Air California

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For the defunct Mexican airline, see Aero California.
Air California/AirCal
AirCal logo.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
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 renamed AirCal, began as an intrastate airline operating solely within California. Following the federal Airline Deregulation Act in 1978, it expanded to several destinations in neighboring states, and in the 1980s was flying to Chicago (ORD), Seattle (SEA), Anchorage (ANC), and Vancouver, B.C. (YVR) in addition to its California routes as well as service to other destinations in the western U.S. It was founded by a partnership of Orange County businessmen and its initial route when scheduled passenger operations were commenced in January 1967 was between Orange County Airport (SNA) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO), 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). By January of 1969, Boeing 737s had taken over all flights with the Electras and DC-9s being removed from the fleet. By 1976, the airline was operating nonstop intrastate jet service between Orange County and San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and Palm Springs; between San Diego and Oakland and San Jose; between Ontario and Oakland and San Jose; and between Palm Springs and San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland.[4]

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 resumed flying Electra propjets in order to serve 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 U.S. in scheduled passenger service as Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) also ceased operating the Electra into Lake Tahoe at this time) were retired again when Lake Tahoe was dropped as destination in 1979 with the airline then becoming an all-jet air carrier for the remainder of its existence. AirCal returned to Lake Tahoe in the early 1980s commencing jet service 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).[5]


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 one year) for flights to San Jose and Oakland. The price was $9.80 one way/$19.60 round trip, with a limit of four round trips. Later that year San Francisco was added to the pass program as well.

Original Air California logo

It was a fierce competitor of Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA), another intrastate carrier that subsequently expanded outside of California. Following the federal Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Air California started flights to Las Vegas and Reno, its first routes outside of the state. Service to Portland, Oregon was then added followed by Seattle and Phoenix. The growing airline then 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 aircraft) as well as seven McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and six British Aerospace BAe 146-200s. MD-80s and BAe 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. By May 1987 AirCal had introduced new flights serving Chicago (ORD), Anchorage (ANC) and its only international destination, Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada (YVR).

AirCal alliance with Muse Air[edit]

In 1984 AirCal partnered with Texas-based Muse Air with connecting flights between the two airlines being published in their respective timetables. The AirCal January 1, 1984 system timetable listed connections to Muse Air flights at Los Angeles (LAX) and Ontario (ONT) for service to Austin (AUS), Houston Hobby Airport (HOU), Midland/Odessa (MAF) and New Orleans (MSY).[6] The April 29, 1984 Muse Air system timetable listed connections via Los Angeles (LAX) to and from AirCal flights serving San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), San Jose (SJC), Sacramento (SMF), Reno (RNO), Portland, OR (PDX) and Seattle (SEA).[7]

Acquisition and merger into American Airlines[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 as well as the BAe 146s (both of which were new types at the time in American's fleet) from its 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 continued to operate former AirCal 737-300s into Lake Tahoe (TVL) before turning over all Lake Tahoe service to their regional affiliate, American Eagle. which only operated small, commuter turboprop aircraft at the time.

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 May 1, 1987 system timetable listed the following destinations shortly before it was merged into American Airlines:

Previously served destinations[edit]

AirCal previously served these destinations during its existence:



  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. ^, Jan. 1, 1976 Air California system timetable route map
  5. ^, Feb. 15, 1985 Official Airline Guide (OAG), Lake Tahoe schedules
  6. ^, Jan. 1, 1984 AirCal system timetable
  7. ^, April 29, 1984 Muse Air system timetable

External links[edit]