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Mon, Jun 02, 2008

The End Of An Airline: Employee Marks Champion Air's Final Days

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."

FMI: www.championair.com, www.mspairport.com

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