1/16/1967: California’s AirCal Commences Operations

1/16/1967: California’s AirCal Commences Operations

Air California Lockheed L-188 Electra. Photo: Richard Silagi (GFDL or GFDL), via Wikimedia Commons

DALLAS — Today, in 1967, Air California (OC) began its operations in the field of aviation. The airline’s first flight was from its main base in Orange County (SNA) to San Francisco (SFO). Initially, Air California operated with a fleet of two Lockheed L-188 Electra aircraft, which flew the route up to five times per day.

Businessmen William E. Myers and Bill Perrera established Air California as an alternative to United Airlines (UA) and Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) in the unregulated California intra-state market.

The Boeing 737 joined the fleet in July 1968. Photo: San Diego Air & Space Museum

Entering the Jet-Age

In March 1968, Air California (OC) expanded its fleet by adding two Douglas DC-9-10s while they were waiting for the delivery of their new Boeing 737-200s, which started arriving in July. In July 1970, the airline reintroduced the Lockheed L-188 Electra aircraft to operate flights to Lake Tahoe (TVL), as the airport couldn’t accommodate jets at the time. These Electra aircraft remained with the airline until the end of 1980, when Air California discontinued the service.

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 provided Air California with the opportunity to expand its services. On November 9, 1979, the airline launched its first routes outside of California, flying to Las Vegas (LAS) and Reno (RNO).

On April 6, 1981, the airline underwent a name change and became AirCal. Along with the new name, AirCal introduced a striking new livery and new crew uniforms designed by Mary McFadden.

In May 1981, AirCal received its first McDonnell Douglas MD-82 (N475AC), with a total of eight aircraft joining the fleet out of a twelve-aircraft order. However, newly ordered Boeing 737-300s replaced the MD-82s starting in mid-1985. Additionally, AirCal ordered five BAe 146 aircraft for intrastate services to and from noise-restricted airports, with the first aircraft arriving in March 1986.

During the early 1980s, AirCal continued to expand its route network, reaching destinations like Chicago in the east and Anchorage in the north. The airline even ventured into international flights, launching service from San Jose (SJC) to Vancouver (YVR) on June 1, 1985.

AirCal BAe 146 (N146AC). Photo: Colin Cooke PhotoCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Takeover Target

However, although deregulation provided opportunities for airlines like Air California (OC) to expand, it also brought about increased competition. Legacy carriers saw this as an opportunity to acquire smaller competitors and eliminate rivals. AirCal became a target for acquisition, and discussions were held with Piedmont Airlines in 1986.

In 1987, American Airlines (AA) emerged as the successful bidder with a US$225 million deal. The takeover was intended to bolster AA’s presence on the West Coast by establishing a hub at San Jose International Airport (SJC). Unfortunately, the network faced challenges due to intensified competition from low-cost carriers, ultimately leading to its withdrawal by 1993.

The AirCal livery lives on through AA’s heritage color schemes. Photo: Andrew Henderson/Airways.

Featured Image: Air California Lockheed L-188 Electra. Photo: Richard Silagi (GFDL or GFDL), via Wikimedia Commons

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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