During the seventies and eighties, Piedmont was one of the largest airline
s in the United States of America
, but its success story
didn't last for long.
In 1947, the Civil Aeronautics Board awarded Piedmont Aviation with a route contract to fly from Wilmington, North Carolina to Cincinnati, Ohio. Piedmont Airlines made its inaugural flight on February 20, 1948; by the end of that year, it served twenty cities in six states around the route. In 1952, when the contract was up for renewal, the CAB was so impressed with Piedmont's performance that it granted the airline an unheard-of seven year extension, eventually giving them a permanent license in 1955.
Piedmont's fleet transformed from Douglas DC-3s in the fifties to Fokker F.27s and Martin 404s in the sixties to NAMC YS-11s in the seventies, and their route network stretched from Washington, DC to Chicago, Illinois to Charleston, South Carolina by 1970: in 1978, they began flying to Florida as well. The first Boeing 737 jets were delivered to Piedmont in 1968, and Piedmont soon became the world's largest 737 operator.
Airline deregulation pushed Piedmont even higher, even though they had lobbied against it. They evaded a takeover bid from Air Florida but ended up selling a 20% stake to the Norfolk and Western Railway, which gave them capital for an incredible phase of expansion. In 1981, they opened a hub at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, followed by hubs in Dayton, Ohio (1982) and Baltimore Washington International Airport (1983). In 1986, they bought Empire Airlines and its hub in Syracuse, New York, and entered a cooperative marketing agreement with Trans World Airlines to feed its transatlantic flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
In the meantime, Piedmont was lobbying heavily for a Charlotte-London route award, and placed orders for new Boeing 767's that would spread Piedmont's network from California to the United Kingdom. The Department of Transportation approved the London route in 1987, and Piedmont became a transatlantic carrier.
However, Piedmont's future was to be cut off prematurely. A number of companies and corporate raiders were looking to acquire the company in those bad old days of Wall Street. USAir (now US Airways), TWA (then under the control of Carl Icahn), and Norfolk Southern were the three big bidders, but by March 1987, USAir had won. The speculation had caused Piedmont's stock to skyrocket from $40 a share to $70 a share in just one year. After several regulatory hurdles were cleared, the DOT approved the USAir-Piedmont merger, and Piedmont was fully absorbed into USAir on August 5, 1989.
At that point, Piedmont was bringing in profits of $200 million on revenues of $2 billion a year, carrying 25 million passengers on 197 aircraft to 96 airports in four countries and 29 U.S. states.