Hughes Airwest

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Hughes Airwest
Hughes Airwest logo.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded1968 (1968) (as AirWest)
Commenced operations1970 (Hughes Airwest)
Ceased operationsOctober 1, 1980[1]
(acquired by Republic)
Fleet size48
HeadquartersSan Francisco Int'l Airport
San Mateo County, California, U.S.
Key peopleHoward Hughes (Owner)
Russell V. Stephenson (President)

Hughes Airwest (IATA: RWICAO: -Call sign: Hughes-Air) was an airline in the western United States, backed by the Summa Corporation of Howard Hughes. The original name for the airline was Air West. Hughes Airwest flew routes in the western U.S. and to several destinations in Mexico and Canada; it was purchased by Republic Airlines on October 1, 1980.[1] Its headquarters were on the grounds of San Francisco International Airport in unincorporated San Mateo County, California.[2]


On April 17, 1968, three "local service" airlines in the western U.S. merged to form Air West:[3][4]

The initial Air West fleet included Boeing 727-100s, Douglas DC-9s, Fairchild F-27s, and Piper Navajos. The first new addition to the Air West fleet was a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 which had been ordered by Bonanza Air Lines.

Hungry for another adventure in the airline industry, TWA's former owner Howard Hughes sought the airline in 1968,[5][6] and the deal was finalized in 1970.[7] The airline was renamed Hughes Air West and its call sign became "Hughes Air." It expanded to several cities in the western United States, Canada and Mexico. With the new yellow paint scheme, unveiled 28 September 1971, the airline began calling itself Hughes Airwest, two words instead of the initial three word name.

The airline participated in some movies in the 1970s, notably The Gauntlet with Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke in 1977. Eastwood's character arrives in Las Vegas from Phoenix on the airline and when he phones the airport for flight departure times, Locke's character sarcastically called the airline, "Air Worst." Also in 1977, the airline was operating service from both Burbank (BUR) and Orange County (SNA) to Denver (DEN) via an interchange flight agreement with the original Frontier Airlines (1950-1986).[8] Hughes Airwest would then subsequently introduce its own jet service to Denver from a number of cities in the western U.S.

Like other local service airlines in the 1970s, Hughes Airwest eliminated many stops and opened longer routes. Service expanded to resorts in Mexico; domestic routes didn't reach east of Utah and Arizona until Denver, Des Moines, Milwaukee, and Houston Hobby Airport were added in 1978. Hughes Airwest became an all-jet airline with Boeing 727-200s, Douglas DC-9-10s and McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30s when it ended Fairchild F-27 turboprop flights in 1979.

In September 1979 the airline was grounded for two months by a walkout by their ticket agents, reservations handlers, and office employees, who had been without a contract for over a year.[9][10][11] During 1979 several airlines showed interest in buying Hughes Airwest, including Alaska and Allegheny, with the latter soon becoming USAir.[12] The strike was resolved in late October and flights resumed in November. Four months later they were the target of a buyout by Republic Airlines,[13] which was finalized on October 1, 1980, for $38.5 million.[1][14][15] Republic had been formed in July 1979 via the merger of North Central Airlines and Southern Airways, the first under airline deregulation.[16]

Republic was acquired by Northwest Airlines in 1986,[17][18] which in turn was merged into Delta Air Lines in 2010.

Revenue Passenger-Miles (Millions) (Sched Service Only)
Pacific/RW Bonanza West Coast Empire
1951 26 7 11 9
1955 47 23 35 (merged WC)
1960 103 64 93
1965 138 170 122
1970 893 (merged 1968)
1975 1497

Corporate affairs[edit]

The original headquarters were in two buildings in downtown San Mateo, California, on the San Francisco peninsula.

Its new headquarters were located in San Mateo.[19] The airline scheduled the move to a new headquarters from Thursday August 25, 1973, to August 28, 1973. The complex was on a hill overlooking San Mateo and San Francisco Bay. The airline relocated two departments from the offices at San Francisco International Airport: flight control and reservations.[20]


Air West paint scheme, prior to conversion
to Sundance Yellow and Universe Blue (simulated image)
Hughes Airwest DC-9s in 1979

Hughes Airwest's planes were recognizable by their banana-yellow fuselage and tail colors.[21] Their airplanes were often dubbed "flying bananas" and the airline launched an advertising campaign with the catchphrase "Top Banana in the West."[22][23] [24] Most nicknames given to Hughes Airwest airplanes in aviation books and magazines have to do with bananas. Apart from their all-yellow scheme, the airplanes also featured a blue logo on the vertical stabilizer (tail) that resembled three diamonds connected (possibly a reference to the initials of Howard Hughes). The name Hughes Airwest, in stylized lettering, was featured unconventionally below the front passenger windows.

This livery was devised by the southern California design firm of Mario Armond Zamparelli,[25][26] following the crash of Flight 706 in June 1971, caused by a mid-air collision with a U.S. Marine Corps F-4B jet fighter near Duarte, California.[27][28] In late 1971, the company launched a new marketing campaign which included new colors and repainted planes.[29][30][31] The cabin windows also had a metallized PET film coating originally,[32] but this proved too costly to maintain. Zamparelli also designed the uniforms of the flight attendants in the new colors, primarily in Sundance Yellow trimmed with Universe Blue.[33]

After the sale in October 1980 the all-yellow paint scheme was gradually replaced by Republic's white with blue and green trim, and the mallard "Herman the Duck."[15]


Accidents and incidents[edit]

Hughes Airwest Flight 706[edit]

On the evening of Sunday, June 6, 1971, Hughes Airwest Flight 706, a Douglas DC-9-31, departed Los Angeles, California, for Seattle, Washington, with five intermediate stops. The DC-9 collided in mid-air with a U.S. Marine Corps F-4B fighter over southern California near Duarte, killing all except the radar intercept officer of the F-4.

1972 hijacking[edit]

Two months after the celebrated hijacking by D. B. Cooper of Northwest Orient flight 305, Hughes Airwest was the target of a copycat hijacker in early 1972.[34][35][36] After boarding Flight 800 at McCarran airport in Las Vegas in late morning on Thursday, January 20, 23-year-old Richard Charles LaPoint claimed he had a bomb while the plane was on the taxiway and demanded $50,000 cash, two parachutes, and a helmet.[37] When these demands were met, 51 Reno-bound passengers and two flight attendants were released; the DC-9 departed eastward toward Denver, followed by two F-111 aircraft of the U.S. Air Force from nearby Nellis AFB.[38] The parachutes were high-visibility and equipped with emergency locater devices.

Without a coat and in cowboy boots, the hijacker bailed out from the lower aft door over the treeless plains of northeastern Colorado in mid-afternoon. He was apprehended a few hours later,[36][39] with minor injuries and very cold.[37][40][41] The plane, with two pilots and a flight attendant on board, landed safely at Denver's Stapleton airport at 2:55 p.m. MST.[35] Facing potential death penalty charges for air piracy,[42] the Vietnam veteran, a former U.S. Army paratrooper,[43] was sentenced to forty years, but served less than eight and was released from a halfway house in 1979.[37] He died at age 60 in New Hampshire in 2008.[44]


Air West in July 1968[edit]

This is a list of destinations taken from the Air West system timetable dated July 1, 1968 when the merger to form Air West became effective.[45] Cities served with jets are noted in bold. Air West was operating Boeing 727-100, Douglas DC-9-10 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 jets as well as Fairchild F-27 turboprops and small Piper Navajo twin props at this time. The majority of the destinations on this list that did not have jet service were served with F-27 twin turboprops.


  • Grand Canyon (GCN)
  • Kingman (IGM)
  • Page (PGA)
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Hub
  • Prescott (PRC)
  • Tucson (TUS)
  • Yuma (YUM)


  • Bakersfield (BFL)
  • Blythe (BLH)
  • Burbank (BUR, now Bob Hope Airport)
  • Chico (CIC)
  • Crescent City (CEC)
  • El Centro (IPL)
  • Eureka/Arcata (ACV)
  • Fresno (FAT)
  • Inyokern (IYK)
  • Lake Tahoe (TVL)
  • Long Beach (LGB)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) - Hub
  • Marysville/Yuba City (MYV)
  • Monterey (MRY)
  • Oakland (OAK)
  • Ontario (ONT)
  • Oxnard/Ventura (OXR)
  • Palmdale/Lancaster (WJF)
  • Palm Springs (PSP)
  • Paso Robles/San Luis Obispo (PRB)
  • Redding/Red Bluff (RDD)
  • Riverside (RAL)
  • Sacramento (SMF)
  • San Diego (SAN)
  • San Francisco (SFO) - Hub & airline headquarters
  • San Jose (SJC)
  • Santa Ana (SNA, aka Orange County, now John Wayne Airport)
  • Santa Barbara (SBA)
  • Santa Maria (SMX)
  • Santa Rosa (STS)
  • Stockton (SCK)
  • Vandenberg Air Force Base (VBG)


  • Boise (BOI) - Hub
  • Burley/Rupert (BYI)
  • Idaho Falls (IDA)
  • Lewiston (LWS)
  • Pocatello (PIH)
  • Twin Falls (TWF)
  • Sun Valley/Hailey/Ketchum (SUN)


  • Great Falls (GTF)
  • Kalispell (FCA)


  • Las Vegas (LAS) - Hub
  • Reno (RNO)


  • Albany/Corvallis (CVO)
  • Astoria/Seaside (AST)
  • Baker (BKE)
  • Eugene (EUG)
  • Klamath Falls (LMT)
  • Medford (MFR)
  • North Bend/Coos Bay (OTH)
  • Ontario (ONO)
  • Portland (PDX) - Hub
  • Redmond/Bend (RDM)
  • Roseburg (RBG)


  • Cedar City (CDC)
  • Salt Lake City (SLC) - Hub


  • Aberdeen/Hoquiam (HQM)
  • Ephrata/Moses Lake (EPH)
  • Olympia (OLH)
  • Pasco/Kennewick/Richland (PSC)
  • Pullman (PUW)
  • Seattle (BFI, Boeing Field) - Hub
  • Spokane (GEG)
  • Tacoma (TIW)
  • Walla Walla (ALW)
  • Wenatchee (EAT)
  • Yakima (YKM)


  • Calgary, Alberta (YYC)


  • La Paz (LAP)
  • Mazatlan (MZT)
  • Puerto Vallarta (PVR)
  • Guadalajara (GDL)

Hughes Airwest in September 1980[edit]

In 1980 Hughes Airwest was an all-jet airline. The timetable for September 1, 1980 lists service to:[46]


  • Grand Canyon (GCN)
  • Phoenix (PHX) - Hub
  • Tucson (TUS)


  • Burbank (now Bob Hope)
  • Eureka/Arcata
  • Fresno
  • Los Angeles (LAX) - Hub
  • Oakland
  • Ontario
  • Palm Springs
  • Redding/Red Bluff
  • Sacramento
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco (SFO) - Hub & airline headquarters
  • San Jose
  • Santa Ana (Orange County, now John Wayne)


  • Denver


  • Boise - Hub
  • Idaho Falls
  • Lewiston
  • Pocatello
  • Twin Falls


  • Des Moines


  • Kalispell


  • Las Vegas - Hub
  • Reno


  • Eugene
  • Klamath Falls
  • Portland
  • Redmond/Bend



  • Salt Lake City - Hub


  • Pasco/Kennewick/Richland (Tri-Cities Airport)
  • Seattle (SEA) - Hub
  • Spokane
  • Yakima


  • Milwaukee


  • Calgary, Alberta
  • Edmonton, Alberta


  • Manzanillo
  • Mazatlan
  • Puerto Vallarta

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Republic Airlines takes over Hughest Airwest on Oct. 1". Deseret News. UPI. September 18, 1980. p. 10B.
  2. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. April 28, 1979. 1379.
  3. ^ "Air West merger legally complete". Tri-City Herald. Associated Press. April 18, 1968. p. 3.
  4. ^ Campbell, Thomas W. (April 28, 1968). "Another merger: now it's Air West". Lewiston Morning Tribune. p. 21.
  5. ^ "Hughes may buy Air West". Deseret News. UPI. August 12, 1967. p. 6C.
  6. ^ Arnold, Patrick (July 31, 1974). "Hughes charged with stock fraud". Youngstown Vindicator. Associated Press. p. 1.
  7. ^ "Air West purchase almost completed". Ellensburg Daily Record. UPI. April 2, 1970. p. 8.
  8. ^, 1977 Frontier Airlines Annual Report, route map
  9. ^ "Airwest strike effect minimal". Spokane Daily Chronicle. September 11, 1979. p. 5.
  10. ^ "No talks in Airwest strike". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. September 29, 1979. p. 2A.
  11. ^ "Hughes Airwest flights resume after strike". News and Courier. Charleston, SC. Associated Press. November 11, 1979. p. 2A.
  12. ^ "Airwest entertains offers to sell". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. October 1, 1979. p. 1B.
  13. ^ "Republic looking at Airwest". Milwaukee Journal. (Los Angeles Times). March 12, 1980. p. 17.
  14. ^ "Republic Airlines get CAB approval for Hughes merger". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI. September 13, 1980. p. 7, part 2.
  15. ^ a b "Hughes name changes". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. October 1, 1980. p. A23.
  16. ^ "North Central, Southern Airlines merger gets final OK from Carter". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI. June 5, 1979. p. 5-part 2.
  17. ^ "Northwest-Republic merger creates third-largest carrier". Miami News. Associated Press. August 1, 1986. p. 9A.
  18. ^ "Two airlines get approval for merger". Eugene Register-Guard. August 1, 1986. p. 1C.
  19. ^ Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, Directors and Executives, Volume 3. Standard & Poor's, 1976. p. 638. "Hughes Air Corp d/b/a Hughes Airwest Airlines, 3125 Clearview Way, San Mateo, Cal."
  20. ^ "'Big Move' under way to new international headquarters in San Mateo." (Archive) Hughes Airwest newsletter. August 1973. Vol. 5, No. 8. p. 1.
  21. ^ Hughes promoted their new colors as "Sundance Yellow" and "Universe Blue." The blue has sometimes been described as purple, but this is an optical illusion when viewed on the yellow expanse of aircraft hull. Since these were not standards-compliant color names, the exact color values are uncertain, and can only be approximated by examining color photographs of Hughes Airwest aircraft.
  22. ^ "Now, "Top Banana" service". Deseret News. advertisement. June 29, 1976. p. 16A.
  23. ^ "Top Banana in the West". Deseret News. advertisement. June 22, 1976.
  24. ^ AOPA Pilot. July 2011. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ "L.A. jetliner, fighter crash in air; 50 die". Modesto Bee. Associated Press. June 7, 1971. p. A-1.
  28. ^ "'Airliner hit us,' survivor says after mid-air collision". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. June 8, 1971. p. 6.
  29. ^ "Airwest makes colorful changes". Deseret News. Oct 27, 1971. p. B-5.
  30. ^ "Profit seen by Airwest". Spokane Daily Chronicle. November 22, 1971. p. 5.
  31. ^ "Airwest unveils bright new look" (PDF). (Twin Falls, ID) Times-News. November 26, 1971. p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
  32. ^ "New look is first step in '72 marketing program" (PDF). Hughes Air Corp. (co. newsletter). October 1971. p. 1.
  33. ^ "Pre-flight Primp: Hughes Airwest Flight Attendant Uniforms". Museum of Flight. Archived from the original on June 15, 2014. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  34. ^ "Nab skyjacker after leap". Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. January 21, 1972. p. 1, sec. 1.
  35. ^ a b "Hijacker caught after parachuting over Colorado with $50,000 in cash". Lewiston Daily Sun. (Maine). Associated Press. January 21, 1972. p. 1.
  36. ^ a b "This hijacker fails". Deseret News. (Salt Lake City, Utah). UPI. January 21, 1972. p. A1.
  37. ^ a b c Miniclier, Kit (January 21, 2001). "Skyjacker a Colorado oddity?". Denver Post. Archived from the original on April 24, 2014. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  38. ^ Taylor, Daniel L. (January 21, 1972). "Parachutist hijacker captured". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). UPI. p. 3A.
  39. ^ "Chuting hijacker caught by police". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. January 21, 1972. p. 1.
  40. ^ "Hijacker with $50,000 loot captured after bailing out". Milwaukee Journal. January 21, 1972. p. 1.
  41. ^ "Hijacker foiled; tracked by jets". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). Associated Press. January 21, 1972. p. 19.
  42. ^ "Hijack figure held without bail". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. January 22, 1972. p. 1.
  43. ^ "Ex-paratrooper is charged with piracy in hijack bid". Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. January 22, 1972. p. 5, sec. 1.
  44. ^ "Pvt Richard Charles LaPoint". Find a Grave. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  45. ^, July 1, 1986 Air West system timetable
  46. ^, Sept. 1, 1980 Hughes Airwest system timetable

External links[edit]