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The original Golden West Airlines, headquartered at Van Nuys, California, was founded in 1968 and operated out of Terminal 4 at Los Angeles International Airport with a fleet of De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter and HFB-320 Hansa Jet aircraft, serving Pomona, Riverside, Santa Ana, and Ventura. This airline ceased operations on March 11, 1989 .

Aero Commuter, founded in December 1967 and based in Long Beach, operated flights between Long Beach, Los Angeles International Airport, Avalon, Burbank, and Fullerton. It also took over Catalina Airlines (which had been founded in 1953 as Avalon Air Transport). By 1968 service had expanded to include Apple Valley, Bakersfield, El Monte, Ontario, Oceanside, Palm Springs, Palmdale, San Diego, and Santa Ana. In 1969, it merged with Skymark Airlines (Sacramento) (a Sacramento-based charter and commuter airline founded in February 1968) and Cable Commuter Airlines (an Upland general aviation concern that had entered the commuter business in 1968, serving LAX, Burbank, Colton, El Monte, Inyokern, Lake Havasu, Ontario, Palm Springs, Palmdale, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Ventura. Upon the demise of Golden West Airlines (above) in early 1969, Aero Commuter acquired several assets from Golden West, including its name.

As Golden West Airlines it continued to expand aggressively through the 1970s, adding service to San Francisco (SFO), Oakland, Bakersfield, Fresno, Oxnard, Santa Rosa, Merced, Modesto, Monterey, San Jose, Stockton and other smaller airports—many of which no longer have commercial service—such as Van Nuys Airport, Fullerton Municipal Airport, and the Airport in the Sky on Santa Catalina Island. In 1971 it attempted to acquire Los Angeles Airways, a local helicopter commuter line, but the deal fell through.

Because of California's growth and tourist appeal, Golden West was able to become partners with several domestic and international airlines; by 1975, these included Aer Lingus, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeroméxico, American, Delta, Eastern, Japan Airlines, Trans World Airlines and many others.

By the early 1980s, Golden West was the largest commuter airline in California, with a heavy schedule from LAX to SBA and San Diego. Its fleet had grown to include larger aircraft, the Shorts 330 and De Havilland Canada Dash 7. A huge debt service, among other factors, drove Golden West Airlines out of business in April 1983.