Juan Trippe, the founder of the Pan Am Airways, was born on June27, 1899 at Sea Bright, New Jersey. His father was William Trippe, a partner in a Wall Street Investment house. Juan Trippe’s forefathers were basically English who had migrated to the US in the 17th century. Juan fell in love with the airplanes at a very early age when he visited, with his father, a flying competition between Glen Curtiss and the Wright Brothers. The visit to this competition fascinated and thrilled him so much that it changed his life. He also watched Arch Hoxey and Lincoln Beachey while flying in Mineola. As a child he also met the Wright Brothers.
In April 1917 the United States of America joined the First World War. At that time Juan was in his first year at Yale. Swayed by patriotism, he along with some other fellows joined the military, to fight the world war on behalf of America. He was admitted in the Navy flight-training program and after the training he was commissioned as a Naval Aviation ensign, on 17th June 1918. His first solo flight during the training was flying a Jenny bi-plane over Long Island.
After getting commission as a naval aviator, Juan was ready to enter the war but his dream of flying the warplanes didn’t fulfill, as the war ended in Nov 1918, in favor of victory for the Allies. Juan then joined again the Yale to complete his unfinished studies. At the school he didn’t forget his passion for flying and therefore organized the Yale Aero Club and took transportation as his major subject. During this period he also organized flying competitions at the School. In 1921, Juan graduated from Yale and for the next two years he joined an investment-banking firm on the Wall Street and worked as a bonds salesman. However this work was not to his liking and he very soon got bored with it and left it, to try his luck in the aviation.
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The historic day in the life of the young Juan Trippe was October 19, 1927 when his newly established Pan American Airways started its journey to Havana Cuba. However before this he had also experimented with foundations of other airways. His first experiment was the foundation of the Long Island Airways in 1923.
“He purchased seven Navy surplus Aeromarine 49-B float planes for $500 each at a Philadelphia auction and Long Island Airways was officially in business. The single engine floatplanes that Trippe purchased held one pilot and one passenger. Trippe immediately replaced the engine, a 90 horsepower Curtiss OV-5, with a 220 horsepower Hispano-Suiza enabling the plane to carry 1 additional passenger. The airline serviced travelers on excursions to Atlantic City and other wealthy enclaves, and chartered flights to Honduras and Canada. Trippe was directly involved with all aspects of the airline from keeping the books, to carrying bags, to scheduling flights. Trippe was thoroughly acquainted with the running of an airline, and when Long Island Airways folded in 1924, Trippe was ready to move on to bigger and better endeavors.” (aviationposters.com)
His second experiment with airlines was the foundation of the Eastern Air Transport in 1925. The establishment of this airline was prompted by the passage of the Kelly Act of 1925, which opened the flying of airmail to private contractor at subsidized rates. Juan Trippe was very instrumental in the passage of this act as he persuaded his college fellow, the Congressman Clyde Kelly, who was also chairman of the House Post Office Committee, to introduce the law. To get maximum benefit from the new law, Juan Trippe merged his Eastern Air Transport with the Colonial Air Transport, which was very sound financially. On Oct 7, 1925, Juan Trippe got a contract for the Colonial for delivery of mail from Boston to New York via Hartford. He was the vice president of the company and managed all its operations.
As stated earlier, Juan Trippe had established the Pan Am in 1927, which was the result of his visit to Cuba, to show off the new Fokkar trimotor airplane of Colonial Air Transport. He got an appointment with Gerardo Machado, the fifth president of the Republic of Cuba, who at that time had initiated major developmental works. President Machado, impressed by the vision of Juan Trippe, granted him exclusive rights to land at Havana’s military airport, Camp Columbia. To start his operations to Havana, Juan Trippe resigned from the Colonial due to some differences with the directors of the company and started another airline company on 2nd June 1927 with the name of Aviation Corporation of America. He very soon merged this airline with two other airlines and it was given the new name of Pan American Airways. This new company started its southward journey on October19, 1927 when a “small wood and fabric Fokker trimotor airplane loaded with mail sacks took off from a dirt runway in Key West, Florida, and landed one hour and ten minutes later in Havana, Cuba, a distance of ninety miles.” (aviationposters.com)
Pan American Airways’ initial air service to Cuba, with its two airplanes and about two dozen employees was a great success. Very soon the company extended its services to the Caribbean islands, Mexico, Central America and South America. In the 1930’s the Pan Am decided to cross the world’s largest oceans. The first great ocean to be crossed by the pan am was the Pacific when Pan Am Clippers, the Martin M-130 and Boeing 314, started from San Francisco harbor skipping across the Pacific with stops at Hawaii, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, to the Philippines and then to Hong Kong. Atlantic was the second to be crossed by the Pan Am when it started its service from New York to Lisbon and Marseilles by way of the Azores 1939. The post Second World War period brought many technological improvements in the aviation industry and Pan Am fully benefited from it.
The law of nature governs the rise and fall of everything, and Pan Am was no exception to it. There were many causes for the decline of the giant Pan Am. The major cause of the decline was the purchase of the Boeing 747 by the Pan Am in the 1970. Juan Trippe wanted to have bigger and bigger airplanes and with the Boeing engineers, he was the co-creator of the Boeing 747. But unfortunately this was the wrong time for the purchase, the oil crisis caused by a sudden raise in prices by OPEC plunged the airline in deep financial troubles. The cost of all petroleum products skyrocketed thus resulting into huge oil bills and lesser traveling. Due to the oil crisis Boeing also suffered heavy losses because of the launching of the 747. The oil crisis struck the Pan Am in such a way that it never recovered.
In other cause was the competition from other airlines and the stoppage of its monopoly.
“To make matters worse, the governmental favors enjoyed by Pan Am for years gave way to increased hostility against the airline for its monopolistic ways. International routes were granted to PanAm’s rival airlines, while Pan Am was barred from starting its own domestic operations. When deregulation allowed Pan Am to enter the domestic market, it jumped at the opportunity by acquiring National Airlines in 1980. But the integration of the two airlines’ routes and equipment was less than seamless. Debt continued to mount. Just to stay in the air, Pan Am was forced to liquidate assets. Most shocking was the sale in 1985 of its entire Pacific Ocean network to United Airlines. Soon thereafter, Pan Am sold its New York – London route”. (aviationposters.com)
Another cause was the Lockerbie incident. On December 21, 1988, a bomb exploded aboard Pan American Flight 103, above the village of Lockerbie, in Scotland. Two hundred seventy men, women and children from 21 nations lost their lives, including US 200 US citizens. Two Libyans were involved in this act of international terrorism, whose main objective was to target US assets and citizens. The Lockerbie incident terrified the Pan Am customers and they avoided traveling in it, thus resulting into empty airplanes flying, which further deteriorated the financial worries of the airline. Following a series of unsuccessful initiatives designed to improve the economic performance of the company, Pan Am, the leader of aviation industry ceased operations in 1991.