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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Rio Airways
In 1967, Rio Airways first took flight in the skies above Killeen, Texas. Though small, the regional carrier was far from insignificant. Rio Airways made code share agreements with larger airlines, and gained enough influence in multiple cities to keep flying high for 20 years before bringing an end to their operations.
For a short time, Rio Air had a code share agreement with Delta Airlines, allowing some of their flights to operate as Delta Connection flights. Later on, the carrier also operated a feeder service for TransStar Airlines. In both agreements, however, the partnership was very temporary.
Initially operating the Beech 18 and the Piper Cherokee 6, Rio Airways operated a fleet consisting entirely of turboprops, including Beechcraft 1900Cs, Beech 99s, DHC-7, and DHC-6 Twin Otters. At one point, Rio was able to operate the Metro II.
Over the course of their history, Rio Airways served numerous destinations. They were headquartered in Killeen, Texas, with a hub in Dallas/Fort Worth. They served large and small airports alike, offering service to Memphis, Wichita Falls, San Angelo, Houston, Waco, and Abilene, along with several other cities.
The first sign of trouble came in 1972 when Rio Airways’ success was hampered by labor issues. Rio pilots were unhappy with their pay, and were also concerned about safety issues and were also unable to negotiate a contract at the time. As the years passed, there was no indication that conditions were improving. As a result, Rio Air pilots reached out to the National Labor Relations Board for assistance. Though the pilots were being represented by an affiliate of the ALPA, it was clear that a strike was the only way to change the situation. After a two year strike, two Rio pilots decided to break away from the union. In 1978, the Rio Pilots Association was formed, however, a majority of the pilots involved in the strike never returned.
The struggling airline managed to make it through the next nine years. However, in 1986, the problems were too extensive for Rio Airways to manage. The airline was sold to a group of Texas-based investors, effectively eliminating everything of the defunct airline. Much of their history consists only of problems and mishandled management, yet the small carrier is well remembered by the cities that it left its mark on for nearly 20 years.
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