MIAMI — The airline business is rarely smooth as gravy. Let’s gobble up past aviation “fowls and fails”. In honor of Thanksgiving, the staff at Airways have selected some of the biggest turkeys in aviation history.
The first Turkey that comes into our minds is the failed PeopleExpress relaunch in June 2014, sharing the same corporate image, name and a new green livery, along with the same philosophy of the carrier that went our of business 27 years ago. For Newport travelers, it was a dream that came true and ultimately, a turkey as the airline ceased operations a few months later.
Other failed airline models take us to two decades ago, when Pan Am II restarted in 1996. The airline intended to provide a low-cost long-distance travel to major U.S. and Caribbean destinations. Pan Am II offered a high level of in-flight service with familiar touched from the old days including the 1986 era “Billboard” livery and white hat uniforms. In late 1997, Pan Am II merged with Carnival Airlines adding 727s and 737s to the fleet. The merger was ill-fated and Pan Am II would perish later that year.
Just as occurred with Pan Am, there were attempts to resurrect Braniff Airlines as well. Soon after the demise of Braniff I, plans started to bring it back to life and in 1984 the carrier inaugurated service from its Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport hub to eighteen major US cities. It was the largest single day successful airline startup in US history. However, this incarnation would only last 5 years until 1989 with the Dallas hub shifted to Orlando and Kansas City.
Nevertheless, the biggest Braniff Turkey was not its resurrection but its attempt to operate the Concorde. As part of the 1970s aggressive expansion program, the airline introduced a short-lived service between DFW and Washington DC and Europe on interchange flights with British Airways and Air France. Flights between Dallas and Washington’s Dulles airport were operated by Braniff cockpit and cabin crews from which British or French crews would take over for the remaining segment. But poor load factors and the financial woes of the carried led to put the Concorde operations to an end just one year later.
Aviation mergers are also in out Turkey List. Who remembers the Pan Am / National merger in the early days of the deregulation act? On January 1, 1980 Pan Am took over National Airlines. On the upside, for the first time Pan Am gained extensive domestic routes and restarted Paris flights. On the down side, the merger marked a real precipitous decline to its demise. National’s Miami concentrated domestic structure didn’t especially feed PA’s international routes well; the NA/PA corporate cultures clashed, the merged fleets were incompatible, a recession began (again), and PA drastically overpaid for it. Though CEO William Sewell thought this merger would be a watershed for Pan Am, it ultimately meant the destruction of two legendary American carriers.
Seven years after the Pan Am / National Merger another Turkey came under the wings of MGM Grand Air, a charter airline that operated a premium single class service using Boeing 727-100s and Douglas DC-8s between Las Vegas, LA, and New York JFK. Despite two attempts at operation, the Kirk Kerkorian owned carrier failed.
Also, form the 1980s we have brought the Muse Air / TranStar Airlines Turkey. TranStar Airlines was a domestic U.S. airline operating from 1981 to 1987. The company was first established as a Texas-based commuter called Muse Air, but much like Southwest Airlines, only flying larger mainline equipment. Muse Air’s name originates from its founder and the one time president of Southwest Airlines, Marion Lamar Muse. It began service between Dallas and Houston in 1982 with two Douglas DC-9 aircraft. An air traffic controller’s strike almost immediately made things difficult for the company, and Muse stepped down as CEO to let his son Michael take over the company. By the end of 1984 the company was still struggling, and actively looking for a merger to keep it afloat. On June 25, 1985, Southwest Airlines acquired Muse Air, and MuseAir continued to operate as a separate airline, but by mid 1987 the company was still not making a profit, and operations were ceased.
Also, our memorabilia collection keep some Turkey from the Islands. Who remembers Mid Air Pacific Airlines? The 1981 venture intended to to Aloha and Hawaiian on the intra-island routes flying NAMC YS-100 turboprops, inherited from Piedmont. Although Mid Pacific was able to lure customers with low fares and promotions that compensated for the slower, noisier turboprop aircraft, the airline was unable to compete with Hawaiian and Aloha and ended passenger flights in Hawaii on January 19, 1988, and ended cargo flights there a month later.
Wait, there’s more Hawaiian Turkey brought by courtesy of Go! a regional brand of Phoenix, Arizona-based Mesa Airlines. Go! operated inter-island services from its base at Honolulu, and despite its aggressive low-fare policy intended to compete with Aloha and Hawaiian, Mesa announced that Go! would cease service on April 1 as a long-term increase in the cost of fuel had prevented the operation from being profitable.
Curiously, Go! CRJ-200 aircraft come from another major Turkey in the U.S. who may of us will remember for sure: Independence Air. transformed itself from Atlantic Coast, a United Express feeder, into an innovative low cost carrier in June, 2004. The airline was unique on many fronts, but many times being innovative and unique doesn’t necessary means successful, and this was the case. The company never overcame a series of financial problems during its transition, and its decline started only six months after its launch. Finally the airline ceased operations in January 2006.