Trump Shuttle, Inc. was an airline owned by Donald Trump from 1989 to 1992. The landing rights and some of the physical assets necessary to operate the shuttle flights were originally part of Eastern Air Lines and known as the Eastern Air Lines Shuttle. It operated hourly flights on Boeing 727 aircraft from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., then known as Washington National Airport, as well as charter service to other destinations. Its IATA designator code was TB (later reassigned to Jetairfly).
A Trump Shuttle Boeing 727 in 1989
|Ceased operations||1992 (acquired by US Airways Shuttle)|
Trump's formal launch in the air business occurred in March 1988 when he acquired three Sikorsky S-61 helicopters that belonged to Resorts International Airlines (RIA) used to shuttle high rollers to the Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The three green and orange and helicopters were repainted black and red and emblazoned with the Trump Air logo. Trump at the time said the helicopters "were the same model used by the President of the United States."
In the late 1980s, both Eastern Air Lines and Pan American World Airways operated air shuttle services in the northeastern United States, which were highly profitable even though the two airlines, as a whole, were not. As the financial outlook for Eastern became more pessimistic in the late 1980s, the carrier began to sell its routes and aircraft. It organized its profitable shuttle operation into a separate company headed by Bruce Nobles with the intent of selling it to raise cash.
Eastern president Frank Lorenzo met Donald Trump at a party, and subsequently negotiated the sale of the shuttle to Trump for $365 million, more than the projected cost to start up a similar airline, but justifiable if the airline achieved a high market share. For that price, Trump got a fleet of 17 Boeing 727s, landing facilities in each of the three cities that the shuttle fly to, and the right to put his name on the company and its airplanes. The shuttle had previously been a "no-frills" operation for business travelers, but Trump announced that he would convert it to a luxury airline.
After reaching an agreement with Trump in October 1988, Eastern filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Many passengers switched to the competing Pan Am Shuttle, and the previously profitable Eastern Shuttle began losing money. Trump attempted to use the situation to negotiate a lower price and to acquire additional aircraft from Eastern. America West Airlines submitted a more attractive competing offer on May 10, but failed as its financing was not in place. Trump's offer was approved by the bankruptcy court in May 1989. In June 1989 the deal was completed, financed through a loan from a syndicate of banks led by Citibank.
The new Trump Shuttle operation launched on June 8, 1989, and by the end of August had returned to a strong market share of 40-50%. Trump pushed to make the new shuttle a luxury service and a marketing vehicle for the Trump name. Its aircraft were newly painted in white livery and the interiors redecorated with such features as maple wood veneer, chrome seat belt latches, and gold colored lavatory fixtures. The airline also was a leader in the adoption of advanced technologies; it introduced some of the first passenger self-service check-in kiosks in coordination with Kinetics at its LaGuardia base and partnered with LapStop, a startup firm which rented laptop computers to passengers. The airline was also an early adopter of the GTE Airfone in-flight telephone system. Flights offered free meals, including chicken and steak on some flights, as well as complimentary champagne, beer and wine. Both Trump and Pan Am spent millions on advertising campaigns around this time in an attempt to maintain a strong competitive position.
August 1989 incidentEdit
In August 1989, a Trump Shuttle flight arriving in Boston incurred a nose gear failure upon landing due to maintenance errors by Eastern personnel prior to the acquisition. Trump personally flew on the next Trump Shuttle flight to Boston in order to manage the media reaction to the incident.
The company was never profitable. Passenger traffic on the shuttle began to decline in November 1989. In late 1989 the U.S. Northeast entered an economic recession which depressed demand, while the August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait caused jet fuel prices to double. While costs of running the airline rose, many of the corporate customers using the shuttle were cutting travel budgets. Trump's casino business was simultaneously encountering serious difficulties, and Trump was forced to cede control over several business holdings to his bankers in June 1990 in order to avoid personal bankruptcy. The airline ran out of cash and defaulted on its debt in September 1990.
Trump Shuttle conducted some charter operations around this time to monetize the shuttle's spare aircraft. In June 1990, the airline carried Nelson Mandela on his eight-city tour of the United States. During the Gulf War of 1990-91, the airline received a government contract to ferry U.S. military personnel between the key domestic bases of Dover AFB, Charleston AFB, Travis AFB, McChord AFB, and Kelly AFB; during the 2016 presidential campaign, Sean Hannity reported, and the Trump campaign confirmed, that Trump had sent his own aircraft to ferry troops during the war, apparently referring to these charter operations.
Trump had personally guaranteed $135 million of the shuttle's debt. Following the default, Citibank made arrangements for Northwest Airlines to take control of the shuttle in exchange for relieving Trump's personal liability on its debt, and all sides were reportedly close to an agreement by April 1991. Delta Air Lines agreed to buy the competing Pan Am Shuttle in July, and Northwest announced that its acquisition of the Trump Shuttle was cancelled in August, reportedly due to the Trump Shuttle's unions demanding parity with Northwest employees and Trump refusing to discount the price to reflect this. USAir ultimately reached an agreement in December 1991 to take operational control of Trump Shuttle for up to ten years, with an option to buy it after five years. Bankers involved in the negotiations said that Trump would be relieved of at least $100 million of his guarantee, and possibly as much as $110 million, leaving him owing between $25 and $35 million in the closing out of his ownership of the company.
On April 7, 1992 Trump Shuttle ceased to exist when it was merged into a new corporation, Shuttle, Inc., which began operating as the USAir Shuttle on April 12, 1992. US Airways subsequently purchased the remainder of Shuttle, Inc. on November 19, 1997, and the service subsequently operated under the name US Airways Shuttle. Shuttle, Inc. remained as a subsidiary of US Air Group until July 1, 2000, when it was merged into US Airways. In October 2015, US Airways merged with American Airlines, at which point the shuttle became the American Airlines Shuttle.
Trump Air, operated a scheduled helicopter service between LaGuardia Airport and Wall Street Heliport to provide connections with Trump Shuttle flights at LaGuardia. Trump Air also operated between New York City and East Hampton Airport from 1989 to 1992, and between West 30th Street Heliport and Steeplechase Pier in Atlantic City to serve Trump's casinos. The airline used a combination of Sikorsky S-61 and Boeing Chinook helicopters.
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- Media related to Trump Shuttle at Wikimedia Commons