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Pan American World Airways, Inc.

Pan American World Airways, Inc.

Pan Am Building
New York, New York 10017
U.S.A.

Incorporated: 1927
Dissolved: December 1991

Over the course of its over six decades in operation, Pan American World Airways, Inc. was one of Americas most widely recognized airlines. The firms pioneering flights to Europe, Asia, and South America helped earn it an important role in aviation history. Under the direction of Juan Trippe, the firm encouraged long distance air travel and secured the technology necessary to achieve international flights. At one time, the company moniker was one of the most recognized trademarks in the world, second only to Coca-Cola. But after eluding total financial ruin several times in the 1970s and 1980s, a combination of bad management, high debt, poor employee relations, and just plain bad luck brought the airlines demise in December of 1991.

The architect of Pan Ams prominence, and ironically of its later decline, was a man named Juan Terry Trippe. Upon graduation from Yale in 1920 Trippe worked for a year in his fathers bank. Soon thereafter he left the bank in order to pursue a career in the airline business. When his father died suddenly, Trippe used his inheritance to purchase nine Navy Jennys for a new endeavor, Long Island Airways. Unable to generate enough business, the company failed.

Trippe and two wealthy friends from Yale then organized a second airline after the passage of the Kelly Air Mail Act. Their company, Colonial Air Transport, won the first airmail contract route between New York and Boston. They purchased two three-engine Fokker airplanes the following year which enabled them to transport passengers as well as mail. A dispute among stockholders soon resulted in the sale of the company to what later became known as American Airlines. Trippe and his partners were excluded from both the decision and their airline.

Undaunted, Trippes group purchased Aviation Corporation of the Americas with the intention of bidding on the Key West-Havana mail route. In 1928 the company merged with Pan American Airways and Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean Airways. The new company retained the Pan American name and instituted the first scheduled international commercial destination, to Havana, Cuba.

Passengers often well-founded fears of flying high above 90 miles of open water made it difficult for Pan Am to book all eight seats on each flight. The bravado of the airlines pilots didnt help: some were known to enter Cuban bars and dare American tourists to fly back to Florida. In Miami the company tried a more subtle tack: Fly with us to Havana, and you can bathe in Bacardi rum four hours from now. One of Pan Ams three Fokker airplanes was, in fact, lost in the ocean in 1928. Nonetheless, Pan Ams embrace of such new technologies as directional radio, navigational instruments, and meteorological measurement helped make long-distance air travel safer and more popular.

Trippe was now planning Pan Ams expansion in the Caribbean. Due to a lack of airports in the region he supported the development of the water-landing Sikorsky S-38 flying boat. Pan Am purchased 25 of the five-ton airplanes, which could travel 100 miles an hour and had a range of 300 miles. In anticipation of the U.S. Postal Service opening several new routes, Trippe had his flying boats make survey flights beyond Cuba over routes that, at his insistence, were to be selected for airmail contracts. He also dispatched advance men to secure landing rights, mail contracts, and other concessions so that when the post office finally invited airmail bids Pan Am would be the preferred choice. In this way the company secured routes to Puerto Rico, Panama, and other points throughout the Caribbean.

In 1930 Postmaster General Walter Brown compelled the merger of Pan Am and its biggest airmail contract competitor, the New York, Rio and Buenos Aires airlines. The union doubled Pan Ams fleet and earned it the extremely lucrative South American East Coast airmail contract. These routes served as a springboard for future business and promoted Pan Am to the worlds largest airline and the chosen instrument for flying the U.S. flag abroad.

Pan Ams use of flying boats helped consolidate its coverage of the Caribbean and turned its attention to traversing the oceans. The airline used the newly developed China Clipper (a Martin M-130), with a range of 2500 miles, to transport passengers and mail from California to the Orient. Overcoming huge obstacles of diplomacy, financing, and engineering, Pan Am established service to Europe in June of 1939 using the larger and faster Dixie Clipper aircraft.

