EMPIRES OF THE SKY: The Politics, Contests, and Cartels of World Airlines by Anthony Sampson
Kirkus Star

EMPIRES OF THE SKY: The Politics, Contests, and Cartels of World Airlines

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Sampson extends his coverage of world business fronts with a typically crisp, typically shrewd reprise of the politics of international airlines from the pioneer post-WW I imperial routes to the present murderous global competition. The book is atypical for Sampson, however, in its relative brevity and unsensationalism: the single, overriding theme is the conflict between ""open skies"" and ""national interest""--decided, as he notes, early on. Right along, Sampson also points out the failure of first Britain, then Europe, to meet American competition--whereas America itself it threatened today by the ""dynamic Asians."" And meanwhile the once-romantic, once technologically-innovative airline business has become a matter of ""marketing and showmanship."" (For passengers, as Sampson mordantly puts it, air travel has become ""the most constrained form of mass transport since the slave ships."") In conclusion, he contrasts Asian enterprise--the airlines ""almost invented the idea of the Pacific Basin""--with European barriers to casual travel between nations. En route, Sampson's gift for vivid, acute summation is much in evidence, as is his eye for colorful detail. Lindbergh's ""engineer's discipline and lonely stamina,"" he writes, ""left little room for broader understanding of the world."" (In Pan Am's Juan Trippe he finds a parallel combination of traits, from a similar mixed family heritage.) On less familiar terrain, he recounts the ""legendary"" boondocks origin of Australia's QANTAS; from an early emphasis on the roles of smaller European nations (Holland with KLM, Belgium with Sabena, Switzerland with Swissair), he proceeds to a stress on the aggressiveness of today's Asian city-states, ""brains without bodies."" Apropos of recent developments, he looks at US domestic deregulation (recently enough to catch Air Florida's collapse), the Laker challenge and ""kill"" (forcing the Thatcher government, ironically, to bail out price-cutting British Airways), and, most revealingly, the upsurge of Asian traffic, with Japan Air Lines and Korean Air Lines as key national instruments. (From his own investigation--for Parade magazine--he attributes the 007 disaster to ""a succession of coincidences and blunders."") For the merely curious, it's a spirited overview; for those with a need to know, it's a handy condensation dashed with insight.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Random House