America West Airlines
|Commenced operations||August 1, 1983|
|Ceased operations||September 25, 2007 (merged with US Airways)|
|Parent company||America West Holdings (now known as American Airlines Group)|
|Headquarters||Tempe, Arizona, United States|
|Key people||Doug Parker (CEO)|
|Website||americawest.com at the Wayback Machine (archive index)|
America West Airlines was a United States major airline, founded in 1981, with service commencing in 1983, and having reached US$1 billion in annual revenue in 1989, headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. At the time of its acquisition of US Airways, America West had the unique distinction of being the only post-deregulation U.S. airline still operating under its original operating certificate. Their main hub was at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, with a secondary hub at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The airline acquired US Airways in 2005 but took on the name of US Airways. America West served about 100 cities in the US, Canada, and Mexico; flights to Europe were on codeshare partners. In September 2005, the airline had 140 aircraft, with a single maintenance base at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Regional jet and turboprop flights were operated on a code sharing basis by Mesa Airlines and Chautauqua Airlines as America West Express.
Beginning in January 2006, all America West flights were branded as US Airways, along with most signage at airports and other printed material, though many flights were described as "operated by America West." Apart from two heritage aircraft, the only remaining America West branding on aircraft were found on some seat covers and bulkheads. The merged airline used America West's "CACTUS" callsign and ICAO code "AWE", but retained the US Airways name. As part of a merger between American Airlines and US Airways in February 2013, which led to American becoming the world's largest airline, the call sign and ICAO code name was later retired on April 8, 2015 when the FAA granted a single operating certificate for both US Airways and American Airlines. The US Airways brand continued until October 17, 2015, when American Airlines retired the name.
The airline was established in February 1981 and began operations August 1, 1983, using three leased Boeing 737s flying out of its base in Phoenix, Arizona (PHX), with Ed Beauvais, a well-known airline industry consultant, as CEO. In the early years, passengers could purchase their tickets on the aircraft.
The airline quickly expanded, with 11 737s flying to 13 cities; in 1984, America West's fleet grew to 21 aircraft flying to 23 cities. The June 1984 timetable shows 71 weekday departures from Phoenix, non-stop to 18 cities; in 1985-86 it built-up a second hub at Las Vegas. ( has timetable maps showing America West routes in 1983, 1984, and 1991.)
Confident in its expansion, the increasingly dominant carrier at Phoenix Sky Harbor influenced the development of Terminal 4. America West requested that the construction include an auxiliary power facility and an underground cavity to accommodate a future rail station, to which the airport ultimately agreed.
America West was one of the first airlines to use extensive "cross-utilization", in which employees were trained in a variety of airline jobs, such as pilots trained in dispatch, and both baggage handlers and flight attendants trained as gate agents. America West started as a "full-service" airline, in contrast with Southwest Airlines, the discount air carrier competing in many markets. America West used an aggressive employee stock ownership program, in which new employees were required to invest 20% of their salary in company stock, providing a steady flow of cash as the company grew. America West pilots and other employees were paid wages far below those of competitors (see Pilot salary history, MIT Study.)
By 1985 America West had outgrown their gate space at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and during the construction of Terminal 4, approved in 1986, a temporary concourse was added to the southwest corner of Terminal 3 to give them six more gates (growing to eleven by 1990).
The airline's growth continued in 1986, and the airline expanded its fleet, mainly with Boeing 757-200s purchased from Northwest Airlines (following Northwest's acquisition of Republic Airlines) and a number of de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8s. (Unusually, the Dash 8 flights were not code-shares, and Mesa code-shares replaced them in 1992–93.) The airline started red-eye flights from Las Vegas to improve aircraft utilization.
America West's rapid growth led to large losses, and by 1986 the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Originally slated to occupy the vast majority of the gates in Terminal 4, the airline had to reduce their commitment to the city of Phoenix to just 28 gates, with the growing Southwest Airlines agreeing to lease the remainder of Terminal 4.
In 1988 Patrick Thurston, Vice-President of Operations, Bob Russell, Chief of Pilots, and Carl Wobser, a captain, all pleaded guilty to multiple counts of narcotics trafficking.
As they explored destinations beyond the United States, America West filed with Department of Transportation for a Phoenix to Sydney route to connect with Ansett Airlines in Australia. The proposal was rejected, and the Reagan Administration awarded the route to another airline. In 1989 America West leased four Boeing 747-200s (formerly operated by KLM) and began non-stop 747 flights between Phoenix and Honolulu, Hawaii and non-stop between Honolulu and Nagoya, Japan. The 747 was the only wide body aircraft operated by America West. The airline also expanded narrow body jet service to Mexican destinations.
In 1990 America West moved into the new Terminal 4 at Phoenix and took delivery of several Airbus A320s originally destined for now-defunct Braniff Airways. Braniff had purchased the order rights from Pan Am, another troubled carrier, and the A320s were sold to America West at a steep discount. Annual revenue reached a billion dollars, the threshold for the Department of Transportation to categorize America West as a major airline. The July 1990 timetable shows 182 weekday departures from Phoenix non-stop to 46 airports, and 132 departures from Las Vegas to 39 airports. (24 LAS departures were between midnight and 01:40)
The airline continued to lose money. Operating expenses at Terminal 4 were far higher than in the temporary Terminal 3 concourse; the Nagoya route carried almost no passengers; tensions before the Gulf War caused fuel costs to rise. America West filed for bankruptcy in June 1991.
In June 1995, W. Douglas Parker joined America West as senior vice president and chief financial officer; he would be elected chairman, president and CEO in September 2001. The airline was fined $2.5 million for maintenance violations in July 1998, and in August 2000 the FAA was reportedly prepared to ground the airline for these violations.
America West operated under bankruptcy from 1991 to 1994. As part of the restructuring, employee stock became worthless, the airline's 747s and Dash 8s were sold, and the fleet was pared down to 87 aircraft. Hawaii and Nagoya routes were scrapped and America West feeder service to smaller cities and local markets was contracted to Mesa Airlines, which began flying turboprops and regional jets as America West Express.
On the management side, Founder Ed Beauvais was removed as CEO, remaining on the board of directors, and was replaced with Mike Conway, who had been with the airline since the start. Conway left the airline in 1994, replaced as CEO by A. Maurice Myers.
America West's flight attendants unionized in 1993, ending cross-utilization between customer service agents, flight attendants, and ground agents. Several maintenance and training functions previously operated in-house by America West were outsourced during the bankruptcy.
In 1994, America West was finally able to secure a reorganization allowing it to come out of bankruptcy, with a large portion of the airline owned by a partnership including Mesa Airlines and Continental Airlines, resulting in code sharing agreements with these airlines.
To help reinvigorate the airline as they emerged from bankruptcy, a number of changes occurred, including a new color scheme and logo (used until the merger with US Airways), new livery, E-tickets, and online ticket purchasing in 1996. The airline continued ordering Airbus A320s and began gradually retiring their older Boeing 737-200s.
In the 1990s America West opened a hub at Port Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, using Chautauqua Airlines and Mesa Airlines to provide commuter and regional flights via code sharing agreements in addition to mainline jets. An America West Club was at the hub in an area previously used for a TWA Ambassadors' Club.
In late 2001 America West was the first airline to apply for and receive a loan from the Air Transportation Stabilization Board. As of April 2005, the remaining balance on the loan was $300 million. The ATSB loan and its guarantees were paid back by US Airways and the debt refinanced by other lenders during the merger.
In 2003 America West Airlines closed its Port Columbus hub, reducing scheduled daily flights from almost 50 to 4.
In the second quarter of 2005 America West entered merger negotiations with then-bankrupt US Airways. It was structured as a purchase of US Airways by America West Holdings; however, the internal structure was a reverse merger, with legacy US Airways operations taken over by those of America West.
As the holding companies merged, brand conversion began. The America West Club was renamed the US Airways Club in October 2005. All new America West aircraft were delivered in the new US Airways livery, and older aircraft repainted (while retaining America West interiors). Gates and ticket counters were consolidated at airports where both airlines had operated, aided by the March 2007 transfer of all US Airways reservations to the Shares computer system used by America West (US Airways had previously used a very different Sabre system).
All express flights were branded as US Airways Express, and aircraft were no longer confined to operations out of their pre-merger hubs (America West aircraft could fly from Philadelphia to cities other than Phoenix and Las Vegas, for example). The two airlines' operating certificates were merged on September 25, 2007. After initially using the "CACTUS" callsign for the west fleet and "USAIR" for the east fleet, all aircraft began flying under a single "CACTUS" callsign and ICAO code "AWE" in September 2008. Former America West aircraft were distinguished apart from US Airways pre-merger aircraft by their use of registrations ending in "-AW", while pre-merger US Airways aircraft used registrations ending in "-US". US Airways would later merge with American Airlines in 2013, with the former America West callsign and ICAO code retired in 2015 (alongside with the US Airways brand). America West's Phoenix hub has remained intact with American Airlines.
As of September 27, 2005, at the time of the merger, America West Airlines' fleet consisted of the following aircraft:
|Airbus A319-100||34||—||12||112||124||Taken over by US Airways|
|Boeing 757-200||13||—||14||176||190||Taken over by US Airways|
America West Airlines previously operated the following aircraft:
|de Havilland Canada Dash 8-100||12||1987||1993|
America West Express aircraft
Partner airlines or programs for Dividend Miles (formerly FlightFund) include:
- America West Express
- Hawaiian Airlines - Limited
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- US Airways
- Virgin Atlantic
- United Airlines
America West had codeshare agreements with the following airlines:
- Mesa Airlines operating as America West Express (regional jet and turboprop feeder service at America West hubs)
- Big Sky Airlines
- EVA Air
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- US Airways
- Virgin Atlantic
- British Airways
- Chautauqua Airlines operating as America West Express (regional jet feeder service at the former Columbus hub)
- Continental Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Northwest Airlines
- Qantas (ended February 28, 2007)
- Trans World Airlines (TWA)
America West had its headquarters in Tempe, Arizona from the airline's start in 1983, and it retained the same location when it merged with US Airways and retained the US Airways name. The airline used the nine-story 225,000-square-foot (20,900 m2) building as its headquarters once America West and US Airways merged, but the building has since been vacated when US Airways' management team took over American Airlines in an acquisition. Jahna Berry of the Arizona Business Gazette said in 2005 that the building "is one of the dominant buildings in downtown Tempe." The City of Tempe gave America West $11 million in incentives and tax breaks so it could occupy the headquarters, which cost $37 million to construct. The construction of the building began in January 1998; the groundbreaking ceremony was held on February 19 of that year. The previous America West headquarters were demolished.
Other commercial interests
In 1992, America West paid $26 million for the 30-year naming rights of the Phoenix Suns' home court, which it named America West Arena. Since the merger with US Airways, the arena was called US Airways Center (not to be confused with the USAir Arena in Prince George's County, Maryland, razed in 2002), until it was renamed to Talking Stick Resort arena.
Accidents and incidents
America West had four in-flight incidents on its aircraft, but never had an accident resulting in a fatality. Two accidents resulted in hull loss write-offs.
|America West Airlines Flight 450||December 30, 1989||737-200||Tucson, Arizona||A fire in the wheel well burned through hydraulic cabling. During landing, braking was ineffective and the aircraft overran the end of the runway. After colliding with a concrete structure, the plane came to a stop. The aircraft was written off. NTSB probable cause||10 minor|
|America West Airlines Flight 727||January 16, 1990||737-300||Austin, Texas||On January 16, 1990, America West Flight 727 was hijacked en route to Las Vegas from Houston. The hijacker forced the pilot to land the aircraft in Austin, Texas, so it could be refueled and flown to Cuba. At the Austin airport, police overpowered and arrested the hijacker.||none|
|America West Airlines Flight 556||July 1, 2002||A319-100||Miami, Florida||The flight was halted by Transportation Security Administration and local police after a tip that the pilots appeared to be drunk. Sobriety tests showed that the pilots were legally intoxicated, and they were eventually sentenced to prison for operating an aircraft while intoxicated.||none|
|America West Flight Airlines 794||August 28, 2002||A320-231||Phoenix, Arizona||The pilot failed to maintain directional control during landing, causing the aircraft to veer off the side of the runway onto a dirt infield, and the nose gear strut collapsed. The aircraft was written-off. NTSB brief||1 serious, 9 minor|
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- Alexander, Keith L. (May 20, 2005). "US Airways To Merge, Move Base To Arizona". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
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- Bounds, Jeff (July–August 2015). "How Doug Parker Has Transformed American Airlines". D Magazine.
- Wald, Matthew L. (July 15, 1998). "America West Airline Fined $2.5 Million for Violations". The New York Times. p. A16. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
- "FAA May Ground America West". ABC News. January 7, 2006.
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- US Air Uses Cash To Buy Back ATSB StockAviation Week October 2005. Archived 2017-03-13 at the Wayback Machine
- "America West Airlines Fleet Details and History". Planespotters.net. August 9, 2021. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
- "America West Reconsidering $1.5 Billion in Boeing Orders". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2021-05-22.
- "America West to Sign For Up to 77 Airbus Aircraft Airline Joins Growing List of Customers for A318". www.defense-aerospace.com. Retrieved 2021-06-24.
- "History of America West".
- "Welcome to FlightFund". America West Airlines. Archived from the original on October 22, 1996. Retrieved October 1, 2009.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
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- "America West Airlines route map". October 23, 2020.
- Berry, Jahna (June 2, 2005). "Tempe breathes a sigh on AmWest merger plan." Arizona Business Gazette. Retrieved March 1, 2010.
- "Phoenix mostly shrugs at prospect of Delta merger." Atlanta Journal Constitution. November 19, 2006. A1. Retrieved on March 1, 2010. "More than 700 people work at US Airways' nine-story headquarters."
- "Article: Carey Diversified Finances America West Headquarters; $25 Million Non-Recourse Mortgage Secured by Recently Completed Facility.[dead link]" PR Newswire. July 27, 1999. Retrieved on March 1, 2010.
- "United-America West Deal Has Implications Across The West". Lodi News-Sentinel. Associated Press. January 22, 1999. p. 13. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
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- Lehman, William. "Part VII - America West." US Airways. Retrieved on February 18, 2010.
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