AirlinerCafe.com is another one of those slick online magazines dedicated to the aviation industry. John Evanich who is one of AirlinerCafe’s editors spent a lot of time doing research on our Hughes Airwest Facebook group before doing this really great article on Air West. You can check it out here:
The new Twin-Jets, those available and others still on the drawing board, would change the face of “Local Service” airlines. The new jets would prove to be much more expensive to operate and need ‘longer’ routes to improve the economics. For the CAB, this would begin a period of encouraging mergers to help reduce ‘subsidy’ payments in exchange for awarding new Trunk routes, creating new ‘Regional’ airlines. The first of these would turn out to be the most difficult, a 3-way merger!
(G. Robert Henry-Edmund Converse-Nick Bez-David
R. Grace -1968)
The 3-airlines involved; West Coast, Bonanza and
Pacific (formerly Southwest) had been involved in several
‘attempted’ mergers during the 1950’s but in
1967, the timing finally fit everyone’s needs. According to a CAB official;” the merger would provide substantial advantages in terms of increased service to the public and economics of operation with a subsequent reduction in subsidy”. The CAB was under growing pressure by Washington to get out of the airline subsidy business altogether.
The most important figure in the 3-airline
merger would be Nick Bez (Nikola Bezmalinovic). He had built West Coast Airlines and was well ‘connected’ in the political world. In April 1967, a ‘handshake’ agreement was reached between West Coast and Pacific Airlines, as Bonanza was not involved at this point, since they were actually the most profitable of the three. It was after Bonanza’s G. Robert Henry departed the airline and became the President at Pacific Airlines in July, 1967 that Bonanza, became the 3rd member of the planned merger.
The new airline, tentatively named “Air
West”, the name being taken from WCA’s own company’s Newsletter, filed it’s application with the CAB on September 12, 1967 and just 7-months later, it was approved by the CAB, a then all-time record for expediting a move of this type!
(April 1968 CAB Route Map)
The CAB Examiners went out of their way to help
the unprecedented 3-way merger with a number of new routes, the most important being Denver which had been on the former Pacific Airlines’ applications since 1959. ‘Air West’ would become a true ‘Regional’ airline covering the western 3rd of the U.S. The Air West route system would cover 28% of the contiguous land area in the U.S., serve (100) cities through (80) airports with a population of over (28) million, including (11) National Parks.
Deciding the aircraft requirements for the
combined fleet for the new Air West took place simultaneously with creating the new color scheme. The latter would be under the watchful eye of Nick Bez Jr., Air West’s new Executive VP and the San Francisco based McCann Erickson Agency.
According to a former account executive, a aerial photographer was hired and flew throughout the new Air West system and from that, a series of ‘colors’
were chosen to represent (4) distinct regions. “The Great Northwest”-Blue Water/Green Trees, “California Golden Hills”-Blue Ocean/Brown Mountains, “Great Southwest Desert”-Gold/Brown Land & Red-Orange Sun and The “Fiesta Colors” of Mexico-Pink/Orange.
The (4) 2-color combinations would be worn on
the tail and on the ‘Billboard’ style fuselage titles.
In February 1968, Air West met with both MDC and
Boeing officials to plan the new fleet.
While WCA and Bonanza were already operating the
DC-9 Srs 10’s and had both had ordered the Srs 30’s (WCA-2 & Bonanza-3), Pacific’s first of (6) 737-293’s was nearly complete (the 737’s were so close to being delivered that Pacific and Bonanza senior mechanics were in Boeing’s 737 school!). Luckily, the British Leasing company, GATX-Armco-Boothe, which had a U.S office in San Francisco, was expanding it’s U.S. aircraft purchases and would take all (6) of the Pacific 737’s, though legally the first (2) were ‘delivered’ to Pacific. Air West’s CEO Nick Bez was a big fan of Boeing, as he had a front seat to Boeing’s impressive growth since WCA was based at Boeing Field Airport. With Denver now a soon to be adopted new addition, the Boeing 727-200 would be the perfect aircraft for Air West.
An $12 million order for (2) 158-passenger
727-293’s, was signed with an option for (4) additional 727-200’s. MDC would get the next order as (11) 100-passenger DC-9-31’s were purchased (actually just  was purchased while the remaining  would be leased) to be added to the already (5) on order from West Coast and Bonanza. The Fairchild F228 (Main Photo) would be a carry-over from West Coast’s November 1967 order for (3) of the $2 million aircraft. Nick Bez’s West Coast Airline was the 1st to order the Fairchild F-27 and his faith in the ‘Americanized F28’ project was that by 1970, WCA would replace the F-27’s with the new Fairchild jet. As it turned, it was never to be, as the initial Fokker F28 tests had gone even better than hoped for! There was no real need for an ‘Americanized F28 after all and Fairchild had gone on an ill-advised spending spree with the profits from the successful F-27/FH-227 program, hoping to became a major player in the both the the military and airline aerospace industry. The F228 would be cancelled in June 1968, even before Air West ‘officially’ got off the ground!
The Air West management structure was announced
(and would turn out to be the issue soon). (12) separate divisions, each headed by an Officer and (21) major subdivisions.
On April 28, 1968, Air West was notified that
Denver was denied!! United Airlines had flexed it’s muscles and Air West would now have to re-think their new 727-200 order but since the down-payment had already been made and there was a 2-yr wait to get on the assembly-line, Air West would wait it out and hope the CAB would reconsider.
While fully integrated operations wouldn’t begin
until July 1st, the new airline began applying “Air West” stickers to it’s Fairchild F-27’s in May 1968. Though all 3-airlines had F-27’s, looks were deceiving!
(Don Hargreaves Photo)
The (9) West Coast F-27’s were the initial model
and it would turn out they were about 25 mph slower than the F-27A. That was never an issue for WCA but with the soon-to-be integrated schedules, it would become a major issue.
The (9) Pacific F-27’s would have 2-appearences
during the ‘Sticker’ period. Note this F-27 has recently been repainted with a wider area on Blue on the tail! We’ve only seen this variation just in a single photo but could be a sign of what was to come if not for the merger.
(John F. Ciesla Photo)
The 2nd ‘Sticker’ variation is shown in the 1968
photo. Photos of both N2774R & N2775R in this ‘Whitetail’ scheme are known.
The Pacific F-27A’s seem to be the only ones to have this variation!
This Bonanza N759L 1968 photo was taken at SLC
and though it does not shows the variation of ‘Air West’ “Stickers” on both the front and in the rear by the passenger door, it was common but not all the F-27 “Sticker’s” were worn in the dual positions.
While the new Air West Production Control
Department would begin the process of re-painting the all the F-27’s, including (4) on lease arrangements, the DC-9 Srs 10’s would be a different story!
With (8) Srs 10’s carried over from Bonanza
(-11’s &  -14’s plus  -14’s from West Coast and (2) on lease, the plan was announced that there would be no Srs 10 repaints until the new Srs 30’s arrived over the next year and a determination would be made then of how many would be sold back to MDC.
(Bernard Kergal Coll.)
The 3 WCA -14’s would lose their tail logo and
gain an Air West “Sticker”.
(Reginald Rowe-AirlineFan Coll.)
The former Bonanza -11’s & -14’s would lose
their tail logo’s as well but there was some variations in the size of the fuselage “Stickers”…(Note the newly delivered -31. The Baby 9’s would have to wait until 1969 for their first Air West colors!
(Bernard Kergal Coll.)
“Ninety-One Sugar”, as it was
affectionately known, was a 1-yr lease between Bonanza and Southern Airways.
Both airlines had a reciprocal arrangement that was carried over with Air West.
We couldn’t find any photos of N91S with “Air West” stickers, so it may have remained in ‘Bonanza’ titles until it’s return to Southern in February 1969.
(Private Coll. Photo)
The 2nd leased Srs 10 was likely the first ‘Air
West’ lease, as best we can tell. N974Z was leased from February-October 1968 and is shown in May 1968 at Boeing Field-Note the Boeing hangars in the background. Unfortunately, shortly after it’s return to Ozark, it was written off in a take-off accident, though thankfully no major injuries were reported…..The Ozark crew had arrived on it’s layover after midnight and had an early morning (6:30 am) turnaround! Ozark got in trouble with the NTSB and FAA on this incident….
The former Pacific 727-193’s would get the first
“official” Air West re-paints. There were (2) -193’s in the new Air West fleet, as the 3rd was on lease to BWIA for it’s combined Air Jamaica services to Miami and New York.
(Mel Lawrence Photo-June ’68)
N898PC is shown freshly painted (Note the lack
of exhaust stains!) in early June 1968. This 727 would the subject of the Air West inflight photo session, which we’ll cover in detail in a later section.
(John P. Stewart Photo)
Sister 727 N2979G would also never wear ‘Air
West’ “Stickers” as it was repainted in the “Great Northwest” Green/Blue combo very early and is showing a bit more engine exhaust-Note the Pacific F-27 awaiting it’s take-off slot, no doubt at this point in August 1968 wearing ‘Air West’ “Stickers”.
The public face of any airline are the Flight
Attendants and in the case of the new Air West, that would create an interesting period. The 3-way merger would start with (285) F/A’s, those being hired by the orignal airlines and those new hires graduating in June 1968 at the integrated ceremony.
(May-June 1968 Newsletter)
The (3) airlines’ respective F/A uniforms were
all new designs, Pacific’s famous “Pink” (shown center) was introduced in the Spring of 1967, while the new West Coast Blue was a late 1967 design (far r-side). Bonanza’s new Orange (not shown) was the newest, just being issued in early ’68. With new F/A uniforms being designed by world renown Oleg Cassini, the final 4-classes from July-October, before the new uniforms arrived, approximately (55) F/A’s would be outfitted in some unusual combinations, as each of the former airlines’ clothing stocks were used up. One Air West new graduate recalls being issued a Pacific ‘Pink’ uniform with a West Coast Airlines wing and a Bonanza Airlines’ payroll number!
Ground Service agents as well as Mechanics,
would remain in their respective uniforms until the Fall-Winter of 1968. During 1968, Air West would hire (136) Pilots, larger than all of the (125) Bonanza Pilots alone, that came in with the merger! We don’t any personal recollections but we can assume that the newly hired Air West Pilots were outfitted in whatever was available from the remaining stocks of the (3) former airlines.
(181) Pilots were upgraded during 1968 which no doubt kept the Phoenix Training Center very busy!
Back at Long Beach, Air West’s 1st DC-9-31 (an
original WCA order) was getting ready for it’s final check out!
(MDC-Air West Newsletter)
The new all-White design ‘Billboard’ color
scheme was groundbreaking and N9330 in the “Great Northwest” combo Green/Blue is shown with a ballast tank attached to the exterior, as the -31 has not been fitted with an interior yet. Usually the first A/C delivery is chosen for the Pre-delivery inflight photo session but it would be N9331 that would get that honor in June ’68.
On July 1st 1968, Air West, the 1st Regional
airline was ready for it’s close-up!
On it’s Route maps, Air West always would show
2- maps, as Bonanza Airlines would bring to the merger the new Mexico routes, as the CAB had just granted the Mexico rights on April 28, 1968.
For Take-off……July 1, 1968″_________________________
(June 1968 Ad-Dan Veenstra Coll.)
Prior to the July 1st date, Air West had been
using each of the (3) separate systems of the respective airlines but to use the new IBM 360 Computer which only Allegheny Airlines had been using, the old systems had to be disabled, so there was no fallback Plan B! The IBM system had been used in trials but not under the full network and to maximize profits, it was decided to introduce the new system for the peak Summer season….
“It broke down right from the outset, after
a very successful trial run” said Air West’s President G. Robert Henry, “There was utter chaos”! Larry Decker, Air West’s VP-Marketing….”It was utter chaos and confusion, we actually had our people running out to meet the flight, opening the door and asking ‘what flight are you and where are you from’!”
Air West departures began to be delayed while
arriving flights were backing up, clogging the available gate space. Air West officials were so busy they neglected to inform the flying public which in-turn led to a 40% increase in the reservations center….”We did not have the physical capability or capacity to answer all the calls” said Decker.
A team of (20) IBM experts were flown in form
the east coast and worked 24 hrs a day for a week. The system took the 7-days to get back on-line but was not operating fully for another 2-weeks! Air West had become “Air Worst”!!!
While Air West had been denied a Denver route,
the CAB did give the airline a Seattle-Salt Lake City non-stop which was featured in this September ’68 Ad.
By August 1968, just as the airline was getting
it’s IBM system fully operational, Air West’s Chairman Nick Bez announced he had been in secret negotiations with recluse Billionaire Howard Hughes and there was an informal agreement to sell Air West to Toolco! Needless to say, Bez’s fellow top officials were none too pleased to find out they were never informed until the public announcement was made on August 12th!
Just prior to the surprise intent to sell
announcement, Air West had signed with the Bank Of America for a $46 million loan to make debt payments and DC-9 lease payments plus a revolving $8 million line of credit. By September, the $34 million had been drawn down from the loan and $6.9 million from the credit line! Air West was losing $100,000 a day……On September 19, 1968, Air West was ‘officially’ in default!
(John F. Ciesla-August 1968 photo)
While the airline was dealing with a financial mess, the Production Control department kept the F-27 repaints coming. This August 1968 photo show an ex-WCA F-27 freshly painted at rainy Boeing Field, the former West Coast Airlines’ headquarters. The F-27 repaints would have an interesting pattern as (8) of the (9) WCA F-27’s were painted in the “Fiesta” combo’s Pink/Orange which was interesting as WCA never came close to Mexico in it’s old routes.
(Werner Fischdick-September ’68)
This freshly painted F-27A is an oddity as for
some reason it was re-registered from N2740-to N15001, then back to N2740 before it re-entered service in the new colors! It was originally built as a corporate F-27 in 1959 and acquired by WCA in 1966. This Blue/Brown “California Golden Hills” combo was split on the F-27 repaints between Ex-Pacific and Ex-Bonanza aircraft, so this being on a former WCA A/C is a unusual.
(Henry Balsiger Coll.)
Speaking of RARE, this partial image is the only
known photo of an interesting 6-month leased F-27 from Fairchild. N4301F was originally delivered to Ozark but traded-in for an FH-227 (a type which Pacific Airlines had planned to order). This F-27 model was with Air West from December ’68- June ’69.
______________________________The First Air West
(Sharon Lehnertz-Allison Coll. w/added 3rd
Finally in October 1968, the Air West employees
would get their first “official” uniforms. As with most airlines, the Flight Attendants get first dibs and the Oleg Cassini design was controversial.
According to the Air West, “the basic dress was a modified ‘A’ line in a 2-color combination. The Jacket seemed to become the issue. Some say it was influenced by the NBC Star Trek TV show (similar looking 3-color combinations were used for the TV actors). The first production run and apparently the only, was for 1,500 outfits with each F/A getting all 3-colors. There was to be NO mixing of the combinations, as a former F/A recalled when she reported for duty with a non-regulation combination. Being a new hire, she was not written up but the rule was firm.
(Carol Bissell Coll.)
For some reason actual Air West F/A photos are
RARE. More often examples are displayed on mannequins, so these 2-composite photos are a great find! Sharon is on the L-side showing the issue shoulder bag, while Carol is shown sitting on the quite large and heavy issued suitcase.
Interesting that both F/A’s are wearing the Blue/Brown combo which of the 3, was the darkest mix.
The F/A Air West wing was always to be worn on
the L-side of the collar.
(Sharon Lehnertz-Allison/Cliff Muskiet)
The Air West Canvas Coat was in the similar
style with a high collar. Some former F/A’s didn’t recall getting this item.
One F/A recalled being issued a too large size! Even more mysterious was the 2nd Air West Coat, the so-called ‘Dishrag’ coat for it’s obvious similar pattern!
(Sharon Lehnertz-Allison Coll.)
On this item there were even less recollections
on how it was issued. Some F/A’s recall getting both but others got neither!
One F/A recalled it made a great bathrobe on layovers! This cloth coat may have been a 1970 issue item, when the new Hughes team came in. One of the first moves they made was to hire over (300) new Flight Attendants, as a 3rd was added on all DC-9-31 flights in July 1970, as a step to improve customer service.
(Tom Bailey Coll. May ’69 Ad)
This cropped ad appeared nationwide in May 1969
to celebrate Air West improving on-time performing and it shows actual Air West personnel in a variety of the new issued uniforms; Mechanics in White coveralls w/’Air West’ patch, along with the double-breasted Jackets that were worn by Managers and Ground Service Agents.
(Mark Strussenberg Photo)
As with the F/A’s, the Jacket was issued in
3-colors w/Dark Gray trousers. A tie or turtleneck could be worn but some Station Managers mandated the turtleneck which was remembered as quite uncomfortable in bases like Phoenix!!
(Ken Jensen Photo-Mechanic and Service Agent)
Air West began with (6) crew bases; San Francisco,
Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix & a small base at Boise for the Piper Mini-Liners. The (4) Piper Navajo’s had been introduced by WCA in 1966 to replace the DC-3 on the Resort areas in Idaho and Nevada. All (4) would get repainted in the new Air West colors.
The Air West Pilots would be the last to be
outfitted with new uniforms. The Dark Gray suits would have subdued Black sleeve stripes (always thought that the lighter stripes looked more impressive).
The Silver Hat Badge and Wing did look nice
against the Dark Gray.
(1972 Newsletter-Capt. Paul Beach)
Former Bonanza Director of Pilot Training
Captain Paul Beach had that ‘look’, as he was chosen for a 1972 movie shoot with a number of F/A’s. Captain Beach had appeared in a 1966 DC-9 Trainer manufacturer’s print ad also. For the ’72 movie shoot, while the F/A’s were in the new Hughes Airwest Sundance Yellow, the pilots had lagged behind and thus Capt. Beach is still in the sharp looking Air West uniform!
As it turned out, of the 10-Unions that became
Air West, the Pilot Seniority List turned out to be a very divisive issue….
The basic problem was with Bonanza crews as the
airline was 4-yrs younger that WCA and Pacific which would place most of the the Bonanza pilots at the bottom. Eventually an arbittrator came up with a formula that used a % of the pilot’s time with their respective airline. It wasn’t to everyone’s liking but it was enacted.
According to a former Air West Union Rep, for
the most part, the rest of the union issues were resolved without too many problems. It was usually in the larger stations where it was about a 50/50 mix or in the smaller stations that grievances were filed. According to the rep, SFO had the least grievances.
In a surprise move, Air West asked MDC to take
up N9335, the 5th -31 ready for delivery, for a photoshoot. The “Great Southwest Desert” Gold/Red-Orange combo would become one of the most often remembered for Air West, as so many photos from this November ’68 session have been posted and used for postcard collections! (We’ll be posting the most up-to-date list of all the aircraft Reg# combos at the end).
(David DeWitt Coll.-Las Vegas)
In November 1968, there was a new arrival, the
3rd Pacific 727-193 was back from it’s 1-yr lease with BWIA/Air Jamaica! It looks freshly painted the the “California Golden Hills” combo but as it turned she would have the shortest time in Air West colors, just 5-months, as the once “Glamour Girl’s” of the Air West, the 727’s, were not a success, just as they had been with Pacific….
& The Boeing 727_______________________________
For the 727 story, we have to return to 1965.
Unlike it’s future partners West Coast and Bonanza, Pacific felt the on-paper Boeing 737 would be the best choice, though Boeing had to use the 727 demonstrator.
Pacific’s so called ‘Gold-plated’ points were
Monterey, Santa Barbra and Lake Tahoe, as those only had 5,000 ft runways w/obstacles, according to Pacific’s President Harry White. According to Boeing calculations at the time, the projected 737 would be able to operate out of Lake Tahoe with an engine out. While the deal was made, Boeing had a few extra NTU 727’s and would make these available to Pacific on a 2-yr renewable lease.
A pair of 727’s would be signed for and a new color scheme created. (Top Illustration-when the order was announced Boeing had 727 and 737 models in Pacific’s 1964 scheme).
Boeing offered the same deal to Indiana’s Lake
Central Airlines in 1966 for their 737-200C order but the Nord 262 engine fires put an end to that before the Allegheny merger. North Carolina’s Piedmont Airlines also signed for a similar deal, while awaiting their 737-200 order and though the 727’s were successfully being used on the new LGA route, the deal would be remembered due to the tragic loss of the leased 727 in a mid-air collision in 1967……..
Pacific’s 2-727’s never really had a chance for
success, thanks to PSA, whose new 727’s could be advertised with cheaper fares, since they were an inter-California airline regulated by the State and not the FAA. The big blow came in May 1966, when PSA 727’s were approved for the San Jose-Los Angeles route, Pacific’s most important. Pacific was in big trouble and there wasn’t much they could do. They were flying their 118 seat 727-193’s with just (40-45) passengers, needing an average of (80) to break even!
Pacific compounded the issue when in October
1966, they purchased their own 727!
They did get a bit of a break in early 1967,
when National Airlines was looking to lease a 727, most likely for pilot training, as National was busy upgrading pilots as the airline was replacing the L-188’s with more 727-35’s and the new 737-235’s. Pacific leased N2979G from January-April 1967 and the above N898PC, right off the assembly-line, to National from March-April 1967. Note in the photo there is no Pacific cheatline, just the thin lower Red stripe! More than likely, N898PC was only partially painted for the National use and not fully painted until it arrived back at SFO a month later.
Pacific Airlines had to reduce 727 fares to try
to compete with the Inter-California PSA 727 rates and it ended up just losing more revenue for Pacific. The airline reported to the CAB that 90% of it’s losses in 1967 were due to 727 operations! Not exactly what the interim 727 was supposed to accomplish. By the end of 1967, Pacific furloughed (17) mechanics, though as part of the Air West 3-way merger, those mechanics were hired back.
Only for a 7-month period (May-October 1967) did Pacific actually have all (3) 727-193’s in-service! The airline reportedly came close to withdrawing them but decided the negative publicity would be worse…..
Coming into the Air West planning operations in
early 1968, the proposed Denver route award did give the 727 a slightly better outlook. Unfortunately, most of the planned Air West 727 operations were still within California. When the CAB denied Denver to Air West, the new Seattle/Portland-Salt Lake City non-Stop and for a short-time Phoenix, would be the only new 727 routes with Air West.
(Glenn Freire Jr. Coll.)
Though the Air West 727 was the “Queen Of
The Fleet” in early advertising, it’s future was not bright.
Ironically, at LAX, Air West was next to Western
Airlines, who during the first years of the Air West was constantly filing requests to the CAB to prevent the ‘Air West’ name from being used! The CAB didn’t buy the argument that Western and the new Air West were “too confusing” for airline passengers! Even in 1970, after Howard Hughes took over Air West, Western requested that ‘HughesAir’ should be the new name. Had Western been successful in their complaints, the CAB had adopted “West Coast Airlines” as the Plan B name!
(2) of the Air West 727-193’s N898PC (shown
above) and N2979G would serve less than 1-yr and the other, N2969G, just 4-months.
As it turned, Air West’s Nick Bez’s 1968
comments would be later correct, when he said ” I see a larger dollar investment in Boeing than Douglas jets”, as the later 1970’s Hughes Airwest did become a major 727-200 customer……
_______________________________The End Of The
Air West would begin the new year with old
business to finalize, as on December 27, 1968, by a 58% majority of shareholders, the sale was approved for the purchase deal with Howard Hughes’
Toolco Company. On January 18th a joint application was filed to the CAB for final approval. While the CAB showed amazing speed in 1967, for approving the Air West deal, the airlines’ sale would take twice as long! The main reason was the CAB hated dealing with Howard Hughes, this dating back to the TWA and Northeast Airlines matters years ago. Apparently the feeling was mutual, the Toolco Attorney’s rarely provided the asked for documents and financial records and would have little to say on the Air West future planned funding under Mr.
Hughes’ control. One frustrated CAB Commissioner remarked; “Everyone else has to spread their finances on the record. What’s so special about Howard Hughes?” With no other suitors and with the CAB having encouraged the Air West 3-way merger, they had little else to do but ‘slow-walk’ the process while Air West was bleeding financially…..
