What Happened To The Airbus A320s Destined For Pan Am?

The progressive image for much the second half of the 20th century is epitomized in the brand of Pan American World Airways. Scenes of open seating, smiling passengers, friendly stewardesses and even the arrival of the Beatles in the United States summarise the glory days of aviation across North America.

Airbus_A320-214,_Airbus_Industrie_JP7617615
The Airbus A320 has gone on to become one of the most popular narrowbody airliners. Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons

However, after 64 years of operations, Pan Am went out of business in 1991.  Problems with fuel costs, domestic routes and public relations forced the company to file for bankruptcy. Before their disbandment, Pan Am announced that it would spend more than $1 billion on aircraft from Airbus. This big money order came at a time when Pan Am was making a loss of just as much.

New relationship

The new Airbus order began in 1978 and was to include the then-new, Airbus A320-200 model. The 150-passenger plane was designed for short to medium range flights. These routes had become important to Pan Am’s revenue since the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. However, with the eventual demise of the cultural icon causing the company to restructure, these models never came into play.

The order was also a shock for Boeing, for whom the airline was a most important customer. Boeing sold 208 aircraft to Pan Am before this order and the carrier even helped develop the 747 model in 1970s. Until then, Airbus hadn’t had much success breaking into the US airline market which, at the time, accounted for half of the global industry.

With the orders of the A320 not being of use to Pan Am, the question of what happened to them looms. We recently explored the fate of Pan Am’s 747s, along with their 737 fleet. For the A320s, despite the age of the aircraft, many are still in use today.

Pan Am started to grow their relationship with Airbus before they closed. Photo: Kambui via Wikimedia Commons

What happened to them?

According to a Flight International article from 14 January 1989, shared by Flight Global, these orders were snapped up by Braniff Inc. This incarnation of Braniff was a successor to Braniff Airways Inc. which closed down in 1982.

The article stated that Braniff took up to 100 International Aero Engines V2500-powered Airbus A320s, in part by buying Pan Am’s A320 orders. Pan Am’s original order was for 16 units, with an option to order a further 34 more. Braniff, however, turned these prospective orders into confirmed ones.

The cancellation of the A320 order was due to reshuffling of the airline, in an attempt to save itself before closing. The carrier instead planned to buy four Airbus A310-330s to add to their existing 19 A310s that were in service at the tme. Seven of these were 200s and 12 were 300s.

Pan Am’s chairman of the time, C. Edward Acker started to favor the A300 series on feeder and transcontinental routes in the United States, and on its routes in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe.

Where are they now?

Braniff also ceased operations in the same year that they confirmed the orders for Pan Am’s A320s. The US domestic airline ceased operations due to similar struggles that Pan Am faced.

According to Plane Spotters, Braniff received six of these orders before they went bust. All of these airliners were then put to use by America West Airlines from the early 1990s, continuing to operate for the airline when it became US Airways and later American Airlines.

America West Airlines Airbus A320-231; N625AW
After the demise of Pan Am and Braniff, this N625AW was used by America South West until 2005. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Currently, only three of these orders remain active, as half of them are now scrapped. Corendon Airlines are the current holders of the remaining stock of this initial Pan Am order over 30 years ago. The Turkish outfit only just acquired these airliners from South African airline, Global Aviation, this year.

Since its inception, the Airbus A320 range has gone on to become one of the most popular narrowbody airliners. Its only mainstay competitor is the 737, which the Airbus has recently overtaken with more deliveries made per year.

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