Najeeb Halaby

Pan Am chairman and father of a queen
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The Independent Online

Najeeb Elias Halaby, aviation executive: born Dallas, Texas 19 November 1915; senior vice- president, Pan American World Airways 1965-68, president 1968-69, chief executive and chairman 1969-72; married first Doris Carlquist (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1977), second 1980 Jane Coates (died 1996), third 1997 Libby Cater; died McLean, Virginia 2 July 2003.

Najeeb Halaby was an avid admirer of Charles Lindbergh who learnt to fly as a teenager and became a US Navy test pilot during the Second World War, later serving as a top government aviation official under President John F. Kennedy, and then as chairman and chief executive of America's best- known airline. A trail-blazing Arab-American, he was, most famously, the father of a queen.

His mother, Laura, was a Texan. His father, Najeeb, was a Lebanese-Syrian immigrant, later memorably described by his only child as an entrepreneur "who thinks he could have sold Stars of David in the middle of Baghdad". The family prospered, but at school in Dallas Halaby was known as "the rug merchant". He never forgot the experience, and all his career worked for equal treatment of minorities.

In 1927 his father took him to watch a tickertape parade in Dallas in honour of Charles Lindbergh, who had earlier that year completed the first transatlantic flight. Halaby remembered "jumping up and down and screaming in the back seat of the family car as Lindbergh went by", and being struck by the "dignified, youthful . . . almost saintly" demeanour of America's great hero.

Thus inspired, he learnt to fly. After attending Stanford University in California, he graduated from Yale Law School in 1940 before joining the navy on the outbreak of the war as a test pilot, flying the YP-59, the first US jet fighter produced during the conflict. At war's end he moved to the Pentagon, first as a foreign policy adviser, and then as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations.

In 1961, the newly installed President Kennedy chose Halaby to take charge of the Federal Aviation Administration, the body which regulates commercial air traffic in the US. At the FAA, his pioneering instincts found new outlets, as he forced through the desegregation of air terminals and backed, strongly but unavailingly, the development of a supersonic air transport.

His drive and energy attracted the attention of Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan Am, who lured him to the venerable airline as senior vice-president in 1965. During an often stormy eight-year career at Pan Am, Halaby rose to become president in 1968, then chief executive and chairman in 1969.

Unfortunately, his spell coincided with a deep slump in the airline industry, made worse for Pan Am by the high costs of introducing the Boeing 747. As Pan Am's finances lurched from grave to critical, Halaby was forced to resign in 1972. His confidence in the jumbo jet would be triumphantly vindicated - but not his belief that the future lay with supersonic travel. The old Pan Am of course is dead, swallowed up in 1991 by Delta Airlines. And, far from dominating air travel, the Concorde, the only Western supersonic commercial airliner, is now about to be retired, with no replacement in sight.

Indirectly the 747 would lead to the event that bring Halaby fame: the marriage of his daughter Lisa to King Hussein of Jordan in 1978. The couple had met a year before at a ceremony in Amman to mark the delivery of the Jordanian airline's first jumbo jet. Hussein was 42, the Princeton-educated Lisa 26. But the King's energy and charm won Halaby over.

As his daughter, who became known as Queen Noor, gave Hussein four children, two sons and two daughters, the Halaby family's Arab heritage came full circle.

Rupert Cornwell