On January 21, 1969, Air West’s Nick Bez hired
an Airline Transportation consulting firm and as it turned out, that would be the last major move Nick Bez would make, as he passed away on February 5, 1969 at age 73…
The passing of Seattle’s ‘Salmon-King’ was
shrouded in some mystery. One story says Bez had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1968 which might explain his hurry to sell-off Air West, just 8-weeks after it started. Another story has Bez entering the hospital for broken ribs and then suffering a heart attack. Other reports mention Nick Bez was separated from his wife, who in turn posted an armed guard in the hospital to prevent his ‘mistress’ from visiting.
(Bob Polaneczky Photo)
With an airline to run, Air West Quality
Control, kept the F-27 re-paints coming.
(Don Hargreaves Photo)
For the most part, the painters were pretty
consistent. The only variation came on the anti-glare panel.
Some photos have some Black extended under the
pilot’s side window. By June ’69, the F-27’s were all repainted. Nice shot also of the Air West White coveralls!
(Jen Jensen Photo)
On February 17, 1969, Air West and Toolco filed
joint applications with the CAB with an approval of a $4.5 million guarantee in loans with an additional $2.5 million in advances. This measure was approved by the CAB on March 5, 1969.
Also in March-April 1969, the trio of Boeing
727-193’s were leased out to Braniff, who was on 2nd-hand 727 binge, for a 1-yr deal. The 727’s would return but never again be in-service with Air West…..
Operations Analysis-April 1969_______________________________
In April 1969, the Civil Aeronautics Board
issued an 8-pg report on the problems that plagued the new Air West, up to that point. The findings are summarized with the following…..
1) Unlike most mergers, where a larger airline
takes in a much smaller carrier, in Air West’s case it was (3) airlines of relatively equal size which hindered the melding of rules, procedures & practices.
2) The magnitude and the shape of the problems
of the merger company (Air West) were not fully anticipated. Many things failed to mesh and the concept of the new operation was entirely inadequate.
3) Air West began with a definite shortage of
capital resources and the need to make a quick profit led to overzealous efforts to cut costs. Having the new IBM system integrated during the peak Summer season left no room for any operating problems which in fact is what occurred.
4) A new Weight and Balance form created more
issues for Air West Station Agents that were already having to deal with new schedules, new cities, new flight numbers, etc.
5) The relocating of all the F-27 major
Maintenance into the Phoenix base made it difficult to cycle through the Fairchild’s onto what had been the normal (3) days to now periods from (8)-(28) days! This caused more items to be written up and longer delays in releasing the A/C.
6) There were essentially 3-management teams
instead on a single one which was due to the fact that the former CEO’s were unwilling to relinquish control. This led to a lack of long-term planning.
On May 13, 1969, N9342 wearing the “Great
Pacific Northwest” Green/Blue colors was ready for delivery. it was to be the last single DC-9 delivery for Air West, as 3-weeks later the famous “Triple DC-9” formation delivery would take place!
(Terry Waddington Coll.)
In May, Air West finally decided the fate of the
original (8) DC-9 Srs 10’s that were still ‘Sitcker’ A/C. All (3) of the Bonanza DC-9-11’s (P&W JT8D-1 engines) would be sold back to Douglas and the (5) remaining would finally get their new Air West colors, although the ‘Billboard’ Air West fuselage titles would be much smaller than on the -31’s!
(June 1969 Ad)
In June 1969, Air West received CAB approval to
remove (15) seats from their -31’s (99 to 84)! During an earlier 60-day survey, Air West found that during peak periods, passenger loads never exceeded (84).
Air West felt that they could use this in advertising, increasing the Coach/Commuter seating pitch of (33in./35in. to 41in.) Both United and Western (their CAB nemesis) argued that the CAB deny the application, stating “It would destroy the value of First Class!” The CAB disagreed and the “DC-9 Space-Ship” ads began shortly thereafter this ad.
_______________________________”An Air West
One of the most photographed factory-delivery
flights would begin on Wednesday June 4, 1969. Air West would have something ‘special’ planned for the delivery of it’s final (3) DC-9-31’s from McDonnell-Douglas’ Long Beach plant.
Air West’s Top Pilot Department heads would be
involved and the event was fully co-ordinated with the FAA which cleared all traffic from the 18,000-21,000 ft. level from Long Beach to Phoenix. The (3) -31’s would rendezvous over Catalina Island and begin the flight home to Phoenix. N9343 in the “California Golden Hills” Blue/Brown would be in the lead. In the left seat was Air West’s Assistant VP for Operations, Capt.
