It was certainly an impressive move from a domestic airline which had only begun operating 757s in May 1987 and prior to that had only used 737s. The Sydney route was denied but that didn't stop America West from deciding to use the 747s on a Honolulu service from Phoenix and Las Vegas. The 'Bird of Paradise' service began on November 15, 1989 and to show it was not lying about its ambitions AWA ordered a pair of new 747-4G7s!
It was the wrong time for the airline to be trying its hand on competitive long-haul routes as it already had its hands full expanding nationally and the Gulf War caused chaos in the airline industry. During 1990 AWA took a second pair of ex-KLM 747s (PH-BUC and D whichbecame N533AW and N534AW) but without additional long-haul route authority it was forced to use them on domestic services between New York and Vegas and New York and Phoenix. The upscale in equipment forced a costly terminal move on AWA at New York which had to move to Eastern's old unused and barely maintained facility.
Despite the increasing industry problems during the second half of 1990 AWA's chief Edward Beauvais continued to target international growth. Attemnpts to serve Tokyo were thwarted but the airline did manage to get service between Honolulu and Nagoya from February 27. The route was a financial disaster with the first flight carrying a single passenger!! The route was quickly scaled back to only three times a week. By June 1991 the airline was at breaking point and on the 27th it was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The airline was in turmoil and the fleet was immediately heavily cut. The Nagoya route was sold to Northwest for $51 million and two of the 747s were taken out of service. The other pair continued to operate the 'Bird of Paradise' route until September 9, 1992 when they were replaced by a wet-leased ATA Tristar. There was to be a difficult time head for America West which would operate in Ch11 for several years whilst the airline's founder Ed Beauvais would lose his job.
N531AW was gradually broken up from 1996-2003 and only one of the four, N534AW, saw any airline service post AWA. She became N306TW with TWA and survived until their demise.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: