Air California

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For the defunct Mexican airline, see Aero California.
Air California/AirCal
AirCal logo.svg
Founded 1967
Ceased operations 1987 (integrated into American Airlines)
Hubs John Wayne Airport
Fleet size 30
Destinations 13
Parent company American Airlines
Headquarters Newport Beach, California

Air California, later AirCal, began as an intrastate regional airline operating mainline turboprop and then jet aircraft. The air carrier served points in the state of California and in later years a number of destinations in neighboring U.S. states. The system eventually included service to Chicago, Seattle, Anchorage, Alaska and Vancouver, British Columbia. It was founded by a partnership of Orange County businessmen as an alternative to other airlines and what was left of the state's passenger railroad system. The airline's initial route as of their January 1967 debut was between Orange County Airport (SNA) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO), a previously unserved route, using Lockheed L-188 Electra four engine turboprop airliners. Air California was headquartered in Newport Beach, California.[1][2][3] The airline's "home" airport over the years was Orange County Airport which is now known as John Wayne Airport. The importance of the Orange County Airport to the airline was perhaps reflected in the air carrier's two letter code, being "OC", for its flight numbers.


Early fleet[edit]

Air California 1981 logo
Air California Boeing 737-200 in 1980

Air California was perhaps the last airline in the U.S. using the Electra on scheduled passenger flights (to Lake Tahoe). One of the airline's early promotional campaigns included an illustration of an Electra dressed in the airline's gold "sunburst" tail emblem, with the slogan, "Our Electras Are Easy To Take". In later years after the airline had changed its name to AirCal, this slogan was changed to "Our 737s Are Easy To Take".

In the late 1970s Air California's fleet was primarily Boeing 737-200 jets. Boeing 737-100 models were operated as well. It flew a pair of Douglas DC-9-10 twinjets during the late 1960s, leased while Air California was awaiting delivery of new Boeing 737s. Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprops were needed for flights to Lake Tahoe Airport as this airfield banned airline jets until the 1980s following the end of Boeing 727-100 service flown by Pacific Air Lines into Lake Tahoe in the late 1960s . The Electras were finally retired after the airline dropped Lake Tahoe. AirCal returned to Lake Tahoe some years later with the first scheduled jet flights to this high elevation airport in the Sierra Nevada following the jet ban being rescinded. AirCal initially served Lake Tahoe with McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and later with Boeing 737-300s.


Revenue Passenger-Miles/Kilometers, in millions
Year Traffic
1968 218 RPMs
1970 291 RPMs
1972 387 RPMs
1973 747 RPKs
1975 898 RPKs
1979 1624 RPKs
1985 2961 RPKs
Source: Air Transport World

One program used by Air California in the early to mid-1970s was to offer school field trips to Sacramento at $25 a head, where school children would be taken on a tour of the California State Capitol, Governor's Mansion, and Sutter's Fort.

Another marketing program took place in 1980 when the airline began upgrading its fleet with the new McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jetliner. For a short span of several hours at Burbank Airport, one could purchase deeply discounted one-way passes good for up to one year for flights to either of the two San Francisco Bay Area airports it served at that time, San Jose or Oakland. The price was $9.80 one way/$19.60 round trip, with a limit of four round trips. Later that year when the carrier began service to San Francisco International Airport the passes were valid for that destination as well.

Original Air California logo

It was a fierce competitor of Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA), another intrastate carrier. Following the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Air California initiated new service to Las Vegas and Reno in Nevada. These were the first routes undertaken by Air California outside of the state. Service to Portland, Oregon was then added followed by new service to Seattle, Washington and Phoenix, Arizona. However, this expansion also resulted in the airline becoming a takeover target for larger, national air carriers.

AirCal BAe 146 Series 200 at Orange County airport California in 1986

In 1981 the airline changed its name to AirCal and adopted a bright new logo and image, including a new wardrobe for its employees by noted fashion designer Mary McFadden. During the 1980s it operated a small fleet of Boeing 737 jets (series -100, series -200 and series -300 aircraft) as well as seven McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jetliners and six British Aerospace BAe 146-200 jets. The latter two types were also operated at the time by rival Pacific Southwest Airlines on several of the same routes. Acquisition of the BAe 146 jet enabled AirCal to increase flights at noise-sensitive Orange County Airport as this British-manufactured aircraft was quieter than other jetliners. PSA also acquired BAe 146 aircraft which were then used from Orange County Airport in competition with AirCal. During 1984, AirCal partnered with Texas-based Muse Air for connecting flights offered between the two airlines. According to the Muse Air July 15, 1984 system timetable, connections to and from AirCal flights were made via Los Angeles (LAX) and Ontario (ONT) airports. By May 1987 AirCal had expanded with flights to Chicago, Anchorage, Alaska and its only international destination, Vancouver, British Columbia.

The End[edit]

AirCal Boeing 737-200 in 1983.

AirCal, along with its equipment, routes, and facilities, was eventually acquired piecemeal by AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines, in 1987. American continued to fly many of the former AirCal aircraft from a new hub at San Jose International Airport (SJC) until American transferred the bulk of its San Jose operations to Reno Air in the mid-1990s. American also continued to operate former AirCal Boeing 737-300 aircraft into the Lake Tahoe Airport before turning over all Lake Tahoe service to their regional affiliate, American Eagle. American would later acquire Reno Air in 1999, and San Jose was an American Airlines hub until the early 2000s (and a downturn in the economy).

All eight former AirCal Boeing 737-3A4s were later operated by Southwest Airlines. AirCal also had ordered a ninth 737-3A4, but it was never delivered. Eventually, this aircraft found its way into the Southwest Airlines' fleet as well. As of August 2010, Southwest retired most of the former AirCal fleet, with N679AA being the only remaining Boeing 737-300 series aircraft still in service.

Destinations in May of 1987[edit]

AirCal's timetable includes the following cities in May 1987 shortly before it was acquired by American Airlines:

  • Anchorage, Alaska (ANC)
  • Burbank, California (BUR) (Now Bob Hope Airport)
  • Chicago, Illinois (ORD)
  • Lake Tahoe, California (TVL)
  • Long Beach, California (LGB)
  • Los Angeles, California (LAX)
  • Oakland, California (OAK)
  • Ontario, California (ONT)
  • Orange County, California (SNA) (Now John Wayne Airport)
  • Portland, Oregon (PDX)
  • Reno, Nevada (RNO)
  • Sacramento, California (SMF)
  • San Diego, California (SAN)
  • San Francisco, California (SFO)
  • San Jose, California (SJC)
  • Seattle, Washington (SEA)
  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (YVR)

Other Past Destinations[edit]

Prior to 1987, the airline also served the following destinations with jet flights during its existence. Service to all of these cities had been discontinued by May 1983 according to the air carrier's system timetable at that time:

  • Fresno, California (FAT)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada (LAS)
  • Monterey, California (MRY)
  • Palm Springs, California (PSP)
  • Phoenix, Arizona (PHX)


  • Boeing 737-100
  • Boeing 737-200
  • Boeing 737-300
  • British Aerospace BAe 146-200
  • Douglas DC-9-10
  • Lockheed L-188 Electra
  • McDonnell Douglas MD-80


  1. ^ World Airline Directory. Flight International. 20 March 1975. p. 465. Retrieved 2009-05-24. 
  2. ^ "Newport Beach city, California." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on May 25, 2009.
  3. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. March 30, 1985.34." Retrieved on June 17, 2009.

External links[edit]