PIA – A History: Trunks Leave, Ozark Grows (1960-1964)

The last post in this series covered 1958-1960, detailing the new terminal which opened in May 1959. Airline schedules from the Official Airline Guide, January 1960 edition, were included. I’ll now analyze 1960-1964.

The new terminal brought optimism thatthe 1960s would bring larger aircraft and more flights. Indeed, the Peoria Journal Star reported May 13, 1959 that American Airlines might replace its 40-seat Convair 240s with 70-seat DC-6s, and eventually the new turboprop Lockheed Electra. Likewise, Trans World Airlines intended to phase out its 40-seat Martin 404s with 81-seat Lockheed Constellations.

Optimism shattered when Trans World Airlines announced January 13, 1960 its intention to drop Peoria from its network. Then American Airlines made a similar announcement March 9 that year. As a courtesy to TWA’s 13 years of service, Peoria industry did not oppose the airline’s petition. American Airlines, however, faced a two-year battle before the Civil Aeronautics Board, the Illinois Commerce Commission and even the Cook County Circuit Court.

Like TWA, American Airlines had reduced Peoria service in the mid-1950s and was content to allow Ozark Air Lines increase its market share. The Local Service carrier fed passengers to long-haul American and TWA flights anyway.

A single-daily southbound and northbound flight linked Peoria with Springfield and St. Louis. Oddly, service to Chicago-O’Hare was northbound-only and Chicago-Midway southbound-only. To compensate, American subsidized passengers’ helicopter or ground (bus, limo, taxi) service between the two facilities if a connection was necessary. A 40-seat Convair 240 operated both flights.

American informed the Greater Peoria Airport Authority March 9, 1960 of its intention to petition the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to drop both Peoria and Springfield from its route network. City leaders opposed this petition on grounds Ozark Air Lines’ service was deemed inadequate, and the prestige of losing Trunk Airline service was too great, no matter how limited.

The situation worsened April 24, 1960. The same day TWA dropped its Chicago (Midway)-Peoria “turnaround,” American shifted its Peoria-to-O’Hare flight to Midway.

On June 1, CAB approved a temporary suspension of service then on June 29 the Illinois Commerce Commission gave the nod. Both agencies required hearings for permanent suspension, however. The ICC conducted those hearings on September 8 while CAB did so January 9, 1961.

Both Peoria and Springfield feared lazy service if Ozark remained their only carrier. Ozark countered with plans for expansion and fleet expansion.

The Civil Aeronautics Board favored the Trunks’ desire to hand off small cities to Locals, so Peoria and Springfield faced an uphill battle to retain American Airlines. On March 2, 1961 the Peoria Journal Star noted that 56.2 percent of Peoria air passengers fly beyond Chicago or St. Louis, and that 86 percent of air miles generated were long haul. In American’s view, it didn’t need to serve Peoria (or Springfield) directly; Ozark could simply hand off those passengers at Chicago or St. Louis. Its own service was unnecessary competition, a wasteful duplication of service. Withdrawal would strengthen Ozark.

American Airlines left no stone unturned in its battle to drop the two downstate cities. It went to Cook County Circuit Court where a hearing was held June 12, 1961.  A good thing because CAB rejected American’s petition on October 18. The airline vowed to take its case to the Illinois Supreme Court.

I’ve been unable to find a date, but American Airlines eventually shifted its flights from Midway to O’Hare. This action took place on or before April 29, 1962. Midway was completely abandoned by airlines in July.

My notes may be incomplete, but it appears American was granted a re-hearing before CAB, which on June 15, 1962 authorized the airline’s request. But on July 2, the Illinois Commerce Commission blocked this move. Peoria wanted to appeal, but Springfield agreed to drop its opposition in return for Ozark’s promises of comparable service. American Airlines dropped both cities on August 13.

Even as American Airlines sought to end service here a few of the airline’s large, four-engine turbojets visited the city for crew training. The Greater Peoria Airport offered congestion-free air space. One of the airline’s 707’s performed touch-and-goes here on May 6, 1961. This was the city’s first visit by the type, one of which returned on January 28, 1962. A brand-new Convair 990 performed touch-and-goes here on March 7 that year, 11 days before entering service.

Seven American Airlines DC-7s were chartered by 600 Shriners and their wives to fly from Peoria to San Francisco. Departures took place December 27, 1963 and returned (from Los Angeles) on January 4, 1964.

Louisville, Kentucky petitioned the Civil Aeronautics Board in April 1964 for new routes to points in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and West Virginia points via Lake Central Airlines. Included among proposed routes was Peoria-Louisville service. Nothing ever came of it though.

This proposed intra-state carrier would use refurbished DC-3s planned to link many downstate cities, including Peoria, with Chicago-O’Hare. Ozark opposed its petition before the Illinois Commerce Commission, claiming it would cut revenue and weaken its service. Plans were revealed in early September 1963. Ozark lost its bid to dismiss Lincoln Airways’ petition during ICC hearings that November. Although the ICC scheduled hearings May 25-26, 1964 nothing more was heard of this airline.

This Local Service Carrier entered the “Jet Age” on January 4, 1960 when it inaugurated Fairchild F-27 turboprop service. Service was unprofitable, but federal subsidies covering flights to small cities ensured the airline stayed in the black. Loss of TWA at Peoria strengthened the carrier. TWA, in fact, maintained its sales office at PIA, with Ozark handing off passengers to the airline at both Chicago (Midway) and St. Louis.

