As the 1960s drew to a close the CAB in the USA was looking for ways to wean the local service airlines off of subsidies. This meant a gradual movement away from serving local communities and instead using economies of scale to serve wider regions. The result was mergers, including the unique tri-merger that created 'The airline that had to happen' - Air West!
When the merger of the three Western local service airlines (Bonanza, West Coast and Pacific Air Lines) was approved, in January 1968, it was one of several consolidations that began to see the thinning out of the original local service airline pool and their replacement by large 'regional' airlines capable of reducing their need for subsidies and for the first time competing (in a limited regulated fashion) with the large trunk airlines.
It was a major undertaking, never done before, to merge together three separate airlines but at least the fleet was reasonably homogenous. The most common type would be the Fairchild F-27 (which had been operated by all three airlines), followed by Douglas DC-9-10s (from Bonanza and West Coast) plus a trio of Boeing 727-100s (from Pacific). Also in the mix were four Piper Navajo 'mini-liners' coming from West Coast. With Pacific's Martin 404s retired in 1967 the fleet was modern.
A choice of headquarters was also needed as the orignal airline's HQs were spaced far apart from each other - Bonanza in Phoenix, West Coast in Seattle and Pacific in San Francisco. The San Francisco headquarters won out even though the new management team was headed by West Coast's Nick Bez as chairman and Bonnaza's Edmund Converse as vice-chairman. President of the new company was E. Robert Henry from Pacific.
The creation of Air West appeared to go quite smoothly. The airline advertised its new name and status widely as 'The airline that had to happen'. It's fleet were 'Flexible Flyers' available in four different sizes allowing 'us to fly to more places in the west than any other airline'.
Unfortunately the merger of three different airlines into one, across such a wide area, with a merged leadership team in a competitive environment, when none of the components was particularly successful was not an easy task. Almost from the start the Air West experiment was a disaster. In the end the airline would last in its new form for less than two years but would be reborn as something quite different. In part 2 we'll look at the short life of Air West.
Proctor, J. 2003. Air West 'Top Banana' Pt 2. Airways 80
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: