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Imperial was founded as Visco Flying Service in 1964, but later the passenger service changed its name to Imperial Airlines. Visco Flying Service continued to operate as a crop-dusting service in the Imperial Valley, for a number of years utilizing Stearman bi-wing aircraft, later added helicopter aerial applications as well as a turbine powered mono-wing aircraft. Imperial's passenger carrying operations were operated under FAR135 that initially focused on services from Imperial County Airport to San Diego's Lindbergh Field.
On January 8, 1968, at 10:40 a.m. an Imperial Beech E18S flown by a single pilot with three passengers aboard crashed shortly after take-off from Lindbergh Field when an engine failed and the pilot was unable to control the aircraft. One passenger survived the accident with serious injuries, according to the NTSB report, LAX68A0065.
Imperial acquired a Beechcraft Queen Air 65-B80, carrying passengers between the Imperial Valley and San Diego in daily, frequent service. Up to eleven passengers could be accommodated in modest seating that included the co-pilot seat, as the airline operated with a single-pilot only, at that time permitted by the FARs.
In a brief alliance with Borego Springs based Sun Aire Lines in the mid 1970s a Swearngen Metroliner was placed on the route. The arrangement proved problematic and the two lines went their separate ways, with the high-time Queen Air pressed back into service between Imperial and San Diego. By 1976 there were five or six round trips flown Monday through Friday, none on the weekends, the first departing Imperial at 6 a.m. on the 36 minute flight, with service ending each night just before 8 p.m. back in the "Valley."
In mid 1978 discussions resulted in the airline being sold by James K Vedder to a group of investors from the San Diego area who believed that the deregulated airline environment would provide opportunities not before possible. Soon the lone Queen Air was retired, replaced by four Cessna twin-engine 402s and a single Cessna 404. The route system immediately expanded to Yuma and Phoenix as well as Los Angeles International. About 1980 the airline moved its headquarters to Carlsbad, California. Later the airline acquired the larger Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante and Shorts 360 for its routes along the southern California coastal corridor. For most of the early 1980s, the airline operated flights between San Diego International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport at thirty minutes intervals throughout the day. By 1986 the airline was suffering the effects of increased competition and it ceased operations in January of that year.
Non-stop service has been absent the Imperial - San Diego city pair for several dozen years, but is planned for start-up again in the first quarter of 2013 utilizing the single engine turbo-prop Cessna Caravan 208.