Aviation Regulation – History and Practice – Part 4

Aviation Regulation – History and Practice

Part Four

This part covers the Post-War and the Regulated and Protectionist Era and the Role of Government in International Civil Aviation with a focus on the Cold War Era.

POST-WAR AND THE REGULATED AND PROTECTIONIST ERA 

United States Commercial Aviation

Often referred to as the “glory days of airline travel”, the Post-War and the Regulated and Protectionist Era witnessed the manufacture of large capacity, long-haul, piston driven aircraft, the introduction of and transition to commercial jet airliners that ushered in the “Jet Age”, and finally the development of high capacity, wide-bodied aircraft that started the path toward the end to economic regulation of the privately-owned U.S. airlines.

ConstellationIn the United States, the trunk carriers began the transition to peace-time operations, enjoying the technology developed during the war. There was a surplus of former military transport and bomber aircraft that were acquired by the trunk airlines and modified for commercial service. These surplus aircraft were also purchased by entrepreneurs who began to transport people and cargo on an ad hoc basis, with no fixed routes or schedules. Thus emerged a new type air carrier to be known as the non-scheduled or “non-skeds” to the public or as “large irregular carriers” to the CAB, which was powerless to regulate them under the current statutes. This was remedied by an amendment to the Civil Aeronautics Act that created supplemental air carriers and supplemental air transportation requiring these carriers to possess certificates of public convenience and necessity in order to operate as an air carrier.

In addition, the post-war years witnessed the granting of new “feeder” routes by the CAB. Although the trunk carriers claimed a right to these routes under their grandfather rights, the CAB nevertheless granted these new routes to another new class of air carrier known as “Local Service Carriers”, each with a regionally centered route system. Airlines such as Allegheny, Mohawk, Lake Central, Frontier, Bonanza, Ozark and Southern were all certificated during the 1945-1951 period. Because of the thin markets served by these carriers, they were awarded subsidies to keep operating in these markets.

These new air carriers, added to the already existing trunk carriers, meant an overcrowding of American airspace, and the regulation in place for air traffic control was soon considered antiquated.

In 1956, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Edward Peck Curtis as Special Assistant for Aviation and was named to head a commission to study the dramatic increase in airline traffic and to propose ways to deal with airplane traffic jams at airports. This was followed by and event, however, that shook the very foundation of air traffic control.

800px-1956_Grand_Canyon_mid-air_collisionOn the morning of 30 June 1956, United Airlines flight 718 collided with TWA flight 2 over the Grand Canyon. With 128 fatalities this was at the time the largest loss of life in an aviation accident. This high profile accident, which took place in uncontrolled airspace, raised public concern for airline safety.

As a result, in 1957, Congress passed the Airways Modernization Act that established the Airways Modernization Board (AMB) headed by General Elwood Quesada.  The mandate of the Board was the development and modernization of the national system of navigation and air traffic control facilities to serve the present and future needs of civil and military aviation.

Two subsequent mid-air collisions between military aircraft and commercial airliners, one near Las Vegas, Nevada (United Airlines flight 736) on April 21, 1958, where 49 died, and another involving Capital Airlines over Brunswick, Maryland a month later on May 20 that cost 11 lives, showed further imperfections in the regulation of air traffic, particularly the need for unified control of airspace for civil and military flights.

The day after the Brunswick collision, Senator Mike Monroney and Representative Oren Harris introduced the Federal Aviation Act and two days after Brunswick, a stopgap presidential proclamation was issued that (1) required military jet aircraft to fly by Instrument Flight Rules while in the civil airways below 25,000 ft. (later reduced to 20,000 ft.) and (2) prohibited jet penetration swoops from high to low altitudes through civil airways.

Citing “recent midair collisions of aircraft occasioning tragic losses of human life,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the White House’s support of the legislation on 13 June 1958. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 passed Congress and was signed into law by Eisenhower on 23 August.

Taking a comprehensive approach to the federal role in fostering and regulating civilNewsign aeronautics and air commerce, the new law repealed the Air Commerce Act of 1926, the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, the Airways Modernization Act of 1957, and those portions of various presidential plans dealing with civil aviation. The legislation assigned the functions exercised under these repealed laws to two independent agencies — a new Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and a Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB).

Provisions of the Act included:

Established the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA, later Federal Aviation Administration).

Abolished the CAA, and empowered the FAA to oversee and regulate safety in the airline industry and the use of American airspace by both military and civilian aircraft.

CAB continued as an independent agency and retained jurisdiction over route allocation, accident investigation and fare applications.

International routes subject to bilateral agreements between the US and the country involved and the CAB designated the carrier to operate the route.

DOT-FAA_Headquarters_by_Matthew_BisanzThe twenty years following the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 was characterized as an era of strict economic regulation in the United States and government protectionism in the rest of the world. The privately owned U.S. flagged airlines were restricted by the CAB as to where they could operate and what fares they could charge. Routes were awarded after long and costly proceedings where a carrier needed to prove the market applied for11.Wash-CAB actually needed the service. Fares were also subject to board approval and were calculated using a formula known as the Standard Industry Fare Level (SIFL). A small handful U.S. carriers operated international routes, most notably Pan American, TWA and Northwest, with Pan American being the dominant carrier and considered the “Chosen Instrument” for the United States.

Below are the regulated-era route systems and typical aircraft of the U.S. carriers American, Pan American, TWA and United:

AA 1976

MAP 1966 Sep

TWA 1978

UAL 74

DC-7B-N339AA-SAN-122562-860x539proctor

707-123B-N7522A-SAN-1263-860x486proctor

Electra - Proctor

DC-9 Mark Hansen

707 inaugural flight Orly

377-3 RA Scholefield

1049G-N7108C-LAX-564-860x461 proctor

707-131-N743TW-LAX-41863-870x504 proctor

DC-8 at LAX

DC-7-N6331C-SAN-dupe-860x503 proctor

On 15 October 1966, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT or DOT) was established as the federal Cabinet department of the U.S. government concerned with transportation. It began operation on April 1, 1967 and is headed by the United States Secretary of Transportation.

Prior to its establishment, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Transportation administered the functions now associated with it. In 1965, Najeeb Halaby, then Administrator of the FAA, suggested to President Lyndon B. Johnson that transportation be elevated to a cabinet-level post, and that the FAA be folded into the DOT.

DOT’s mission is to “Serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.”

Usdot_headquarters

Provisions related to air transportation include:

The FAA became an agency within the department.

The CAB remained an independent regulatory agency with jurisdiction over economic matters (routes and rates/tariffs).

Established the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that took over the CAB’s accident investigatory function. NTSB was severed from DOT by the Independent Safety Board Act of 1974.

International Commercial Aviation

In the international arena, the foreign flagged airlines in the Post War era were largelyAir France state-owned and were controlled by their respective civil aviation authorities. International routes were governed by bilateral agreements between the countries involved and fares were agreed to at Traffic Conferences organized by IATA. The airline of the Soviet Union, Aeroflot, and airlines of Eastern European countries were also state-owned.

Tu114 Pereslautsev Alex

Foreign-flag carriers operating international routes were generally identified as being the “Chosen Instrument” of their owning countries.

377_boac

DC-7C-JA6302-LAX-3460-860x554 proctor

Government Role in International Civil Aviation

One very important factor during this era was the government role in international civil aviation, best illustrated by how governments dealt with aviation issues in three main areas: ICAO, IATA and bilateral Air Services Agreements (ASA). This era was dominated by the Cold War, and the international airline industry was in many respects, though not obviously, a pawn in the struggle between the super powers at the time.

Political considerations became apparent early, when, in 1947, ICAO became an agency ofIberia the United Nations.  In one case, as a condition of acceptance of ICAO into the UN, the Soviet Union demanded the expulsion of Spain from ICAO.  Spain was then considered a key terminal and a source or destination for a substantial amount of traffic, and its expulsion hampered the development of air facilities and aids to navigation that were essential to orderly air transport. In another case involving South Africa, thirty-one African nations demanded the expulsion of that country because of its apartheid policy. The attempt failed because of failure to meet the required advance notice.

Government involvement in IATA activities, although a non-governmental organization, was also prevalent. Under its Articles of Association, traffic or rate conferences were called whenever necessary. Each member had one vote, and each member had veto rights. These conferences made a variety of decisions, but only those that were unanimously agreed on and expressed in the form of a resolution were binding. However, because most international airlines at the time were state-owned, these resolutions would not be binding on the international airline until its government approved. Further, a member would not be bound if it certified the resolution was not coincident with the laws or official policy of its government. Despite these restrictions, however, government approval of IATA resolutions during this period was overwhelming. This can be attributed to the fact that most international airlines received instructions prior to attending the conferences and in some cases, airline representatives were actually state or government employees disguised as officials of the state-owned airline.

The government role in the industry, however, was most intense and interesting at the bilateral level. This was particularly true during the Cold War and the role of government was interpreted in terms of foreign policy. The international airline could either be an instrument of foreign policy or it could reflect or parallel the foreign policy of a country. A country may also use its international airline to gain political favors from other countries. Here, the key to successful negotiations was bargaining power, or the ability to influence other countries in a way that would contribute to the economic success of the home country’s airline. It was also entirely possible that an airline’s profitability could be damaged because something of value to a national airline could be traded away by government to meet a governmental objective.

For the most part the countries of the international airlines exchanged routes on a reciprocal basis and when both had equal bargaining power. A country with greater power, however, can demand more for its routes. In a 1957 case, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines appliedDC-7C-PH-DSC-KLM-IDL-661-Bob-Proctor-860x499 for additional routes in the United States. The U.S. government was not prepared to grant these additional routes because the Netherlands had nothing to offer in return. To the Dutch, KLM was one of the Netherlands’ biggest industries that was a symbol of Dutch internationalism and initiative. Thus, to obtain the desired routes, the Dutch offered a continuing cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This was acceptable to the US and the routes were granted. The granting of airline rights to foreign governments in exchange for political support, military bases or troop contributions to NATO were regular bargaining tools of the U.S. in order to maintain its military superiority over the Soviet Union.

ASAs can also be subject to disputes between the parties and at times an injured party might resort to counter-measures to protect its interests. This was illustrated in a case between Pan American and Air France in connection with the bilateral ASA between the U.S. and France. Under that agreement Pan American was authorized a scheduled service between Paris and London. However, because of the aggressive subsidies being provided 747-121-N740PA-LAX-102184-860x509proctorby the French government to Air France, Pan American decided to substitute a smaller, more economical  aircraft for the 747 already scheduled on that route (gauge change). The French government refused on the basis ranging from assertions of national honor (Pan American flying anything smaller than a 747 into Paris would be an affront) to the more pragmatic reason that Air France would enjoy the prospect of forcing its competitor to run a grossly unprofitable route (with the 747). Finally, the French compelled Pan American to cease its flights to Paris. The U.S. government proposed arbitration to resolve the dispute, but for two years the French refused. The U.S. eventually made a reprisal by suspending Air France’s Paris-Los Angeles route, long established under the ASA.

This got the French government’s attention and France agreed to arbitration. The issues were (1) whether Pan American could change gauge and (2) whether the U.S. could unilaterally suspend Air France’s route to Los Angeles. The first issue was resolved in favor of Pan American. In the case of the second issue, the French argued that as the ASA provided for arbitration, it was impermissible for the U.S. to engage in unilateral self-help measures. The arbitrator ruled, however, that it was France that had been setting up707-328-AF-LAX-760-Bob-Proctor-860x474 barriers by not agreeing to arbitration and that it was only the U.S.’s retaliatory move terminating the Los Angeles route that brought France to the table. In short, the arbitrator ruled that counter-measures were a necessary part of the punch and counter-punch often needed to get parties to submit their disputes to arbitration or other method of binding settlement.

One point made in this case was that in any use of counter-measures, there could always be a risk of escalation. France could have cut off Pan American’s New York-Paris route and then the U.S. could have retaliated by economic or other sanctions outside the air transport sector, and so on. The point here is that although the underlying reasons for the dispute were aviation related, there could have been other non-aviation factors driving the actions of the French government.

