Legendary Pan Am set the standard in luxurious international air service until its own sense of self-importance helped to shoot it down. Now an unlikely partnership of two New England railroad men is trying to resurrect the proudest name in aviation historyÂ—starting with a paltry schedule of flights to third-string airports.
Pease International Tradeport is an hour north of Boston on I-95, in the opposite direction of rush-hour city-bound morning traffic. Northbound in these pre-dawn hours, the only company consists of truckers on overnight hauls. Finally, a sign looms out of the morning fog, marking the exit to the 4,255-acre abandoned Air Force base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which the locals dream of converting into an industrial park and major port of entry for international trade. Its principal advantages: cheap rent, and the 11,318-foot runway the Air Force left behind, one of the longest in the country, and still used by the New Hampshire Air National Guard.
The base road winds through the dense fog and past the fading placards in the ground depicting future warehouse and commercial structures, many of them still on the drawing board, awaiting tenants. One new building looms ahead, squat and flat-roofed and real. “Airport Terminal,” the road sign says.
The terminal has a single gate, and a small parking lot that is barely half full this cold winter morning. A few passengers smoke cigarettes outside. Inside, two cheery ticket agents welcome passengers to today's one and only flight, to Sanford, Florida, half an hour north of Orlando and Walt Disney World. There are 23 people booked on the waiting 727; of them, several work for the airline. The plane has a capacity of 149. Above their heads is a familiar blue globe logo, and a name once synonymous with international travel and luxurious air service to the most exotic places in the world. But, for now, this out-of-the-way airport in New Hampshire is one of the last places on the planet where it still hangs, in this case above the Portsmouth ticket counter: Pan American Airways.
Pan Am's founder, Juan Trippe, was the world's first airline tycoon, the imperial skygod, his company the aviation pioneer that came to be known as America's Imperial Airline. First to fly the Pacific, first across the Atlantic, first around the worldÂ—Pan Am was once one of the most glamorous and best-known global corporations. Its worldwide headquartersÂ—the crown jewelÂ—was on Manhattan's Park Avenue, the Pan Am Building, the world's largest corporate office building at the time. Pan Am had more international destinations than any other airline, flying to 113 cities in 81 countries, from Capetown to Moscow, Oslo to Buenos Aires. The other airlines at the time “were domestics, like Greyhound Bus,” says Robert Gandt, author of the book Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am. Pan Am would have “no miserable lunches in places like Des Moines or Cincinnati or Boise. For them it would be sushi in Tokyo, petit déjeuner in Paris, tea in London.”
Today, it's barbecue in Sanford. Pan Am is owned by a Massachusetts-based railroad company, Guilford Transportation Industries, and its worldwide headquarters sits on Aviation Avenue in a decidedly unglamorous abandoned Air Force base in New Hampshire. It has one flight a day between three destinations: Portsmouth, Sanford, and Gary, Indiana. In every case, it lands at decommissioned military bases with no other scheduled domestic passenger services. A promotional photograph shows a Pan Am plane flying over cows in a field in New Hampshire.
The Pan Am of legend is long goneÂ—Tango Uniform, or tits up, as they say in the military. It went bankrupt in 1991, was reincarnated by new owners as a discount carrier in 1996, and went bankrupt again in 1998. But Pan Am the brand name, second only to Coca-Cola in world-wide recognition, remains a valuable commodity. So valuable that the blue globe still lures passengers to a start-up airline for flights to second- and third-tier destinations.
The new owners, David Fink and Timothy Mellon, of the banking Mellons, are depending on that. And it just might work. Fink and Mellon have deep pockets, and have no immediate need to appease investors hungry for returns. They also have a different business vision: offer “civil” service to underutilized airports that are close to major cities. It's an appealing idea in an age when complaints about air service have been soaringÂ—along with nostalgia for the golden days of transportation on carriers like Pan American World Airways. The new Pan Am is doing this by flying to uncrowded airfields more likely to lie past cattle farms than congested access roads and gridlocked parking garages. “Our plan is not complicated,” Fink says. “We are going to airports that have no service.”
Juan Trippe probably would have approved.
Trippe was the archetypal American entrepreneur. The son of a New York investment banker, he organized a flying club at Yale and went on to become a World War I fighter pilot. After the war, Trippe bought seven surplus military planes and started an airline on Long Island that took the curious for pleasure rides.
He found it boring. Trippe had bigger dreams, of international air passenger travel. This at a time when Lindbergh had yet to fly to Paris, and when carrying people just didn't pay as much as flying mail.
Pulling strings, sweet-talking investors, and making promises not even he knew whether he could keep, Trippe coaxed an obscure contract out of the U.S. Post Office to carry air mail from Brownsville, Texas, to Panama, and from Miami to Venezuela, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico. The mail guaranteed a steady flow of income. On October 28, 1927, Pan American Airways inaugurated the world's first scheduled international air service with a 90-mile mail run from Key West to Havana.
The “schedule” was relative. These were the pioneer days of commercial aviation. Pilots, many of them cast from the same devil-may-care mold as Trippe, didn't always show up for work. The planes were primitive; when a pilot did appear, it wasn't unusual for the throttle to come off in his hand. And landing rights had to be secured from suspicious foreign governments, often with bribes or coercion.
Trippe overcame the diplomatic problems by secretly buying up control of small foreign airlines already operating in those countries, and assembling them into a network that would cover Latin America; later he would do the same thing in Alaska, connecting small subsidiaries into a northern Pacific route to Asia. So novel were these early flights that, when they reached their destinations, they were met with parades and bands, and the passengers and crews were guests of honor at state dinners. When they took off again, it was often just ahead of coups and revolutions.
“By our standards today, early air travel was rough-and-tumble,” says Bill Brown, who oversees the Pan Am archive at the University of Miami. “In Pan Am's case, having the mail contract was a huge part of making themselves viable.”
Still, it was more of an adventure than a business. Cash flow problems plagued the fledgling airline; Trippe urged underlings to inspect new planes at the factories for even the smallest defects, holding up delivery until he could afford to pay for them.
In 1931, Pan Am became the first U.S. airline to use huge “flying boats,” or seaplanes, which could land in coastal harbors without the need for airport runways that were few and far between in those days. The graceful flying boats were designed like Pullman cars, with sleeper berths, promenade decks, dining compartments, and luxurious in-flight service; during Prohibition, cocktails would be poured as soon as the plane left U.S. territorial limits. In 1935, Pan Am's famous China Clipper inaugurated the first scheduled transpacific service; clearance to taxi was telephoned to the crew by President Franklin D. Roosevelt from the White House. In 1939 Pan Am launched the first scheduled transatlantic flights. “Not to make too much of a cliché of it, but that was the pioneering spirit of the company,” Brown says. “They were the first to open up these markets, in Latin America, South America, Europe, the Orient, the Far East.”
Though slow by today's standards, the planes were exponentially faster than traveling by sea, and demand was hugeÂ—even greater with the outbreak of World War II. Pan Am clippers connecting Lisbon with New York became the desperate last hope of fleeing refugees. Spies for both sides flew back and forth on secret missions. In the 1942 motion picture Casablanca, it is a flight to freedom on Pan Am's Lisbon Clipper that is the objective of resistance fighters Ilsa and Victor Laszlo.
When the United States entered the conflict, authorities left Pan Am alone to fly its routes, even as the government was commandeering whole fleets of planes from the domestic airlines for the war effort. Pan Am also trained navigators for the military, and built 40 airfields for the government. “World War II had a huge role,” Brown says. “Pan Am in some ways became a serious adjunct to the U.S. Air Force.”
All of which, of course, left the company in a position to dominate international air service at the end of the war; in 1947, it introduced around-the-world flights, another first. But here, finally, Trippe's reach would exceed his charm. Trippe wanted his airline to be designated as America's flag carrier, but President Harry Truman opened international competition to other companies. Still, Pan Am had a commanding lead.
These were boom times. Pan Am bought the lavish Boeing Stratocruiser, a two-level plane converted from the design for a military tanker, to make the 24-hour President Special run between New York and Frankfurt. Stewardesses on the Stratocruiser made up the beds for the passengers in first class and served sandwiches and drinks in the downstairs bar. “It was a wonderfully exciting time for all of us,” says one, Millie Adams, who now lives in Chatham. Adams later also flew the African route from New York through Lisbon and Accra to Johannesburg, dodging snakes outside her hotel during stopovers in Liberia. She went to Hong Kong from New York through London, Istanbul, Karachi, Delhi, and Bangkok. She was assigned to the once-a-year, five-week, round-the-world charter. “I'm so lucky to have been able to fly during that time,” she says. “Nobody would recognize it now.”
The world was still a big place. International travel remained an adventure, and Pan Am was synonymous with international travel. “Even in remote places, Pan Am meant a lot,” one ex-employee says. “People were aware of what it was, and it was a link to the world. Newspapers came in, letters came in, visitors came in on those planes.”
In 1958, Pan Am racked up possibly its most important first: It became the first American airline to fly a commercial jetliner, the Boeing 707, jump-starting the commercial jet age with a flight from New York to Paris. “Pan Am was at the top,” says Brown. Pan Am would also be the first to order the Boeing 747 jumbo jet, which flew for the first time in 1970 from New York to London. By then, the company had moved into its new headquarters in the familiar tower on Park Avenue over Grand Central Station. It flew kings and queens, and the press corps that followed Nixon to China. Director Stanley Kubrick, in his landmark 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, symbolized 100,000 years of progress by showing a primitive man toss a bone into the air that was transformed into a spaceship bearing the Pan Am logo. The company began keeping a waiting list for eventual commercial service to the moon.
Pan Am was as big and grand as all America. When the airline wanted to hire European flight attendants for their language skills, the government waived the normal citizenship requirements. Crew members spent long layovers with all expenses paid. “I don't think they really thought about saving money with us,” says Christel McCarthy, a German-born Pan Am flight attendant who now lives in Lexington. “They were making so much money at the time. You stayed at the very best hotels, you were picked up at the airport in a limousine, your laundry was done, and your meals were paid for. I just could not believe in my first year that we got paid for what we were doing.”
“That's what flying was like in those days,” McCarthy says. “It's bus service now. It's getting from Place A to Place B. Our world has changed. It's not a celebration any more to travel.”
Trippe retired, though not before seeing his company come to represent America, as he had hoped. But by then, that had become more of a danger than an asset. Pan Am was a target. And its long rise would be followed by a sudden fall on December 21, 1988, the day a Samsonite suitcase containing an innocent-looking Toshiba radio-cassette player rode a conveyor belt into the belly of a Pan Am 747 heading to New York from Frankfurt over Scotland.
Fink and Mellon also call their service “Clipper Class,” which basically means that the parking is free, the coffee is free, there are no lines, and everyone is afforded the right to a comfortable mauve seat in the waiting room.
Passengers pick the seat of their choiceÂ—there are no seating assignments or first classÂ—on the freshly painted 727. “We are trying to bring civility back to flying,” Fink likes to say. The jet has 24 seats fewer than comparable models flown by other airlines, meaning there is much more leg room, and there is an extra flight attendant-four, as opposed to the required three.
The jet, called Clipper Egil (named for Egil Skalla-Grimsson, a 10th-century Viking warrior renowned for his ability to compose poetry and slaughter his enemies), hurdles down the endless runway and jumps into the mistÂ—on time. There are no waits on the ground because, well, there are no other flights. An attendant offers warm, lemon-scented moistened hand cloths from a silver tray and, later, a choice from three warm, locally baked pastries. Silk flowers decorate the bathroom and drink orders are taken individually and delivered on a tray.
