Despite introducing 727s and swallowing several smaller Alaskan operators, the early 1970s was another difficult time for Alaska Airlines, which had been leading a hand to mouth existence for many years. Led by the wheeler dealing, but also irascible and dictatorial, Charles "Chuck" Willis Alaska had a mountain of debt, poor reputation and very little cash. Change was needed if the airline was to survive.
Alaska Airlines had improved its situation in the 1970s but found itself once again in a precarious financial position just as deregulation came into view. Considering its small size, financial weakness, lack of penetration into the lower 48 and turbulent history it is surprising that it was able to turn itself into one of the few winners of the post-deregulation era. The first step was cracking the Californian market.
The growth of air travel in the USA was such that by the mid-60s there was an increasing role for third-level operators to pick-up short hops from the local service airlines, who only a few years earlier had themselves been picking them up from the trunk airlines. Now they had replaced their DC-3s with gleaming BAC One-Elevens and Douglas DC-9s and a new breed of small operator was stepping in. One of the most successful of these new contenders was Air Wisconsin, which within 18 years was itself a jet operator.
The Convair 990 was an unmitigated disaster for the Convair Division of General Dynamics. A product of a misguided attempt to compete against Boeing and Douglas, which led to almost suicidal behavior from the manufacturer in selling a paper aeroplane on staggeringly unfavourable terms. American Airlines, the launch customer barely wanted the aircraft but nonetheless the 990 proved strong and reliable in service. Sadly, this was not enough to save its career at AA.
During the 1960s the local service airlines of the United States were growing fast. Not only were they re-equipping their fleets but they were being assigned large numbers of routes by the CAB that had been discarded by the larger airlines. Meanwhile Boeing, Douglas and BAC were keen to sell as many of their new short-haul jets as possible. Boeing even managed to interest several airlines in its medium sized 727 and one of these was Frontier. Like most of the local service airlines however the 727 was still too much jet for their 1960s network.
Pan Am throughout its history operated a diverse and expansive route network that covered most of the globe at one time or another. It is renowned for its operations with flying boats, Stratocruisers, 707s and 747s but operated a variety of much shorter ranged aircraft as well, especially on the vital Internal German Services from West Berlin. One of these types was the 737-200, which came to Pan Am during a difficult period.
American Airlines is renowned for keeping its classic Red, White and Blue scheme from 1968-2013 but the livery before it didn't have such a long-term impact. Whilst investigating some aspects of American's history I chanced across some more information on the Astrojet scheme that pre-dated the 1968 livery and so I thought I'd pull together a quick post on the topic.
The success of the 737 has been immense but at the time of its development it had a mountain to climb. It would be United Airlines, more than any other, that Boeing has to thank for getting the type past its rough early years to where it is today and the ‘Fat Little Ugly Fella’ i.e. FLUF certainly put in the hard yards over the years for United.
At the end of the 60s the age of the widebody was fast approaching and all the major US airlines were on a new equipment binge. The 747 was the first new widebody and everyone felt they had to have some or suffer the consequences of being left behind. In fact all the trunk airlines operated Jumbos (except for Northeast and Western) although, considering only Pan Am, Northwest and TWA had international routes, they mostly lacked sensible ways to utilise them. Eastern, unusually, went down a more considered path than everyone else but still ended up with 747s for a time.
Hawaiian Airlines was faced with the same range of challenges in the deregulated 1980s as other legacy carriers - increased competition, deflated prices and the loss of its protected status. It responded with an unprecedented expansion, hoping to open up Honolulu as a transit hub on the one hand and a major charter player on the other. The strategy was far from a success but the airline just about survived.
Eastern struggled through the deregulation era, even prior to the Lorenzo led Texas Air takeover, however one of the few bright spots for EAL was the acquisition of the new Boeing 757-200, which proved itself a fine acquisition to the fleet right up until the airline’s final closure. Even so, despite the need for the type the introduction of the 757s coincided with the period that marked the beginning of the end of the 'Great Silver Fleet'.
By the time the design of the new Boeing 757 was finalized in 1979 it was clear it would be a big improvement over the 727-200 Advanced and yet some commentators were under the impression that with both the 757 and 767 Boeing was effectively competing against itself as much as against the Airbus A310. Initially sales seemed to give this a grain of truth but eventually the 757 would find its time had come.
By the 1970s it had been years since the US majors had bought any foreign aircraft and the new Airbus consortium was struggling to sell its A300 to anybody, let alone the Americans. Eastern, cash-strapped and inefficient, needed a new aircraft and it was Frank Borman's airline that would give Airbus the opportunity that perhaps more than any allowed it to be taken seriously on the world stage.
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: