A veteran pilot's affectionate, anecdotal take on the slow death of Pan American World Airways, which, in the unsentimental...


SKYGODS: The Fall of Pan Am

A veteran pilot's affectionate, anecdotal take on the slow death of Pan American World Airways, which, in the unsentimental language of the trade, went ""Tango Uniform"" (""tits up"") at the end of 1991. Before recounting the global carrier's lengthy descent into oblivion, Gandt (who made a host of friends and contacts during the 26 years he flew for the airline) recalls its glory years, when legendary Juan Trippe ruled the roost. An often infuriating innovator, Trippe (known in-house as the Great Dissembler) helped found Pan Am in 1927. With wise counsel from Charles Lindbergh, he pushed his company from the flying boats and stratocruisers that bracketed the WW II era into the jet age, in the process convincing Boeing that it made economic as well as operational sense to build the 747 jumbo jet. Under his visionary, if occasionally vague, stewardship, Pan Am prospered. But, according to Gandt, the company became convinced that it was as much an institution as a commercial enterprise. The author dates the painfully slow eclipse of Pan Am's Skygod status from the mid-1960s, when the company bought more jets than it could fly at a profit. Trippe stepped down about this time as well, and his successors weren't up to the job of running an international carrier. During the competitive period that followed deregulation of the US air-transport industry, in fact, several made fatal mistakes: ill-advised acquisitions (in an attempt to gain domestic routes); market miscalculations; adversarial labor relations; and divestiture of crown-jewel assets (including Pacific routes) at fire-sale prices. The terrorist bomb that blasted flight 103 from the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, along with the Gulf War, caused even more passengers than usual to shun Pan Am and finally put paid to its very existence. With a full ration of fine yarns from the cockpit and flight line, a genial requiem for a once consequential heavyweight.

Pub Date: March 21, 1995


Page Count: 350

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995