Two and a half perfectly pleasant hours later, the plane passes above a trailer park, banks left over a housing development, and floats down from the sky. The passengers amble over the tarmac and into what will someday be the Sanford terminal, still under construction. A young woman asks people to fill out a survey explaining why they've come here. An elderly traveler from Maine is wondering the same thing. The fare was better than the price to Daytona. But she's been waiting an hour for a cab.
While the 23 passengers disperse, 89 boxes of fresh lobsterÂ—3,500 poundsÂ—are unloaded. This is what's keeping Pan American aloft. The airline may be short on passengers for now, but it has a lucrative contract with the Kittery Lobster Pound to fly 30,000 pounds of lobster to Florida every month. Just like Juan Trippe's mail contract, though Pan Am loyalists say any comparison ends there.
“We used to serve the lobsters on our planes: lobster Thermidor, first class,” Joanne Swift, international president of World Wings, an association of ex-flight attendants of the original Pan Am, sniffs with disdain. “Now they're carrying them.”
Thanks in no small part to Harry Truman, America's heavily regulated airline industry consisted of two parts: the domestic airlines, and the international airlines, namely Pan Am and TWA. The idea was simple: The domestic airlines delivered passengers to international gateways, where the international airlines picked them up and took them overseas.
Pan Am, of course, benefited greatly from this arrangement. Until 1978, that is, when the industry was deregulated. It was easier for the domestic carriers to add international service than it was for Pan Am and TWA to build national networks of domestic flights to feed their global service. Pan Am tried to take a shortcut by buying National Airlines, but overpaid, and got only East Coast routes insufficient to support its many foreign flights.
It was one of a series of setbacks for the proud pioneer. The expensive 747s arrived just as a recession hit and air travel slowed. Then the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and 1974 increased jet fuel prices. Then came deregulation. Pan Am was buffeted like a propeller plane in an updraft, handicapped not only by its lack of a domestic route system, but by an uninspiring succession of chief executives and a top-heavy management. Labor unions also were slow to make concessions. “Half of Pan Am's problem was caused by circumstances,” a frustrated one-time financial advisor to the company says. “The other half was caused by the culture, which seemed to make perfectly rational men think they were invulnerable once they walked through Pan Am's doors.”
The aircraft grew shabby, service got surly, and performance was poor. The company lost more than $3 billion in the 1980s. “Pan Am was already not the Pan Am of the '40s and '50s and '60s,” says the University of Miami's Brown.
Pan Am started selling assets. It sold its Park Avenue headquarters in 1980, its Intercontinental Hotel chain in 1981. The last year it made a profit was in 1985, but only after selling off its Pacific division to United for $750 million. It sold its intra-German service in 1990. It even put its maintenance facility in Miami on the block in 1988, but a sale was averted when the unions finally agreed to make concessions in exchange for the ouster of chairman C. Edward Acker and vice chairman Martin R. Shugrue Jr.
“People were angry,” says Adams, who still worked as a flight attendant during this time. “Everyone felt that way. The company was being raped. And we were aware of it, but helpless.”
That's when someone checked the Samsonite suitcase onto Flight 103 in Frankfurt, the radio-cassette player inside rigged with Semtex explosive that detonated over Lockerbie, Scotland, a few hours later, killing 259 people on board and 11 on the ground. A British inquiry found ground employees hadn't followed international baggage-identification procedures. It was a crushing blow to an airline already on the ropes.
By 1989, Pan Am publicly acknowledged that it could not survive alone, and actively sought a buyer or a merger partner, but there were no takers. It tried to buy Northwest, whose domestic and transpacific routes would have complemented Pan Am's Latin American and transatlantic network, but its bid was too weak. The airline, which was running out of things to sell, began a series of layoffs and replaced 747s with smaller planes on transatlantic routes.
The Boston base was closed and moved to New York; there were only three daily flights by then anyway from Boston, all nonstops to Miami, plus the Pan Am Shuttle to New York and Washington. The unions agreed to pay freezes and other concessions, but the support came only reluctantly after disclosures top executives had helped themselves to severance packages of at least $500,000. The Gulf War doubled jet fuel prices and insurance rates, while discouraging travelers, and Pan Am started posting losses of $2.4 million a day. On January 8, 1991, the airline that had been the epitome of U.S. international aviation landed in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
It sold its London routes to United for $290 million, a stopgap measure to drum up desperately needed cash; those flights had generated $500 million a year in revenue, and selling them further jeopardized Pan Am's future. Even then, the airline got to keep only half the money from the sale after paying overdue bills and interest. And the British government would not approve the deal until March 11, 1991, three days after Pan Am ran out of money and nearly had to shut down. By then, a cease fire had been declared in the Gulf War, giving the company some breathing room and pushing insurance rates back to normal.
The respite didn't last. A fare war broke out when British Airways gave away 50,000 tickets on international flights to fill seats emptied by the conflict in the Middle East. Pan Am couldn't find a buyer for the shuttle. Traffic was down one-third overall from the year before, and nearly 50 percent on transatlantic routes. The only good news was that the planesÂ—still called clippersÂ—weren't repossessed, since the leasing companies that owned them had no other buyers in the industry-wide slump.
American airlines collectively lost a staggering $6 billion in 1990 and 1991. Midway shut down, blaming fuel price increases. Eastern stopped flying and was unceremoniously liquidated after 62 years in service. Continental filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Also gone by then were Piedmont, Capitol, Provincetown-Boston, Western, Republic, Empire, Frontier, Ozark, Pacific Southwest, Southern, and Florida Express airlines, and Braniff, New York Air, and People Express.
Pan Am's pilots went to its competitors and proposed a deal. One responded: Delta, which finally agreed to underwrite a reorganization of a smaller Pan Am that would focus on its original Latin American territory. Delta would get most of Pan Am's remaining European routes, planes, Frankfurt hub, and Pan Am Shuttle for $460 million.
It was another 11th-hour reprieve, coming just days before Pan Am had to meet a payroll, and weeks after it had stopped paying airport operators and vendors. The company, its role now radically reduced, prepared to move to new offices above a hangar at Miami International Airport, and focus on the routes in the same region of the world where Juan Trippe first flew mail runs. It would serve only Latin America now. It had fallen from 28,000 employees to less than 7,000, and from 152 aircraft to 50. “It's as if the Queen Mother was reduced to cleaning the johns,” one pilot grumbled.
But the day Pan Am was to have presented its comeback plan to the bankruptcy court, Delta abruptly pulled out, saying the once-proud carrier was too far gone to save, and refusing to provide the last $25 million of a promised $140 million in financing to keep Pan Am in the air. The next day, December 4, 1991, Pan Am stopped flying.
“There had been a lot of denial,” says Sally Kirley, who chairs the Boston chapter of the ex-employee association World Wings. “For so many years, Pan Am had problems, as many airlines did and some still do, but they always seemed to hang on. A lot of people just did not believe in the demise of Pan Am.”
What was left was carved up and parceled out in a New York courtroom. United won the remaining assets, including Latin American routes, domestic slots, and 1,000 former Pan Am employees for $160 million, less than it costs to buy two 747s. Delta bought a route from New York to Mexico City. Northwest got the Detroit-to-London run. It was an unseemly end to what was once considered the premier airline in the world. And it was made no easier by the eulogy pronounced by Pan Am's last president and chief executive, Russell L. Ray Jr.
“Today we see the end of an airline,” Ray said, “whose name will be forever forged in American history.”
In December 1993, Charles E. Cobb Jr., a Florida investor and former ambassador to Iceland, bought the Pan Am trademark in bankruptcy court. He gathered other investors who believed the Pan Am name would easily translate to profits and formed Pan American World Airways, Inc. in January of 1996. The new company would be run by Martin Shugrue Jr., who had been vice chairman and chief operating officer of the old Pan Am back during its decline, when he had said of his airline: “If we went into the funeral business, people would stop dying.”
Pan Am 2, as insiders called it, had a simple plan. “We have a very powerful brand name that gives us instant market recognition,” Shugrue told reporters at the time. The formula would be to resurrect that renowned name, form alliances with small foreign carriers, and offer discount prices. Pan Am and discount prices-that was a new concept.
Pan Am leased three Airbus A300 wide-bodied jets from bankrupt Eastern, set up headquarters in Miami, and instituted three routes serving Miami, Los Angeles, and New York with sharply discounted fares. Its inaugural flight left Kennedy airport for Miami on Sept. 27, 1996, to the sound of pinging champagne toasts.
Seventeen months later, on February 26, 1998, Pan Am 2 also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The airline never turned a profit. Tango Uniform, again.
Andrew Mellon makes Juan Trippe look small-time. The Pittsburgh-born financier was also the son of a banker. He went on to become partner and president of the Mellon National Bank, director of several corporations, and a major player in the coal, oil, and aluminum industries. He established Alcoa and Gulf Oil, among others. So great was his acumen for money that he was appointed secretary of the treasury under three successive Republican presidents: Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. By the 1920s, he was one of the richest men in the United States. Even today, the Mellon family fortune is worth a reported $10 billion.
Mellon's grandson, Timothy, is a chip off the old block, to hear his father tell it. “Tim's not interested in art. He's not a great reader,” Paul Mellon told the Washington Post. “But he's into the railroad business in a big way. It's as if he takes after his grandfather, rather than after me.”
Tim Mellon also met and became friends in the 1970s with David Fink, a descendant of Pennsylvania railroad laborers. Mellon's laid-back calm and Fink's fiery exuberance clicked, and they combined forces. Their first enterprise together was a railroad-tie manufacturing company called PermaTreat. Then, in 1981, they formed Guilford Transportation Industries in order to buy railroad companies. Maine Central Railroad was the first acquisition, in 1981. The second was the Boston & Maine, in 1983, which until that point had languished in bankruptcy since 1970. “People thought we were crazy,” Fink says. But Mellon has money to burn, and their purchase took the line out of the red. Today, they operate the largest regional rail system in New England, along with a range of multimodal transportation services.
Mellon is also into flying. He owns his own plane, frequently spiriting it from his home in Connecticut to his businesses up north. “He's the best pilot I know,” says Fink. “He's fastidious.”
So when Mellon read in a newspaper that the second incarnation of Pan Am had gone bust in February of 1998, he thought there might be something there. “We are in the transportation business, after all,” he says. He tried every number listed for Pan Am until he found one that worked. “Is this airline for sale?” he asked the person who finally answered.
Within two months, Mellon and Fink were meeting with Pan Am executives and “loads and loads of lawyers,” wrapping up a deal to buy two Boeing 727-200s, route authority, rights, regulatory certificates, trademarks, logos, and intellectual property relating to the Pan Am name, all for about $30 million. Less than two months later, Judge A. Jay Cristol approved the planÂ—”the quickest unprepackaged bankruptcy reorganization that's ever been done,” Fink saysÂ—and what remained of the imperial airline now belonged to Guilford Transportation. Fink and Mellon named their first jet the Clipper A. Jay Cristol.
They started slowly, continuing the airline's charter services to such places as Mexico, Florida, and the Caribbean, until, they say, they got enough experience under their belt. In the meantime, they moved their base of operations from Florida to New HampshireÂ—”from God's waiting room to God's incubator,” Fink says.
They added five more 727s to their fleet and applied for Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Agency permits to begin regularly scheduled passenger flights. To Sanford. And to Gary.
Dave Fink's office is on the third floor of Pan Am's 222,000-square-foot airplane hangar. The space is clean and new, with photos and memorabilia from the glamorous days of the original Park Avenue Pan Am blanketing the walls. In fact, the building in Pease's industrial park is filled with reminders of the glory days: photographs from the 1930s of Amelia Earhart standing in front of Pan Am planes and posters from the 1980s touting the airline's exotic destinations, from India to Athens.
