During its first 20 years of operation Ozark had fulfilled exactly the promise that the local service airlines had been created for. It had started and proved a wide range of feeder services and grown demand to the point that it could sustain not just prop-jets but pure jets as well. Even better it had done so profitably and begun to wean itself off of subsidy and pick-up longer routes that the trunk airlines no longer wanted. All in all it found itself in good position to grow into the 1970s and face the challenges of deregulation to come.
For part 1 of this series see: Three Swallows Pt1: Get Up & Go Ozark
Ozark's 20th year of continuous operation, 1970, was a bit of a come down. A one week strike and some over-expansion contributed to a $2.27 million loss. However a new computer reservations system was introduced which would help sustain Ozark's growth. In 1971 a new advertising slogan 'Up There With the Biggest' was introduced to highlight the carriers growing size and confidence. By that year 62 cities in 15 states were served with a fleet of 17 DC-9s and 21 FH-227s carrying over 2.7 million passengers. By the end of the year the airline was back in profit also to the tune of $4.35 million.
Thomas L. Grace had guided the airline through this period of major change with great success, but sadly he died in his office on July 21st 1971. He wasn't the only loss that year as the airline's first President Laddie Hamilton also passed away.
Below: Note in the 1970s the OZARK titles got larger.
The new President (only the 4th and the last) was one of Hamilton's proteges Edward J. Crane. He saw the carrier through its biggest period of growth and in 1972 a new $3 million headquarters building was opened near Lambert Field in St Louis. That year the carrier also started a short-lived experiment using three leased DHC-6 Twin Otters for services between Chicago's Meigs Field and Springfield, Illinois.
1973 was a testing year with a 3 month mechanics strike, an attempted hijacking and the airline's first fatal crash. A loss was recorded that year, and put down entirely to the strike, but generally Ozark did well in the 1970s posting a record profit in 1976 of $7.1 million despite high fuel prices.
The new colour scheme was officially introduced in June 1979 but this was a turbulent time and the airline suffered a 52 day long flight attendant strike in September followed by a month long mechanics strike. Nonetheless Ozark needed to change with the times and shorter routes were gradually dropped so that the FH-227s were becoming surplus to requirements.
October 25, 1980 marked the last FH-227 service making Ozark an all jet airline increasingly operating a hub system out of St Louis. The first transcontinental route was added in late 1982 to San Diego though there was growing dis-satisfaction about the airline's abandonment of its traditional markets. Some of these gained service again via Air Midwest (operating as Ozark Midwest) in 1986.
Ozark's growth on longer routes in the early 1980s saw a capacity shortage and the airline purchased second-hand DC-9s including 3 DC-9-40s from Toa Domestic of Japan. In addition Ozark ordered four new MD-82s from McDonnell Douglas the only MD-80s the carrier ever took on.
Ozark was doing well for itself and made a huge $12.7 million profit in 1984. In 1985 it opened a new concourse at St Louis increasing its gate space from 7 to 25 gates. Unfortunately this success led to it being seen as a useful acquisition and when Carl Icahn tookover TWA his eyes swiftly flitted to his St Louis neighbour - Ozark. The merger made sense for TWA as 80% of the routes overlapped, however God knows how it was passed from a competition standpoint! Icahn's $224 million dollar offer was accepted and the last Ozark service was flown in October 1986. TWA took over 4,000 employees and 50 DC-9s of various marks (including a few MD-80s).
In the end Ozark was a well run if conservative airline which served its passengers admirably. It could have perhaps expanded more and diversified away from St Louis in the hope of avoiding TWA, but I doubt that would have stopped it from being swallowed up and may have led to bankruptcy, as expansion did for so many others. TWA was lucky to gain such a well run airline - its just a shame it wasn't as well run itself!
Mellberg, B. Three Swallows Would Get You There. Airliners. Summer 1990
Ed Coates always amazing site: Air Line Collection
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: