Pan Am returns to the skies

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The Independent Online
On time and with a decent passenger load, our A300 Airbus lifts off from Miami, bound for New York's John F Kennedy. Some of us may feel a tweak of anxiety - this is a start-up airline, after all, only in the second week of operation. The fact that its name is Pan Am might help. Then again, it might not.

Five years after the old Pan Am sighed its last breath - killed in part by the 1988 Lockerbie crash of Flight 103 - its old blue-globe logo is aloft once again. My plane is christened in the Pan Am tradition with "Clipper America" painted on its side. The pilots wear the familiar white caps.

With only three Airbus aircraft in its fleet, flying between Miami, New York and Los Angeles, the reincarnated Pan Am is, for now, a shadow of its once-venerable predecessor. Another eight aircraft are on order, however, and routes may be added both domestically and to Ireland and Berlin.

It is the name that is returning to the skies, not the old company. Earlier this year, Martin Shugrue, a former chief operating officer of the original Pan Am, purchased a fleet of Airbus aircraft from the estate of another defunct carrier, Eastern Airlines. He then teamed up with Miami investor, Charles Cobb, who in 1993 had purchased the Pan Am brand and logo at a bankruptcy auction. Thus the new Pan Am was born on 26 September.

There is a poignant gamble at the heart of the venture: that nostalgia and sentiment about a carrier whose first routes were charted by Charles Lindberg will outweigh memories of the Lockerbie tragedy that killed 270. "We do carry the Lockerbie albatross and it will be always with us," said Bill Elio, vice president for passenger services.

Some relatives of victims of 103 lodged a complaint with the federal government in an attempt to have the launch of the new Pan Am blocked.

About 40 per cent of those recruited to the new Pan Am were with the old carrier.

Two hours, a hot meal and an in-flight film later we touch down, two minutes ahead of schedule.