4/06/1981: Air California Is Rebranded Air Cal

4/06/1981: Air California Is Rebranded Air Cal

The Air Cal livery lives on through American Airlines retro liveries seen on N917NN Boeing 737-800. Photo: Andrew Henderson/Airways

DALLAS — Today, in 1981, Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA)-based Air California (OC) was rebranded as Air Cal.

The rebranding coincided with the arrival of new owners, Orange County businessmen William Lyon and George Argyros. Along with a new name came a bright and dynamic new livery, plus new crew uniforms designed by renowned fashion designer Mary McFadden.

The Lockheed Electra returned to the fleet in 1975 to operate flights to Lake Tahoe (TVL), which at the time would not accept jet airliners. Photo: Jon Proctor.

Taking to the Skies

OC commenced operations in January 1967. A pair of ex-American Airlines (AA) Lockheed L-188 Electras were sourced, and the first flight departed SNA bound for San Francisco (SFO). Soon after, flights to San Jose (SJC) and Oakland (OAK) were launched.

Jet equipment arrived in March 1968 with a pair of leased Douglas DC-9-10s. These were supplemented by larger Boeing 737-200s, which began to join the fleet in July 1968.

When the Airline Deregulation Act was passed in 1978, OC was allowed to grow its network outside of California. Its first trans-state service began on November 9, 1979, between SNA and Reno (RNO), Nevada.

The MD-82 was a poor fit for the OC fleet and was quickly replaced by 737-300s. Photo: Aero Icarus from Zürich, SwitzerlandCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Eighties Expansion

In May 1981, Air Cal received its first McDonnell Douglas MD-82. Seven would go on to join the airline by June 1983. However, the type was quickly replaced by the Boeing 737-300. Twelve -300s had been ordered to facilitate the airline’s expansion plans. This included international flights, the first of which was operated from SJC to Vancouver (YVR) on June 1, 1985.

Sadly, Air Cal was unable to compete with the major airlines. In 1986, merger discussions took place with Piedmont Airlines. But talks fell through, paving the way for AA to swoop in and offer US$225 million for the company in November 1986. The deal gave AA an extensive West Coast operation that was previously lacking. Air Cal disappeared from the skies on July 1, 1987.

Featured image: The Air Cal livery lives on through American Airlines retro color schemes on N917NN Boeing 737-800. Photo: Andrew Henderson/Airways

European Deputy Editor
Writer and aviation fanatic, Lee is a plant geek and part-time Flight Attendant for a UK-based airline. Based in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

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