Essay: Influence of Pan American World Airways on the International Airline Industry

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¶ … Pan American World Airways on the International Airline Industry

Before it went out of business in December 1991, Pan American World Airways was an airline titan. It began as a Florida seaplane service in 1927, rapidly grew in size and status and for more than 60 years it bestrode the airline world like a colossus. -- Frank Barrett, 2009

The international airline industry of the 21st century is built on the legacy of the air carriers of the 20th century, with Pan American World Airways representing one such pioneering airline. Founded during the 1920s, Pan American World Airways grew from its model beginnings with a single aircraft to become a leading air carrier during much of the 20th century. Indeed, despite the company's bankruptcy in 1991, the leadership team at Pan American was responsible for a number of innovations that would have a lasting influence on the international airline industry. In order to identify these innovations and the corresponding influence they had on the international airline industry, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Relatively low-cost, efficient and safe air transportation is available the world over today, but this infrastructure did not simply fall out of the sky, so to speak, but was rather the cumulative result of the contributions of a number of aviation pioneers. For instance, according to Kauffman and Hopkins, "Much went into the building of the airline industry. Today, we take it all for granted, but it was a long, hard, and exciting process" (1995, 1). One of the early pioneers in the international airline industry was Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan American World Airways. In this regard, Kauffman and Hopkins report that, "Pan American World Airways was started by Juan Trippe in 1927, with a borrowed single-engine plane [see Figure 1 below] and a contract from the United States government to fly mail to Cuba. Early in 1928, Trippe obtained his first airmail contracts for seven routes to the Caribbean islands and to Central and South America" (p. 1).

Figure 1. Leased F-10 Trimotor used by Pan American World Airways for its original Cuba airmail contract

Source: Steele 2010, 3

Building on his initial success, Trippe continued to expand the airline with additional routes throughout the Caribbean and eventually into Mexico and other destinations throughout South and Central America (Branson 2007). According to Steele, "Early 1929 saw additional routes throught Cuba and Hispaniola to Puerto Rico. At the same time, in Central America, routes were being extended from Mexico to Panama. Later in 1929, routes were added to Cartagena and Mariacaibo in South America, and the islands as far south as Port-of-Spain and to then to Paramaribo. The Caribbean loop was closed in 1930 and 1931 with the addition of routes to Curacao and Maracay" (2011, 4). In addition, Shavit reports that, "[Pan American] purchased Compania Mexicana de Aviacion, S.A., in 1928, and Sociedad Colombo Alemano de Transport Aereos (SCADTA) in 1929. With W.R. Grace and Company, it organized Pan American and Grace Airways (PANAGRA) in 1929" (1992, 266). A New York to Buenos Aires route was subsequently acquired from a competitor by Pan American in 1930 as well as a new route to Rio de Janeiro (Shavit 1992).

The next two decades would also prove to be highly important to the development of the international airline industry, with Trippe being credited as being responsible for the global aspects of the enterprise. As Branson points out, "It was Trippe's backing of the flying boat, the first Pan Am Flying Clippers, that pioneered global routes: across the Pacific and, in the late 1930s, across the Atlantic. By the end of World War II, Trippe had in place a route system that was truly global" (emphasis added) (2007, 6). Over time, Pan American would come to operate 37 Flying Clippers based on preliminary route surveys that were conducted by Charles Lindbergh which indicated to Trippe (over Lindbergh's protests) that amphibious aircraft were better suited to the Latin American routes he was building (Steele 2007). In this regard, Larson reports that, "Lindbergh concluded after the North Atlantic survey that in a matter of time land planes would eventually be used. Ultimately Pan American World Airways would make the first commercial transoceanic flights during the 1930s" (2002, 6).

The company's fortunes -- and eventual influence on the international airline industry -- would receive further impetus by 1941 when the United States entered World War II. According to Burns of the Pan Am Historical Foundation, "When the United States exploded into World War II, the world's only aircraft that could carry payloads across an ocean were nine Pan Am Boeing 314 flying Clippers and three that Pan Am had sold to Britain. The U.S. government promptly took over all of Pan Am's over-ocean aircraft, crews and operations. Pan Am, its people and its aircraft, went to war as part of the U.S. military. Officially" (2011, 3). One of the Flying Clippers operated by Pan American during this period in history is shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Boeing 314 Dixie Clipper

Source: Burns 2011, 4

These flying aircraft with amphibious capabilities played an enormously important role during World War II, transporting key political and military leaders, essential (and classified) wartime materiel, refugees and the wounded (Burns 2011). Furthermore, Pan American provided training for military pilots and navigators who would go on to become the backbone of the airline industry following the end of the war (Burns 2011). In fact, eight of the navigators who participated in the retaliatory strike by Jimmy Doolittle following the attack on Pearl Harbor had been trained by Pan American (Burns 2011).

Perhaps even more importantly, Trippe transformed the international airline industry from an exclusive mode of transportation to one that was affordable by people of all means. According to Branson, "In 1945 other airlines didn't think or act that way. Trippe decided to introduce a 'tourist class' fare from New York to London. He cut the round-trip fare more than half" (2007, 7). At the time of this bold move by Trippe, international air fares were fixed by the International Air Transport Association, an organization that did not respond positively to these efforts by Pan American to make air travel more accessible and affordable (Branson 2007). According to Branson, "Incredibly, Britain closed its airports to Pan Am flights that had tourist seats. Pan Am was forced to switch to remote Shannon, Ireland. The industry's aversion to competition and making travel affordable was to have a long life, as Sir Freddie Laker would discover in the 1970s and Virgin Atlantic nearly a decade later" (2007, 7). Moreover, by this time, Pan American had lost a significant amount of its business in Latin America to increasing competition (Shavit 1992). Despite these early setbacks, Trippe persevered and even introduced the first airline to offer an around-the-world itinerary. According to Barrett, "Arguably one of its most significant legacies has been the round-the-world ticket. It became the first airline to offer a round-the-world flight in June 1947 with a Lockheed Constellation flying west from New York, taking 13 days to visit 17 destinations in 11 countries" (2009, 38).

Not content with merely offering the first round-the-world itinerary, Trippe was insistent on doing so based on his philosophical perspective concerning low-cost air travel. As Barrett points out, "In 1978 Pan Am launched the first round-the-world fare for $999, not especially cheap at the time but in those days apart from Lakers Skytrain nearly all scheduled air travel was terrifyingly expensive" (2009, 38). In response to this move by Pan American, other air carriers also introduced their own low-cost versions, in some cases teaming up to do so in order to be competitive with Pan America's budget fares (Barrett 2009). For instance, Barrett reports that, "Since no other airline circled the globe, rival carriers soon began to team up to offer their own combined tickets. As airline competition began to grow in the Eighties and Nineties, these circle-the-globe fares became an increasingly attractive buy" (2009, 38).

Other aviation historians maintain that Trippe's Pan American World Airways was highly influential on the international airline industry for other reasons as well. For example, Steele reports that, "For over 60 years [Pan American] pioneered transocean and intercontinental flying. It was the launch platform for aircraft types that set the standard by which all that came later were to be measured" (2011, 2). In fact, Steele goes as far as to suggest that Pan American's influence extended to the destinies of entire countries. "For a period, as the quasi-official 'Chosen Instrument,'" Steele advises, "it represented America's commercial aviation policy overseas (and some would even claim its foreign policy). Without Pan American the world's air transport would surely be different, and even the destinies of some nations would be changed" (2011, 4). Likewise, citing the emergence of English as the international lingua franca, Selzer (2005)… [END OF PREVIEW]

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