In this regard, Selzer notes that, “Pan American World Airways was a great carrier and a foremost representative of the American way around the world. Its triumphs were one of the major reasons why English is the primary language spoken in air-traffic control towers throughout the globe” (p. 20).
Notwithstanding these early successes, by the late 1980s, though, Pan American was experienced serious financial trouble and sought relief through wage and benefits negotiations with the flight attendant and flight engineer unions (Ruben 1989). By the early 1990s, the writing was on the wall for all to see and Pan Americans days were clearly numbered. Based on his analysis of Pan Americans demise, Branson (2007) suggests that Trippe was relatively out of touch with the important global events that swirled around him during the early 1990s and failed to respond to these changes in a timely fashion. According to Branson, “Trippe bought too many 747s in the early 1970s. A world oil crisis hit airline travel hard, and his business never recovered. Boeing itself almost went belly-up because of the cost of launching the 747” (2007, 3). Ironically, many of the innovations that Trippe himself introduced were responsible for the airlines downfall. In this regard, Branson concludes that, “Trippe had been a continuous innovator, but the sad irony is that he failed to re-invent his company for the leaner, far more competitive age he had done so much to shape: the age of travel for Everyman. A decade after his death, his airline, substantially dismembered, finally expired in 1991” (2007, 4).
More of a visionary than an executive model for the 21st century, Trippes 60-year tenure at the helm of Pan American World Airways had mixed results. For example, Branson emphasizes that, “By business school standards, Juan Trippe was not a model chief executive. He didnt delegate well. He made big deals without telling his top managers. He almost single-handedly built a world airline, Pan American, but often acted as if he owned the world. He also had a vision that would change it, at least as regards airline travel. While his Pan Am does not survive today, his vision does” (emphasis added) (2007, 5). Likewise, the historians for Pan American World Airways point out that, “Throughout its life, Pan Am was a pioneer. Most of the services and technology that we take for granted in the aviation industry find their roots in Pan Am. Pan Am built airports, established air navigation systems, trained local nationals, etc., wherever it went” (Pan Am First 2011, 1-2). In sum, this Pan American vision included making air travel an affordable alternative to other modes of transportation, forging thoughtful and well planned routes to international destinations using the best survey information available, and selecting aircraft that were best suited for these routes. Some of the early airline industry innovations with lasting influence that are credited to Pan American World Airways include the events describe in Table 1 below.
International Airline Industry Innovations Credited to Pan American World Airways
First American airline to operate a permanent international air service, operate land airplanes over water on a regularly scheduled basis and to operate multi-engine aircraft permanently in scheduled service.
First American airline to use radio communications, to carry emergency lifesaving equipment, to use multiple flight crews, to order and purchase aircraft built to its own specifications (the Sikorsky S-38) and to develop an airport and airways traffic control system.
First American airline to employ cabin attendants and serve meals aloft, to develop and use instrument flight techniques and to develop a complete aviation weather service.
First American airline to offer international air express service.
First airline to sell all-expense international air tours.
First airline to develop and employ long-range weather forecasting, to install facilities for heating food aboard an aircraft, and to operate scheduled transpacific passenger and mail service.
First airline to operate scheduled transatlantic passenger and mail service.
First airline to complete a round-the-world flight and to operate international service with all-cargo aircraft.
First airline to propose a plan for low cost, mass transportation on a worldwide basis.
First airline to use high-speed commercial land planes on a transatlantic route, the Douglas DC-4
First American airline to install Ground Controlled Approach in overseas operations.
First airline to operate a scheduled round-the-world service.
First airline to provide tourist-class service outside the continental U.S..
First airline with low-cost day and night coach service on the East Coast.
Source: Pam Am First 2011, 3
While the foregoing innovations were highly influential and their impact long-lasting, it is less easy to determine the impact that Pan Americans efforts during the war had on the international airline industry, but it is likely reasonable to suggest that the strategic services provided by Pan American during the war were crucial to its successful outcomes for the Allied Powers. Further, the training provided by Pan American during the war for pilots and navigators also played a critical role in this outcome, but these highly trained professionals would go on become the foundation of the international airline industry as it currently exists.
The research showed that Pan American World Airways was established in 1927 with a single leased airplane and a contract with the U.S. government to deliver airmail to Cuba. From these modest beginnings, the companys founder, Juan Trippe, brought Pan American World Airways into the forefront of the international airline industry by actually creating it in the first place and then developing the processes and procedures that would characterize the industry through much of the 20th century. Although in the vanguard of airline industry innovation, the research also showed that by the late 1980s and early 1990s, the company was foundering due in large part because of a combination of skyrocketing energy prices and increased competition from other low-cost carriers. In the final analysis, based on its wide-ranging influence, it is reasonable to conclude that students and historians of the airline industry will be analyzing the impact that Pan American World Airways had on the international airline industry for years to come.
Barrett, F. 2009, January 25 “This Year You Could Conquer the World – for Less Than a Grand.” The Mail on Sunday, p. 38.
Branson, R. 2007 “Juan Trippe (1899-1981) Biography.” Charles Lindbergh: An American
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Burns, G.E. 2011 “The War Years.” Pan American Historical Foundation. [online] available:
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