Small Fleets, Short Lives: Wings from Airlines in the Past

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Written by Charlie Dolan

One of the things I miss most about the printed version of The Captain’s Log is the article deadline which always seemed to be hanging over my head. It was like the dreaded term paper, which was in my mind, but eventually had to be reduced to words on paper. Subtle (or not so subtle) reminders from Joop or Bill eventually got articles into the Log to be (hopefully) enjoyed by the members of the society. The new free form Log allows me to procrastinate much more than I used to.

I decided to write about air carriers which arose to fill a perceived niche, but for one reason or another went out of business quickly. These carriers also had small fleets, which might also have affected their short life spans.

One of the first, which came to my mind, was Matson Line. Shortly after World War Two ended, The Matson Steam Navigation Company decided to provide a luxury air carrier to augment their ship operations between the west coast of the United States and Hawaii. They planned to offer the best service in the air and managed to present a business plan which lured American Airlines ‘most senior pilot, E. L. Sloniger to surrender his seniority number to join their new carrier. When he left American, a younger pilot, Ernest K. Gann, followed. If “Old number one” thought that was a good move, how could he not go along. In fewer than twenty- four months, the air carrier folded, partly as a result of political pressure which might have been supported by Pan American’s Juan Trippe.

The largest rise and fall of air carriers came after the deregulation of the airways in the 1980s. Here are some of the carriers who tried to fill niches in the skies.

Air 1    (Air One) 1983 – 1984

A first and business class aircraft cabin with coach fares. It went head to head with TWA and lost the fight.

Air South WV  KB 1993 – 1997

Operated seven aircraft primarily on the east coast of the USA

All Star ASR 1984 -1985

A small charter carrier operating three aircraft.

American International 1982 – 1984

Operated nine DC-9s

Eastwind WS SGR 1995 – 1999

Operated five aircraft on the US east coast.

  Legend LC  LGD 2000 – 2005 

An all business class airline, founded by a former head of the FAA. It operated six aircraft, but was locked in litigation with American Airlines from its inception until its demise.

Orange Air ORN 2011 – 2014

Orange operated two aircraft, but never had a truly viable operation. It did operate some sports charters.

Presidential Airways XV 1985 -1989

This carrier lasted about the longest and with a fleet of twenty three aircraft. I flew Presidential on a round trip between Montreal (CYUL) and Dulles (KIAD) in February 1985 and felt the service was good for a low cost carrier.

Pro Air XL  PRH 1997 – 2000

The carrier operated four Boeing 737 aircraft and was converting to MCD aircraft when maintenance issues led to a cessation of operations.

Ernest K. Gann

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