Airlines
9:40 am
Fri March 22, 2013

Celebrating 45 Years With US Airways (Well, Sort Of)

Bette Burke-Nash (l) and Joan Myers-Singh worked for Eastern Airlines in Washington D.C. Nash is the longest-serving US Airways employee. She began her career as a stewardess in 1957. Eastern did not merge with today’s US Airways but its hourly shuttle routes between D.C., New York and Boston became part of the airline.
Credit Tasnim Shamma

These days, it's not that often that employees work for the same company for most if not all of their careers. Thursday night, US Airways celebrated employees who have done just that.


The event at the Ballantyne Resort was in honor of employees who have been with US Airways and its many predecessors for more than 40 45 years. (Forty years for pilots since they must retire at 65).  

Of course, US Airways didn't exist 40 years ago. It's the result of many mergers and acquisitions. In 1939, there was an airline called All-American Aviation. It flew through small Pennsylvania and Ohio Valley towns delivering mail. The name changed to All-American Airways ten years later and then again to Allegheny Airlines. Allegheny acquired Lake Central and Mohawk airlines and then changed its name to USAir. Piedmont Airlines and Pacific Southwest Airlines merged into USAir. In 1997, USAir changed its name to US Airways. And the last merger was in 2005, when it merged with America West.  

Just ask mechanic Timothy McCollam how confusing it can be. He got his start in 1967 with Allegheny Airlines when he was 20 years old.

I asked how many mergers he's been through. There's a long silence as he counts the number of times his company was merged or acquired by  another airline. He turns away from me to count them on his fingers.  He says American Airlines will be the sixth merger for him. 

US Airways is in the process of merging with American to become the world's largest airline.

McCollam spent the evening swapping stories with employees young and old. He says he always enjoyed fixing things growing up in Ohio.

When he was in high school, he had his own bike shop to fix other people's bikes and soon moved up to fixing cars. After graduation, he went to aircraft mechanic school.  

"I guess I liked grease under my fingernails," he says. 

McCollam was flown in from Pittsburgh, where he works as a line maintenance technician. He says when a plane rolls in, if there's anything wrong, he has to fix it. It's the same title he had in 1967. But McCollam says it's now a much different job.

"The problem is … Do you own a computer?" McCollam asks. "Well, the airplanes now have about 20 computers onboard and I'm not a computer guru. Me, I'm a little behind on the curve on that."

Standing next to McCollam is his boss Frank Schwertz, an aircraft inspector in Pittsburgh. He's been with the company for 49 years. I asked him how the job has changed. 

"You don't have enough time for that!" McCollam says. "We were just having this conversation about how the whole industry has evolved over here. It's no longer a kick-the-tires operation. Now it's a lot more technical. Fly-by wire is a buzz word for no longer having mechanical controls. It's all electronic boxes and hydraulic actuators. So it's become very sophisticated and somehow we're still managing."

Sixty-two employees were honored at this event. And the gift they received was another computer for McCollam to work on: an iPad mini.