Pan Ams aeronautical pioneering was quite costly. Trippe was said to have been obsessed with the idea of having a plane in every airport in the world. This left little money for dividends and, as a result, the stockholders voted to replace him with his old friend and associate Sonny Whitney in March of 1939. Whitney, however, was an ineffective manager and proved unable to maintain control of the company. Less than a year later Trippe was asked to return.

As the only established American international airline, Pan Am played a major role in the war effort when it placed itself at the disposal of the U.S. government in the early 1940s. In November of 1940, the company signed a contract with the War Department providing for the construction of airbases and remote supply, radio, and weather stations. In October of 1942 the airline established a war transport service from the United States across the South Atlantic to West Africa and from there to points in the Middle East. Pan Am was rewarded handsomely for having devoted up to three-quarters of its resources to the armed forces during World War II. When the war ended the companys hegemony over international air routes was at its peak.

Trippe hoped to maintain the profitable relationship forged during the war between Pan Am and the federal government through the creation of one official airline that would compete with foreign carriers. His proposal that Pan Am be made a regulated monopoly (not unlike utility companies) was rejected by Congress, however. Furthermore, the government opened the door for the competition Pan Am had never previously experienced. With an eroding market share Pan Am looked to the future, commissioning the development of Boeings first jetliner, the 707. The delivery of the first 15 of these airplanes precipitated the jet age and propelled Pan Am once again to an enviable competitive advantage.

In the early 1950s Pan Am expanded its transportation holdings through the acquisition of American Overseas Airlines. The company also diversified into hotels, real estate, and corporate jet aircraft, and contracted with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). These extracurriculars proved profitable, particularly a New York real estate deal involving the construction and leasing of the Pan Am building, which was dedicated in 1963.

But as the 1960s wore on, the company again lapsed into poor performance as a result of overextension. By the time Juan Trippe announced his plans to retire in the latter years of the decade, his goal of having a plane in every airport in the world had brought about a sprawling 81,430-mile route system. Competition from government-subsidized overseas airlines intensified. Trippe chose Najeeb Halaby, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration, to succeed him in 1969. Halaby found himself presiding over a firm so decentralized that he characterized it as an airline without a country. Worse, Pan Am was nearly bankrupt. Some thought the system could not be maintained without the award of a government subsidy or a compensatory monopoly, neither of which were likely. The fuel crises of the 1970s only exacerbated existing problems. Pan Am chalked up losses of $364 million from 1969 through 1976, and accumulated over $1 billion in debt.

With the help of tax-loss credits, Pan Am made its first profit in nearly a decade in 1977. The man responsible for this was William Seawell, who was brought in to replace Halaby in 1972. Unable to obtain subsidy relief from either the Civil Aeronautics Board or the White House in 1974 and 1975, or possible funding from the Shah of Iran, Seawell instituted austerity measures in 1976 and renegotiated the companys debt. Abandoning Trippes grand strategy, he reduced the system 25 percent by severing money losing services. He reduced personnel by approximately 30 percent and approved an offer by employees to accept a wage cut. By these measures complete financial ruin was averted.

Late in 1979 Pan Am received approval for the $437 million acquisition of National Airlines, with which Seawell hoped to bolster Pan Ams relatively weak domestic operations. But the purchase, later criticized as too expensive, was also poorly timed. The early 1980s ratification of Airline Deregulation Act triggered sometimes cutthroat competition from new domestic and foreign carriers. The company was once again on the brink of financial ruin, this time as a result of fiscal overextension. Only by selling a large portion of its assets, including the Pan Am building headquarters, was it able to avoid bankruptcy.

Edward Acker became chairman of Pan Am in September of 1981. This cautious but optimistic manager continued to divest Pan Ams assets. On September 14, 1984, Pan American Airways created a holding company called Pan Am Corporation to assume ownership and control of the airline and the services division. Although the fast-growing Pacific market was one of the few profitable areas Pan Am could rely on, the company was so strapped for cash that it sold its Asian routes to United Airlines for $715.5 million in 1985.

