‘The Republic Airlines Story,’ by Terry Love

The name ‘Republic’ was once synonymous with the largest, by destinations, domestic airline in the USA, and not the regional airline of today. The carrier dominated travel in the upper midwest and was a strong competitor in the south with a network that stretched from coast to coast.

Formed by the combination of three local service carriers following deregulation of the US domestic market in 1978, the airline formed the basis for what was Northwest Airlines’ domestic network and Delta Air Lines’ current hubs in Detroit, Memphis and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Republic_Story_Cover.jpgThe new coffee table book The Republic Airlines Story: An Illustrated History, 1945-1986 by Terry Love (Schiffer Publishing, 2012) details the history of the carrier and its 11 predecessors over four decades. The picture and route map heavy book is a wonderful visual history of an important piece of US commercial aviation history that is quickly receding into the past.

Republic was formed by the merger of North Central Airlines and Southern Airways in 1979, and grew with the acquisition of Hughes Airwest in 1980. While North Central and Southern grew organically, the merger of Bonanza Airlines, Pacific Airlines and West Coast Airlines in 1968 formed Hughes Airwest (Air West until 1970). Northwest Orient Airlines acquired Republic and dropped the Orient from its name in 1986.

Just think of the possibilities for retrojets at Delta, which acquired Northwest in 2008.

Republic_Airlines_merger_rootsLove’s text presents a detailed, if brief, history of the airlines with a strong focus on visuals. It is peppered with interesting historical facts, for example Southwest Airways (a predecessor to Pacific) testing the first commercial passenger aircraft instrument landing approach in the USA at Arcata, California, in 1947 or Southern’s 30-hour long hijacking saga in November 1972 that prompted the beginning of security screening for metal in airports in January 1973.

However, Love is prone to statements of certainty. For example, he says that when North Central began looking for merger partners in the late 1970s the “only one that made any sense was Southern”. He cites the two carriers’ lack of overlapping routes, 11 common destinations, compatible equipment and that together they would cover two-thirds of the continental USA as support for this statement. However, other local service carriers existed that could have been merger partners with North Central at the time, including Frontier Airlines, Ozark Airlines and Piedmont Airlines, and plenty of airline mergers have occurred that do not necessarily “make sense”, to the varied results of history.

The certainty in parts of Love’s text reminds one of David Mitchell’s comment in his novel Cloud Atlas: “All revolutions are the sheerest fantasy until they happen; then they become historical inevitabilities” – where ‘revolutions’ is replaced by ‘mergers’.

Love also tends to overuse exclamation marks, which appear abundantly in the text.

Despite these points, the book does a good job at celebrating the history of one of America’s well respected though short-lived airlines. It was subsumed into Northwest Orient in the midst of the airline merger spree of the 1980s, which saw venerable names including AirCal, New York Air, Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) and Western Airlines also disappear into larger carriers.

The Republic Airlines Story is a glossy and enjoyable addition to any airline history lover’s bookshelf.

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