I grew up in the original Pan Am family so my opinion is probably more than a little biased. The fact that I studied business and own/operate a small, full-time service business on the side doesn't help. Pan Am went under for two primary reasons:
1. Juan Tripp was very successful at obtaining what he wanted for Pan Am and in doing so he made many political enemies. Enemies that remained in political power after Juan Tripp retired from Pan Am.
2. Juan Tripp's biggest failure was his failure to train and retain a skilled management team to run Pan Am after his retirement.
After Mr. Tripp's retirement, Pan Am was unsuccessful at obtaining rights to fly domestic flights while domestic airlines obtained increasing rights to fly international flights (see #1 above). Deregulation finally permitted Pan Am to fly domestic flights (probably too late by that time anyway) and the National Airlines purchase was a desperation move to get a significan domestic presence quickly. Failure to smoothly merge the two carriers further weakened Pan Am's already weak position. After that there was never a management team in place seeking the long term profitability for the airline. Long before the Pacific Division was sold to United, Pan Am employees who were paying attention got their debt paid off as quickly as possible.
. PAN AM
. The airline that
. made United #1
*NO CARRIER* -- A Naval Aviator's worst nightmare!