Cathay Pacific - 1967 History Booklet

TheCathayPacificStory.jpg

Hong Kong's position as a British colony provided a secure and sound legal and monetary position for trade to flourish - and with it, the need grew for frequent service to East Asia's other key cities. Great Britain carefully controlled its airlines after World War II, with its key carrier BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) taking the most important routes, such as the corridor from London through other former colonies in the Middle East and India to reach Hong Kong, and then to points beyond such as Tokyo.

So while Cathay Pacific was allowed to form, acquire a competitor, and even bring on modern jets, the authorities in London kept the carrier bottled up in its home region, unable to reach backwards to Europe or forwards across the Pacific.

This colorful 1967 history booklet produced by Cathay gives its short, two-decade story:

While Cathay desired longer routes, the Convair 880 jet fleet lacked the range to reach much beyond Tokyo or Singapore, nor could it carry economical amounts of cargo. While BOAC had abandoned the Hong Kong-Australia market, the 880 was simply not able to help Cathay grow.

The brochure ends with this compact route network, just as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos were to fall under the cloud of war:

TheCathayPacificStory-BackCover.jpg

In 1971, Cathay Pacific bought twelve long-range Boeing 707 jets from Northwest Airlines (as that carrier rolled out 747 operations), and this allowed expansion to Sydney in 1973.

But it would take until 1980 for Cathay to be permitted to reach London, 1983 to cross the Pacific and make landfall at Vancouver, and 1986 to achieve service at San Francisco. And that will be a story for another day...

China Airlines - 1971 History Booklet

In celebration of China Airlines' opening of the first Transpacific service into Ontario, California this week, I've posted these scans of a 1971 company history - still a government-controlled entity at this point. CI had launched flights to San Francisco from Taipei via Tokyo in February 1970, and to Los Angeles via Tokyo and Honolulu in April 1971. The Boeing 707 jets used did not have the range to make California nonstop, but even if so the short runways at Taipei's Songhsan Airport would never have supported the long takeoff run that would have been necessary.

These scans are from the collection of my good friend and fellow aviation history buff Arthur Na. Click on each panel for a bigger view!

CI would need to pick up an extra 707 after this brochure was printed to be able to cover the Los Angeles route: with how the flights were scheduled, each 707 could make 3-1/2 roundtrips to the USA and back per week. By Fall 1971, San Francisco was served six times weekly, and Los Angeles had four weekly departures.

For good measure, here are scans of the Transpacific services from CI's August 1, 1971 timetable (eastbound and westbound). Passengers arriving Taiwan from the California flights had to spend the night in Taipei to make onward connections because of how late the aircraft arrived; but eastbound Transpacific services left mid-day so passengers from around the region could make same-day connections, and in fact the San Francisco flight originated in Hong Kong using the same aircraft all the way through.

Braniff's Asian Expansion - 1979

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    Photo by  Aero Icarus  via Flickr.  CC 2.0 license.

Photo by Aero Icarus via Flickr.  CC 2.0 license.

Far too far ahead of its time, woefully under-supported by the company's route planning, and cursed by starting just as the oil shocks began, Braniff's ill-fated Transpacific expansion was nevertheless stunning and visionary.

Braniff had been a profitable and beloved carrier with a strong portfolio of routes into Mexico and South America, and a well-developed core of domestic services centered on its hub at Dallas/Ft. Worth.  As Deregulation approached in the late 1970s, however, company management thought massive expansion would be the only guarantee that the firm would remain relevant and a survivor in the shakeout to come. They went on a buying spree of Boeing 727-200, 747-200, and 747SP jets - and in 1978-1979 let loose a volley of dozens of new domestic and international routes, many of which connected cities that had never been Braniff strongholds. (Boston to 5 cities in Europe... San Antonio to Phoenix; Denver to Oakland; Birmingham to New York...)

Braniff had much experience flying passenger service in Asia on behalf of the Department of Defense, and had its corporate heart set on winning a DFW-Tokyo nonstop route to complement its newly won (and instantly successful) DFW-London service.