Shelby Tuttle and in the right seat, Capt. Dave Hinson, Air West’s Director of Flight Safety (later appointed to head the FAA). In the 2nd position was N9344 wearing the “Fiesta Colors of Mexico” Pink/Orange commanded by Air West’s Manager of Flight Training, Capt. Lyle Peterson with Capt. Gerry Felts, Supervisor of DC-9 Training in the right seat. In the “Tail End Charlie” position was N9345 wearing the “Great Southwest Desert” Gold/Red-Orange with Capt. Bob Manning, Air West’s Regional Flight Manager in the left seat and next to him, Capt. Dick Tribe, Head of F-27 Training.
MDC Photo-Geoffrey Thomas Coll.)
The ‘Special’ flight would be documented by a
interesting combination of (2) Douglas photographers in an Aero Jet Commander along with Air West’s Assistant Director of Public Relations Ken Jensen.
Everything went perfectly along the flightplan and the trio broke formation west of the airport after a ‘flyby’ for the employees and landed with the normal expertise. Just 2-days later , all (3) were in scheduled service…..
In October 1969, the 4th Air West Timetable was
issued, bringing a close to the first series of Timetables that featured the 4-color combinations.
(James D. Johnson Coll.)
While N9344 was part of the ‘Special’ delivery
flight, it would get an interesting addition in the Fall of 1969. The CAB allowed Local Service airlines (Air West was now a ‘Regional’ airline though technically still a ‘Local’) that had routes to Canada or Mexico to “Show The Flag”. Most of the airlines did take advantage of the offer and used the ‘International carrier’ term in their advertising. The “Fiesta Colors” Pink/Orange combo had an interesting Air West history. While the 1st A/C painted N898PC (727-193) was painted in the scheme and also the 1st Air West Timetable was in the Pink/Orange, the color was the rarest combo in the new DC-9-31’s, with just (3) of the eventual (17) Srs 30’s. The colors tended to bleed into each other in photos of the period, so this postcard photo is one of the best.
November 1969 would bring a dose of reality, as
Air West had lost $17.5 million by that date, compared to $8 million for the comparable period in 1968! The airline owed $33.3 million on 2-Bank Of America Loans and a balance of $4 million on a Seattle-First National Bank loan. $2.7 million was owed in lease payments to (8) lessors for (15) DC-9-31’s and (4) F-27’s……
On December 10th, Air West announced a 10% cut
for the 3,750 work force. According to Air West Executive VP E.N. Altman the furloughs resulted from “slower than hoped for traffic growth and the delay in the acquisition by Howard Hughes”……
Gets An Airline-1970″_______________________________
The CAB couldn’t ‘slow-walk’ the approval
process any longer and on April 1, 1970, recluse Billionaire was now the proud owner of the new Hughes Air West! Unfortunately, the financial picture had only gotten worse in the past 13-months but Mr. Hughes brought in one of his longtime trusted corporation managers, Irving “Uncle Irv” Tague to begin to turn “Air Worst” around!
(Hughes Air West)
Irv Tague decided to best way to quickly improve
passenger appeal was through the Flight Attendants and it would be ‘Instant Seniority’, as the call was put out for (340) ‘Hostesses’! A new contract with the Flight Attendants mandated a 3rd F/A be added to all DC-9-31 flights. As best we can tell the actual total was about (131) in the initial surge.
The new hires were sent to the Phoenix Training
Center for the classes. Air West graduations were always colorful with the 3-combination color uniforms as shown in the RARE color photo from the July 1970 graduation!
(Connie Bissell Coll.)
The ‘Surge’ did have one drawback for the new
hires, as Air West had to limit the uniforms to just 2- issued colors instead of the earlier 3-colors for each F/A. Apparently Air West never re-ordered any 2nd run after the first 15,000 uniforms were produced. Some new hires just received just a single uniform for the Graduation ceremony and first few weeks of work.
(Rodger Cook Coll)
The new Hughes Air West font was used in
advertising and airport signage. Mechanics would get new coveralls, replacing the All-White with a Blue color w/ Yellow waistband. No doubt a peak into the future? Some of the Airport Hughes Air West signage was also in Blue & Yellow.
(David DeWitt Coll.)
The only change on the actual aircraft was on
the inside of the passenger door.
The leased-out 727-193’s returned from Braniff
but would never again fly the Air West colors as (2) were leased out to Alaska Airlines to become “Golden Nugget” 727’s and Air West’s owned 727-193 would be on it’s way to Burma along with a management team for the Union Of Burma Airways deal.
(Hans Melin Photo)
May 1970 would see a new F-27 join the fleet!
Bonanza had leased out N753L in 1966 to Southeast Airlines and it would get it’s first Air West colors upon it’s return. Interestingly, it would be painted in the “Great Northwest” combo and it was the only ex-Bonanza F-27A to be painted in that combination (of the confirmed F-27-still  Bonanza’s unconfirmed).
In 1970, the (4) Mini-Liners were withdrawn,
closing the small Boise crew base and later on in early ’71
the Portland base was closed. Also (6) of the
slower former WCA F-27 model aircraft were withdrawn -with (4) being quickly sold. Since all but (1) of the WCA F-27’s wore the “Fiesta Colors” Pink/Orange, that color combo was getting harder-to-find in the 1970-71 final years.
