Featured image: JetPix/GFDL 1.2

4/22/1985: United's Purchase of Pan Am's Pacific Division

DALLAS — Today, in 1985, United Airlines (UA) announced that it was to buy Pan Am's (PA) Pacific division for US$750 million. PA's then CEO, Charles Acker, had struck the deal in a vain attempt to pull the airline from its spiraling financial downturn.

The deal saw UA take on all of PA's routes to East Asia and the South Pacific, which had made up 25% of the airline's network. It also included the Pacific division fleet that consisted of 11 Boeing 747SPs, six Lockheed L1011-500s, and a single McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, plus its 2,700 employees.

Six out of PA's fleet of 12 Lockheed L1011-500s were utilized in the Pacific division. Photo: Ted Quackenbush GFDL 1.2

China Clippers

The sale, completed in February 1986, saw Pan Am removed from a part of the world with it had been an air travel pioneer since the 1930s with its iconic "China Clipper" service.

For many years, UA attempted to gain access to the Pacific before finally being granted rights to fly to Tokyo and Hong Kong from Seattle in 1983. Speaking at the time, UA's CEO Richard J. Ferris said, "Over the years United has always wanted to be a major force in the Pacific, so we're very excited about it."

The airline upgraded its newly acquired fleet to match its 'Royal Pacific' cabins that it had introduced in 1983.

The 747SP was introduced by Pan Am on April 26, 1976, between New York (JFK) and Tokyo. Photo: Michel Gilliand GFDL 1.2


Acker, meanwhile, stated that the sale did not represent a "retrenchment" of PA. Instead, he said that PA was "expanding our Atlantic division [by] some 50% in capacity during 1985." He went on to say that he believed the airline's strategy should be to consolidate its operations where it was strongest.

However, just six years later, the Atlantic division was also a shadow of its former glory. UA became the owner of Pan Am's lucrative London Heathrow (LHR) slots in early 1991 for US$290 million. It was the final nail in the coffin for PA, which ceased operations on December 4, 1991.

Featured image is a Boeing 747 (N140UA) had been delivered to PA as 'Clipper Mayflower' (N530PA) in April 1976.

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