origins of Piedmont Airlines can be traced back to 1931,
when founder Richard A. Henson, an aviation pioneer and
Fairchild Aircraft test pilot, began a fixed-base operation
as Henson Aviation in Hagerstown, Maryland. More than thirty
years later, in 1962, Henson Aviation instituted scheduled
passenger service as the Hagerstown Commuter between
Hagerstown and Washington National. Since that time, the
Company has focused its efforts on scheduled service, and
has grown into one of the nation’s pre-eminent regional
airlines. That growth has been marked by several notable
milestones. n 1967, Henson Aviation joined with the former
Allegheny Airlines (now US Airways) to become the leader in
forming the first "code share" affiliation that now
dominates the airline industry worldwide.
Operating as Allegheny Commuter, Henson Aviation purchased
and operated its first turbo-prop aircraft, the Beech 99.
One year later, Henson replaced Allegheny service at
Salisbury, Maryland, the site of today’s headquarters. A
route structure to Washington National, Philadelphia and
Baltimore was developed, and continues to this day.
The fleet of Beech 99's
grew, and in 1977 the airline purchased four Shorts 3-30
aircraft. Also in that year, the one millionth passenger was
boarded. Two years later, the airline purchased the first of
its new 50-seat, four-engine de Havilland Dash 7 aircraft.
In 1981, Air Transport World named Henson the Regional
Airline of the Year.
The 1980's were a decade of
dramatic growth and change for Henson. The addition of new
equipment transformed the airline into a modern regional
carrier. The first significant change occurred in 1983, when
Piedmont Aviation agreed to purchase Henson, causing it to
drop its affiliation with USAir and to operate as Henson,
The Piedmont Regional Airline. Piedmont’s purchase of Henson
sparked the vigorous period of sustained growth to come. The
next year eight de Havilland Dash 8 aircraft were purchased.
Through subsequent reorders for the Dash 8, the airline has
become the world’s largest operator of that highly
efficient, passenger-friendly aircraft.
By the late 1980's, what had
for years looked like insurmountable milestones began to
pass by rapidly. The five millionth passenger was boarded in
1985, and boarding for 1986 alone surpassed one million.
This number grew to almost two million by decade’s end. With
capacity growth came geographic expansion, as the airline
gained a foothold in Florida. In addition to an extensive
intra-Florida route structure, Henson Airlines opened an
overnight maintenance facility in Jacksonville. By the end
of 1987, the route structure touched 38 cities in ten states
plus the Bahamas. Also, by the end of that year, the next
round of corporate changes was underway.
affiliation with USAir was re-established in 1987 when
Henson and Piedmont were purchased by USAir Group, Inc. Two
years later, Piedmont merged into USAir and Henson planes
were repainted to reflect the new identity of USAir Express.
As the decade closed, Henson boasted a fleet of 33 Dash 8s
and five Dash 7s and an employee population topping 1,000.
The Shorts had been retired in 1989 and the Beech 99s in
The trend of corporate
changes that began in the 1980's continued into the next
decade. In 1993, Henson was renamed Piedmont Airlines in
order to preserve the Piedmont identity within the USAir
Group family. In 1997, USAir itself underwent a name change,
becoming US Airways. Piedmont and the other Express carriers
followed along, now operating as US Airways Express with a
new colour scheme and logo.
Whereas the 1980's were
characterized by fleet expansion, the 1990's brought a
dramatic increase in the airline’s station and customer
service areas. Economic forces caused USAir to turn over
ground and passenger handling duties to Piedmont at several
stations, including Key West, Lynchburg, Charlottesville,
Tallahassee, White Plains and Newport News. The most
dramatic move came in 1994, when USAir agreed to allow the
Express carriers to handle their own flights at six major
hubs and stations in the East. Piedmont took over the ground
operations at Baltimore, Washington National and Tampa, and
the employee total grew to more than 1,700.
Amidst the rapid growth in
station services, Piedmont pursued fleet stabilization and
rationalization. Older Dash 8s were replaced by a newer,
faster version. Retirement of the Dash 7 in 1997
consolidated the airline to one aircraft-type. As of
mid-1997, Piedmont was operating a fleet of 48 Dash 8s and
enplaning three million passengers a year.
Piedmont has continued the
Henson tradition of leading the way for regional airlines.
Piedmont was one of the first airlines of any size with a
fully operational Advanced Qualifications Program for pilot
training. Piedmont was also the first regional to be
certified for use of the TCAS anti-collision system. As the
next century approaches, Piedmont prepares for the new
challenges and accomplishments that await.