In spite of the divestment of most of the firms most important assets, Pan Ams domestic division alone lost over $1 billion from 1980 to 1987 and accumulated $914 million in long-term debt at the same time. Several groupsincluding Kirk Kerkor-ian, a Beverly Hills financier; Chicagos Pritzker family; and a group of investors led by former Navy Secretary John Lehmanmade takeover overtures, but a new chairman, Thomas G. Plaskett, turned them away. In 1988, Plaskett negotiated $180 million in concessions from Pan Ams five unions enough to get the airline through what would become the harshest winter of its history.

On December 21 of that year, Pan Ams flight 103 en route from London to New York, was demolished by the blast from a terrorist-planted bomb over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. All 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed and another eleven people on the ground were crushed by debris. This human tragedy soon began to make a significant impact on the already-struggling airline. Lawsuits on behalf of the victims relatives found Pan Am and its subsidiary, Alert Management Systems Inc., guilty of willful misconduct in 1992. Damages, which would be assumed by the airlines insurer (the United States Aviation Insurance Group), totaled hundreds of millions. But Pan Ams insurers continued to appeal the decision into late 1994 and refused to make any compensation to the victims families.

In the meantime, rising fuel costs and increasing competition in the United States and abroad forced Plaskett to layoff 2,500. To raise the cash necessary for continued operation, Plaskett and the board of directors decided to sell the firms only consistently profitable subsidiary, Pan Am World Services, as well as an important German route, in 1990.

That fall, Plaskett worked to open all Pan Ams options. Although he was, by this time, actively seeking a merger partner, he also optimistically announced an eight-point plan to improve service, marketing, liquidity, and employee relations with the ultimate goal of turning a profit in 1990. The divestment of hubs at Heathrow Airport in London and Washington, D.C.s Dulles International Airport brought in $290 million, but were not enough to keep the company from seeking bankruptcy protection on January 8, 1991.

After decades of struggling to survive, let alone prosper, Pan Am was by this time left with few options. Having sold most of its assets, opportunities for divestments were seriously limited. In spite of his weakened bargaining position, Chairman Plaskett resolved to sell all the airline, including its employees, or none of it. But after months of negotiations involving most of the industrys largest players, Pan Ams creditors lost patience with Plasketts pace. Midway through 1991, they voted to accept an offer of $621 million in cash and the assumption of $668 million of Pan Ams liabilities from third-ranking Delta Air Lines Inc.

Deltas acquisition of the majority of Pan Ams international route system catapulted it from a 1990 ranking of 23rd among the worlds airlines to a position among the top ten. The addition of most of Pan Ams North Atlantic routes as well as its American and German hubs gave Delta more European destinations than any other American carrier. The purchase also gave Delta a serious case of corporate indigestion: it posted a $500 million loss that year. Still, Delta chairman and chief executive officer Ronald Allen stood behind the decision. In August of 1992, he told Terry Maxon of the Journal of Commerce and Commercial that A lot of people may point to the Pan Am acquisition and say, Oh, thats why Deltas having so many problems. Thats not true. We had some surprises with that, but overall thats gone very well.

Instead, Allen blamed the same industry forces that brought about Pan Ams December 4, 1991 demise: high costs, fare wars, and inadequate traffic due in part to economic recession and fear of terrorism. By the time Pan Am filed for bankruptcy protection, two other major competitors, Eastern and Continental (both subsidiaries of Continental Airlines Holdings) were also in the midst of Chapter 11 reorganizations, and Trans World Airlines, Inc. joined that list early in 1992. United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta were able to take advantage of their competitors weaknesses and together amassed over half of the U.S. market in the early 1990s. Some analysts surmised that Pan Ams failure even benefited struggling carriers like TWA and Continental by reducing industrywide overcapacity.

Pan Ams creditors auctioned off its famous logo, a blue globe, for $1.325 million in 1993. The buyer, Charles Cobb, hoped to license the well-known symbol to travel companies or airlines. Although Pan Ams dissolution was perceived by some observers as just another business failure, others mourned the airline as they would a respected colleague. In a February 1992 editorial for Air Transport World, James P. Woolsey called for a moment of respect and praised Pan Ams pioneering spirit, charismatic leadership, and extraordinary perseverance.

