Southern Airways

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Southern Airways
Southern Airways logo.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
FoundedFebruary 1, 1944 (1944-02-01)
Ceased operationsJuly 1, 1979 (1979-07-01)
(merged with North Central Airlines to become Republic Airlines)
Focus cities
HeadquartersHartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Key peopleFrank Hulse (founder)

Southern Airways was a regional airline (known at the time as a "local-service air carrier" as designated by the federal Civil Aeronautics Board) in the United States, from its founding by Frank Hulse in 1949 until 1979, when it merged with North Central Airlines to become Republic Airlines. Southern's corporate headquarters were in Birmingham, with operations headquartered at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, near Atlanta.[1]

Nine Martin 4-0-4s at the Atlanta hub in 1972 before departing on the morning wave of flights


Revenue passenger traffic, in millions of passenger-miles (scheduled flights only)[2]
Year Pax-Miles
1951 17
1955 28
1960 47
1965 156
1970 431
1975 853

As a local-service airline, Southern Airways covered the south-central U.S. In 1955, their network spanned from Memphis south to New Orleans and east to Charlotte and Jacksonville. In August 1953, Southern flew to 29 airports and in August 1967 to 50.

Like other local-service airlines, Southern was subsidized; in 1962, its operating "revenues" of $14.0 million included $5.35 million "Pub. serv. rev."[3]

In May 1968, Southern's routes extended from Tri-Cities in Tennessee south to New Orleans and Jacksonville, and east from Baton Rouge and Monroe, Louisiana, to the coast at Myrtle Beach and Charleston. Later in 1968, a route sprouted northward: three weekday Douglas DC-9-10s from Columbus, Georgia (CSG) nonstop to Washington Dulles and on to New York LaGuardia. These flights originated at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida (VPS) and also stopped at Dothan, Alabama.

Like most local-service airlines, Southern flew only Douglas DC-3s for the first few years. In 1961, they began adding 22 40-passenger, secondhand Martin 4-0-4s acquired from Eastern Air Lines,[4] newer aircraft that were pressurised and had a rear ventral stairway. The last scheduled DC-3 flight was in 1967.

Southern's first 65–75-passenger Douglas DC-9 series 10s arrived in 1967 followed by 85–95-passenger McDonnell Douglas DC-9 series 30s in 1969. The last scheduled flight by a Martin was on 20 April 1978 from Atlanta to Gadsden, Alabama, and back.[5]

Some DC-9s were bought new and some used;[6] the used jets included DC-9-14s from Delta Air Lines and Eastern Air Lines.[7] Both airlines had purchased these aircraft new from Douglas.[8] Unlike other local-service airlines, Southern did not operate turboprops (such as the Convair 580 and Fairchild F-27 used by other local-service airlines) during the 1960s and 1970s, but by the time of the merger with North Central, Southern had replaced their Martin 4-0-4s with several 19-passenger Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner "Metro II"s.


Douglas DC-9-15 at Atlanta in October 1973

By 1971, Southern was flying to New York City and Chicago and south to Orlando and Miami. U.S. government regulation did not allow Southern to fly nonstop from New York or Washington, DC, to Atlanta, so Southern had nonstops to Columbus, Georgia, then on to Dothan, Alabama; Mobile, Alabama; Panama City, Florida, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; and/or Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi. Many flights made five or six intermediate stops en route.

With more DC-9s, many routes once served with propeller aircraft were served with jets that linked small cities to Atlanta and Memphis:

One DC-9-14 aircraft operated a "milk run" multistop routing from Miami to Orlando, Tallahassee, Panama City, Eglin AFB, Mobile, Gulfport, New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta, Huntsville, Memphis, St Louis, and Chicago Midway. Time en route was 14 hours and 32 minutes.

By the mid-1970s, Southern's system had expanded to St. Louis, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale, and Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, Southern's only international destination. In 1978 Southern expanded westward from Memphis to Wichita and Denver.

Southern Airways called itself the "Route of the Aristocrats"[9] and they used the slogan "Nobody's Second Class on Southern" in their television commercials. They were famous for their promotional shot glasses: for a time, differently designed shot glasses were issued each year. Original Southern shot glasses are valued by collectors of airline memorabilia.

During the early 1970s, before strict airport security was implemented across the United States, several airlines experienced hijackings. Southern Airways Flight 49, a DC-9 en route from Memphis to Miami was hijacked on November 10, 1972, during a stop in Birmingham. The three hijackers boarded the plane armed with handguns and hand grenades. At gunpoint, the hijackers took the airplane, the plane's crew of four, and 27 passengers, to nine American cities, Toronto, and eventually to Havana, Cuba. During the long flight, the hijackers threatened to crash the plane into the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear facilities, insisted on talking with President Richard Nixon, and demanded a ransom of $10 million. Southern Airways was only able to come up with $2 million. Eventually, the pilot talked the hijackers into settling for the $2 million when the plane landed in Chattanooga for refueling. Upon landing in Havana, the Cuban authorities arrested the hijackers, and after a brief delay, sent the plane, passengers, and crew back to the United States. The hijackers and $2 million stayed in Cuba.

Southern Airways accounted for the $2 million by debiting it to an account entitled "Hijacking Payment". This account was reported as a type of receivable under "other assets" on Southern's balance sheet. The company maintained that they would be able to collect the cash from the Cuban government, so a receivable existed. Southern Airways was repaid $2 million by the Cuban government, which was attempting to improve relations with the United States.[10]

Difficulties and merger[edit]

Douglas DC-9-14 in final color scheme at St Louis in February 1978

By the late 1970s, Southern Airways began to experience difficulties. Two fatal accidents (See Southern Airways Flight 932, November 14, 1970, and Southern Airways Flight 242, April 4, 1977) blighted the airline's otherwise excellent safety record. Improved highways including the interstate freeway system coupled with an increased willingness of passengers to drive to airports farther away for more convenient flights or lower air fares made many of Southern's routes obsolete. With dramatic increases in the price of jet fuel in the 1970s, many of Southern's routes were no longer cost effective.

On July 1, 1979, Southern merged with North Central Airlines to form Republic Airlines and the "Route of the Aristocrats" came to an end.[11] Republic acquired Hughes Airwest before being acquired in 1986 by Northwest Airlines, which continued to operate many flights from the former Southern hub in Memphis. Northwest merged into Delta Air Lines in 2008.


These cities served are taken from timetables from 1950 to 1979. Cities served with DC-9s are in bold.

Timetable dates used to compile the above list: July 1, 1950; Sept. 26, 1954; Nov. 1, 1960; June 18, 1962; July 1, 1964; June 1, 1966; Sept. 3, 1968; Dec. 1, 1973; July 1, 1974, July 1, 1978, and April 29, 1979.[14]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ World Airline Directory. Flight International. March 20, 1975. "503.
  2. ^ Handbook of Airline Statistics (biannual CAB publication)
  3. ^ Moody's Transportation Manual 1964
  4. ^ Killion, 1997, p. 70
  5. ^ Killion, 1997, p. 70
  6. ^, DC-9 aircraft list
  7. ^, DC-9 aircraft list
  8. ^, Southern Airways DC-9 photos
  9. ^ AOPA Pilot. July 2011. {{cite journal}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ Accounting, 23e, Warren Reeve Duchac, page 52, ISBN 978-0-324-66296-2, © 2009 South-Western
  11. ^, statement in July 1, 1979 Republic Airlines timetable: "Republic Airlines was created July 1, 1979 upon the merger of North Central Airlines and Southern Airways."
  12. ^ "" September 23, 1976. Retrieved on October 29, 2011.
  13. ^ Cities Served By Southern Archived 2014-09-25 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^;;, Southern Airways timetables and maps

Further reading[edit]

  • Killion, Gary L, The Martinliners, Airways International Inc, 1998, ISBN 0-9653993-2-X