Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

Northwest family includes 13 airlines

According to the narrative of the NWA History Centre, there were 13 airlines represented in the history of Northwest Airlines. Following are excerpts from that history:

“During its first 60 years Northwest Airlines grew into one of the world’s legacy airlines without acquisitions or mergers. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 changed the rules of commercial aviation and Northwest began to adapt in order to survive and prosper. In 1986 Northwest merged with Republic Airlines. That merger made Northwest Airlines the head of a family of 12 airlines that had begun interstate commercial passenger service after WW II.

Zimmerly Brothers Air Transport (Idaho), an intrastate Idaho air service since 1944, changed its name to Empire Airlines in 1946. Southwest Airways (Arizona), which began as a Civilian Pilot Training facility during the Second World War, started carrying passengers in late 1946, as did West Coast Airlines (Washington). Wisconsin Central Airlines (Wisconsin) was granted its operating certificate and began service in February 1948. Southern Airways (Georgia), another CPT school, went into commercial passenger service in mid-1949, followed by Bonanza Airlines (Arizona) in late 1949.

In 1952 Wisconsin Central relocated to Minneapolis and changed its name to North Central Airlines. In 1952 Empire was bought by West Coast, which consolidated its operations on the western side of Washington State in 1954, at Seattle’s King County Airport. Southwest Airways moved to San Francisco, and changed its name to Pacific Airlines in 1958.

As the 1960s drew to a close, merger forces were in motion again. In 1968, Bonanza, Pacific and West Coast merged under the name Air West. Air West was a short-lived airline—Howard Hughes bought it in mid 1969. Hughes airline officially became Hughes AirWest in 1970.

The airline industry remained “stable” until 1979. That year North Central and Southern merged and took the name Republic Airlines. Minneapolis became home to the new airline. In 1980 Republic bought Hughes Air West—kept the name Republic—and consolidated all operations in Minneapolis.

The acquisition of Republic on October 1, 1986 made Northwest Airlines the nation’s 3rd largest carrier at the time. For the next 22 years, Northwest’s ranking rose and fell as other airlines merged or went out of business. Northwest, in turn, agreed to be bought by Delta Airlines in October, 2008—82 years to the month after the first rented Curtiss Oriole biplane lifted Northwest Airways off the ground. Two years later, Northwest’s Operating Certificate was surrendered, and the U.S.’s longest-lived domestic airline still flying under its original name ceased to exist.


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