Sometimes it's hard to keep a good airline, or, in this case, its name, down "for the count". What I'm referring to is the February 13, 2012 announcement that an airline named PeoplExpress plans to take to the skies again, albeit headquartered in Newport News, Virginia instead of Newark, New Jersey, the home of the original version. While a first for this former airline, reincarnation of historic airline names has been tried on a number of occasions. What's the track record look like, in terms of success or failure?
The most prominent, thus far, has been Braniff, the first trunk carrier to fail following the deregulation of U.S. airlines in the late 1970s. After a hiatus of about two years (recall the colorful array of jets parked at BN's former terminal at DFW during this period?), what has come to be known as "Braniff 2" was formed, using 727s from the first version, albeit with a much less colorful livery. It lasted until 1989, undergoing numerous changes in operating strategy, and a move of its headquarters from Texas to Florida. Braniff 3, although it brought back more colorful aircraft, had an even briefer career, lasting for approximately one year in 1991-92.
Frontier, one of the Local Service Carriers formed after World War II, was acquired by the original PeoplExpress in November 1985, and eventually folded into Continental. The latter discontinued its Denver hub operations in 1993, which created the opportunity for the present Frontier Airlines, with the colorful wildlife tails, and accompanying "A Whole Different Animal" slogan, to commence in 1994. Following bankruptcy and acquisition by Republic Airways Holdings, it appears likely that Frontier will again assume its own, independent identity in the not distant future.
Midway Airlines, the first 'new entrant' to begin service following deregulation, operated successfully for a number of years following its initial service in October 1979, but failed in November 1991, the same year that "famous names" Eastern and Pan Am departed. Another carrier using the same name and airport base, in Chicago, got off the ground in 1993. By this time, however, Southwest had become a major factor at MDW airport, so Midway 2 was moved to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, to at least partially backfill the closure of the American Airlines hub there. After a number of iterations, including a "near-death" in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the airline shut down for good in October 2003.
Pan Am itself has had descendents, although not all of them are airlines. At one time, there were two operating simultaneously: Pan American World Airways and Pan American Airways (the latter formerly Carnival). Both went bankrupt in 1998. The new owner, Guilford Transportation, assigned the Pan Am trade name to Boston-Maine Airways, which first continued operating 727s, and later added commuter aircraft, prior to ceasing operations in 2008. So who bears the name and wears the blue now? Pan Am Railways, which previously had been Guilford Rail System.
The same name -- Skybus -- has been used twice, unsuccessfully, by new entrants. The first operated briefly in 1985-86, performing charters and sub-service operations for other carriers (both passenger and cargo). In May 2007 the more recent (scheduled passenger) version appeared, based in Columbus, Ohio. While it had ambitious plans, it was gone by early April 2008. Is a pattern beginning to become apparent?
In fairness, there have been instances of relative stability that can be cited, although there is a catch. US Airways obtains regional carrier code-sharing services from airlines named Piedmont and PSA; there was an Allegheny, also, prior to its being folded into Piedmont. Using these names preserves them for US, and thus prevents an upstart from attempting to re-use them.
From time to time rumors pop up about other new entrant airlines in the U.S. Not a complete surprise, but some of these putative carriers supposedly want to revive names like (get ready for it) Braniff and Eastern. If you look at www.panamericanairways.net, you'll learn that (don't forget that it's now 2012)
Pan American Airways, Inc., located in the 1931 Pan American Airways Building at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport, announces its intent to reopen the Gateway to Latin America in 2011. Inaugural flights will be from Brownsville, Texas to Monterrey, Mexico and other Mexico cities.
Not without longer-term aspirations, the website also announces that
Future passenger and cargo flights will include flights to Rio de Janeiro in support of the 2016 Olympic games and the World Cup™.
No mention is made of whether this will be coordinated with Pan Am Railways, however.
While most of the examples cited are from the U.S., which has had, by far, the most airline failures and startups, there is, in a technical sense, at least one prominent example elsewhere: British Airways. Yes, the carrier's present name could be construed as resulting from simply dropping the middle names from the titles of its immediate predecessors, BOAC and BEA. However, it should be pointed out that BOAC was formed in 1939 when it took over the assets of Imperial...and British Airways, which had been formed in the 1930s.
So, will the new PeoplExpress repeat the chain of "re-named" failures seen on numerous occasions in the U.S., or will it emulate Frontier (and British), and prove to be an exception? We'll have to wait and see.