Both Peoria and Springfield saw Ozark’s service as inadequate, and the St. Louis-based carrier took steps to change its image. The airline increased its Chicago-bound flights from four to six on May 1, 1960 bringing weekday service to 17 departures.

On June 1, the Civil Aeronautics Board gave Ozark permission to expand Peoria service by eliminating stops at Champaign, Decatur and Springfield on some Chicago flights. Ozark could not carry local passengers between Peoria and Springfield. CAB action changed that, and service began August 1. On October 1, Ozark eliminated some tag-ons (Peoria-Springfield) or one stop (Peoria on Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis) to increase seating capacity in select markets.

Improvements had only begun. On May 1, 1961 Ozark shifted three Peoria-Chicago roundtrips to O’Hare, enabling direct connections with the Trunks’ increasing jet services. The same month, it revealed interest in turbojets – five twin-engine British Aerospace BAC-111s – by 1966. Also, the airline sought used Convair 240s, Martin 404s and more modern Viscounts were being considered to supplement th F-27 fleet. Convair 240s were chosen, and four joined the fleet in 1962. First service with the type began August 13 that year.

Around June 1961, a deal was made in which Ozark assumed ground handling for American Airlines at Peoria (and Springfield). On September 5, Ozark began a new morning flight to O’Hare and a second flight (via two stops) to Minneapolis/St. Paul, increasing to 18 weekday departures.

Ozark shifted its last Midway flights to Chicago-O’Hare on April 29, 1962. A large expansion added two more terminals at O’Hare at the start of the year, enabling sufficient capacity to consolidate all flights at the newer and larger facility. This gave Peoria seven weekday departures to what became the world’s busiest airport, mostly on larger F-27s or Convair 240s.

The end of Trunk service to Peoria gave Ozark a monopoly, but the airline promised a bright future with expansion. Promises were kept in 1963 as the carrier took over space previously used by American Airlines and rented the terminal’s third floor so it could consolidate its reservations center there. Three more O’Hare and one St. Louis flight (via Springfield) were added on September 3. A Convair 240 replaced a DC-3 on a third two-stop Minneapolis/St. Paul flight. Through service to Tulsa on an F-27 also began on this date.

TWA announced January 13, 1960 its intent to withdraw from Peoria. The airline’s local market share had been 54 percent in 1954, but only four percent in 1959. Lacking opposition, the Civil Aeronautics Board approved TWA’s request on March 4, 1960. The Illinois Commerce Commission gave its nod for a two-year suspension in early April. In these hearings, it was revealed TWA’s Peoria flights lost $18,000 in the last quarter of 1959.

Service ended April 24, 1960. As mentioned above, TWA maintained its ticket sales office at PIA’s terminal. On May 17, 1961 the Peoria Journal Star reported that the airline’s local business was up since service ended a year before. That Ozark feed passengers to TWA at Chicago and St. Louis was satisfactory, and would continue to be so for years to come.

By summer 1960, several expansion projects were underway: Work began extending Runway 12-30 835′ to the northwest, making it 8,835′ (including 1000′ overrun). A 2,400′ taxiway was built from main ramp to north end of Runway 18-36. T-hangars on the airfield’s east side were moved west of the terminal for 169th ANG ramp expansion.

The USAF Thunderbirds, using F-100 Super Sabres, performed here on Sunday, July 17, 1960, drawing about 10,000. The team gave a repeat performance on September 22, 1963 when static displays included an F-86, KC-97, C-121, F-100, F-89, B-57, F-84 and T-33.

GOP presidential nominee, Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, flew a United Air Lines DC-6 to make a Peoria campaign stop on September 14, 1960.

In January 1963, GPAA purchased land south of Smithville Road (bordering the airport) for future extension of Runway 4-22 to the southwest.

Aircraft type was not identified, but the Peoria Journal Star reported February 12, 1962 that a Trans-Canada Air Lines plane carrying 34 Hewitt Equipment Co. Ltd. customers from Montreal were confined to the plane in Peoria because immigration officials neglected to sign necessary paperwork. A second plane with 54 on board was due the next day. A local official called Montreal to solve the problem. Both flights were likely operated by Douglas DC-4s.

A Canadian Pacific Airlines DC-6 brought 70 Canadian municipal officials to Peoria February 18, 1962 to view earthmoving ideas from Caterpillar. No immigration problems were reported with this one. The plane left February 22.

An Ozark DC-3 damaged a wingtip when it brushed a treetop during a landing attempt here in late-March 1963. The flight skipped Peoria and flew on to Chicago.

In 1960, PIA handled 94,986 passengers, a 3.3 percent drop from 1959’s record 98,214. Traffic slid further in 1961 when only 91,573 went through PIA’s terminal. A recession spanning April 1960 to February 1961 factored in the decline. That and an earlier recession in 1957-58 forced Caterpillar to reduce its workforce from 27,000 at the end of 1956 to 20,000 four years later, no doubt reducing air travel by company officials.

Traffic rebounded massively in 1962 when PIA handled 104,189 passengers, a 13.7 percent gain, marking first time passenger traffic passed the six-figure mark. In 1963, passengers surged to 119,723, a 14.9 percent increase!

Below are flight schedules culled from the Official Airline Guide, March 15, 1964 edition. Ozark Air Lines boasted 24 weekday departures with multiple nonstops to Chicago-O’Hare International Airport, and one- or multi-stop flights to Des Moines, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul and St. Louis on a mix of Fairchild F-27 turboprops, Convair 240s and Douglas DC-3s. See corresponding route map below.

PIA March 15, 1964 Pg. 1PIA March 15, 1964 Pg. 2

PIA Routes March 1964

– David P. Jordan

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