Founder Tom Davis on his first Solo flight
"The industry's a far cry from what it was when I started...on a recent flight I looked down at the earth from a perspective... that no one would have ever dreamed of...that Wright Brothers flight wasn't too far back from the beginning of our company's history."
"As I came out from under the plane, I was greeted by the person I had seen in the Captain’s seat but this gentleman was wearing a business suit, not a uniform. I remembered what my fellow agents had told me about Tom Davis sometimes coming in unexpectedly, usually flying the airplane. He came over to me and said "Good morning, I’m Tom Davis." I replied, "Good Morning Mr. Davis, I’m Bob Reed. Glad to meet you." He replied, "It’s good to meet you too, Rapid Robert." The last time I saw him...I said, "Good morning Boss." He said, "How are you, Rapid Robert?" There will never be another like him-and there will never be another Piedmont Airlines.”
Piedmont Aviation founder, Tom Davis remembered the name of each person he had ever met. From an early age, he placed great value on two things: human relationships and the burgeoning field of aviation. Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Davis would regularly spend his allowance on flight lessons. His resolve to spend more time airborne led him to become a part-time flight instructor- as he had earned his amateur pilot’s license prior to receiving a high school diploma. In Arizona, he earned a commercial pilot’s license before returning home at 21.
Simultaneously, Lewin S. McGinnis founded Camel City Flying Service. McGinnis had financial support from Dick Reynolds, who in 1927 had founded Reynolds Airways. When Davis returned to Winston-Salem, he joined forces with these men to form Piedmont Aviation. Their mission was to create an airline around Davis’s core beliefs: cultivating relationships with customers, employees, and innovating and expanding the field of aviation.
Davis bought control of the company in 1940 but commercial flight was still years away.
The second world war led to substantial growth for the airport. The U.S. Army Air Corps installed a weather bureau, control tower facilities, and extended the runways.
On February 20, 1948 the Piedmont Airlines DC-3 took its inaugural flight. As the aviation industry boomed, Piedmont became a commercial carrier. The post-war period saw steady growth which included stops to Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
In 1968, Piedmont took delivery of its first Boeing 737 jet and set an air record in the process. The jet was the first to fly coast to coast non-stop from Seattle to Wilmington, N.C., then on to Winston-Salem. As hubs were created in 1988, Piedmont grew into a national airline, and flew to 95 airports from hubs in the eastern United States. In April of 1989, it grew to 22,000 employees.
Davis died on April 22, 1999, having fully realized his founding goal of creating an airline that places the human aspect of governing above all else. Customers, pilots, mechanics, engineers, stewards and stewardesses remain the heart of Piedmont.