No former airline encompasses the evolution of aviation quite like Pan Am. From its launch in 1927 to its closure in 1991, the airline tracked the development of new technologies from propeller aircraft and flying boats to the earliest jets and, eventually, one of the world’s largest fleets of Boeing 747s.
Its filing for bankruptcy in January 1991, and subsequent closure in December that year, marked the end of a rich and diverse history. It became the third US airline to succumb to the dual pressures of economic depression and increased competition in the market, after Eastern Air Lines and Midway.
While the Pan Am name was resurrected in a minor form with Pan American Airways from 1996, this was a shadow of its former namesake. Let’s take a look at the original Pan Am fleet and how it was shaped when the carrier closed its doors in 1991.
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Pan Am’s fleet in 1991
When Pan Am filed for bankruptcy, it still had a pretty varied fleet. Across the main airline and subsidiary Pan Am Express, seven aircraft families were represented. Of course, this was a far cry from the colorful fleet that had flown in Pan Am colors over the years, which included Sikorsky flying boats, various Lockheed propeller aircraft, Douglas DCs of every number and the Boeing 707.
At closure, Pan Am was a Boeing-heavy operator, as it had been for much of its life. In the fleet were 91 Boeing 727-200, a type that had started arriving in 1979. 24 of these had been acquired at the time that Pan Am took over National Airlines in 1980. The 727-100 was also in the fleet from 1965 until 1990, but was retired before bankruptcy was declared.
As the launch customer of the Boeing 747, it should come as no surprise that some remained in the fleet at the point of Pan Am’s closure. However, the fleet was a whole lot smaller than the 65 747s that had operated for Pan Am during its lifespan. Just 18 747-100 remained from a total fleet of 44, along with seven 747-200B, the basic passenger version.
Finally, the airline had begun using Boeing’s popular narrowbody model for its short-haul needs. Since 1982, it had been taking delivery of the 737-200, with 16 joining the fleet. At the point of closure, just five remained.
The Airbus inclusions
Since the mid-1980s, Pan Am had been wooed by the European planemaker Airbus into taking the plunge with some of its most popular models at the time. In 1984, it took delivery of its first A300B4, the major production version of the Airbus widebody. 13 were delivered over the next few years, and 12 remained in the fleet in 1991.
It seems the US airline was pleased with the performance of Airbus’ products, and began receiving A310s of both the -200 and -300 variants from 1985. 21 arrived with the airline over the years, and at the point of closure, 19 still remained. All seven of the -100s stayed, and all but two of the -300s with them.
Pan Am had been looking for Airbus for its narrowbody needs also, and had placed an order with the planemaker for 50 of its A320-200 aircraft. None were ever delivered, with the first 16 built for Pan Am instead going to Braniff.
Alongside the mainline fleet, Pan Am still had 18 aircraft in its ‘Express’ fleet. These were eight ATR 42 and 10 DHC Dash 7.
While Pan Am’s remaining aircraft fleet was carved up between its buyer Delta Air Lines and other carriers around the world, the legacy of this historic airline will live on long after its livery has vanished from the skies.