By 1984 Pan Am was in serious financial trouble again having lost $450 million in 1982, $51 million in 1983 and $121 million in the first six months of 1984! There were also strains showing amongst the airline's management and workforce over wage and productivity concessions the former deemed necessary for survival. Pan Am itself was however at pains to show that it was still in a good cash position saying that it still had $450 million on hand and was in the market for new aircraft.
Part of Pan Am's problem was that its fleet was far from modern or homogenous. Most of its 747s were early production series 100s or newer yet uncompetitive SPs. The former were too large for many of the transatlantic routes Pan Am was using them on whilst the SPs no longer had any range advantage over standard 747-200s. Plus National's fleet 727s were getting long in the tooth also. Boeing offered Pan Am a mix of 767s and 737-300s with an interim lease plan of L-1011 Tristars and ex-Singapore A300s where as Airbus could offer new A300s, A310s and their still on the drawing board A320.
On September 13, 1984 Pan Am announced that it had chosen the Airbus offer which included 28 orders (12 A310s and 16 A320s) and 47 options for aircraft costing over $1 billion. The initial plan entailed leasing 12 A300B4s and 4 A310s until 1987 when they would be replaced by A310s and A320s. The A300s would be used on feeder and transcon routes in the USA plus its Latin American and intra-European networks. Pan Am's first A300, N202PA 'Clipper America', was delivered on December 21, 1984. In the end the 12 A300s (a thirteenth aircraft was leased from Eastern as late as 1990) all remained with Pan Am until the bitter end. The A300s even served very briefly on some Far-eastern routes, like Tokyo-Manila and Tokyo-Bangkok via Taipei, prior to the route sale to United, but mainly operated in the New World.
As useful as the A300s were the A310s were more important as they enabled substitution for 747s that PA struggled to fill and the alteration of multi-stop 747 routes to direct A310 services. The first 7 aircraft, N801PA-N807PA) were all A310-222s with the first, N801PA 'Clipper Berlin' arriving in May 1985. A further 12 A310-324s were delivered from September 1987 (N811PA-N822PA). A last pair (N823-824PA) were 1990 build aircraft and represent the last aircraft ever to join the original Pan Am fleet. N823PA was christened Clipper Golden Light.
The A310s operated an impressive selection of transatlantic routes from JFK to destinations such as Shannon, Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, Nice, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Zurich, Milan, Stockholm, Helsinki, Budapest, Vienna, Warsaw, Oslo, Zagreb, Lisbon and Barcelona. They also operated from Washington to Paris and Detroit to Heathrow. Domestically they could be seen between Washington and Los Angeles. Some served also on the intra-European network operating routes such as Berlin-Frankfurt/Munich/Hamburg and Paris to Geneva. Both the series 200s and 300s operated across the Atlantic but the series 200s were restricted to the shorter routes.
Sadly despite regular asset sales Pan Am was never able to recover. The last throw of the dice was a deal with Delta which included all the A310s. The stubby Airbus twin never really looked right with the widget but the end of Pan Am and the next chapter in the tale of the A310s is what we'll look at in part 2.
1984, September. Lift for Airbus from Pan Am. New York Times.
2006, March. Pan Am A310s. Airliners.net
2012. Gandt, Robert. Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am
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: