Piedmont Airlines (1948–1989)

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Not to be confused with Piedmont Airlines.
Piedmont Airlines
Founded 1948
Ceased operations 1989 (integrated into USAir).
Operating bases Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport

Baltimore/Washington International Airport
Secondary hubs James M. Cox Dayton International Airport Syracuse Hancock International Airport
Subsidiaries Piedmont Regional Airlines
Fleet size 12 different types of aircraft
Destinations 95 (Sept 1988)
Company slogan Flight of the Pacemaker
Headquarters Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Key people

Thomas Henry Davis - Founder

William R. Howard - CEO
Website www.jetpiedmont.com

Piedmont Airlines (IATA: PIICAO: PDTCall sign: PIEDMONT) was a major airline in the United States which operated from 1948 until it merged into USAir in 1989. Its headquarters were at One Piedmont Plaza in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a building that is now part of Wake Forest University.[1][2]

In April 1989, shortly before it merged into USAir, Piedmont had 22,000 employees.[1] In September 1988, it flew to 95 airports from hubs in the eastern United States; its prop affiliates flew to 39 more.


The company that would become Piedmont Airlines was founded by Thomas Henry Davis (1918 – April 22, 1999[3]) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1940, when Davis purchased Camel City Flying Service and changed the name to Piedmont Aviation.[4] Piedmont originally operated as an airplane repair service and a training school for pilots in the War Department Civilian Pilot Training Program. In 1944, Davis filed an application to run a passenger flight service in the southeast. After several years of lobbying government agencies and fighting legal challenges from other airlines, Piedmont received authorization on January 1, 1948. The first flight, from Wilmington, North Carolina to Cincinnati, was on February 20, 1948.[5]

Davis grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.[6] As a child, he loved airplanes and often used his allowance to take flying lessons. He took pre-med classes at the University of Arizona.[3][6] At the same time, he worked as a part-time flight instructor.


The Martin 404 was Piedmont's first pressurized airliner type to enter service

Like most airlines before deregulation, Piedmont did not have hubs. The airline flew jets to small airports and connected unlikely city pairs with jet flights: Kinston, North Carolina, and Florence, South Carolina; Roanoke, Virginia, and Asheville, North Carolina; Lynchburg, Virginia, and New York City's LaGuardia Airport; Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Bristol/Kingsport/Johnson City, Tennessee; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Lynchburg, Virginia.

Its early routes stretched from Wilmington, North Carolina, northwest to Cincinnati, Ohio, with numerous intermediate stops. Early routes were operated with Douglas DC-3 aircraft.


Revenue passenger traffic, in millions of passenger-miles (scheduled flights only)[7]
Year Pax-Miles
1951 44
1955 69
1960 94
1965 287
1970 745
1975 1061
Piedmont YS-11A at Washington National with the Capitol in the background
Fairchild-Hiller FH-227B at Washington DCA in 1972
Boeing 737s at La Guardia Airport, New York, in August 1985

Piedmont began with the Douglas DC-3 and later added the Fairchild F27 and Martin 4-0-4. It started FH 227B flights in 1967 and YS-11A flights in May 1969. In August 1953, it scheduled flights to 26 airports and in May 1968 to 47.

Like other Local Service airlines, Piedmont was subsidized; in 1962, its operating "revenues" of $18.2 million included $4.8 million "Pub. serv. rev."[8]

Its first jet flights were on 92-seat Boeing 727s in March 1967, flying routes like ATL-AVL-INT-ROA-LGA. Boeing 737-200s arrived in 1968 and larger Boeing 727-200s were added from 1977. One 727 that Piedmont bought from Northwest Orient Airlines was the one hijacked by D. B. Cooper.

In 1955, the network extended from Cincinnati and Louisville east to the coast from Norfolk to Myrtle Beach. At the end of 1978, still under U.S. route regulation, Piedmont's routes reached north to New York, west to Denver, Colorado, and south to Miami, Florida.


Following airline deregulation in the late 1970s, the airline grew rapidly and developed a hub at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. Piedmont bought Empire Airlines, based in Utica, New York, in 1985.[1] Passenger-miles for the merged airline in 1987 were almost nine times Piedmont's RPMs in 1977.

Later hubs included Baltimore/Washington International Airport; James M. Cox Dayton International Airport in Dayton, Ohio; and Syracuse Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, New York. Nonstops from Charlotte to the west coast started in 1984; these 727-200s were Piedmont's first jets with a First Class section.[1] Nonstop 767s from Charlotte to London Gatwick Airport started in 1987. Shortly before it was acquired by USAir, Piedmont was the first airline to announce fleet-wide adoption of the Traffic Collision Avoidance System.[1]

Absorption into USAir[edit]

US Airways A319 in a hybrid US Airways/Piedmont "retro" livery

Piedmont's expanding route system, its loyal passenger following, and its profitability caused it to gain notice among other airlines for a potential buyout. In August 1989, Piedmont Airlines was absorbed by USAir (formerly Allegheny Airlines), which had previously focused its route network around the northeastern states. The combined carrier became one of the East Coast's largest airlines. USAir subsequently changed its name to US Airways, which then merged with America West Airlines in 2005.

Piedmont Airlines (formerly Henson Airlines) still exists as a brand within US Airways, and flies out of many locations doing business as US Airways Express.

Historical fleet[edit]


On October 30, 1959, Piedmont suffered its first crash when Flight 349 slammed into Bucks Elbow Mountain near Charlottesville, Virginia due to a navigational error, whose cause remains in dispute. Twenty-six of the 27 people aboard died.

On July 19, 1967, Piedmont suffered another fatal accident when Flight 22, a Boeing 727, collided with a Cessna 310 over Hendersonville, North Carolina. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the pilot of the Cessna went off course, placing his aircraft in the path of the 727.

On August 10, 1968, Piedmont flight 230 was on an ILS localizer only approach to Charleston-Kanawha County Airport (CRW) runway 23 when it struck trees 360 feet from the runway threshold. The aircraft continued and struck up sloping terrain (+30deg) 250 feet short in a 4-5deg nose down attitude, slightly left wing down. The Fairchild-Hiller 2276 continued up the hill and on to the airport, coming to rest 6 feet beyond the threshold and 50 feet from the right edge of the runway. A layer of dense fog (about 150 feet thick) was obscuring the threshold and about half of the approach lights. Visual conditions existed outside the fog area. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the probable cause was "an unrecognized loss of altitude orientation during the final portion of an approach into shallow, dense fog. The disorientation was caused by a rapid reduction in the ground guidance segment available to the pilot at a point beyond which a go-around could not be successfully effected."[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e "World Airline Directory." Flight International. April 1, 1989. 113.
  2. ^ http://www.emporis.com/building/1piedmontplaza-winstonsalem-nc-usa
  3. ^ a b http://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/24/arts/thomas-h-davis-dies-at-81-founder-of-piedmont-airlines.html
  4. ^ "Piedmont Aviation Employee Newsletter Archives on DigitalNC.org". Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "JetPiedmont.com, website of the Piedmont Aviation Historical Society". Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  6. ^ a b http://www.jetpiedmont.com/thd/
  7. ^ Handbook of Airline Statistics (biannual CAB publication)
  8. ^ Moody's Transportation Manual 1964
  9. ^ National Transportation Safety Board. Aircraft Accident Report AAR69-06, August 21, 1969.[1]

External links[edit]