By 1984 AirCal had consolidated its position despite intrusion from new airlines in its core markets. The fleet consisted of 2 737-100s, 14 737-200s and 7 MD-80s and was connecting 13 cities with over 200 flights a day. It was time for fleet renewal, however this would still be incomplete when the airline was consumed in the later rounds of the 1980s merger mania that plagued the US deregulated era.
AirCal was also looking at its future fleet needs. Though it had only begun operations with the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 in May 1981 it clearly wasn't particularly enamoured with the type. Though it was able to operate from Lake Tahoe (now opened to jets) and Orange County it wasn't as quiet as competing aircraft and suffered slot restrictions at the very noise sensitive John Wayne Orange County.
Air California had also always been a heavy 737 operator and still had a significant fleet of series 100s and 200s. Boeing was offering its new 737-300, which gave commonality with the older models, was quieter than the MD-80s and more fuel efficient. Accordingly AirCal made the decision in June 1984 to buy 9 and lease a further 3 new 737-300s plus acquire 11 options, in a deal valued at $300 million.
"AirCal, from the president on down to the flight attendants, has been bad-mouthing the aircraft. And now they are going to have to eat a little crow,"
AirCal's 146s began to arrive in March and had all arrived by October. It was then AirCal's turn to experience the reliability issues that PSA had been facing, with BAE jokingly being said to mean "Bring Another Engine". The 146s initially focused on Orange County services but were also used on thin routes like those to Burbank.
Despite, or maybe because of, this growth and success AirCal was in peril. The major US Trunk airlines were busy trying to upscale with the belief that size itself would help ensure their survival. American Airlines was looking for a West Coast operation and on November 17, 1986 they announced they would buy AirCal and its parent ACI Holdings Inc for $225 million.
“The AirCal acquisition will allow American to fulfill its plans to develop its new hubs at Nashville, Raleigh-Durham and San Juan while simultaneously developing a substantial West Coast operation,” Robert L. Crandall, American’s chairman and CEO at the time, said as he announced the deal.
Left: Prior to the full merger AirCal joined the AAdvantage scheme
The deal was approved by the Transportation Department on March 30, 1987 and on July 1, 1987 AirCal ceased to exist. AirCal's existing fleet would carry on with American but as with PSA and USAir the American takeover was not a success. We'll take a look at that in the next part of this series.
1984, June. AirCal Will Add New Boeing 737s. New York Times
1986, January. AirCal Orders British Jets to Counter PSA : Quieter Planes Give Rival the Edge at John Wayne. Los Angeles Times
1987, March. Company News: Agency Approves AirCal Takeover. New York Times
AirCal. Departed Wings
AirCal. Aeromoes Fleets