The U.S. Government did not oblige, despite considerable business and political lobbying.

But instead of using disappointment as a spur to re-examine their strategy, instead Braniff applied for route authorities to Asia out of Los Angeles - and received them. While Braniff had served LAX for many years with nonstops to South America, that city had no connection with the rest of the airline's domestic network until the 1979 expansion - and even then, just by 4 daily nonstops to the DFW hub.

The big unexamined assumption of route planning at the dawn of Deregulation was that domestic carriers would still continue to provide seamless feed to international services, regardless of who the airline was flying the international leg. Revenue-sharing practices at the time would have allowed Braniff's planners to believe that American, United, Western, Hughes Airwest, and TWA would happily promote one-connection services ... even though Braniff was encroaching on all their backyards domestically.

In any case, Braniff's history of strong balance sheets and can-do attitude convinced its bankers ... and in July 1979 they extended their new LAX-Honolulu run out to Guam and Hong Kong. In September they started a nonstop between LAX-Seoul, and in October extended that flight out to Singapore.

The visionary piece I mentioned earlier came from hooking Asia up to Braniff's South America network - using the same aircraft. In the attached scans from Braniff's September 15, 1979 timetable, note how they've scheduled:

  • Singapore - Seoul - Los Angeles - Lima - Sao Paulo/Rio de Janeiro
  • Hong Kong - Guam - Honolulu - Los Angeles - Santiago - Buenos Aires

With a couple roundtrips per week on each of these routes, the aircraft had excellent utilization (for the era). At this point in history, the only other carriers attempting service like this were JAL and VARIG - but Braniff was simply brilliant in hooking all these traffic centers together in one swipe.

You couldn't do this today - tough post-9/11 rules for transit through U.S. airports for foreign nationals (you have to have a U.S. visa to get off the airplane, regardless of whether you're staying in the country or not) have effectively put U.S. carriers out of the business of South America-to-Asia connections. And foreign governments aren't going to grant such liberal traffic rights to a new carrier anymore...

Advertisement in the January 1, 1980 Braniff system timetable

Advertisement in the January 1, 1980 Braniff system timetable

Of course, it wasn't to be. Braniff never garnered the domestic connecting traffic from its competitors, and Northwest and Pan Am out-hustled them on corporate sales on their competing Transpacific services. KAL was just starting its own nonstops from Seoul to L.A., as well - so a lot of capacity was suddenly dropped on the market just in time for the oil shock.  Korea in the 1970s wasn't the economic powerhouse we know today, so it wouldn't have provided a lot of traffic from its side of the Pacific, either. Again, if Braniff could have controlled its own feed out of LAX, things might have been different...

The stubby 747SP had horrible economics when flown half-empty, (same 4 engines for a little more than half the passenger load as the baseline 747-100) and wasn't all that good for freight, either.

By Summer 1980, Singapore had already dropped off the map - and the amazing Great Circle route had morphed into Hong Kong - Seoul - Los Angeles - Santiago - Buenos Aires.  Even then, still an amazing flight - any carrier today would consider it a flagship service.

But by then, the collapsing economy and Braniff's hubris were becoming painfully evident - notice how many routes had already disappeared from the map.  Even the Honolulu - LAX bridge service had been cancelled.  Less than 2 years later, the Braniff fleet would be parked at DFW, Eastern would be flying the South American services, and American would be building an unbreakable fortress hub in Texas with what used to be Braniff's core routes (including the London run.)

Should Braniff have kept their egos in check and been more deliberate and economical with expansion? Well, of course.  737-200s and DC-10s would have been much smarter fleet choices, and they should have concentrated slow but steady route growth out of DFW (and perhaps Miami for South American feed) instead of spreading flights around willy-nilly.

However, that which is beautiful often fades quickly, and without the ego and groupthink from Lemmon Road in Dallas, we may never have seen the gorgeous Halston-era paint schemes on Braniff's fleet - or these amazing Asian routes.

Also see my...

Dallas/Ft. Worth airport guide

Transpacific Flying Pinterest folder