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Hughes Airwest

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Hughes Airwest
IATA ICAO Callsign
FoundedApril 17, 1968 (1968-04-17)
(amalgamation; as Air West)
Commenced operations1970 (1970)
(as Hughes Airwest)
Ceased operationsOctober 1, 1980 (1980-10-01)
(acquired by Republic Airlines)[1]
HubsSan Francisco
Focus cities
HeadquartersSan Mateo County, California, United States
Key people
Air West Fairchild F-27A in 1970
at San Francisco International Airport

Hughes Air Corporation, doing business as Hughes Airwest, was a local service carrier from 1970 to 1980 in the Western United States. It was backed by Howard Hughes' Summa Corporation. Its original name in 1968 was Air West and the air carrier was owned by Nick Bez. Hughes Airwest flew routes in the western U.S. and to several destinations in Mexico and Canada; its headquarters were on the grounds of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in unincorporated San Mateo County, California.[2]

With distinctive all-yellow aircraft, the company slogan was Top Banana in the West;[3][4][5] Hughes Airwest was purchased by Republic Airlines in 1980, which in turn was merged into Northwest Airlines in 1986. Northwest Airlines was then merged into Delta Air Lines in 2010.[1][6]


On April 17, 1968, three earlier local service carriers in the western U.S. merged to form Air West:[7][8][9]

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,[10][11] and the US$90 million deal was finalized in April 1970.[12][13][14] Renamed Hughes Air West, its call sign became "Hughes Air," and the airline expanded to several cities in the western United States, Canada, and Mexico. With the new yellow paint scheme, unveiled in September 1971, the airline began calling itself Hughes Airwest, two words instead of the initial three.

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.[15] Hughes Airwest soon introduced its own jet service to Denver from a number of locations.

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. When it ended F-27 turboprop flights in 1979, Hughes Airwest became an all-jet airline with 727-200s, DC-9-10s, and DC-9-30s.

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.[16][17][18] During 1979, several airlines showed interest in buying Hughes Airwest, including Alaska and Allegheny, with the latter soon becoming USAir.[19] 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,[20] which was finalized on October 1, 1980, for $38.5 million.[1][21][22] Minneapolis-based Republic had formed in July 1979 via the merger of North Central Airlines and Southern Airways, the first under airline deregulation.[23][24][25]

Republic was acquired by Northwest Airlines in 1986,[26][27] which 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 Air West color scheme prior to conversion to Sundance Yellow and Universal Blue
Hughes Airwest DC-9s in 1979

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.[28] The airline scheduled the move to a new headquarters in late August 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.[29]


Hughes Airwest's planes were recognizable by their banana-yellow fuselage and tail colors.[30] Their airplanes were often dubbed "flying bananas" and the airline launched an advertising campaign with the catchphrase "Top Banana in the West."[3][4][5][31] 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,[32][33] 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.[34][35] In late 1971, the company launched a new marketing campaign which included new colors and repainted planes.[36][37][38] The cabin windows also had a metallized PET film coating originally,[39] 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.[40][41]

After the sale in October 1980 the all-yellow paint scheme was gradually replaced by Republic's white with blue and green trim. Aircraft tails bore Republic's flying mallard, "Herman the Duck."[6][22]


Air West and Hughes Airwest operated the following aircraft types at various times during their existence:[42]

Hughes Airwest fleet
Aircraft Total Introduced Retired Notes
Boeing 727-193 3 1968 1972
Boeing 727-200 11 1976 1980
Douglas C-47A Skytrain 7 1968 1969
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-14 5 1970 1980
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-15RC 12 1973 1980
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-31 30 1970 1980
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 2 1971 1980
Fairchild F-27 34 1968 1980
Piper PA-31 Navajo 4 1968 1970


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.[43] 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.



  • Bakersfield (BFL)
  • Blythe (BLH)
  • Burbank (BUR): Bob Hope Airport
  • Chico (CIC)
  • Crescent City (CEC)
  • El Centro (IPL)
  • Eureka/Arcata (ACV)
  • Fresno (FAT)
  • Inyokern (IYK)
  • Lake Tahoe (TVL)
  • Long Beach (LGB): Long Beach Airport


  • 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)



  • Albany/Corvallis (CVO)
  • Astoria/Seaside (AST)
  • Baker (BKE)
  • Eugene (EUG)
  • Klamath Falls (LMT)
  • Medford (MFR)



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



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

Hughes Airwest in September 1980[edit]

In 1980, Hughes Airwest was an all-jet airline operating Boeing 727-200, Douglas DC-9-10, and McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 aircraft. The timetable for September 1 lists service to:[44]





  • Boise (BOI) - Hub
  • Idaho Falls
  • Lewiston
  • Pocatello
  • Twin Falls


  • Des Moines


  • Kalispell







  • Milwaukee



  • Manzanillo
  • Mazatlan
  • Puerto Vallarta

Accidents and incidents[edit]

1971 – Flight 706[edit]

On the evening of Sunday, June 6, 1971, Flight 706, a Douglas DC-9-31 collided in mid-air with a U.S. Marine Corps F-4B fighter over southern California near Duarte. All 49 on the airliner and the F-4 pilot were killed; the sole survivor was the F-4 radar intercept officer. Flight 706 had departed Los Angeles for Seattle, with five intermediate stops, the first in Salt Lake City.

1972 – Flight 800 hijacking[edit]

Two months after the hijacking by D. B. Cooper of Northwest Orient flight 305, Hughes Airwest was the target of a copycat hijacker in early 1972.[45][46][47] 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.[48] 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.[49] The parachutes were high-visibility and equipped with emergency locator 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. LaPoint was apprehended a few hours later,[47][50] with minor injuries and very cold.[48][51][52] The plane, with two pilots and a flight attendant on board, landed safely at Denver's Stapleton airport at 2:55 p.m. MST.[46] Facing potential death penalty charges for air piracy,[53] the Vietnam veteran and former U.S. Army paratrooper[54] was sentenced to forty years, but served less than eight, and was released from a halfway house in 1979;[48] he died at age 60 in his native New Hampshire in 2008.

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. ^ a b "Now, "Top Banana" service". Deseret News. Salt Lake City, Utah). (advertisement). June 29, 1976. p. 16A.
  4. ^ a b "Top Banana in the West". Deseret News. (advertisement). June 22, 1976. p. back.
  5. ^ a b "Go Bananas to Reno". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). (advertisement). March 1, 1977. p. 23.
  6. ^ a b "Herman is in, the Big Yellow Banana is out". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). September 30, 1980. p. 1B.
  7. ^ "Air West merger legally complete". Tri-City Herald. (Washington). Associated Press. April 18, 1968. p. 3.
  8. ^ Campbell, Thomas W. (April 28, 1968). "Another merger: now it's Air West". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). p. 21.
  9. ^ "Air West's service said deteriorating". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. October 2, 1968. p. 4A.
  10. ^ "Hughes may buy Air West". Deseret News. (Salt Lake City, Utah). UPI. August 12, 1968. p. 6C.
  11. ^ Arnold, Patrick (July 31, 1974). "Hughes charged with stock fraud". Youngstown Vindicator. (Ohio). Associated Press. p. 1.
  12. ^ "Air West purchase almost completed". Ellensburg Daily Record. (Washington). UPI. April 2, 1970. p. 8.
  13. ^ "Hughes completes dealings for airline". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). UPI. April 3, 1970. p. 3A.
  14. ^ "Air West taken over by Hughes". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). Associated Press. April 4, 1970. p. 2.
  15. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, 1977 Frontier Airlines Annual Report, route map
  16. ^ "Airwest strike effect minimal". Spokane Daily Chronicle. September 11, 1979. p. 5.
  17. ^ "No talks in Airwest strike". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. September 29, 1979. p. 2A.
  18. ^ "Hughes Airwest flights resume after strike". News and Courier. Charleston, SC. Associated Press. November 11, 1979. p. 2A.
  19. ^ "Airwest entertains offers to sell". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. October 1, 1979. p. 1B.
  20. ^ "Republic looking at Airwest". Milwaukee Journal. (Los Angeles Times). March 12, 1980. p. 17.
  21. ^ "Republic Airlines get CAB approval for Hughes merger". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI. September 13, 1980. p. 7, part 2.
  22. ^ a b "Hughes name changes". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. October 1, 1980. p. A23.
  23. ^ "North Central, Southern Airlines merger gets final OK from Carter". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI. June 5, 1979. p. 5-part 2.
  24. ^ "Carter okays airline merger". Pittsburgh Press. UPI. June 5, 1979. p. A-14.
  25. ^ "Carter okays merger of 2 airlines". Youngstown Vindicator. (Ohio). Associated Press. June 5, 1979. p. 21.
  26. ^ "Northwest-Republic merger creates third-largest carrier". Miami News. Associated Press. August 1, 1986. p. 9A.
  27. ^ "Two airlines get approval for merger". Eugene Register-Guard. August 1, 1986. p. 1C.
  28. ^ 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."
  29. ^ "'Big Move' under way to new international headquarters in San Mateo." (Archive) Hughes Airwest newsletter. August 1973. Vol. 5, No. 8. p. 1.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ AOPA Pilot. July 2011. {{cite journal}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  32. ^ "Mario Armond Zamparelli".
  33. ^ "Mario Armond Zamparelli".
  34. ^ "L.A. jetliner, fighter crash in air; 50 die". Modesto Bee. Associated Press. June 7, 1971. p. A-1.
  35. ^ "'Airliner hit us,' survivor says after mid-air collision". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. June 8, 1971. p. 6.
  36. ^ "Airwest makes colorful changes". Deseret News. October 27, 1971. p. B-5.
  37. ^ "Profit seen by Airwest". Spokane Daily Chronicle. November 22, 1971. p. 5.
  38. ^ "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.
  39. ^ "New look is first step in '72 marketing program" (PDF). Hughes Air Corp. (co. newsletter). October 1971. p. 1.
  40. ^ "Airlines new stewardess uniforms". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). (photo). November 23, 1971. p. 26.
  41. ^ "Pre-flight Primp: Hughes Airwest Flight Attendant Uniforms". Museum of Flight. Archived from the original on June 15, 2014. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  42. ^ "Air West fleet". aerobernie.bplaced.net. Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  43. ^ http://www.timetableimages.com, July 1, 1986, Air West system timetable
  44. ^ http://www.departedflights.com, September 1, 1980, Hughes Airwest system timetable
  45. ^ "Nab skyjacker after leap". Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. January 21, 1972. p. 1, sec. 1.
  46. ^ a b "Hijacker caught after parachuting over Colorado with $50,000 in cash". Lewiston Daily Sun. (Maine). Associated Press. January 21, 1972. p. 1.
  47. ^ a b "This hijacker fails". Deseret News. (Salt Lake City, Utah). UPI. January 21, 1972. p. A1.
  48. ^ 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.
  49. ^ Taylor, Daniel L. (January 21, 1972). "Parachutist hijacker captured". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). UPI. p. 3A.
  50. ^ "Chuting hijacker caught by police". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. January 21, 1972. p. 1.
  51. ^ "Hijacker with $50,000 loot captured after bailing out". Milwaukee Journal. January 21, 1972. p. 1.
  52. ^ "Hijacker foiled; tracked by jets". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). Associated Press. January 21, 1972. p. 19.
  53. ^ "Hijack figure held without bail". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. January 22, 1972. p. 1.
  54. ^ "Ex-paratrooper is charged with piracy in hijack bid". Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. January 22, 1972. p. 5, sec. 1.

External links[edit]