Seattle Boeing Field
Aeroamerica Inc was just one part of an ‘empire’ headed by Arthur Jöel Eisenberg. In January 1963 he set up his first travel company, Odyssey International Travel a retail travel agents, first aircraft operations commenced with Club International Inc, a non-profit travel club, in June 1971.
With Club International’s purchase of a former TWA Boeing 707-131 they became the first travel club operator of the type, and after Voyager, the second travel club to ‘go jet’. Their operating base was Seattle Boeing Field where the facilities included a substantial apron area, office buildings and a large hanger.
The 707’s first trans-Atlantic flight was to Amsterdam in June 1971. Other destinations included Hawaii, Reno, Las Vegas and the Caribbean. There was even a flight which departed the US and headed for Europe on a “Mystery Tour” without any landing permission gained in advance - clearance was obtained en-route.
In March 1972 Eisenberg signed a purchase agreement with Aer Lingus to acquire International’s second jet, a Boeing 720-048 for delivery in October.
Braniff Boeing 720’s
1973 saw rapid growth and more-or-less shaped the fleet for the next 7 years. An agreement was signed with Braniff in March for the purchase of 5 Boeing 720-027s for delivery the following fall.
In May 1973 the former Aer Lingus Boeing 720 was (nearly) sold to America International Aviation of Buffalo, NY. With the American bicentenary just 3 years away a suitable registration for this aircraft was requested and N1776Q was allocated. However the sale to America International was not consummated due to legal reasons, and the aircraft was just leased to them but the registration was retained.
On August 10th Aeroamerica was incorporated, also in August the first of the ex-Braniff Boeing 720s delivered, N734T was officially handed over at Dallas to Lisa Yvette Eisenberg, Jöel’s 7 year old daughter, to whom the purchase rights had been assigned. Second ex-Braniff 720 to be delivered was N736T in September 1973, this aircraft, like N734T was assigned to one of Jöel’s children, Ian Karl Eisenberg aged 5.
Remaining ex-Braniff 720s N730T, N731T and N733T were delivered in October. N733T became the first aircraft to wear Aeroamerica titles, the aircraft retained much of Braniff’s orange and pumpkin colour-scheme while the others were all repainted in variations on Aeroamerica’s red and ochre colours.
After the frantic activity at the end of 1973 life in 1974 settled down. Aeroamerica was certified as a commercial operator by the FAA and CAB on 9th January, their certificate had previously been held by Standard Airways, and had remained inactive for several years.
In October 1974 GAC Corp., the parent company of Modern Air sold its Berlin rights to Aeroamerica, thus mapping out the future for the airline for the next 5 years.
Of interest is Boeing 720 N734T which was operated for Thunderbird Hotels, her role was to fly high-rollers to Las Vegas from various locations around the USA.
Two-tone green Boeing 720 N730T had a heady few weeks when she was chartered to fly George Harrison around the US and Canada on his 1974 tour. Phil Zane was one of the pilots: “I flew George Harrison on the 48 day tour of the. We had a special interior seating just 40 plus big bean bag chairs...oriental rugs, etc. We hit 21 cities in 48 days... Included with Harrison was Billy Preston and Ravi Shankar - numerous celebrities joined us from city to city, including John Lennon, Peter Sellers, and many more.”
N733T was very briefly leased to The Tropicana Hotel, Las Vegas and ran a similar service as N734T.
In October 1974 she made the historic first appearance by an Aeroamerica aircraft at Berlin Tegel when she arrived wearing small Berliner Flug Ring titles (BFR was a major German tour operator).
April 1975 saw the first year of Aeroamerica’s European inclusive tour (IT) services out of Tegel using the ‘EO’ flight code. Fitted out with 149 seats the 720s flew to 22 destinations in Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, The Balearics, Italy, Greece and Jugoslavia. 1975 also saw the bankruptcy of Air Club International in August with 3000 Washington residents being left out-of-pocket as their pleasure flights were cancelled.
Boeing 707-321 N705PA was leased from L & S Leasing Co from the end of October 1975. This particular aircraft went on to have a long and colorful career with Aeroamerica. The original Pan Am name, ‘Wings of the Morning’ was re-applied along with small EgyptAir titles prior to sub-lease.
1976 was a boom-year with operations now consolidated under the Aeroamerica banner. Growth in its IT flights out of Berlin required extra capacity to be leased in and there was an up-turn in ad-hoc leases. New destinations included France, Turkey, Israel and Denmark. In spring 1976 Aeroamerica planned its first European scheduled service, Tegel to Saarbrücken operating two flights each way daily. One Fairchild F.27 was intended to be used, but was never taken up.
At this point in the airline’s existence it is interesting to note the comments of Aeroamerica’s Deputy Director of Operations, Tim Powell “I was a pilot at Aeroamerica from 1974 to 1976, my recollections are of a very closely knit group of pilots, and one of the most professional flight operations management groups I ever had the pleasure to work with... I have flown for international and domestic airlines for 30 years... and still count Aeroamerica right at the top when it comes to flight operations professionalism.”
Boeing 707-138B N793NA was leased from National Aircraft Leasing in January 1976 and immediately sub-leased to EgyptAir. Regarding the EgyptAir contract F/E Gary Winstead comments “EgyptAir leased from us to help build their routes and in the end fly all the less desirable legs! Most of our runs were Egyptian teachers in and out of Libya, the Egyptian Army water buffalo food run to Khartoum things like that...”
Strangest lease has to be that of pure freight DC-8 33F N124AJ from United Aircraft Leasing for 3 months. The aircraft gained Aeroamerica titles and was ferried to Tegel for sub-lease to EgyptAir in March. She was returned at the end of the contact in June having only flown 48 hrs while on lease....
The frantic activity of previous years was clearly seen to decline in 1977 with operations centering around the Berlin based IT services and short-term leases and charters.
Trouble hit the airline on 1st July when 96% of unionized stewardesses voted in favour of a strike over pay and conditions. Despite many staff not turning up for work, Aeroamerica’s schedules carried on as normal with the help of contract stewardesses and by reducing the number of cabin-crew from 4 to 3 per Boeing. By the end of July the dispute had still to be settled but it would seem that strike action gradually became weaker as the summer season drew to a close and by August the strike, such as it was, had collapsed.
While most of the 720s ran IT schedules throughout the year, some found time to be leased to Libyan Arab, Sudan Air, Saudia and Kibris Türk Hava Yollari (KTHY).
After 1977 when the fleet shrunk, in 1978 it expanded again with a mixture of more second-hand 720s and 707s. Former Aeroamerica F/E Gary Winstead explains “A lot of the [707/720] parts were interchangeable, the ones that were not usually forced flight cancellations or substitutions till parts arrived. One of the sneaky deals was our contract maintenance was in Tel Aviv with Bedek Aviation/IAI. You couldn’t take an airplane that carried EgyptAir, Saudia, or especially Libyan Arab titles on the side to Tel Aviv. So we would fly in by canceling over the Turkish, coast refilling in Nicosia and landing undercover of darkness and taxiing straight to the end of the runway and into Bedek/IAI’s hangar. Of course the Israelis were already expecting us so when we got in the hangar tarps were put over the logo and workers removed all logo cups, [safety] briefing cards etc from the aircraft. We would just reverse everything to leave, but the first time you did it - it was a little scary!”
American Airlines Boeing 707’s
The first of two former American Airlines 707-123Bs leased from Tiger Air, N7521A was delivered at the end of May 1978 to Seattle. She was configured by Aeroamerica in a 12F/135Y layout and ferried Seattle-Tegel-Pakistan in July on sub-lease to PIA. Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel carried an article on the passing through Tegel of the Boeing 707: “Aeroamerica yesterday presented a newly acquired 707 with a modern “wide-body” look. The aircraft will be leased to PIA, but it is planned to have it based in Berlin next year, at which time the Berlin fleet will be a 707 and 2 720s. The 707 is fitted out with a modern interior with lockable luggage bins, possible in-flight entertainment and more powerful engines, so that the aircraft would be suitable for longer range flights.
PIA at present has chartered a total of 5 Boeing aircraft from Aeroamerica together with cockpit crew.”
On the look-out for 720s
Always on the look-out for old Boeing 720s, N7201U and N7207U 720-022s were leased in June. In July N7207U was seen at Seattle in Aeroamerica’s striking new Native-American Indian inspired colour-scheme. Scheduled passenger services commenced between Seattle/Tacoma and Spokane using this aircraft in August, and these initially proved a success.
Two high-time Boeing 707-321s were also utilized in 1978, N431MA was leased from MCA Leasing in April and was immediately sub-leased to PIA. And N714FC which had languished at Stansted since January 1976 was painted with Aeroamerica titles in June and delivered in July to Karachi on lease to PIA.
The PIA business was due to late delivery of aircraft to the airline resulting in capacity problems, 10 cockpit crews plus mechanics from the USA, Germany and the UK were stationed in Karachi.
The final year
1979 was the final year of any substantial operations by Aeroamerica. Scheduled passenger services were due to commence between Seattle Tacoma and Honolulu in January and between Portland and Honolulu in March, however how many of these flights ever were operated is unclear.
In January it was announced that the airline had lost it’s biggest IT contact with BFR to the newly formed Air Berlin-USA. The BFR contact which had been in place since 1975 was not renewed due to Aeroamerica’s flight operations becoming more and more unreliable. Aeroamerica announced it wanted to concentrate on ‘cheap’ flights between Europe and the USA, it intended to begin a weekly flight from the start of the summer season between Berlin and Miami via Brussels or Amsterdam. Flights were also planned to most of the major US hubs from Berlin and Frankfurt.
The Seattle-Spokane service sporadically continued as passenger Erik Johannesson comments “I had the opportunity to fly on 720 N736T while it flew the Seattle-Spokane scheduled service. It was a typical kind of Aeroamerica experience... I dropped into the hangar at Boeing Field for a look around, and ended up getting a free ride over to Spokane and back. A great 40 minute flight, and a quick turnaround in Spokane (where they had to keep an engine running as they had no ground power!) and another 40 minutes back to Seattle.”
Brian Grennan was hired as a Flight Attendant in 1979 “I was just 18 and had a GREAT time... we had no idea how bad it probably was [from a safety point-of-view]. My first flight was a scheduled trip Seattle-Honolulu-Seattle on an old Pan Am 707-321B (N404PA), that was stripped bare of all paint. The interior was actually very nice, the best we had, but my first flight was delayed 6 hours because the aircraft had mechanical problems. We finally left and flew the round trip without yaw-damper control. The aircraft rolled and pitched all the way there and back. ...I believe it required the pilots to physically fly the plane 100% of the time.”
We lived out of our suit cases
Despite the apparent glamour of the planned destinations, the life of an Aeroamerica pilot was not that of luxury, as F/E Gary Winstead explains “...we lived out of our suit cases as one day we were working with Turkish Cyprus Airlines and the next we were subbed out to Laker or whoever... [Eisenberg] was one of the those people who can turn shit into gold for himself ...all of us in the end were left with “good bye” and lots of back pay checks that bounced! Having said all that it was still a wonderful job!”
With the anticipation of establishing long-haul services 2 Boeing 707-321Bs were leased from Guinness Peat Aviation, the first being N402PA which was leased from June and immediately sub-leased out to other carriers till October when she was withdrawn. By December Aeroamerica had to return the aircraft to GPA.
The second 707-321B was N404PA which arrived at Boeing Field in September stripped of paint. Payments soon defaulted and she too was returned to GPA.
Boeing 707-331 N705PA had an interesting year.At the end of March she had CFW 111 (Charles F Willis III, a Californian philanthropist) titles applied and flew to California to join N714FC flying Vietnamese refugees from Vietnam to the USA and Malaysia. In August N705PA was sub-leased to the Royal Fiji Military Forces to fly Fijian UN peace-keeping forces to the Lebanon. In October she arrived at Kuala Lumpur with engine trouble e/r Nadi-Beirut and there she remained. By August 1980 she had been impounded for unpaid fees. She ended her days on display at Kelaua Jaya Park, Malaysia as a restaurant.
A variety of 707s and 720s were leased during the year but the concerns surrounding the financial situation and the operation of a mixed fleet of high-time Boeings came to a head in November 1979. Firstly the Berlin office was shut followed by an informal meeting between Aeroamerica and the FAA as a result of which Aeroamerica voluntarily surrendered its commercial operators authority to the FAA. 720 N730T was impounded and sealed at Tegel after legal proceedings were brought against the airline by Allen Airmotive and British Airways. Later the CAB issued an order revoking the exemption, the effect being to deny Aeroamerica from continuing flight operations. Finally Aeroamerica filed a petition under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code seeking a reorganization.
Most of the airline’s fleet had already drifted back to Seattle, many being signed over to the Attorney General for the State of Washington. The Boeing 707-123Bs remained in Europe with N7521A being withdrawn from use at Ankara and later impounded when it transpired that Turkish Petroleum Co was owed $500,000.
The FAA finally pulled Aeroamerica’s certificate on 30th June 1980.
However on August 19th a joint application was made by Aeroamerica and the official creditors committee for the reinstatement of commercial operator privileges to the FAA. Two months later Aeroamerica’s operating certificate was re-issued, in September a letter of intent had been signed to lease Boeing 720-027 N736T from Ian Eisenberg to be used on one round trip per week between Seattle Tacoma-Reno on behalf of the Ponderosa Hotel. Brian Grennan who had lost his Flight Attendant’s position at the end of 1979 was recalled by the airline: “I spent a few days in recurrent training and started working a few times a month on short flights to Reno. One of the last times we flew Seattle Tacoma was fogged in and we landed at Portland. We were a ‘non secured flight’ (meaning our passengers were not security screened) and we were not allowed to the terminal. They made us park clear on the other side of the airport at midnight. We had no ground support-NOTHING. The flight engineer went down through the hatch into the lower hold and out a cargo door. He found a set of very dangerous work stairs and one by one, we sent 149 people climbing down very rickety stairs from the forward door. Eventually buses came and by 5 a.m. we were all back in Seattle.
I heard lots of really scary stories from other flight attendants who flew the Pacific contracts ... and how close Aeroamerica came to disaster more than a few times. But we didn’t. Every flight was safe, no one was ever injured. We tried to do everything we could to make it half way decent for the poor passengers. I always had fun, lI oved those old dirty creaky planes.”
FAA authority was regained but the CAB withdrew its approval unless Aeroamerica posted a bond... they never did. The owners sold most of its remaining assets shortly afterwards.
However on March 31st 1981 the FAA issued Aeroamerica with its second Part 121 certificate, solely used for the operation of N736T, which flew just 27hrs between January and October. The only other activity involved N734T which in May had it’s left hand side only painted as Air Force One for an ABC TV movie about JFK, ‘Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’ for which Aeroamerica received $8,900.
Aeroamerica was finally grounded in 1982 by the FAA for operating a non-airworthy Boeing 720, the owners realized that there was no escape from Chapter 11, the airline gave up the struggle and company was dissolved.
Aircraft that were not returned to lessors or financial institutions were slowly scrapped between 1982 and 1983.
And so the demise of another deregulation hopeful... not an unusual event sadly. Brian Grennan muses: “I still think if we would have had small economical aircraft, good financial backing we would have been around today. Probably the ATA or Sun Country of the west coast...?” The memory of Aeroamerica is not dead however there is a web site dedicate to it’s memory (http://www.aeroamerica.net) and reunions are still held in Seattle on a regular basis.
And of course Jöel Eisenberg is not a man who would be defeated by something as trivial as bankruptcy and financial collapse. Since the demise of Aeroamerica he has been associated with a number of other aviation enterprises in the Northwest, but has never been allowed to run an airline.
Photo credits: Reda/Airliners, Steve Williams, Bob Garrard, Ralf Manteufel, Peter Seeman, Richard Silagi, Wolfgang Mendorf, Paul Thallon, Paul Wokingham, R.N. Smith, Martyn Cartledge, ShanAirpic, EGCC, Malcom Nason, Steelhead BerlinSpotter, AussieSpotter and Chris Chen.
Received additional info from Mike: The final days of former American Airlines and Aeroamerica 707-123B N751TA at Luton. My photo, sorry for the bit of chain-link fence included. Got this story off the www: "Long time resident of the Graveyard and possibly the only Boeing 707 to be stolen is the ex Aero America Boeing 707 N7522A. As the story goes, after failing to find a buyer and accumulating a huge amount in parking fees the Boeing was sold for scrap to offset some of the money, and moved to the engine run bay. One saturday a couple of large trucks and a JCB turned up and said they had come to cut up the 707, and were duly escorted out to the run up bay no questions asked . Over the saturday and sunday they did an amazingly quick job of cutting and removing the aircraft. Monday morning came and another set of trucks arrived asking where their Beoing 707 was so they could cut it up ! Red faces all round at Airport Security."