MIAMI — World Airways ceased operations on Thursday, nearly sixty-six years to the day it began on March 29, 1948. The Atlanta-based carrier was unable to keep cash flowing to sustain operations.
Airways confirmed the news, with the carrier’s chief counsel in Atlanta. Employees were notified this morning, counsel said, and the carrier’s last flight landed Wednesday evening.
In a follow-up press release put out late Thursday afternoon, the carrier said 325 employees were laid off, “including 109 pilots and 146 flight attendants.”
The airline began operations in 1948. It won its first government contract in 1951, setting a precedent that would ultimately define the airlines operations and demise.
It went on to become a major contractor in the Vietnam War, famously participating in the last airlift operation out of Da Nang in 1975 before North Vietnamese troops took over the city. The unreal scene, which included CEO Edward Daly fending off passengers from the rear air stairs of a Boeing 727, was broadcast on the CBS Evening News.
The airline entered the world of regularly scheduled service briefly in the late 1970s into the 1980s, operating international and transcontinental routes. The venture did not go well, however, and the carrier abandoned the routes by 1987.
World continued to sustain itself via military contracts through the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s. Military contracts began to dry up post 2010 as the Iraqi conflict and engagements in Afghanistan came to a close and drew down. Further complicating matters were frequent defense budget cuts thanks to the sequester.
The combination placed the carrier, which relied heavily on such contracts, in dire financial strait. World, and its parent company Global Aviation Holdings, sought bankruptcy protection on and off since 2010, most recently at the end of 2013. The carrier was reportedly unable to fend off creditors and obtain further funding to operate, leading to Thursday’s shutdown.
The airline operated a number of aircraft over the years, including the Douglas DC-6, Boeing 707, Boeing 727, Boeing 747, Douglas DC10, and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11. According to Airfleets.net, the carrier had only two aircraft in active service, both MD11s.
GAH also owns another charter and cargo carrier, North American Airlines (NAA). NAA has already been pared back significantly in recent years, and its fate is unknown. The company also bought ATA Airlines in 2007, only to see it cease operations in April 2008.
World joins the ranks of other dedicated charter airlines in the US who have gone bust in past years. Most recently it was Oregon-based Evergreen International Airlines, which went under on December 31, 2013. Like World, Evergreen once commanded a powerful and wide-reaching charter empire, only to crumble as military contracts and the worldwide cargo market withered.