What Happened To Ozark Air Lines?

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At one point, Ozark Air Lines was poised to become one of the largest local service, or regional, airlines in the US. Its success meant that within 40 years, the airline was bought out, and the name no longer existed. But then, the Ozark name was resurrected a decade later; it lasted just one year.

Ozark Air Lines was one of the US’s most successful regional carriers. Photo: Jon Proctor via Wikimedia

Ozark Air Lines was actually born from two failed airline attempts. The first attempt under the Ozark name was founded in 1943, started flying in 1945 but never actually received a license. Then, Parks Airlines was granted a license in 1947 but never operated any routes.

Finally, in September of 1950, Ozark Air Lines officially launched using three Douglas DC-3s. A fourth was kept for spare parts. All four were bought from Parks and operated previously unused Parks routes. Rather than repaint the planes completely, the P and S were removed from Parks, and OZ was added to the remaining letters to create Ozark.

Despite the rather unconventional beginning, Ozark grew quickly over the coming years. The initial routes connecting Chicago, Tulsa, and Memphis were added to, creating a network of 35 cities, including Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Louisville, Wichita, and Nashville. The airline covered most of the Midwestern states from its St. Louis hub using 13 DC-3s.

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Expansion in the 60s and an almost merger

When the turboprop was introduced in the 1960s, Ozark invested in Fairchild-27s and, briefly, in Martin4-0-4s. The airline continued to grow in the following decade, adding more routes further east, including Washington Dulles and New York La Guardia. Then it turned its attention south and added Atlanta and several destinations in Florida in the 1970s.

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Although the airline started in the Midwest, it soon expanded to the east and south, investing in its fleet as it grew. This included several FH-227s. Photo: Jon Proctor via Wikimedia

The airline announced plans to merge with Central Airlines in the late 1960s, which would have made Ozark one of the US’s largest regional carriers. However, the plans fell through, apparently mutually. But the airline was doing well and continued to invest in its fleet. It’s exchanged its aging F-27s for the newer, stretch version, the Fairchild Hiller FH-227. It also took delivery of Douglas DC-9-10s and then the McDonell Douglas DC-9-30s and DC-9-40s.

The disappearance of the Ozark name

Despite the failed merger with Central Airlines, Ozark was still very successful, and a report by the US Government Accountability Office in 1988, the airline carried 26% of all passengers passing through St Louis. The other major airline in St Louis was Trans World Airlines (TWA). In March 1981, the two airlines announced plans to merge with TWA buying Ozark for around $250 million. The move was approved by both airlines and by the US Department of Transportation.

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So, on October 27th, 1986, the Ozark name no longer existed. The airline’s fleet of around 50 DC-9s had their livery modified over the following years to reflect the TWA design. TWA also took over the Ozark employees.

Edward J. Crane was President of Ozark Air Lines at the time of its sale to TWA in 1986. Photo: Getty Images

A second life for Ozark

Although you might think that was the end for the airline, the name was resurrected in the year 2000. The rights to the Ozark name were bought in 1998 by a local Columbia man named William Stricker. Stricker wanted to start an airline to fight against TWA’s rising prices. In early 2000 Ozark took to the skies for a second time using two Dornier 328 aircraft to fly between Columbia and Chicago.

However, competition from TWA, the airline’s original buyer, was too great, and the airline went bankrupt a year later. Its assets were sold to the now-defunct airline Great Plains Airlines based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which served Krispy Kreme in the morning and Arby’s in the afternoon.  Since it went under in 2001, the Ozark name lives just in the history books. But who knows, perhaps the Ozark name will be resurrected again, and it might be the third time lucky.

Did you get to fly with Ozark? We’d love to hear your memories if you did. Get in touch in the comments.

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