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Trans-Pacific Airlines became Aloha to appeal to tourists

By Bob Sigall
Special to the Star-Advertiser

LAST UPDATED: 2:26 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Sixty-five years ago this week, Ruddy Tongg founded Trans-Pacific Airlines, which later became Aloha Airlines. Tongg picked the name because he initially had an interest in flying routes to China. However, the communist revolution in 1949 put an end to that.

The airline became popular and known for its friendly and efficient service. The marketing department used the company's initials, TPA, to create its first slogan: "The People's Airline." The slogan was immensely popular, and people started referring to the airline as "The People's Airline" instead of Trans-Pacific Airlines.

In 1958 the new CEO, Hung Wo Ching, dropped the TPA in favor of Aloha Airlines. He said the friendliness of the staff came from their aloha spirit. He saw tourism growing and wanted a company name that would appeal to visitors.

Bow-tied and sporting a crew cut, Hung Wo Ching took Aloha Airlines from being a struggling newcomer into a profitable jet age. The venerable 16 passenger DC-3s lasted 15 years but were eventually replaced in 1969 with Boeing 737 "Funbirds" that could hold 118.

Interestingly, it was the first time a so-called "haole" bank in Hawaii made a substantial loan to a nonhaole company. John Bellinger at First Hawaiian Bank approved the $2 million loan. Old-timers remember the days when Hawaii had banks, newspapers, hospitals and other companies that primarily served just one race.

Competition and a weak economy ended passenger service in 2008, although Aloha Air Cargo continues to fly.

Bob Sigall, author of the "Companies We Keep" books, looks through his collection of old photos to tell stories each Friday of Hawaii people, places and companies. Email him at

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