On April 17, 1968 three "local service" air carriers in the western U.S. merged to form the airline named Air West: Pacific Air Lines, originally known as Southwest Airways when it was founded in 1941, was based in San Francisco and flew along the coast and also served northern California's Central Valley, linking communities from Portland, Oregon, to Southern California. The airline was operating Boeing 727-100 jetliners and Fairchild F-27 propjets at the time of the merger. Bonanza Air Lines, served communities from its Phoenix base westward through Southern California and northward to Las Vegas, Reno and Salt Lake City. Bonanza was operating Douglas DC-9-10 jets and Fairchild F-27 propjets at the time of the merger. The airline had a new Douglas DC-9-30 on order; however, this aircraft was delivered after the merger had taken place to form Air West. West Coast Airlines, based at Boeing Field in Seattle, served the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Utah, Montana and northern California. The air carrier was operating Douglas DC-9-10 jetliners, Fairchild F-27 propjets and Piper Navajo twin prop aircraft at the time of the merger. The initial Air West fleet included Boeing 727-100, Douglas DC-9-10, Fairchild F-27, and Piper Navajo aircraft. The first new aircraft type that was quickly introduced into the Air West fleet was a Douglas DC-9-30 that had been originally ordered by Bonanza Air Lines. As Hughes Airwest, the carrier went on to become an all-jet airline operating Boeing 727-200, Douglas DC-9-30 and Douglas DC-9-10 jetliners by the time of its merger with Republic Airlines in 1980. Hungry for another adventure in the airline industry, TWA's former owner Howard Hughes sought the airline in 1968, and the deal was finalized in 1970. It was then renamed Hughes Airwest and its new call sign became "Hughes-Air." Howard Hughes saw his new airline expand to several other cities in the western United States, Canada, and Mexico. The airline participated in some movies in the 1970s, most notably The Gauntlet with Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke in 1977. Eastwood's character arrives in Las Vegas from Phoenix on the airline and when he later phones the airport for flight departure times, Locke's character sarcastically called the airline, "Air Worst." Like other U.S. local service carriers in the 1970s, Hughes Airwest gradually eliminated many of the smaller communities served and opened new, longer-haul routes. The long serving Fairchild F-27 propjets were finally retired. Service was expanded to resort areas in Mexico. New domestic destinations included cities further east such as Denver, Des Moines, Milwaukee, and Houston, with the latter being served via Hobby Airport (HOU).
Republic replaced the iconic yellow planes with "Herman the Duck" In September 1979, the airline was grounded for two months by a walkout by its ticket agents, reservations handlers, and office employees, who had been without a contract for over a year. During 1979, several airlines publicly showed interest in buying Airwest, including Alaska and Allegheny, which soon became US Air. The strike was resolved in late October and flights resumed in November. Four months later, it was the target of a buyout by Republic Airlines, which was finalized on October 1, 1980, for $38.5 million. Republic had been formed in July 1979 via the merger of North Central Airlines and Southern Airways, the first under airline deregulation. Republic was acquired by Northwest Airlines in 1986, which merged into Delta Airlines in 2010. Revenue Passenger-Miles (Millions)
Hughes Airwest DC-9s in 1979. Hughes Airwest's planes were rather recognizable by their banana-yellow fuselage and tail colors. Their airplanes were often dubbed "flying bananas" and the airline launched an advertising campaign with the catchphrase "Top Banana in the West." Most nicknames given to Hughes Airwest airplanes in aviation books and magazines have to do with bananas. Apart from their all-yellow scheme, the airplanes also featured a blue logo on the vertical stabilizer (tail) that resembled three diamonds connected (possibly a reference to the initials of Howard Hughes). The name Hughes Airwest, in stylized lettering, was featured unconventionally below the front passenger windows. This unique livery was devised by the southern California design firm of Mario Armond Zamparelli, following the crash of Flight 706 in June 1971, caused by a mid-air collision with a U.S. Marine Corps F-4B jet fighter near Duarte, California In late 1971, the company launched a new marketing campaign which included new colors and repainted planes. The cabin windows also had a metallized PET film coating originally, but this proved too costly to maintain. Zamparelli also designed the uniforms of the flight attendants in the new colors, primarily in Sundance Yellow trimmed with Universe Blue. After the sale in October 1980, the all-yellow paint scheme was gradually replaced by Republic's white with blue and green trim, and the mallard "Herman the Duck." Fleet Douglas DC-9-11/14/15/30 - 48 aircraft (includes DC-9-10 and stretched DC-9-30 models. Bonanza Air Lines and West Coast Airlines were both operating DC-9-10 aircraft when they merged with Pacific Air Lines to form Air West). Boeing 727-100 - three aircraft (operated by Air West and previously operated by Pacific Air Lines). Boeing 727-200 (B727-2M7 models) - eleven aircraft. de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter - one aircraft. Fairchild F-27 - ? aircraft (Bonanza Air Lines, Pacific Air Lines and West Coast Airlines were all operating F-27 aircraft at the time of the merger that formed Air West). Piper Navajo (PA-31 model) - ? aircraft (operated by Air West and previously operated by West Coast Airlines).  1972 hijacking Two months after the celebrated hijacking by D.B. Cooper of Northwest Orient flight 305, Hughes Airwest was the target of a copycat hijacker on January 20, 1972. After boarding Flight 800 at McCarran airport in Las Vegas, a 23-year old claimed he had a bomb while the plane was on the taxiway and demanded $50,000 cash, two parachutes, and a helmet. When these demands were met, 51 Reno-bound passengers and two flight attendants were released and the DC-9 departed eastward toward Denver, followed by two F-111s of the U.S. Air Force. The parachutes were high-visibility and equipped with emergency locater devices. Without a coat and in cowboy boots, the hijacker baled out from the lower aft door over the treeless plains of northeastern Colorado in mid-afternoon. He was apprehended a few hours later, with minor injuries and very cold. The plane, with two pilots and a flight attendant on board, landed safely at Denver's Stapleton airport at 2:55 pm MST. Facing potential death penalty charges for air piracy, he was sentenced to forty years, but served less than eight and was released from a halfway house in 1979.