Carrier Was Last US Passenger Airline To Use Boeing 727s
ANN received word -- and photos -- this weekend of the last
flights by Champion Air, from a now-former employee of the carrier.
(That worker asked to remain anonymous, as he is now looking
for work elsewhere in the industry.)
Champion ceased all operations May 31, one day after operating
its last passenger-carrying flight into Minneapolis-St. Paul. The
MSP fire department marked the occasion with a ceremonial -- and
poignant -- water salute; similar ceremonies were reportedly held
in Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, as well, when those cities
saw their last Champion flights Friday.
As ANN reported, Champion
announced March 31 it would end operations by the end of May. The
airline's demise had been predicted for several months; in December
2007, CEO Lee Steele hinted the end was likely nigh, as the carrier
faced the impending loss of "all contract revenue" on its prior
charter arrangements for Northwest Airlines subsidiary MLT
Vacations, and 13 National Basketball Association teams.
Steele noted earlier this year the run-up in fuel prices
strongly impacted Champion's fleet of aging, thirsty Boeing 727
trijets... and that both the overall economic slowdown and the
tight credit markets had a strong, negative impact on the
airline’s business prospects and its efforts to attract
investors. Compounding the challenges facing the airline was a
growing trend in the marketplace away from charter carriers for
certain types of flying... the very market Champion clung to.
For someone who had just been recently handed his walking
papers, the employee was magnanimous in his comments about
Champion's final days. "I am not going to discuss or debate the
circumstances only to say that the company responsibly closed out
operations without leaving passengers stranded or filing for
bankruptcy," the employee said.
The closure marks the end of 727 passenger-carrying service in
the United States. A few of Champion's 16 727s will live on in
service with foreign carriers, though many will be permanently
grounded, never to fly again. One of the carrier's trijets, N697CA,
was the last 727 to come off Boeing's assembly line.
"It is sad to see the 727 fade from service and to see a
outstanding group of people, who loved what they did, scatter to
find new opportunities," the employee lamented. "The final aircraft
was ferried out [Saturday] morning with logo's painted over, the
Champion callsign never to be used again.
"Good-by old friend(s), we will miss you."