Browsing Tag: Airline History

It’s been almost twenty years since TWA folded, but some of its employees still stay in touch. Every year, the Silver Wings organization of former TWA flight attendants hosts a get-together where they celebrate their shared history. The meetings usually rotate between U.S. cities, and this year there was only one logical choice: New York, thanks to the awesome new TWA Hotel that opened in May. If you’re one of the few AvGeeks out there who haven’t heard about it, the hotel is built around Eero Saarinen’s iconic TWA terminal at JFK and features historical displays, a rooftop pool with tarmac views, and more.

We got to join in for the Silver Wings meetup, and it was as awesome as we were hoping it would be. The turnout was incredible, and attendees were having a blast touring their old stomping grounds and seeing the old TWA terminal brought back to life.

Read on for a recap of the weekend and an insider look at the TWA Hotel, which — spoiler alert — is everything an AvGeek would want it to be.

Concorde G-BOAA prepares for the first commercial flight from LHR to BAH on Jan 21, 1976 - Photo: British Airways

Concorde G-BOAA prepares for the first commercial flight from LHR to BAH on January 21, 1976 – Photo: British Airways

Today is the 40th anniversary of Concorde’s first commercial flight. On January 21, 1976, Concorde successfully completed its first supersonic flight by British Airways, from Heathrow to Bahrain, while Air France flew to Rio de Janeiro via Dakar.

Concorde is one of the most iconic airliners ever built and was created with huge dreams; dreams that sadly never became a reality.

To celebrate this milestone, British Airways shared information about the historic aircraft and some thoughts from one of its former pilots. What better place to chat with a former pilot than next to one of the aircraft? Captain Leslie Scott recently spent some time, along with others associated with the plane, at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum to share his memories.

Caledonian Airways Bristol 175 Britannia 314  taken in February 1969 at Sabha Airport - Photo: Ken Fielding

Caledonian Airways’ Bristol Britannia taken in February 1969 at Sabha Airport – Photo: Ken Fielding

Just after joining Caledonian Airways in February, 1969, I went to Tripoli, Libya, to help handle Caledonian’s Hajj contract, taking passengers to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj Pilgrimage, sub-contracted by KLA Kingdom of Libya Airlines.  The contract was over eight weeks: three weeks ferrying Pilgrims outbound, a two-week hiatus while the Pilgrimage took place, and another three weeks for the return.  The contract was for two Boeing 707-320C’s and a Bristol Britannia.

Sebha Libya Feb-69 - The Fort

The French Colonial Fort seen next to Sebha in 1969 – Photo: Ken Fielding

Part of the contract with the Britannia was for a 10-day series of flights from Sebha, a small oasis town about 600 miles south of Tripoli in the Libyan Desert.  The town’s most prominent feature was a ‘Beau Geste’ style French Colonial Fort on the edge of the airfield, on the only hill for 200 miles.  My hotel was the ‘Sebha Palace’, not quite what you expect when the word ‘palace’ is mentioned, but at least the rooms were en-suite.  My bathroom had a 360 volt water heater (and a 220 volt supply).  The wires were just pushed into the wall socket (no plug) and when it was switched on the lights dimmed and it took all day to heat enough water for a bath.  The hotel restaurant only served chicken (well, we were 600 miles from nowhere).  I had a bucket of fresh fish flown up from Tripoli on the ferry flight a few times and word soon got around.  The restaurant was full on those evenings.

An AirTran 717 lands in Atlanta.

An AirTran Boeing 717 lands in Atlanta

On December 28, 2014, AirTran flight 1 departed Atlanta for Tampa, retracing the airline’s first flight and bringing an end to its remarkable history. I had the honor of being on that last flight and I am excited to share my story. But before I discuss the end of “the big little a” I’d like to first revisit the airline’s history. Because only through knowledge of the airline’s legacy can we truly understand the significance of AirTran’s retirement and integration into Southwest Airlines. So sit back, relax, and enjoy.

A ValuJet DC-9. Photo Courtesy of Aero Icarus

A ValuJet DC-9 – Photo: Courtesy of Aero Icarus

ValuJet: Fun and friendly… And perhaps a bit dangerous.
AirTran traces its roots back to ValuJet, an Atlanta-based upstart with dreams of chipping away at Delta’s dominance right in its own backyard. Operations commenced with just a single DC-9, and its first flight was from Atlanta to Tampa on October 26, 1993. In just over a year the airline was solidly profitable and its route map had grown to 17 cities. But fast growth and aggressive cost-cutting practices quickly caught up to the Critter (ValuJet’s FAA call sign.) In the first few years of operation, the small airline had a markedly-high percentage of emergency landings, compared to its peers. In addition, an FAA study indicated that ValuJet dominated the accident data for low-cost carriers.

On May 11, 1996, ValuJet flight 592 went down en-route from Miami to Atlanta; all 110 on board were lost. This tragic, high-profile accident would focus attention on the airline, its maintenance practices, and ultimately lead to its grounding. After a month of investigations by the FAA, which reveled “serious deficiencies in its operation” ValuJet would voluntarily halt operations. But this wasn’t the end for the fledgling airline that had lost its way. Instead, it was just the beginning.