“We go where we get the biggest bang for our buck,” says Fink, a big bear of a man dressed in a navy suit and red tie for a company party at Redhook brewery that evening. “We can't afford the big cost of big airports. It costs me 50 cents for a bag of ice here; it costs $9 at Newark.” Which makes it attractive for Pan Am to fly to airports where there are no other airlines, and which are relatively close to major cities. “We're in a little niche,” Fink says: “metro-convenient airports.”
The reborn Pan Am started flying daily, except Tuesday, to Sanford, which calls itself “Celery City,” on October 7. A closed military base just like Pease, the Sanford airport had never before had regularly scheduled domestic service. But it is only half an hour from Orlando. And it is now Pan Am's Florida hub.
Sanford Airport is throwing its chips in with Pan Am, and is in the midst of a $25 million expansion, adding 120,000 square feet of terminal space, seven new gates, restaurants, and airport concessions by February, 2001. “We are hoping and praying that they succeed,” says Victor White, the airport's executive director.
On November 17, Pan Am started daily service to Gary. Though two previous attempts by other carriers to provide commercial air service in Gary over the last decade failed because of a lack of demand, Pan Am thinks the route can pay. After all, Gary is only 20 miles from Chicago. “We don't want to be big shots, Fink says. “We want to be best shots.”
“They were desperate to get something like us there,” Fink says. “It's a blighted area.” Indeed. The old “City of Steel” is a study in urban blight and white flight, having lost nearly a quarter of its population from 1980 to 1990 following the steel industry's dramatic decline. Forty percent of those who remain in the decaying industrial city fall below the federal poverty rate of $16,655 for a family of four.
“Understated elegance,” Fink says as he slams his meaty palm on his desk, bursting out in laughter. “That's us.” Juan Trippe would roll over in his grave.
It's noontime in Pan Am's vast and airy hangar and a long buffet table holding a dozen platters of sandwiches is surrounded by a couple of round dining tables and row after row of folding chairs.
“We started with a bit of a different idea,” Dave Fink tells the assembled crowd of Pan Am maintenance workers and executives who have gathered to celebrate the receipt of the FAA's Maintenance Technician Awards. “We don't want to be the biggest, we want to be the best.”
Fink is in his element, laughing and joking and back-slapping everyone from the blue-collars to the starched-whites. He introduces Tim Mellon, dressed in what might be called blue-blood shabby chic, with a joke. “Remember, Tim's a pilot,” Fink says. “So I asked Tim, What's the difference between a pilot and a jet engine? An engine stops whining at the gate!” When Fink laughs, which he does often and robustly, his eyes shut and his face shades crimson. It's infectious, and everyone roars with delight.
After the ceremony, Fink and Mellon walk around the hangar, touching and inspecting the airplanes parked there. Fink is clearly proud that the airline owns all of its equipment, and has the ability to make everything it needs, from discontinued plane parts to seat cushions, right on the premises. He thinks that will be one of the keys to its success. Plus, of course, the logo.
“Who would fly these planes up here without the name?” he says. “With Pan Am, you got the name. Now we want to put the meat on the bones.”
John Nadolny, Guilford's senior vice president and general counsel, puts it more diplomatically. “We feel we are the custodians of something very precious. The name is held near and dear to people,” he says. “We have a high standard to live up to. We want to bring the Pan Am name back to its rightful place.”
Perhaps that will emerge from warm pastries and hot pretzels, and routes to Sanford and Gary. But, in the end, Fink told the local newspaper, “We're capitalists. My goal, as it is on the railroad, is to have a black bottom line. Once we get there, maybe the romance and glamour will enter into it.”
That may be asking more than even he can deliver. “We all feel rather pleased and hopeful that the Pan Am name will come back,” says Carol Hawthorne, a flight attendant on the original Pan Am, who lives in Wayland. “But it will never be the Pan Am it was.”