MADRID – Pan Am, one of the world’s most renowned and experienced airlines, is still remembered today even 30 years after the airline shut down. Amidst the current changes seen in the pandemic among the Covid pandemic, this has been a time to look back at the history of one of the greatest airlines as ‘history repeats itself.
With this we have taken the opportunity to speak with Robert Gandt, former Airforce pilot, Captain at Pan Am and, Author of Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am and China Clipper: The Age of the Great Flying Boats. During his 26 years at Pan Am (1965-1991), he flew the B707, B727, B737, Airbus A310, and B747 and was based in New York, Berlin, Hong Kong, and San Francisco for the airline.
As this is the case Robert will also give light to some stories and aspects of the airline not usually in the spotlight of the airline such as Pan Am’s creation of the ETOPS program, its political power to Pan Am’s stakes in airlines in Africa and Asia.
Without further ado, lets get into it:
LZ: Do you believe we are seeing the same amount of innovation by airlines and aircraft manufactures as Juan Trippe brought about through his time as a leader of one of the world’s most innovative and greatest airlines?
RG: First of all, do I see as much innovation as in the old days of Pan Am? No, I do not. You think that back in the ’20s, ’30s, and 40’s a great number of airline aircraft were actually brought into existence specifically by Pan Am.
I’m thinking of the Silvorsky airplanes specifically the S-40. The S-42 is rebuilt to Pan Am’s specifications. One airline made this happen. . Likewise the big Boeing-314 was a Pan Am order and would have never been built if it had not been built for Pan Am’s specifications and it continued up until the Jet-age.
The Boeing 707 was brought into existence as a transatlantic airliner by Pan Am. Juan Trippe sort of forced that on Boeing. They didn’t even want to do it. As a result, the DC-8 followed on soon after.
Lastly, the 747 was specifically a Pan Am order. Now I can’t think of any other time in history or airline that created so much innovation, such huge leaps, in aeronautical technology like that.
The 747 just completely revolutionized the commercial airline business. Since then I cannot think of any other airline where even a manufacturer made such a generational leap that caused it to happen.
A Flipnote might have been Howard Hughes who made the Constellation come into existence and because he was a big stakeholder in TWA, he made that their flag-ship but that’s about the closest thing that I can remember.
Now think about this, this all happened in a space of 20 years, from the mid-’30s to the mid-’50s. From primitive flying boats which couldn’t even get across the ocean to majestic big flying boats like the B-314, then the long-range land planes, the Constellation, the B-377 to the first transatlantic jets.
Your question, do I see the same amount of innovation, I would say not at all.
There is certainly innovation, they’re improving efficiency, winglets, more efficient engines saving more fuel, longer-range but you’re talking about airplanes, for example, the Boeing 737 Max, that basic airplane has been around for 40 years.
Those are only incremental improvements, power plants, and efficiency in airframe use. That is not a big generational leap we saw back in the ’50s.
LZ: Why do you think this is not the case? Do you think it is because we have not had a leader like Juan Trippe in such a while to have seen such big generational leaps?
RG: Certainly, it was because of Juan Trippe that Pan Am made all those innovations because he was a young entrepreneur in those days and he was not an expert businessman or aviator certainly not an engineer but he had this vision and he just made stuff happen.
I compare him to later day entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Elon Musk. Young guys with this drive none of them brilliant engineers or businessmen but they are driven with this vision and that was Trippe.
I don’t see that much anymore in the industry as it has become a very mature business and I don’t see any big generational breakthroughs. The 787, for example. That’s the latest really new kind of jet.
It goes the same speed basically that every jet before that has. The only big breakthrough generational leap to happen sometime in the SST. I don’t see that happening anytime soon though.
LZ: What can you tell us about Pan Am’s Moon mission?
RG: The mission was more public relations than real. Starting in the mid-late ’60s. We hadn’t landed on the moon yet. The world became very aware of travel to the moon and this was going to happen.
They knew it was. About that time Pan Am started the first Moon Flights Club and it evoked a bit of interest but what really got it going was the movie in 1968 called “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Stanley Kubrick movie and in that movie this spaceship leaves earth and goes into orbit to take passengers to the moon and it’s a commercial spaceship. On the side of it is this big Pan Am logo.