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Air California

By Patrick Mondout

Air California started out in 1967 as intrastate airline flying in and out of what is now John Wayne International Airport in Orange County and was run by Robert Clifford. Important routes included the heavily travelled San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The Deregulation Act of 1978 brought new routes and challengers. On November 9, 1979 it began servicing its first interstate routes to Reno, Nevada. However, competition coupled with a recession and rising fuel costs (a common combination in that era) left Air California's parent company, Westgate-California bankrupt.

A bidding war between Air Florida and a group of investors led by William Lyon and George Argyros left the latter in charge. Baseball fans in Seattle will recall Argyros was once the owner of the Mariners. Argyros and company officially changed the name to AirCal on April 6, 1981. AirCal expanded as far east as Chicago and as far north as Anchorage by the mid-Awesome80s.

Air California

N471GB - an Air California Boeing 737-159 as seen in Santa Ana in November 1977. It was scrapped in 1990.

Image courtesy of AirNikon.


Merger negotiations with Piedmont fell through in 1986 and AirCal, the last surviving independent airline from California, was purchased for $250M by AMR Corp, the parent company of American Airlines. Bob Crandall of American had heard that Frank Lorenzo of United was planning a bid for AirCal and bested him with the quarter-of-a-billion dollar bid. Lorenzo crowed that American overpaid but American picked up a hub in San Jose and by 1988 had regained the title of "largest American airline" - a title it had lost in 1961.

Slogans: "Watch Us Grow." "You get more with AirCal!" "We're Fresh From The Ground Up." (From the time they changed their name to AirCal.)

Known Fleet: Lockheed Electras, Boeing 737s, McDonnell Douglas DC-9 Super 80s, BAe 146s.

Davies, R.E.G. Airlines of the United States Since 1914. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982.
Hengi, B.I. Airlines Remembered: Over 200 Airlines of the Past, Described and Illustrated in Colour, Hinckley, England: Midland Publishing, 2000.
Heppenheimer, T.A. Turbulent Skies: The History of Commercial Aviation. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995.
Norwood, Tom W. Deregulation Knockouts, Round One. Sandpoint, ID: Airways International, 1996.
Petzinger, Thomas. Hard Landing: The Epic Contest for Power and Profits That Plunged the Airlines into Chaos. New York: Times Books, 1997.
Szurovy Geza. Classic American Airlines. Motorbooks International. 2003


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Airline: Air California

AKA: Air-Cal, AirCal

Location: US

Flew: January 7, 1974 - 1980; 1982

Status: Merged into American Airlines

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