Beyond the government role in ASAs, and as alluded to above, an international airline during this era could be a reflection of or parallel the foreign policy of its country. A good example of this is Aeroflot, then the only international airline of the Soviet Union. As previously mentioned the Soviet Union did not attend the Chicago Convention. The Soviet policy at the time was that of isolationism and civil aviation was kept at a low priority. This changed in the 1950s when the Soviet government switched to a more internationalist policy in relation to the Eastern Bloc countries, and it was reflected in Aeroflot’s opening of new routes to capitals in Eastern Europe. The 1960s also witnessed some dramatic changes after the switch from the Khrushchev regime to the Brezhnev-Kosygin regime. Here the policy changed to greater flexibility toward the Western powers, and Aeroflot began operating to countries outside the Soviet bloc and by 1967 almost all Western European capitals. In 1968, after several years of negotiations, service was inaugurated between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The agreement best illustrates the concepts of political considerations in bilateral negotiations and the notion of the “Chosen Instrument”. The airlines involved were Pan American and Aeroflot.

If there was any route in Pan American’s history that could be designated as a “Chosen Instrument” route, the U.S.-U.S.S.R. could be that route. Pan American was the selected airline because it was recognized as the primary U.S.-flag carrier as manifested by the So16A-Hambletonviet Union’s aviation officials making the initial contact directly with Juan Trippe. After reporting the contact to the U.S. State Department and the Civil Aeronautics Board, Trippe was authorized to negotiate with the Soviets on key issues for an ASA between the two countries. However, given the political climate, it can be reasonably inferred that political considerations also played a role in formulation of the final agreement between the two countries and both Pan American and Aeroflot were instruments of those considerations, and therefore instruments of both countries’ foreign policy, hence,  “Chosen Instruments”.

For Pan American, a private enterprise as opposed to the state-owned Aeroflot, the operation was a money loser and the competition was not on a level playing field. Quite simply, Pan American could not sell tickets in the Soviet Union and was at a tremendous economic disadvantage. Unfortunately, there was no provision for a subsidy to a U.S. flag carrier operating at an economic disadvantage in an international market at the government’s bidding. Pan American eventually suspended the losing operation but did so when U.S.-Soviet relations were souring. It was not until relations began to improve between the two countries in the mid to late 1980s did the service resume, in 1986, later crowned with a non-stop 747 service in 1988.

59-IL-62-cropped

From the late 1960s through the early 1970s, Aeroflot grew rapidly and by 1973, had set a record for route expansion, operating under sixty-five bilateral agreements with other countries. These changes from isolation to a world-wide presence could be considered a reflection of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy at the time, or it could have been viewed as a challenge to the U.S. superiority in air transport. Whatever the case, the Soviet policy of détente was based on political and economic weakness. There were three basic reasons for this: (1) the Sino-Soviet Conflict, in which China had survived the Cultural Revolution and gained strength in the international arena; (2) the avoidance of Western European unity, which could be a strategic threat and a threat in itself to Eastern Europe and the Soviet control of Eastern Europe; and (3) the weakened Soviet economy, which had found the Soviets lagging behind the U.S., especially in consumer goods. The policy was designed to effect technological cooperation with the West, avoid a political struggle on two fronts (China at one end, the West at the other) and increase political influence in Europe. In 1973, Aeroflot concluded a Trans-Siberian route exchange (connecting Europe and Japan through Moscow, thereby saving time and mileage) with Japan Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France.

The Trans-Siberian route was considered important because it impacted the bargaining power of both the U.S., where travel between Japan and Europe was through Anchorage, Alaska, and the Middle East, which had bargaining power with Fifth Freedom rights. By IL62 JAP Aeroflot Malcolm Nasongranting this route to Japan Airlines and the European airlines, the Soviet Union effectively diminished the U.S. and Middle East bargaining power in this market. In addition, this Soviet move made possible increased influence in both Japan and Western Europe.

Whether the Soviet activities at the time were a threat to U.S. leadership is questionable. First, the Soviet aircraft were well behind those of the U.S. technologically and were more expensive to operate; secondly, the airline service offered was not consumer-oriented and was reputed to be deplorable; and third, Aeroflot was not a member of IATA at the time. However, the view at the time was that the rapid Soviet growth was a bid to engage in a contest for national prestige and political influence, by using aviation as a means to an end.

One other event during this era, which occurred on board the fishing boat Wild Goose in the Puget Sound, would set in motion a series of events that would rock the very foundation of the industry:

As legend has it, Pan American’s Juan Trippe asked, “Would you build it if I bought it?” to which Bill Allen of Boeing responded, “Would you buy it if I built it?”

What was “it”? The Boeing 747

END OF PART FOUR

The next installment of this story, Part 5, will cover Deregulation and Open Skies.

