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All American Becomes Just...American

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Few recall it now, but Allegheny Airlines, the primary progenitor of the present US Airways, was known by a different name at its inception. And, it was in a somewhat different line of business. Although it began operating as All American Airways, a passenger-carrying airline, in March 1949, it had operated previously “on the fly”, literally, with no revenue passengers whatsoever.

Formed initially as All-American Aviation, the carrier was granted Airmail Route 49 by the Civil Aeronautics Authority in July 1940. It’s method of handling the mail was rather unique: outbound mail bags were suspended above the ground, and snatched by the aircraft (in a manner somewhat akin to that of Railway Post Office cars, which used a hook to grab mailbags at points where the train didn’t stop), with no ground stop involved. Delivery was somewhat less exotic, with gravity responsible for delivery of the mailbag once it had been released from the aircraft.

In its post-World War II passenger-carrying incarnation, the airline was one of the “Local Service” carriers certificated by the (now) Civil Aeronautics Board to bring airline service to smaller localities, and, eventually, to enable the trunk airlines to shed these points, and concentrate on markets with denser traffic. The virtually-ubiquitous DC-3 was used by All American, and most of the other Local Service carriers for their initial operations, in part due to the wide availability of the type stemming from its enormous production during the war.

In 1953, All-American changed its name to “Allegheny”, reflecting its primary service area; the Local Service carriers were essentially geographic monopolies that covered the “lower 48” U.S. states, with the exception of the New England region, where Trunk carrier Northeast was ensconced. Over the years larger twin-engine prop-powered aircraft were added to the fleet, along with additional routes and some expansion of the airline’s service territory.

During the 1960s, Allegheny began to expand outside its initially-allocated sphere of operation, and merged with Lake Central, its Local Service neighbor to the immediate west. Following up on this in the early 1970s, it added Mohawk to its empire, fleshing out the network to the north of its historic territory, and in 1979 changed its name to USAir, since it now served many points that were nowhere near the Allegheny Plateau. In the process, the airline deftly dodged the nickname of “Agony” that had sprung up as a result of the “Allegheny” title. Arguably this also signaled its aspiration of having a national route structure.

For that matter, there are those that have been suspicious that the “A” with which the carrier’s initial names began really stood for “amalgamated” or “acquisitive”. This was reinforced following the deregulation of the U.S. airline industry beginning in the late 1970s. AL acquired the west coast-based Pacific Southwest (PSA), legitimizing the “USAir” moniker, and also added Piedmont (by now a transatlantic carrier), its former Local Service neighbor to the immediate south.

There had been significant organic growth on the original, essentially Allegheny, route system during this time period, as well, however. AL had the temerity to take on TWA at Pittsburgh, and although the trunk carrier had long dominated the western Pennsylvania industrial center, Allegheny eventually established a major hub at PIT, causing TW to retreat.

As a result, US was in a position to become one of the launch customers (Southwest was the other) for Boeing’s 737-300, which brought the economics of high-bypass turbofans to narrowbody aircraft; the fact that the -300, and its -400/500 siblings, are referred to now as the “Classic” series of the 737 provides evidence of the success of the type. During this period USAir (which would later have a further name change, to US Airways) began emulating future partner American’s polished-metal livery, although apparently some of the “Agony”-era wags were still present, since the USAir scheme was referred to as the “three streaks of rust”.

In a curious twist of fate, US itself became subsumed into another carrier, America West, via merger, although the US name and code persisted, as did the America West management team. “Allegheny” certainly wouldn’t have been applicable to a carrier headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. The combination with American is essentially a second iteration of this process, although the headquarters will be in Texas.

The Latin motto “E Pluribus Unum” appears on the Great Seal of the United States, as well as currency and coins; it can be translated “Out of many, one”. This would seem to apply abundantly to the newly-formed American Airlines, which arguably has the most diverse DNA of any airline, including a prominent early legacy carrier; numerous representatives of the Local Service “experiment” (and US was the last survivor of these carriers); and one of the few surviving “New Entrants” of the post-deregulation era. At the end of the day, however, this would appear to be predestined; all that was necessary was removing the “All” from Allegheny’s original name.

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on Jan 2, 2014

Very intriguing article!

on Jan 8, 2014

The title put a smile on my face. And the article wasn't bad either. I recall Agony Airlines, but also Slohawk. Keep up your good work!

on Jan 14, 2014

Even with the name change to USAir, it took the airline a while to outlive its Agony nickname. Indeed, many insisted that USAir stood for 'Unfortunately Still Allegheny In Reality'.

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