Further Reading

Bender, Marglin, and Selig Altschul, The Chosen Instrument, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.

Brock, Horace, and Jason Aronson, Flying the Oceans: A Pilots Story of Pan Am, New York, 1978.

Davies, R. E. G., Pan Am: An Airline and Its Aircraft, Orion Books, 1987.

Flint, Perry, Airlines: Playing for Time, Air Transport World, March 1991, pp. 5052.

Gandt, Robert L., Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am, Morrow, 1995.

Halaby, Najeeb E., Crosswinds: An Airmans Memoir, New York: Doubleday, 1978.

Josephson, Mathew, Empire of the Air: Juan Trippe and the Struggle for World Airways, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1944.

Maxon, Terry, Burdened by Expense of Pan Am Move, Delta Air Lines Adjusts to Lean Times, Journal of Commerce and Commercial, August 19, 1992, p. 3B.

McKenna, James T., Pan Am Creditors, Executives Scramble for Cash as Carrier Shutdown Looms, Aviation Week & Space Technology, August 5, 1991, pp. 280.

_____, Former Rivals Poised to Pluck Prime Remnants of Pan Am, Aviation Week & Space Technology, December 9, 1991, pp. 1820.

Newton, Wesley Philips, The Perilous Sky: U.S. Aviation Diplomacy and Latin America, 19191931, Coral Gables, Fla.: University of Miami Press, 1978.

Ott, James, D-Day Due for Delta Takeover of Most Pan Am Operations, Aviation Week & Space Technology, October 14, 1991, pp. 4449.

_____, Inability to Adapt in New Era of Aviation Doomed Pan Am, Aviation Week & Space Technology, December 16, 1991, pp. 2829.

_____, Pan Am Filing a Sign of Consolidation, Not an Indication of Competitions End, Aviation Week & Space Technology, January 14, 1991, p. 29.

Stern, Richard L., Pan Am: The End of an Empire, Forbes, February 4, 1991, pp. 74, 76.

Taylor, Barry, Pan Americans Ocean Clippers, AERO, 1991.

Van Doren, Carlton S., Pan Ams Legacy to World Tourism, Journal of Travel Research, Summer 1993, pp. 312.

Woolsey, James P. A Moment of Respect, Please, Air Transport World, February 1992, p. 5.

updated by April Dougal Gasbarre

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Pan American World Airways, Inc.

Pan American World Airways, Inc.

Pan Am Building
New York, New York 10017
U.S.A.
(212) 880-1234

Wholly-owned subsidiary of Pan Am Corporation
Incorporated: March 14,1927
Employees: 27,700
Sales: $3.038 billion
Market value: $592 million
Stock Index: New York

Pan Am is one of Americas largest airline companies and has had an important role in aviation history. Until the 1950s it was Americas most widely recognized airline; it was the closest thing the United States had to a national flag carrier. Pioneering regular flights to Europe, Asia and South America, the company took on an ambassadorial character. Recently, however, the worlds most experienced airline has been forced to reduce the scale of its operations. At the present time the company transports passengers, freight and mail to 32 destinations in the U.S. and its territories, in addition to 51 cities in Europe, the Carribean and South America.

The architect of Pan Ams prominence, and ironically of its later decline, was a man named Juan Terry Trippe. Upon graduation from Yale in 1920 Trippe worked for a year in his fathers bank. However, soon thereafter he left the bank in order to pursue a career in the airline business. Without any warning his father suddenly died and with his inheritance he purchased nine Navy Jennys for his Long Island Airways. Unable to generate enough business the company failed.

Trippe and two wealthy friends from Yale then organized a second airline after the passage of the Kelly Air Mail Act. Their company, Colonial Air Transport, won the first airmail contract establishing a route between New York and Boston. They purchased two three-engine Fokker airplanes the following year which enabled them to transport passengers as well as mail. A dispute among stockholders that year resulted in the sale of the company to what later became known as American Airlines. Trippe and his partners were excluded from both the decision and their airline.

