Yet Another Dead Airline Brand Is Being Revived
Nostalgia runs deep in the U.S. airline business—witness attempted resurrections over the years of Braniff, Pan American, Eastern, and People Express.
The newest effort in the everything-that’s-old-is-new-again business is a low-cost venture that aims to fly Boeing Co. 787s to Asia and South America, replicating the type of long-haul operation that Norwegian Air has sought to pioneer with the 787 in Europe.
An investment firm, 777 Partners, said Wednesday it acquired rights to fly as World Airways, a carrier that took to the skies after World War II as the armed forces’ dominant troop transport service. World, which was based in suburban Atlanta, shut down in 2014 after the U.S. Air Force canceled a key contract and creditors withdrew funding. Now it’s coming back.
“World has a rich and storied history dating back to 1947,” Chief Executive Officer Ed Wegel said in a statement. “It was once the world’s largest independent charter airline, and served the U.S. military and other clients with great distinction.” His investment group says it’s in discussions with Boeing to buy 10 787s.
Wegel has had a long career in the airline business and some history in the brand resuscitation game. Most recently, he co-founded a charter carrier using the old Eastern moniker with a focus on flights to Cuba—in 2014, he placed orders for 10 Boeing 737-800s, plus options on 10 737 Max jets. Wegel was also involved with a 1990s relaunch of the People Express brand. A decade before, that carrier had managed to combine low fares with quality service and for many became a valued carrier before things went south; People was sold to the parent of Continental Airlines in 1986.
This newest endeavor aims to offer “a transformative flying experience rooted in safety, technology and service to the large segment of the traveling public historically priced out of international travel,” said Josh Wander, a managing partner at Miami-based 777.
Whether there is goodwill associated with an old brand is up for debate, especially since so many other revival attempts failed. Miami-based Eastern struggled with the restoration of commercial air service to Cuba last year, especially in the largest Cuban travel market of Florida. In June, Phoenix-based charter airline Swift Air LLC acquired Eastern’s name, assets, a few Boeing 737s, and some customer accounts, including flights for the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers.
People Express attempted another reboot as a low-cost carrier in the summer of 2014, basing flights in Newark, N.J., the original airline’s home. That People Express was led by Jeffrey Erickson, who founded Reno Air in 1990 and later served as chief executive of TWA. The carrier suspended service in less than three months.
And finally, the iconic Pan Am brand—created in the 1920s and perhaps the most famous airline name in the history of commercial flight—has been employed for multiple revival efforts. They all failed, too.