Empire Airlines (1976–1985)

Empire Airlines was a regional airline serving the Northeastern United States beginning in 1976. In 1985, the airline was purchased by Piedmont Airlines, which itself was later purchased by USAir, and whose name then lived on in the US Airways Express network before US Airways was merged into American Airlines in 2015.

Empire Airlines
Empire Airlines 1976-1985 logo.jpg
IATA ICAO Callsign
Commenced operationsSeptember 22, 1975
Ceased operations1985, merged into Piedmont Airlines
HubsOneida County Airport
Key peoplePaul Quackenbush

Founded by Paul Quackenbush, Empire Airlines began with its hub at the Oneida County Airport serving Utica and Rome, New York. Much of its early growth came by picking up routes abandoned by Allegheny Airlines as they concentrated on service to larger cities. Empire expanded throughout the early 1980s to destinations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

For a time, Empire aircraft also provided connecting passenger feeder service as a "banner carrier" for Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) operating as Pan Am Express at New York–JFK International Airport (JFK). In early 1983, Empire was operating Pan Am Express service with Fokker F28 twin jets between New York-JFK and Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica/Rome in New York;[1] Pan Am was operating an international and domestic passenger hub at JFK at the time.

Toward the end of its existence Empire announced plans to phase out its Swearingen Metro II turboprop fleet and become an all-jet regional airline. Coinciding with this was a decision to reduce their presence in Utica and relocate their headquarters and most of their operations to Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) which also served as a hub for the airline.


Empire was founded in the 1975 as Oneida County Aviation,[2] a small carrier based in Utica. After the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978, the airline saw potential to grow a hub operation at larger nearby Syracuse using a fleet of 80-seat Fokker F28 Fellowship twin jets and smaller 19-seat Swearingen Metro II propjets. Empire acquired additional F28s from Philadelphia-based Altair Airlines after that airline shut down in 1982. In addition to hub flights at Syracuse, Empire offered direct flights from other medium-sized Mid-Atlantic cities like Rochester and Buffalo to major business centers like New York and Boston. Empire was named Air Transport World Regional Airline of the Year for 1984.[3]

Empire F28 in Piedmont livery with Empire titles

Empire's success attracted the attention of Piedmont Airlines, a pre-deregulation "local service carrier" based in North Carolina. After deregulation, Piedmont expanded into the Northeast, starting with a hub opened at Baltimore–Washington International Airport in about 1982. Piedmont bought Empire in 1985 and merged them into itself on 1 May 1986, which resulted in additional Fokker F28 jets being added to the Piedmont fleet.[3] Syracuse joined Baltimore (BWI), Charlotte (CLT), and Dayton (DAY), OH as hubs in Piedmont's system. In about 1987, Piedmont opened an extension to the south concourse at Syracuse Hancock Airport to handle additional growth.

The dominant pre-deregulation local-service carrier in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, USAir, saw Piedmont's growth into the Northeast as a threat to its lucrative and often previously monopoly routes from medium-size cities such as Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo. As part of the industry-wide consolidation of 1986–1987, USAir bought Piedmont in 1987. USAir operated Piedmont as a separate unit, including the old Empire Syracuse hub and F28 jets previously operated by Empire and then Piedmont, until Piedmont was completely merged into USAir in August 1989. By the early 1990s the old Empire Airlines hub was gone, its connecting traffic moved mostly to USAir's key hubs in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. USAir subsequently changed its name to US Airways which in turn was merged into American Airlines in 2015.

Destinations servedEdit

Those airports marked with an asterisk (*) are no longer served by commercial air service.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, Feb. 1, 1983 Pan Am domestic route map including Empire Airlines/Pan Am Express routes
  2. ^ "Oneida County Aviation". Airline History. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b Norwood, Tom (1996). Deregulation Kockouts : round one. Airways. p. 35. ISBN 0965399303.

External linksEdit