 

 

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The Pan Am Series – Part XXIV: The Boeing 377

Pan American’s Boeing 377 – The Stratocruiser

Boeing 377 - Clipper America (Mike Machat)

Boeing 377 – Clipper America (Mike Machat)

One of Pan American World Airways’ most iconic airliners was Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. In the post war years and into the 1950s, it epitomized the ultimate in luxury air travel that was unparalleled at the time and probably never will be.

The Stratocruiser was developed from the C-97 Stratofreighter, a military derivative of the B-29 Superfortress. It was Boeing’s first commercial transport since the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and it possessed all the speed and technical improvements available to bombers at the end of the war.

Like the C-97, the Stratocruiser was developed by grafting a large upper fuselage onto the lower fuselage and wings of the B-29, creating an “inverted-figure-8” double deck fuselage. The aircraft had four huge Pratt & Whitney 4360 radial engines with Hamilton Standard propellers.

According to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, the Stratocruiser “looked as ponderous as the Constellation looked graceful. It seemed to bore its way through the air, defying apparent theories of clean aerodynamics. It was, in fact, as fast as the Constellation, and set many point-to-point records.”

The Stratocruiser set a new standard for luxurious air travel with its tastefully decorated extra-wide passenger cabin and gold-appointed dressing rooms. A circular staircase led to a lower-deck beverage lounge, and flight attendants prepared hot meals for 50 to 100 people in a state-of-the-art galley.  As a sleeper, the Stratocruiser was equipped with 28 upper-and-lower bunk units.

Pan American placed the first order for 20 Stratocruisers, worth $24 million, and they began service between San Francisco and Honolulu in 1949. Fifty-six Stratocruisers were built between 1947 and 1950. In addition to Pan American, the Stratocruiser was also operated by American Overseas Airlines (acquired by Pan American in 1950), United Airlines, Northwest Airlines, B.O.A.C. and others.

The Stratocruiser was most remembered for its lower-deck lounge and staterooms. It was used on Pan American’s most prestigious routes and attracted the most discerning of passengers. Although its operating costs were high, they were offset by high revenue.

The Pan American Stratocruisers saw service all over the world. A “Super” Stratocruiser was deployed on the airline’s most prestigious route, the New York-London flight 100/101 and was operated until replaced by the Boeing 707. The “Strat” was also deployed on the New York-Rio “President Special” service but was eventually replaced by the DC-6B, the DC-7B and the Boeing 707. The aircraft also saw extensive usage on Pan American’s Pacific routes as well as the round-the-world service. The timetable images below illustrate these services:

The aircraft was also a favorite of flight crews, not the least for the fact that many celebrities were passengers. Barbara Sharfstein, a former Pan American purser who started working for the airline 1951 and stayed until 1986, when she went to United Airlines with the sale of Pan American’s Pacific routes, said, in a story in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People:

“I applied and was hired as a “stewardess” by Pan American World Airways in July, 1951, one month after reaching my 21st birthday and after graduating from college.  About three months later, my friend from home and school, Pat Monahan, joined me and three other new hires in a rented house one block from the Miami Airport.  We started our careers flying to South America and almost all islands in between.  We agreed it was the most amazing, wonderful life imaginable. The types of airplanes we crewed were: Convairs, DC4s, Constellations and our all time favorite, the Boeing- 377 Stratocruiser.  * * *

“[O]ne of the most memorable times in my flying career happened on the Stratocruiser when Louis Armstrong and his band were downstairs in the lounge longing to get to their instruments.   As it happened, there was a door to the cargo compartment right next to the bar.   In fact, the liquor kits were kept in the same compartment as the luggage with only a mesh rope curtain separating us from what they could spot as a few of the instruments.  I can only say it was fortunate for the weight and balance of the airplane that the lounge was centrally located or we might have been in trouble.  Almost all the passengers were in the lounge seats or on steps.  Passengers were helping me serve drinks and neither they nor I will ever forget it.”

