Piedmont Airlines (1948–1989)

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

Piedmont Airlines
IATA ICAO Callsign
Ceased operations1989 (integrated into USAir).
Operating basesWinston-Salem, North Carolina
HubsCharlotte/Douglas International Airport Baltimore/Washington International Airport
Secondary hubsJames M. Cox Dayton International Airport;
Syracuse Hancock International Airport
SubsidiariesPiedmont Regional Airlines
Fleet size12 types
Destinations95 (Sept 1988)
HeadquartersWinston-Salem, North Carolina
Key peopleThomas Henry Davis - Founder William R. Howard - CEO

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 commuter and regional affiliates flew turboprop aircraft via code sharing agreements to 39 more airports.


The company that would become Piedmont Airlines was founded by Thomas Henry Davis (March 15, 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.


Martin 404 was Piedmont's first pressurized airliner

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 intermediate stops. All flights were on Douglas DC-3s.


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
1980 2363
1985 8164
Piedmont YS-11A at Washington National
Fairchild-Hiller FH-227B at Washington DCA in 1972
Boeing 727-100 at Chicago O'Hare Airport in 1979
Boeing 737s at La Guardia Airport in August 1985

Piedmont started with Douglas DC-3s; it added Fairchild F-27s in late 1958 and Martin 4-0-4s at the beginning of 1962. Fairchild Hiller FH-227B flights started (and F27 flights ended) in 1967 and NAMC YS-11A flights started in 1968.[8] 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."[9]

The jet ageEdit

Piedmont's first jet flights took off in March 1967: 92-seat Boeing 727-100s on such routes as Atlanta - Asheville - Winston-Salem - Roanoke - New York LaGuardia Airport. Boeing 737-200s arrived in 1968; six 727-100s were added from 1977, and in June 1981 the airline added the Boeing 727-200. Piedmont was all turbine after the last M404 flights in 1972 and all jet after the last YS11 flights in 1982. (One 727-100 that Piedmont bought from Northwest Orient Airlines was the aircraft hijacked by D. B. Cooper.) Fokker F28 Fellowships were added to the fleet, and Boeing 737-300s, 737-400s and 767-200ERs.

Route expansionEdit

In 1949 the network extended from Cincinnati and Louisville east to Norfolk and points south. The map reached Knoxville in 1951-52, Columbus OH and Washington DC in 1955, Atlanta and Baltimore in 1962, New York La Guardia in 1966, Nashville and Memphis in 1968 and Chicago Midway in December 1969.

In 1978, still under U.S. route regulation, Piedmont added Boston, Denver and Miami. Flights to Dallas/Ft. Worth and Tampa began in 1979 followed by Houston in January 1980 and New Orleans in 1982.[10] In 1984 Los Angeles and San Francisco were added followed by Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1985, Montreal and Ottawa with the Empire Airlines merger in July 1986, and Seattle, Phoenix and San Diego in 1987.[11] In 1988 the airline was serving a new international city, Nassau, Bahamas[12] and by 1989 was flying to Bermuda and nonstop between Los Angeles and Baltimore, Charlotte, Dayton and Tampa; nonstop between San Francisco and Charlotte, Dayton and Kansas City; nonstop between Phoenix and Baltimore and Charlotte; and nonstop between Seattle and Charlotte[13] Shortly before the merger with USAir in 1989, Piedmont had hubs at Baltimore, Charlotte, Dayton and Syracuse.[13] Syracuse was the smallest hub; it had been an Empire hub.[14]


After 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 which brought Fokker F28 Fellowships into the fleet.[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 on Boeing 727-200s that were Piedmont's first jets with a first class section. New Boeing 767-200ERs (ER for "Extended Range"), the airline's only wide body jet, flew nonstop Charlotte to London Gatwick Airport beginning in 1987. The 767 also flew nonstop Charlotte-Los Angeles.[15]Shortly before it was acquired by USAir, Piedmont was the first airline to announce fleet-wide adoption of the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).[1]

Commuter and regional airline affiliatesEdit

Several commuter and regional airline affiliates provided passenger feed for Piedmont via code sharing agreements, including Britt Airways, Brockway Air, CCAir, Henson Airlines and Jetstream International Airlines.[16] These operations were identified by several different names including Piedmont Commuter System, Piedmont Shuttle Link and The Piedmont Regional Airline.[17] Turboprop aircraft operated by these airlines included the Beechcraft 99, Beechcraft 1900C, British Aerospace BAe Jetstream 31, de Havilland Canada DHC-7 Dash 7, de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8, Fokker F-27-600, Saab 340, Short 330 and Short 360.[18]

Absorption into USAirEdit

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. On August 5, 1989 Piedmont Airlines was absorbed by USAir (formerly Allegheny Airlines); the combination became one of the East Coast's largest airlines. USAir later changed its name to US Airways, which merged with America West Airlines on November 4, 2007. US Airways merged with American Airlines on October 17, 2015 with the American name being retained. The Charlotte hub established by Piedmont and maintained by US Airways continues under American.

Piedmont Airlines (formerly Henson Airlines) still exists as a brand within American Airlines, doing business as American Eagle.

Historical fleetEdit


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 on board the Douglas DC-3 perished.

On July 19, 1967, Piedmont suffered another fatal accident when Flight 22, a Boeing 727-100, 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. 82 perished in the mid-air collision.

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 (+30 degrees) 250 feet short in a 4-5 degree nose down attitude, slightly left wing down. The Fairchild-Hiller FH-227 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."[19]

35 passengers and crew out of the 37 on board were killed.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "World Airline Directory." Flight International. April 1, 1989. 113.
  2. ^ GmbH, Emporis. "One Piedmont Plaza, Winston-Salem - 207116 - EMPORIS". www.emporis.com. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  3. ^ a b Petersen, Melody (24 April 1999). "Thomas H. Davis Dies at 81; Founder of Piedmont Airlines". Retrieved 26 January 2018 – via NYTimes.com.
  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 "JetPiedmont -- Salute to T.H. Davis". www.jetpiedmont.com. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  7. ^ Handbook of Airline Statistics (biannual CAB publication) and Air Carrier Traffic Statistics
  8. ^ Davies says YS11 flights started in 1969, which must be a typo.
  9. ^ Moody's Transportation Manual 1964
  10. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, April 29, 1979; Jan. 15, 1980; June 1, 1982 Piedmont route maps
  11. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, June 1, 1984; Nov. 1, 1984; July 1, 1985; June 1, 1986; June 15, 1987 Piedmont route maps
  12. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, June 1, 1988 Piedmont route map
  13. ^ a b http://www.departedflights.com, June 1, 1989 Piedmont route map
  14. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, Sept. 1, 1984 Empire route map
  15. ^ http://www.airliners.net, photos of Piedmont 767-200 at LAX
  16. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, June 1, 1986 & June 1, 1989 Piedmont Airlines system route maps
  17. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, June 1, 1988 Piedmont Airlines system route map
  18. ^ http://www.airliners.net, photos of Piedmont Commuter and Piedmont Regional aircraft
  19. ^ National Transportation Safety Board. Aircraft Accident Report AAR69-06, August 21, 1969.[1]

External linksEdit