Delta Air Lines, which began business in the 1920s by spraying cotton-gobbling boll weevils, became a full-fledged aviation superpower Friday, absorbing most of the fading Pan Am.
It was the end of one era of commercial flight and another milestone in the modern age of growing "mega-carriers."
Westbound Pan American World Airways jets made their last transatlantic flights into New York, and Delta planes roared off in the other direction, toward such new destinations as the Soviet Union, India, Israel and Turkey.
"We're not unmindful of the fact that this is both a sad day and a happy day," said W. Whitley Hawkins, president and chief operating officer of Atlanta-based Delta.
"We've closed a chapter of the history of aviation in New York and the world, and on the other hand, we are opening a new chapter," Hawkins told a news conference at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where Delta took over Pan Am's international hub.
Delta also got Pan Am's European hub in Frankfurt, Germany, in a $600-million acquisition that puts it into 21 new international cities.
Delta now comes closer than any other U.S. carrier to spanning the globe, with an route network that stretches across the Atlantic as far east as New Delhi and across the Pacific as far west as Bangkok.
By picking up the largest package of international route authorities ever sold in one chunk, along with planes and nearly 7,000 workers, Delta approaches the size of rivals American Airlines and United Airlines.
Some industry analysts believe that the big three might be the only large U.S. airlines to survive in a few years. Weaker rivals, like Pan Am, have been landing in bankruptcy and selling assets.
Pan Am's retrenchment comes in the wake of Eastern Airlines' death and the consumption of bankrupt Midway Airlines by Northwest Airlines. Other carriers in serious trouble include Continental Airlines and America West Airlines, both operating under bankruptcy court protection, and Trans World Airlines.
Pan Am hopes to emerge from bankruptcy as a smaller carrier that moves from New York to Miami and focuses on serving Latin America.
The new carrier, informally dubbed "Pan Am II," will be owned 45% by Delta and 55% by Pan Am creditors. Delta's purchase of the Pan Am overseas routes and the reorganization of Pan Am came in a deal struck in Pan Am's bankruptcy case.
"We think they can survive, given half a chance," Hawkins said. The Latin American routes have for some time been Pan Am's most lucrative.