The turnaround was beginning! Loses were down
form 1969’s $20 million to $11 million for 1970. Losses for 1971 would continue to drop, to $4.5 million. Hughes Air West would spend 1971 with several CAB applications for removing some of the multi-stop sectors which helped improve the airline’s on-time performances. In early 1971, Hughes Air West would gain CAB approval for several routes; Guadalajara & San Jose del Cabo and Calgary, Alberta approved. In April, the airline moved from WCA’s base at Boeing Field to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
In 1971, Hughes Air West began a concerted
effort to improve Cargo operations to a point where the airline was providing cargo service “to more airlines in the West than any other airline”!
Some (100) communities being served through (80)
airports. The Hughes Air West fleet in mid 1971; (15) 93-passenger DC-9-31’s, (4) 70-passenger DC-9-14’s & (25) 40-passenger F-27’s. The -31’s could carry 5,000 lbs of cargo while the F-27’s were 1,000 lbs capacity. The system-wide on-time average was at 83.3%.
The longest flight segment was Portland-Salt
Lake City (600+ miles) and the shortest was San Francisco-Oakland (11 miles).
(Clinton H, Groves Photo)
July 1971 would bring the last ‘new’ DC-9 Srs 30
for Hughes Air West. The former Purdue Airlines (a supplemental carrier of the famous Purdue University Flight School) DC-9 was a heavier MTOW -32 which also carried an extra 750 gal fwd fuel tank. The extra tank would give N9346 increase mileage an 220-250 nm but it was just used as a normal DC-9 which just made the A/C a dreaded one for baggage handlers, as they had to squeeze in the normal luggage into smaller bins! N9346 had no rear air-stairway also.
It’s not surprising that the last ‘new’ Srs 30
for Air West would be painted in the “Great Northwest” combo, as that had become the most popular combination in the DC-9 fleet with (7) Srs 10’s and Srs 30’s. (2) -14’s were painted in this combo (N9103 & N949L)
(Last Hughes Air West Ad)
When The Hughes Corporation took over, they
changed advertising agencies as well, bringing in the Los Angeles based- Foote, Cone & Belding and the “4-Cities” campaign was one of last major series of ads for Hughes Air West.
(Billy Sierra Jr. Coll.)
The Hughes Air West “Baby 9’s” would
begin an unexpected comeback after the new rebranded Hughes Airwest
in 1972. The smaller F-27 airports would undergo
improvements and the former West Coast and Bonanza Srs 10’s would be joined soon by a new batch of old friends….
On the evening of June 6, 1971 at 6.02pm, Hughes
Air West Flt. 706 lifted off from Los Angeles on its scheduled flight to Seattle via Salt Lake City-Boise-Lewiston-Pacso-Yakima. The DC-9-31 N9345 (the 3rd DC-9 from the famous ‘Triple Delivery Flight’, nearly 2-yrs to the day (June 4, 1969). The Captain was Theodore Nicolay and F/O was Captain Price Bruner, who was a veteran F-27 Captain that had upgraded to the DC-9 in December 1970. As the flight was climbing through the 15,000 ft level, they were struck by a USMC F-4B at 6:11pm which was under a VFR flight plan and had both an inoperable radio and transponder. The 44-passengers and 5-crewmembers perished……
(Rodger Cook Coll.)
Through the heartache and years of difficulties,
the dark days would pass……with a bright new ‘yellow’ horizon…..
___________________________ “The Great
Northwest Colors” _____________________________
N9103…….. DC-9-14 ——————–
N949L…….. DC-9-14 ——————–
N9330…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N9333…….. DC-9-31 ——————– N753L
*-Purchased From Purdue Airlines 06-71
___________________________ “The California
N948L…….. DC-9-14 ——————–
N9331…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N9334…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N9340…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N9343…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N746L …… F-27A
N747L …… F-27A
N748L …… F-27A
N781R …… F-27A
____________________________ “The Fiesta
Colors Of Mexico” ______________________________
N9104…….. DC-9-14 ——————–
N9332…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N9336…….. DC-9-31 ——————– N2704…….
N9334…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
*-Leased From Fairchild 12-68/06-69
N9102…….. DC-9-14 ——————–
N9335…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N9337…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N9339…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N9341…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
N9345…….. DC-9-31 ——————–
We have 100% confirmation on the DC-9 color
combinations and about 89% on the F-27’s…Missing (4); N2771R & N2778R Ex-Pacific and N749L & N756L Ex-Bonanza Fairchild’s.
Thanks to member Eric ‘Baby9’ for his amazing
recreations and photoshopps, to Jon Proctor, who was kind enough to send us his Air West files and for the use of his 2003 Airliners magazine article on Air West/Hughes Air West and to the members of the Hughes Airwest Facebook, who allowed us the use of many private collection photos and there generous assistance in answering are many questions…….John