Air California gained its CAB certificate in 1979 and began its first service outside of California on November 9, when it began operating to Reno, Nevada. The pair of 737-100s was Air California's first foray into fleet growth and they were gradually joined by further used 737-200s. Further interstate routes were begun - this time to Phoenix and Portland. To assist in servicing these new routes whilst extra 737s were purchased a single example, N9014U, was leased from United Airlines and only partially repainted into Air California colours keeping the Saul Bass cheatlines. She was nicknamed UniCal and stayed with the airline for a year her departure coinciding with the delivery of the airline’s first DC-9 Super 80. She had joined United on 26th June 1968 and operated with them upon her return until 1992 when she was stored at Tucson and broken up. Other 737-200s were leased for short periods from Aer Lingus and Aloha.
All was not well however at Air California's owners Westgate-California who by 1981 were bankrupt. A bidding war between the upstart Air Florida and a pair of Orange County developers was won by the latter and it was William Lyon and George Argyros (owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team) who emerged as the new owners of the airline. On April 6, 1981 Air California was rebranded as AirCal. The renamed company acquired a dynmaic new and attractive livery as well as new crew uniforms designed by Mary McFadden. On June 1 service to Seattle was added.
AirCal continued to focus on its intrastate services as well as interstate ones. Along with its competitor PSA the airline acquired new British aerospace BAE-146s. The 146's primary appeal was its ability to operate out of noise-restricted airports. Five aircraft were added from March 1986. N142AC was the second aircraft. The 146s were not a great success initially primarily due to reliability issues with their engines.
AirCal continued to expand its route network and reached as far east as Chicago and as far north as Anchorage. The mid-1980s were however proving a treacherous time for airlines. Cutthroat competition and merger mania made it a dangerous place to be a smaller airline as the majors began to hoover up the competition in a collective feeding frenzy. Merger discussions took place with Piedmont Airlines in 1986 but later that year American Airlines came calling and purchased the company. AirCal ceased to exist on July 1, 1987.
With American N142AC became N695AA but she was sold to Malmo Aviation by the end of 1990 as SE-DRC. Cityjet bought her in 2001 as EI-CWC and she operated with them in Air France colours. Sold on in 2007 she now plies her trade with Nationale Regionale Transport in Africa as TR-LIR / ZS-SBD.
The merger did give spotters the opportunity to see 737s in AA colours. N461GB was originally delivered to Wien in May 1968 before being leased to Air California six months later. In April 1989 American leased the aircraft to the 2nd Braniff but following their bankruptcy in January 1990 she was repossessed. Her career ended in October 1995 when she was donated to the Phoenix Aviation Dept for use as a fire training hulk.
The $225 million deal was an attempt to strengthen AA’s West Coast presence, but attempts to build a San Jose hub foundered in the face of low-cost competition and by 1993 AirCal’s old network was dismantled. It was a sad end for such a promising airline that had done much to bring competition to the Californian market.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: