In September 1996, less than five years after the original Pan American World Airways had made its last flight (December 4, 1991 from Barbados to Miami) a new airline with the classic name took the skies. The airline was a marriage of the estate of the defunct Eastern Airlines and Florida Businessman Chuck Cobb who had bought the rights to the Pan Am name.
The decision to use the Pan Am name instead of Eastern was a sign of the times. Both airlines had collapsed in 1991. Miami-based Eastern had throughout the late 1970’s and early 1980’s been the largest carrier in the western world, but had a reputation for unreliability. Pan Am on the other hand was the airline of glamour and starts, a global icon.
Pan Am nostalgia was highest in the years immediately after the famous airline’s collapse. Eastern nostalgia which wasn’t so great in the 1990’s hit a fever a pitch in the 2010’s partly due to the number of movies from the 2000’s and 2010’s where Eastern is featured.
The new airline began its scheduled service Labor Day Weekend 1996 with service between Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Juan. The new airline was based in Miami, where Eastern had been based from 1975 onward (after moving from New York) and Pan Am was based in its final few months in 1991.
The original Pan Am had, of course began its airline service from Key West to Havana in 1927.
By the early 1940’s Pan Am has established the US’ first international airport on Dinner Key in Miami and it was the locale where President Franklin Roosevelt took the first Presidential flight to meet with Winston Churchill at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943.
Back to 1996. The airline was run by former Pan Am Executive Martin Shugrue who had served as the final President of Eastern Airlines as a court appointed trustee. The combination of Shugrue’s experience with the original Pan Am as well as his role in administrating the estate of the defunct Eastern made him the logical choice to run the new carrier.
The business strategy for the new airline was to offer wide-body service between major international gateways – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami to offer feeder service to international carriers who did not have a US partner. In time Pan Am would carry Iberia passengers beyond Miami to Los Angeles and AeroPeru passengers beyond Miami to New York.
Pan Am’s strategy from the get-go appeared contingent on funneling passengers through large airports and also creating a critical mass of operations to/from Florida and the Caribbean. So strategic acquisitions were targeted, using the globally-renowned Pan Am brand as a carrot.
The most elusive target initially was Carnival Air Lines owned by the Arinson family and based in Dania Beach. The airline started in 1988 as a service to shuttle cruise ship passengers to Carnival ships in San Juan, Nassau, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. But in time, Carnival ended up carving a large piece of the lucrative market from Miami and Fort Lauderdale to the Northeast, competing with USAir, Delta and American on these routes. By the mid-1990’s Carnival was operating a robust operation that attracted commuters in both Florida and the Northeast.
Meanwhile Pan Am had already purchased Chalks International Airlines in early 1996 and before the new Pan Am took the skies in September 1996, Pan Am Air Bridge was already flying. The operation consisted of seaplanes based in Fort Lauderdale and at Miami’s Watson Island. Below is a timetable from 1997.
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas
Pan Am Air Bridge began in 1996 to offer flights to Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park from Key West. Images are from my personal collection. Chalk’s International had offered these flights from 1992 onward.
The Carnival purchase was finally agreed in March 1997 and merger completed later that summer. Pan Am’s headquarters were moved up the road about 20 miles from Miami to Fort Lauderdale.
Following the merger Pan Am increased its service and began flying to Boston in December 1997. The merged airline had far more planes than actual routes or needs for them. The combined Pan Am and Carnival fleets numbered close to 40 airplanes at the end of 1997.
The airline despite having been cash positive prior to the Carnival purchase, struggled to create a niche and lost market share during the later months of 1997. By late February 1998 scheduled operations had been ceased. But charter operations particularly with the airline’s large fleet of A 300’s.
In June, some of the planes as well as the Pan Am IP and marks were sold New Hampshire-based Guilford Transportation Industries. Guiliford was a railroad company but they also operated a niche airline service from 1998 to 2004 using the Pan Am name. They relocated the headquarters from Fort Lauderdale to New Hampshire.