Olsen Shipping Company to fly their DHL contracts from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Nuremberg, Germany and on to Bergamo, Italy. The next day they would retrace their route south while flying north, and add Billund, Denmark. The evening after that, they would return to Copenhagen, DK. Sunday afternoons provided a daylight flight over the German, Italian, and Swiss Alps.
ZIA began its overseas Electra L-188 contracts with Channel Express of Bournemouth, England in the latter part of 1989. Previously, only DC-8s on military contract flew overseas to England. Contracts flown included flower grower contracts from the English Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, and newspapers flown from inland England down to the Channel Islands. In addition, there were Her Majesty's Mail and Parcel Post, as well as UPS, and occasionally FEDEX contracts were helped. UPS was flown initially from South End at the mouth of the River Thames to Cologne, Germany. From Cologne (Koln with an umlaut over the "o"), ZIA flew to Zaragosa, Spain. ZIA flew under callsign CHANEX while under contract to Channel Express. ZIA crews were taught European procedures, and ZIA crews and maintenance taught Channel Express employees how we flew and maintained the L-188 Electra.
ZIA is generally remembered fondly by its crews as very good in maintenance, training, and opportunities. The Electra was known for its extremely good handling, complex engineering and maintenance, and exceptional performance.
Duane Zantop is credited with building the business, while his son Jimmy Zantop is remembered for cautiously expanding opportunities globally. Both are credited with recognizing the unique opportunities created by the airline's rare certificates, which allowed it to operate globally, with very few political restrictions.
Pilot unionization became a sore point for management, and they created a dedicated FAR Part 125 Certificate that could operate without unionized pilots. Eventually, all of the contracts held by the company were passed along to others. Those marketplaces were observed to change over time, even as other airlines took over ZIA contracts. The remaining aircraft were sold off, save a handful, and eventually the airline lost business momentum. Its operating certificate and FAR 121 Air Carrier Certificate, once deemed highly valuable, was given back to the FAA in beginning years of the new millennium, as was the FAR 125 Certificate. It was then that Zantop International Airlines ceased operations, and their aging but excellent aircraft were marketed elsewhere.