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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: World Airways

Photo: Maarten Visser from Capelle aan den IJssel, Nederland (N740WA B747-400F World Cargo) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

World Airways was founded in 1948 by Benjamin Pepper. At the time, he used former Pan Am Boeing 314 flying boats. However, just two years later, the airline was purchased by Edward Daly for $50,000. At the time, the Boeing 314s were already considered to be obsolete so Daly began adding the Douglas DC-4 to replace them.

A year later, World Airways won its first contract with the U.S. Government, beginning a long and profitable relationship between the two. Using this, the airline grew throughout the 50s and 60s adding larger and new aircraft, such as the DC-6 and Lockheed Constellations. The jet era for the airline began at the end of the 1960s with the introduction of the Boeing 707 and 727 as well as the DC-8 and the Boeing 747 later into the 1970s. World was the launch customer for the Boeing 747 cargo variant with a “flip-nose” front loading door.  

During the Vietnam War, the carrier won a major contract with the United States military to transport troops and supplies between Oakland, California and the war zone. World flew the last airlift transport out of Da Nang, Vietnam. Daly was aboard the flight, which was swarmed by people upon landing, after flying through heavy gunfire. The aircraft, a Boeing 727, began its takeoff roll, on a taxiway and with its rear airstair down, with people still struggling to get on board the already over encumbered aircraft. When the flight landed in Saigon, South Vietnam, there were 268 people in the cabin and 60 in the aircraft’s cargo hold.

In the 1980s, the airline experienced heavy losses. Daly left the airline in 1982, due to health issues, and the airline suffered from an attempt to start scheduled services. Further burdens were provided by a move in headquarters from Oakland to Washington, D.C., the acquisition of Key Airlines, and parent company WorldCorp siphoning money from the airline to finance a telecommunication venture.  

The Gulf War returned the airline back to profitability, enabling the airline to purchase modern MD-11s. The airline used the new aircraft to connect U.S. military bases in Japan with Los Angeles. The 1990s and early 2000s saw a period of stable profitability for the airline. The airline had many ventures including contracts with the U.S. military, sports charters, and wet-leasing to other airlines, as well as a successful cargo division.

In 2006, World Airways became part of World Air Holdings Inc. Headquarters were returned to Oakland the next year. In 2007, the group was acquired by ATA Holdings, which was renamed to Global Aero Logistics Inc. The group contained World Airways, North American Airlines, and ATA Airlines. Headquarters for the group was moved to Atlanta, Georgia, however troubles began the next year, when ATA Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and ceased operations.

Funds for World Airways began to dry up in the following years. In November of 2013, Global Aero filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to restructure operations. However less than six months later on March 27th, 2014, it was announced World Airways would cease operations immediately. At the time of shutdown, the fleet contained 2 Boeing 747-400Fs, 3 passenger MD-11s, and 4 cargo MD-11Fs. When the announcement was made, the airline was two days before it’s 66th anniversary. Global Aero, and the one remaining airline North American struggled along for 3 more months before declaring bankruptcy and shutting down.  

Daniel Morley


  • Daniel Morley

    Daniel has always had aviation in his life; from moving to the United States when he was two, to family vacations across the U.S., and back to his native England. He currently resides in South Florida and attends Nova Southeastern University, studying Human Factors in Aviation. Daniel has his Commercial Certificate for both land and sea, and hopes to one day join the major airlines.

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