Shortly afterwards Trippes group purchased Aviation Corporation of the Americas with the intention of bidding on the Key West-Havana mail route. In 1928 the company merged with Pan American Airways and Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean Airways. The new company retained the Pan American name and flew the Havana route which was the first scheduled international commercial destination.

Pan Am had difficulty reserving the eight seats on each flight because people were afraid of flying over the 90 miles of water. Pilots were known to enter Cuban bars and dare American tourists to fly back to Florida. In Miami the company tried a different advertising campaign: Fly with us to Havana, and you can bathe in Bacardi rum four hours from now. Pan Am lost one of its three Fokker airplanes in the ocean in 1928. In spite of this, however, air travel grew in popularity. The introduction of direction-finding radio, amphibious aircraft and other safety measures convinced the public to accept the advantages of air travel.

Trippe was now planning Pan Ams expansion in the Caribbean. Due to a lack of airports in the region he supported the development of the water-landing Sikorsky S-38 flying boat. Pan Am purchased 25 of the five-ton airplanes, which could travel 100 miles an hour and had a range of 300 miles. In anticipation of the U.S. Postal Service opening several new routes Trippe had his flying boats make survey flights beyond Cuba over routes that, at his insistence, were to be selected for airmail contracts. He also dispatched advance men to secure landing rights, mail contracts and other concessions so that when the post office finally invited airmail bids Pan Am would be the preferred choice. In this way the company secured routes to Puerto Rico, Panama, and other points throughout the Caribbean.

In 1930 Postmaster General Walter Brown forced Pan Ams biggest airmail contract competitor, the New York, Rio and Buenos Aires airlines, to merge with Pan Am. Trippes airline doubled its fleet and was awarded the extremely lucrative South American East Coast airmail contract. These routes served as a springboard for future business. Pan Am emerged as the worlds largest airline and the chosen instrument for flying the U.S. flag abroad.

By employing the flying boats Pan Am consolidated its coverage of the Caribbean and turned its attention to traversing the oceans. The airline used the newly developed China Clipper (a Martin M-130), with a range of 2500 miles, to transport passengers and mail from California to the Orient. Overcoming huge obstacles of diplomacy, financing and engineering, Pan Am established service to Europe in June of 1939 using the larger and faster Dixie Clipper aircraft.

Pan Ams aeronautical pioneering was quite costly. Trippe was said to have been obsessed with the idea of having a plane in every airport in the world. This left little money for dividends and, as a result, the stockholders voted to replace him with his old friend and associate Sonny Whitney in March of 1939. Whitney, however, was an ineffective manager and unable to maintain control of the company. Less than a year later Trippe was asked to return.

During the early 1940s Pan Am, the only established American international airline at the time, played a major role in the war effort when it placed itself at the disposal of the U.S. government. In November of 1940 Pan Am signed a contract with the War Department providing for the construction of airbases and remote supply, radio and weather stations. In October of 1942 the airline established a war transport service from the United States across the South Atlantic to West Africa and from there to points in the Middle East. Pan Am was rewarded handsomely for having devoted up to three-quarters of its resources to the armed forces during the war years. When the war ended the companys hegemony over international air routes was at its peak.

Trippe thought the interests of the United States would be served best by the creation of one official airline to compete with foreign carriers. On Capitol Hill he proposed that Pan Am be made a regulated monopoly, not unlike utility companies. Congress rejected his proposal and opened the door for the competition Pan Am had never previously experienced. With an eroding market share Pan Am looked to the future, hoping that the development of Boeings first jetliner, the 707, would help regain what it had recently lost. The delivery of the first 15 of these airplanes precipitated the jet age and forced Pan Ams competitors to follow suit.

In the early 1950s Pan Am acquired American Overseas Airlines. Trippe also diversified Pan Ams operations and selected related businesses such as hotels, corporate jet aircraft, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) support services, all of which were profitable (particularly a New York real estate deal involving the building and leasing of the Pan Am building which was dedicated in 1963).