Pan American was known for many historic “firsts” in commercial flight and the Stratocruiser was no exception, albeit, in one case, in a most unusual way. On 12 October 1957, Captain Don McLennan and crew started the four engines of Clipper America for a special mission. The story follows from the Pan Am Historical Foundation’s website:

“It was a charter flight for the U.S. Navy. The ultimate destination for the flight was just shy of 10,000 miles away, in the Antarctic at 77 degrees 51 minutes S,166 degrees 40 minutes E – the 6,000 ft. runway at the United States Naval Air Facility, McMurdo Sound; operations base for the Navy’s Operation Deep Freeze III. 

“The passengers included thirty-six Navy personnel, the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and a New Zealand cabinet minister, some reporters, but public attention was directed mostly towards the flights’ two Pan Am stewardesses, Ruth Kelly and Pat Hepinstall. The pair were about to become the first women to travel that far south, and although the clipper would be “on the ice” for less than four hours, their arrival caused a big stir at the bottom of the world – and a great news story everywhere else. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral George J. Dufek, the polar veteran in charge of the operation had suggested that such a flight might provide a great PR coup for Pan Am. Operation Deep Freeze would be probing the mysteries of the massive Ross Ice Shelf. The Pan Am flight would mark the first commercial airline flight to the Antarctic. But the admiral was also in for a surprise.

“Three kilometers away from McMurdo was New Zealand’s Scott Base, and as the social calendar was fairly wide open at both facilities, invitations were extended to the Kiwis. Many of the personnel at both bases had been there for months, while some were more recent arrivals – “summer people”. But it seems the arrival of the two young women was apparently not appreciated universally.

“According to an article written by Billy-Ace Baker in the Explorer’s Gazette, official publication of the Old Antarctic Explorer’s Association, in 2001:

“Commenting on the report that there would be no women on the proposed Pan Am flight to McMurdo Sound, Rear Admiral Dufek said: ‘If there are any hostesses they’re going to be men.’

“The Admiral, before the flight anyway, was adamant about not opening the gates to other requests to accommodate women in what was – in 1957 – an exclusive male bastion. But apparently, the stewardesses’ arrival created other conflicts, according to Baker:

“The summer tourists made a big fuss over the girls, but some members of the wintering-over party, who had several more months to spend on the ice, ran away and hid. If you haven’t seen a woman in 12 months, it’s not going to do you much good to look at one who will be gone in a couple of hours. That explains why there were only 50 men in attendance.

“During their brief stay, Kelly and Hepinstall were tasked with judging a beard contest (categories included: longest, blackest, reddest, & sexiest) and were participants in a U.S. v New Zealand dog sled race. The latter event was a failure as far as a picking a winner was concerned, as the stopwatch froze up. So did Pan Am Navigator Earl Lemon’s camera, which also froze after getting one picture.

The event was commemorated in a John T. McCoy watercolor, one of his series of Historic Pan Am Firsts:

Clipper America arriving in Antarctica, 15 October 1957 (John T McCoy watercolor).

Clipper America arriving in Antarctica, 15 October 1957 (John T McCoy watercolor).

During its service for Pan American, the Stratocruiser was dressed in three liveries. The most familiar is pictured above. Below are images of the other two, the first, the original livery upon delivery and the second, the “blue ball”, applied toward the end of its service.

The Stratocruiser played an important role in the phenomenal growth of commercial aviation after World War II and remained a presence on the world’s prestige airline routes up to the beginning of the Jet Age. From Ron Davies:

“While the Constellation is remembered with affection as the epitome of elegance of the piston-engined era, and the DC-6B for its reliability and efficiency, the Stratocruiser was the last to be retired from the world’s prestige routes when, first the turboprop Britannia, and then the Comet and the Boeing 707 jets ushered in a new era that became the Jet Age.”

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

The Book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People contains 71 stories written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

The book is also available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon.

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation

 

The Story of Snow Leopard – Part One: The Aircraft and the Operation

Snow Leopard-2comp

6-cat-profile-714

Snow Leopard:  a moderately large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, mainly in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan (photograph by Steve Winter)

Part One:  The Aircraft and the Operation

The Aircraft

This is the story about an aircraft named Snow Leopard, which was a Boeing 747SP that was leased by Tajik Air, the national airline of the Republic of Tajikistan, then a newly independent former Soviet Republic located in Central Asia. The aircraft was operated exclusively on the international routes of Tajik Air and gave that airline a presence in London, UK, Delhi, India and Karachi, Pakistan.  The operation was controlled and managed by a management company in London, Tajik Air Limited.  This is what made this operation unique.  What also made it unique was that Snow Leopard was crewed by former pilots and flight attendants of Pan American World Airways, the former great airline that ceased operations in December, 1991.

The operation started with Snow Leopard’s departure from London for Dushanbe, Tajikistan in December 1993.  It ended in February 1994 when the aircraft was repossessed by United Airlines, the aircraft’s owner and lessor. What happened during these three months are stories of adventure, bravery, comedy, intrigue, loyalty and teamwork.  And they will be told in the following posts by those who were there, the pilots, flight attendants and the London management staff.

As background, the Boeing 747SP is a modified version of the Boeing 747 which was designed for ultra-long-range flights. The “SP” stands for “Special Performance”.  Compared with its predecessor, the 747-100, the 747SP retains its wide-body four-engine layout, along with its double-deck design, but has a shortened fuselage, larger vertical stabilizer, and simplified trailing edge flaps. The weight saved by the shortened fuselage permits longer range and increased speed relative to other 747 configurations.

Known during development as the short-body 747SB, the 747SP was designed to meet a 1973 joint request from Pan Am and Iran Air, who were looking for a high-capacity airliner with sufficient range to cover Pan Am’s New York–Middle Eastern routes and Iran Air’s planned Tehran–New York route. The aircraft also was intended to provide Boeing with a mid-size wide-body airliner to compete with the DC-10 and L-1011.

The 747SP first entered service with Pan Am in 1976. The aircraft was later acquired by VIP and government customers, but sales did not meet the expected 200 units, and production ultimately totaled 45 aircraft.

While in service, the 747SP set several aeronautical performance records, including three record-setting round-the-world flights, two operated by Pan Am and the third by United.

From Captain Sherman Carr, one of the former Pan Am pilots who flew Snow Leopard:

 “The airplane that was to be used for this operation was a Boeing 747SP.  * * *  The plane was originally developed for Pan Am to be able to operate non-stop from the U.S. to Hong Kong and be able to stay aloft for over 15 hours. It was actually a regular 747 with upstairs lounge seating but shortened by about 48 feet to make it lighter and additional fuel tanks for longer range. If it’s not loaded with full fuel for extended range flights, the aircraft actually scoots like a hot rod and will outperform any WWII or Korean conflict fighter aircraft and is a lot of fun to fly.  It will roll or loop or do most of the maneuvers you see at airshows but of course this is not authorized so no pilot would ever tell you he had done those things. For Dushanbe, surrounded by mountains in all directions, it was the perfect choice due to its ability to climb quickly, safely and be on its way in a timely manner and still carry about 260 people with an extended first class.”

Snow Leopard, Manufacturer’s Serial Number 21649, Serial 373 was first delivered to Pan American World Airways on May 11, 1979 registered as N540PA and named Clipper White Falcon.  It was renamed Clipper Flying Arrow on August 1, 1979 and later renamed Clipper Star of the Union on January 1, 1980. One year later, on January 1, 1981, the aircraft became China Clipper.

On February 12, 1986, as part of Pan Am’s sale of its Pacific Routes, N540PA was acquired by United Airlines.  The registration was changed to N149UA on June 1, 1986.  It was under this registration that the aircraft operated for Tajik Air, pictured below:

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard

After the aircraft was repossessed by United Airlines, it was bought by the Brunei Government and re-registered as V8-JBB.  It was then bought by the Government of Bahrain on December 24, 1998 and registered as A9C-HMH (below, left).  Today Snow Leopard is owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, registered as VQ-BMS (below, right, photo by Wong Chi Lam). She is still in operation.

747SP Bahrain Royal Flight     747SP VQ-BMS-Las-Vegas-Sands-Corporation

The Operation

Starting a new service in any market requires a great deal of research and planning.  There must be a suitable aircraft.  Government approvals must be in place.  Airport access, slots (if required), ground handling services and airport facilities (check-in desks, etc) must be obtained.  On the commercial side, the new service needs to be marketed, publicized and tickets sold.  Other details include setting up the ticket and operations offices, arranging catering, publishing an In-Flight magazine and printing safety information cards, timetables, paper tickets, baggage tickets, promotional materials and stationary.

For Tajik Air, however, there was one very important requirement missing: an operating base in London and sufficient infrastructure to crew and maintain a Boeing 747SP aircraft.  That presented a huge problem as the civil aviation structure of Tajkistan was completely inexperienced in intercontinental operations.  In fact, Tajik Air was created by the breaking-up of the Soviet Union and the then national carrier Aeroflot’s leaving of some old Russian-built aircraft (mostly TU-154s) for use by Tajik Air as the new national air carrier of Tajikistan.  Setting up a London base would seem impossible to achieve given the limited resources of Tajikistan.  However, through the foresight and creativeness of a few airline experts in London, the requirement was met.

To establish the necessary infrastructure so that Tajik Air could operate flights to/from London, a third-party UK management company, Tajik Air Limited, was formed.  Its purpose was to operate international flights on behalf of Tajik Air.  The company would obtain and maintain the aircraft and crew, organize the marketing and selling of the flights and essentially operate the flights.  This would be accomplished using Tajikistan’s Air Operator’s Certificate and Tajik Air’s call-sign and airline code.   Tajikistan committed to funding the new service and also obtaining the required government permissions for the operation.

How would this operation be viable and profitable?  The route of primary interest to Tajik Air was the London (Heathrow) (“LHR”)-Dushanbe (“DYU”) sector.  Operating that sector as an Origin-Destination route presented problems in that there was little, if any, traffic between the two points.  The question was how to fill an aircraft with 260 seats?  The answer:  Offer service between LHR and points beyond DYU.  This was to be accomplished using rights under the Sixth Freedom of the Air.

The Freedoms of the Air, established by the Chicago Conference of 1944, are a set of commercial aviation rights granting a country’s airlines the privilege of entering and landing in another country’s airspace.  The table below illustrates these Freedoms of the Air:

airfreedom

In the case of Tajik Air, the Third and Fourth Freedoms were the operative.  The former gives the “Home” (Tajikistan) country the rights to carry commercial traffic (passengers/cargo/mail, etc) to another country; the latter gives the “Home” country the rights to carry commercial traffic from that other country to home.  These rights are generally agreed-to between the “Home” country and the other country in the form of a Bilateral Agreement or an Air Services Agreement.  By using Third and Fourth Freedom rights, a Sixth Freedom operation can be created.  It is similar to a hub operation with the home country being in the middle of the operation between two different countries.

For Tajik Air, the beyond points selected were Delhi, India (“DEL”) and Karachi, Pakistan (“KHI”) due to the large number of Indians and Pakistanis living in the UK.  The schedule would work like this:  Tajik Air departs from LHR with a planeload of passengers on a Fourth Freedom flight to DYU.  Upon arrival in DYU, those few passengers destined for DYU disembark and the rest stay on board.  The flight then departs DYU with a new flight number on a Third Freedom flight for DEL or KHI.  Upon turning around in DEL/KHI, with a new planeload of passengers, the flight becomes a Fourth Freedom to DYU and from DYU, with another flight number, Third Freedom to LHR.  By operating this schedule, Tajik Air could fill the seats of Snow Leopard, and compete in a highly competitive market by offering good service with low fares.  In order to operate this schedule, Bilateral or Air Services agreements were required for scheduled traffic between Tajikistan and India/Pakistan in addition to the UK.

The published timetable shown below illustrates this operation.  Baggage tags are also shown.

Timetable Front     Timetable Inside

Baggage Tags

As outlined above, there were other details necessary for the operation.  For the aircraft, copies of the In-Flight magazine and emergency information cards were printed and are illustrated below:

Inflight Magazine0001     Inflight Magazine0002

Inflight Magazine0003     Inflight Magazine0004

Emergency Card0001comp     Emergency Card0001comp

Additionally, as part of the pre-launch publicity, an article was put in a magazine for business travelers about the new service:

LHR Mag-0001     LHR Mag-0002

For ticket sales, an office was set up in Kensington, London and a general sales agent was appointed in Karachi and Delhi.  In addition a large poster was printed for display at the ticketing offices with an image of Snow Leopard in the air:

Snow Leopard-1a-comp

The next steps in the launch of Tajik Air’s new service to London involved recruiting and training flight crews and taking delivery of the aircraft.  This will be coming in Part Two of the Story of Snow Leopard.

End of Part One