1971 - 1984
Air Florida was based at Miami International Airport. It was formed in 1971 by a Miami native, Eli Timoner and was organized by company president Ted Griffin, a former marketing director of Eastern Airlines. It started operations in 1972. Initial aircraft included the Boeing 707, later transitioning to the Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprop. Air Florida's fleet grew to include the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, Boeing 727, Boeing 737, and McDonnell Douglas DC-10.
Ed Acker, formerly CEO of Braniff International Airlines, led an acquisition of Air Florida in 1975 and expanded the airline into the interstate market following the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. In addition to Air Florida having a large presence in the Northeast-to-Florida market during the 1970s and 1980s, the airline also expanded internationally and served various points in the Caribbean and Central America, as well as London, Brussels, Shannon, Frankfurt, Zurich, and Amsterdam. Air Florida was well known for its attractive flight attendants and, on international flights, four-star cuisine. In 1981, shortly before the crash of Air Florida Flight 90, Acker left Air Florida to become the Chairman, CEO and President of Pan American World Airways.
Air Florida tried to buy out Western Airlines during the 1980s, to increase its presence in the West and begin flights to Mexico and western Canada. The negotiations with Western got Air Florida 16 percent of the California-based company. Western was later absorbed by Delta Air Lines.
On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into Washington, DC's 14th Street Bridge and fell into the Potomac River shortly after taking off. A total of 70 passengers, 4 crew, and 4 motorists on the bridge were killed. The crash was due to an anti-icing system being left off, which caused an inaccurately high engine pressure ratio (EPR) indication at an extremely low power setting, and the crew's failure to either abort the takeoff or apply maximum engine power. The crash prompted modifications to Air Florida's pilot training regarding anti-ice systems. The FAA also required revised aircraft de-icing procedures at airports.
The crash of Flight 90, coupled with Air Florida's high financial leverage and reliance on foreign currency trading for profits, led the company to declare bankruptcy and cease operations on July 3, 1984, despite an effort by new head Donald Lloyd-Jones (an alumnus of American Airlines) to save the company. When operations ceased, Air Florida had over 18 months of unprocessed credit card ticket purchases and dozens of flight crews idle at home because management had failed to renew leases on all DC-10-30 aircraft. Midway Airlines acquired most of the assets of Air Florida for $53 million while Air Florida was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.