In the late 1960s Juan Trippe announced his plans to retire. The airline had suffered some recent setbacks, and Trippes failure to plan for his successor aggravated, if not precipitated, a series of new problems. When Najeeb Halaby, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration and Trippes hand-picked successor, assumed the founders post in 1969 he found himself presiding over an airline on the verge of bankruptcy. Halaby inherited an 81,430 mile route system which was the result of Trippes quest to have a plane in every airport in the world. The system could not be maintained without the award of a government subsidy or a compensatory monopoly, neither of which were likely to be granted. The company became so overextended that Halaby referred to it as an airline without a country. All of these problems added up to losses of $364 million from 1969 through 1976 with debt estimated in excess of one billion dollars.

In 1977 Pan Am, helped by tax-loss credits, made a profit for the first time since 1968. The man responsible for this was William Seawell, who was brought in to replace Halaby in 1972. Unable to obtain subsidy relief from either the Civil Aeronautics Board or the White House in 1974 and 1975, or possible funding from the Shah of Iran, Seawell instituted austerity measures in 1976 and renegotiated the companys debt. Abandoning Trippes grand strategy, he reduced the system 25% by severing money losing services. He reduced personnel by approximately 30% and approved an offer by employees to accept a wage cut. By these measures complete financial ruin was averted.

Late in 1979 Pan Am received approval for the acquisition of National Airlines. Now in possession of a strong domestic network, Pan Ams plans to build a profitable division were mitigated by the Airline Deregulation Act. Pan Am was confronted with strong competition from new domestic and foreign carriers. The company was once again on the brink of financial ruin. Only by selling a large portion of its assets, including the Pan Am building headquarters, was it able to avoid bankruptcy.

Edward Acker became chairman in September of 1981. A cautious but optimistic manager, he continued the divestiture of Pan Ams resources. In 1985 the company sold its Asian routes to United Airlines for $715.5 million. The fast growing Pacific market was one of the few profitable areas Pan Am could rely on. However, the company had a liquidity problem and needed an infusion of cash immediately. In the aftermath of the deal there was speculation that United and Pan Am were coordinating their operations, with Pan Am serving the Atlantic routes and United serving the Pacific routes.

On September 14, 1984 Pan American Airways created a holding company called Pan Am Corporation. The parent company assumed ownership and control of the airline and the services division.

Pan Ams present fleet of about one hundred jetliners consists of B-727s, 737s and 747s, as well as L-1011s, Airbus A-300s, and one DC-10. Its route system in the American East is perhaps Pan Ams last area of competitive viability. Eastern Airlines, which operates a lucrative shuttle service between Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., sold several of its gates in those cities to Pan Am. The FAA ordered the sale to prevent Texas Air (Easterns parent company) from establishing a monopoly on the northeast corridor shuttle service. In October of 1986 Pan Am began its own shuttle service in competition with Eastern.

The new shuttle services will provide Pan Am with a reliable cash flow. However, it is only with good management and cooperation of the kind demonstrated in the agreement with United that Pan Am will have a chance to fully recover and re-establish its historic pre-eminence in the airline industry.

Principal Subsidiaries

Pan American World Airways, Inc.; Pan Am World Services, Inc.

Further Reading

Empire of the Air: Juan Trippe and the Struggle for World Airways by Mathew Josephson, New York, Harcourt Brace, 1944; Flying the Oceans: A Pilots Story of Pan Am by Horace Brock, New York, Jason Aronson, 1978; Crosswinds: An Airmans Memoir by Najeeb E. Halaby, New York, Doubleday, 1978; The Perilous Sky: U.S. Aviation Diplomacy and Latin America 1919-1931 by Wesley Philips Newton, Coral Gables, Florida, University of Miami Press, 1978; The Chosen Instrument by Marglin Bender and Selig Altschul, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1982.

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"Pan American World Airways, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Pan American World Airways, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/pan-american-world-airways-inc-0

"Pan American World Airways, Inc.." International Directory of Company Histories. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/books/politics-and-business-magazines/pan-american-world-airways-inc-0