University of Leicester eBulletin

Trouble in the Air

September 2002
No 209

After September 11th, 2001, numerous airlines found themselves in financial difficulty. Fear of flying hit some airlines so hard they went bankrupt. Swissair, Switzerland’s prestigious ‘flag carrier’, was one such airline. Ten years earlier the same fate befell Pan American, America’s de-facto ‘flag carrier’, when the Gulf War decimated international travel.

In his latest study Victims of Hubris? The Decline and Fall of Pan Am and Swissair Dr Simon Bennett of the University of Leicester’s Scarman Centre argues that both flag carriers were in trouble long before they succumbed to war and terrorism.

“The fundamental problem with both Pan Am and Swissair lay in their corporate psyches. Favoured for many years by their respective national governments, both airlines found it difficult to come to terms with the harsh economic realities of deregulated air travel and Reaganomics. When the penny finally dropped, neither carrier could recover its position,” says Dr Bennett.

Dr Bennett points to Pan Am’s fate as a learning opportunity — one that Swissair conspicuously overlooked. Dr Bennett added: “Only if commercial aviation dedicates itself to learning and applying the lessons of the past will it avoid further damaging collapses”.

NOTE TO NEWSDESK: For more information, please contact Dr Simon Bennett on 0116 252 5700.

Copies of the report, priced £5.50 including postage and packing, are available from Ms Neha Shah, Administrator, at Scarman Centre, University of Leicester  Tel 0116 252 5737, email

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