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Southern Airways

Southern Airways
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded February 1, 1944
Ceased operations July 1, 1979 (merged with North Central Airlines to become Republic Airlines)
Hubs Atlanta Airport
Fleet size 47
Destinations 64
Headquarters William B. Hartsfield Airport
Key people Frank Hulse (Founder)

Southern Airways (IATA: SOICAO: SOCall sign: Southern) was a regional airline (known at the time as a "local service air carrier") as designated by the federal Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) operating in the United States from their founding by Frank Hulse in 1949 until 1979 when they merged with North Central Airlines to become Republic Airlines, which on October 1, 1986, then became part of Northwest Airlines, which, in turn, was merged into Delta Air Lines in 2008. Southern maintained corporate headquarters in Birmingham with operations headquartered at William B. Hartsfield Airport, near Atlanta.[1]


  • Aircraft and routes 1
  • 1970s 2
  • Difficulties and merger 3
  • Cities served 4
  • Fleet 5
  • References 6
  • Additional reading 7

Aircraft and routes

As a local service airline, Southern Airways covered the south-central U.S. In 1955 their network spanned from Memphis south to New Orleans and east to Charlotte and Jacksonville. In August 1953 Southern flew to 29 airports and in August 1967 to 50.

Like other Local Service airlines Southern was subsidized; in 1962 its operating "revenues" of $14.0 million included $5.35 million "Pub. serv. rev.".[2]

In May 1968 Southern's routes extended from Tri-Cities in Tennessee south to New Orleans and Jacksonville, and east from Baton Rouge and Monroe, Louisiana to the coast at Myrtle Beach and Charleston. Later in 1968 a route sprouted northward: three weekday Douglas DC-9-10s from Columbus GA (CSG) nonstop to Washington Dulles and on to New York LaGuardia. These originated at Eglin Air Force Base, FL (VPS).

Nine Martin 404s of Southern Airways at their Atlanta hub in 1972 before departing on the morning wave of flights

Like most local service airlines Southern flew only Douglas DC-3s for the first few years. In 1961 they began adding 22 40-passenger secondhand Martin 4-0-4s acquired from Eastern Air Lines,[3] newer aircraft that were pressurised and had a forward passenger door and a rear ventral stairway. The last DC-3 was retired in 1967.

Southern's first 65-75 passenger Douglas DC-9 series 10 models arrived in 1967 followed by stretched 85-95 passenger McDonnell Douglas DC-9 series 30 models in 1969. The last scheduled flight by a Martin was on 20 April 1978 from Atlanta to Gadsden, Alabama and back.[4]

Some DC-9s including Douglas DC-9-15 and stretched McDonnell Douglas DC-9-31 models were bought new while others were purchased used.[5] These used jets included DC-9-14s from Delta Air Lines and Eastern Air Lines.[6] Both airlines had purchased these aircraft new from Douglas before they were acquired secondhand by Southern.[7] Unlike other local service airlines Southern did not operate turboprops (such as the Convair 580 and Fairchild F-27 widely used by other local service airlines) during the 1960s and 1970s, but by the time of the merger with North Central, Southern had replaced their Martins with several 19-passenger Fairchild Swearingen Metroliners.


Revenue passenger traffic, in millions of passenger-miles (scheduled flights only)[8]
Year Pax-Miles
1951 17
1955 28
1960 47
1965 156
1970 431
1975 853
Douglas DC-9-15 of Southern Airways at Atlanta, Georgia, in October 1973

By 1971 Southern was flying to Dothan, Alabama; Mobile, Alabama; Panama City, Florida, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; and/or Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi. Many flights had five or six stops.

With more DC-9s, many routes once served with prop aircraft were served with jets that linked small cities to Atlanta and Memphis:

One DC-9-14 aircraft operated a "milk run" multi-stop routing from Miami to Orlando, Tallahassee, Panama City, Eglin AFB, Mobile, Gulfport, New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta, Huntsville, Memphis and St Louis with this flight then terminating at Chicago Midway. Total time en route was 14 hours and 32 minutes.

By the mid-1970s Southern's system had expanded to St. Louis, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale and Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, which was Southern's only international destination.

Southern Airways was billed as the "Route of the Aristocrats." [9] and they used the slogan "Nobody's Second Class on Southern" in their television commercials. They were famous for their promotional shot glasses: for a time, differently designed shot glasses were issued each year. Original Southern shot glasses are valued by collectors of airline memorabilia.

During the early 1970s before strict airport security was implemented across the United States, several airlines experienced hijackings. Southern Airways Flight 49, a DC-9 en route from Memphis to Miami was hijacked on November 10, 1972 during a stop in Birmingham, Alabama. The three hijackers boarded the plane armed with handguns and hand grenades. At gunpoint, the hijackers took the airplane, the plane’s crew of four, and 27 passengers to nine American cities, Toronto, and eventually to Havana, Cuba. During the long flight the hijackers threatened to crash the plane into the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear facilities, insisted on talking with President Richard Nixon, and demanded a ransom of $10 million. Southern Airways was only able to come up with $2 million. Eventually the pilot talked the hijackers into settling for the $2 million when the plane landed in Chattanooga for refueling. Upon landing in Havana the Cuban authorities arrested the hijackers and, after a brief delay, sent the plane, passengers, and crew back to the United States. The hijackers and $2 million stayed in Cuba.

Southern Airways accounted for the $2 million by debiting it to an account entitled "Hijacking Payment." This account was reported as a type of receivable under "other assets" on Southern's balance sheet. The company maintained that they would be able to collect the cash from the Cuban government and that, therefore, a receivable existed. Southern Airways was repaid $2 million by the Cuban government, which was attempting to improve relations with the United States.[10]

Difficulties and merger

Southern Airways Douglas DC-9-14 wearing the final color scheme when landing at St Louis in February 1978

By the late 1970s, Southern Airways began to experience difficulties. Two fatal accidents (See Southern Airways Flight 932 November 14, 1970 and Southern Airways Flight 242 April 4, 1977) blighted the airline's otherwise excellent safety record. Improved highways including the interstate freeway system coupled with an increasing willingness by passengers to drive to airports farther away for more convenient flights and/or lower air fares made many of Southern's routes obsolete. With dramatic increases in the price of jet fuel in the 1970s, many of Southern's routes were no longer cost effective.

On July 1, 1979, Southern merged with North Central Airlines to form Republic Airlines and the "Route of the Aristocrats" came to an end.[11] Republic then acquired Hughes Airwest before being acquired in turn by Northwest Airlines which continued to operate many connecting flights from the former Southern hub in Memphis. Northwest was then subsequently merged into Delta Air Lines.

Cities served

The following list of cities served is taken from Southern Airways timetables from 1950 to 1979. Cities served with DC-9s are in bold.

Dates for the timetables used to compile the above list are: July 1, 1950; Sept. 26, 1954; Nov. 1, 1960; June 18, 1962; July 1, 1964; June 1, 1966; Sept. 3, 1968; Dec. 1, 1973; July 1, 1974, July 1, 1978 and April 29, 1979.[14]



  1. ^ World Airline Directory. Flight International. March 20, 1975. "503.
  2. ^ Moody's Transportation Manual 1964
  3. ^ Killion, 1997, p. 70
  4. ^ Killion, 1997, p. 70
  5. ^ DC-9 aircraft list
  6. ^ DC-9 aircraft list
  7. ^ Southern Airways DC-9 photos
  8. ^ Handbook of Airline Statistics (biannual CAB publication)
  9. ^ Aopa pilot. July 2011. 
  10. ^ Accounting, 23e, Warren Reeve Duchac, page 52, ISBN 978-0-324-66296-2, © 2009 South-Western
  11. ^ statement in July 1, 1979 Republic Airlines system timetable: "Republic Airlines was created July 1, 1979 upon the merger of North Central Airlines and Southern Airways."
  12. ^ "[2].", September 23, 1976. Retrieved on October 29, 2011.
  13. ^ Cities Served By Southern
  14. ^;, Southern Airways timetables and maps

Additional reading

  • Killion, Gary L, The Martinliners, Airways International Inc, 1998, ISBN 0-9653993-2-X
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