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 airline within California. After 1978 it added a few cities in neighboring states, and in the 1980s it flew to Chicago, Seattle, Anchorage, and Vancouver. It was founded by a partnership of Orange County businessmen; its initial route at its January 1967 debut was Orange County Airport to San Francisco International Airport, a previously unserved route, using Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprops. Air California was headquartered in Newport Beach, California.[1][2][3] The airline's "home" airport was Orange County Airport, now known as John Wayne Airport.


Air California 1981 logo
Air California 737-200 in 1980

In April 1967, Air California was operating 48 nonstop Lockheed L-188 Electra propjet flights a week from Orange County (SNA) to San Francisco (SFO); the fare was $14.85 plus 5% tax. It added Orange County (SNA) - San Jose (SJC) - Oakland (OAK) flights around the beginning of 1968; in May SNA to SFO had 92 flights a week, mostly Douglas DC-9-10 twin jets, and 50 flights a week from SNA to SJC (most continuing to OAK). In January 1969 Boeing 737s had taken over all flights, by then including Burback (BUR) - San Jose (SJC) - Oakland (OAK) and Ontario (ONT) - San Jose (SJC) - Oakland (OAK}; Sacramento (SMF) and Palm Springs (PSP) were added by 1972.

In the late 1970s, Air California's fleet was composed mainly of Boeing 737-200 jetliners; two Boeing 737-100s were added in 1977-78. It also flew two Douglas DC-9-10s in 1968, which had been leased while Air California was awaiting its new 737s. It started flying Electras to Lake Tahoe Airport in 1975, as this airfield banned airline jets until the 1980s (Pacific Air Lines had operated Boeing 727-100s into Lake Tahoe for a short time in 1966-67). The Electras (some of the last in the country in scheduled service as PSA also ceased operating the Electra at this time) were retired when the airline dropped Lake Tahoe in 1979. AirCal returned to Lake Tahoe around 1983 with McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and later with Boeing 737-300s. In early 1985, the airline was operating nonstop MD-80 jet service between Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and San Jose (SJC).[4]


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.

When the airline introduced the new McDonnell Douglas MD-80, one could (for several hours at Burbank Airport) purchase discounted one-way passes (good for a year) for flights to 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 the passes allowed San Francisco as well.

Original Air California logo

It was a fierce competitor of Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA), another intrastate carrier. After the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Air California started flights to Las Vegas and Reno, the first routes outside of the state. Service to Portland, Oregon was then added followed by Seattle and Phoenix. The expanded airline became a takeover target for larger, national air carriers.

AirCal BAe 146-200 at Orange County airport 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 fashion designer Mary McFadden. During the 1980s it had a small fleet of Boeing 737s (series -100, -200 and -300) as well as seven McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and six British Aerospace BAe 146-200s. MD80s and 146s were also operated by rival Pacific Southwest Airlines on some of the same routes. The BAe 146 allowed AirCal to increase flights at noise-sensitive Orange County Airport as this British-built jet was quieter than other jets. During 1984 AirCal partnered with Texas-based Muse Air for connecting flights between the two airlines. The Muse Air July 15, 1984 timetable shows connections to AirCal flights at Los Angeles (LAX) and Ontario (ONT). By May 1987 AirCal had expanded with flights to Chicago, Anchorage, and its only international destination, Vancouver, British Columbia.

The End[edit]

AirCal Boeing 737-200 in 1983

AirCal was acquired by AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines, in 1987. American continued to fly many former AirCal 737s from a new hub at San Jose International Airport until American transferred the bulk of its San Jose operations to Reno Air in the mid-1990s. American continued to operate former AirCal 737-300s into Lake Tahoe before turning over all Lake Tahoe service to their regional affiliate, American Eagle.

All eight former AirCal Boeing 737-3A4s were later operated by Southwest Airlines. AirCal also had ordered a ninth 737-3A4, 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 in service.

Destinations in May 1987[edit]

AirCal's timetable included the following in May 1987:

  • Anchorage, Alaska (ANC)
  • Burbank, now Bob Hope Airport (BUR)
  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Lake Tahoe (TVL)
  • Long Beach (LGB)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Oakland (OAK)
  • Ontario CA (ONT)
  • Orange County, now John Wayne Airport (SNA)
  • Portland OR (PDX)
  • Reno (RNO)
  • Sacramento (SMF)
  • San Diego (SAN)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Seattle (SEA)
  • Vancouver, B.C., Canada (YVR) - only international destination served by the airline

Other Destinations[edit]

AirCal flights to these cities ended in 1981-82.

  • Fresno (FAT)
  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Monterey (MRY)
  • Palm Springs (PSP)
  • Phoenix (PHX)



  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.
  4. ^, Feb. 15, 1985 Official Airline Guide (OAG), Lake Tahoe schedules

External links[edit]