By William Lehman - US Airways Flight Attendant
In 1945, San Diego resident Kenny G. Friedkin founded Friedkin Aeronautics. The new company’s specialty was training servicemen who had just returned home from World War II how to fly using a Cessna UC-78 under the governments National Rehabilitation Act. Within four years, the number of veterans who wanted to learn how to fly was dropping drastically. Friedkin realized that if his company was going to survive he needed to switch gears from training pilots to starting an airline capable of carrying passengers.
With very little start up capital, Friedkin literally bought whatever facilities he could get his hands on including a Marine Corps converted outhouse and bathroom scales to weigh luggage. Next Friedkin found a DC-3 that was available for lease at rates within his budget. Friedkin called the DC-3 a “Luxurious Skyliner” and named his new airline Pacific Southwest Airlines or PSA. Friedkin knew that the fitness hearings for starting a new airline held by the Civil Aeronautics Board was a long and laborious process; another option was needed. Friedkin turned to California’s Public Utilities Commission or P.U.C. who would have both economic jurisdiction and full authority over what airfares could be charged. Friedkin was able to quickly meet all requirements, although larger interstate carriers objected. PSA had its first victory as permission was granted to start service between San Diego and Oakland via Burbank, with first flight taking place on May 6, 1949.
Friedkin started advertising in local newspapers inviting the general public to “Fly PSA, San Diego’s Largest Hometown Airline.” Friedkin believed that anyone should be able to fly, so he received approval from the P.U.C. to charge only $9.95, which was three times less than what other airlines charged. On May 6, 1949, PSA’s first flight took off from San Diego to Burbank and Oakland. PSA would end its first year by carrying over 15,000 passengers and a net profit of $11,984.
In 1950, as PSA continued to operate over the same three-city network, passenger traffic tripled to over 45,000 passengers. PSA recognized that sailors had weekend furloughs to visit family and friends up the coast and could afford to fly with airfare being so low. In fact so many sailors flew PSA that the airline became known as “Poor Sailors Airline.” Friedkin’s dream was now a reality as people who could not afford to fly now flocked to PSA.
As 1951 opened, PSA continued its simple, yet effective three-city route system. Friedkin ensured that PSA employees including pilots, flight attendants, and customer service agents had fun with the passengers. Although larger carriers were serving full breakfasts on competing flights, Friedkin simply bought donuts and coffee at nearby restaurants to serve on PSA flights.
Friedkin knew the key to success was friendly, safe, reliable and dependable air service. Another California based airline who had started service in January 1949, called California Central Airlines did not take kindly to PSA flying into its most profitable route. As the two airlines had slugged it out between Burbank and Oakland, California Central realized the best way to hurt PSA was to begin service into San Diego. California Central was carrying almost 100,000 more passengers than PSA and the management believed that they could put PSA out of business since they were much larger and using both DC-3 and the four-engine DC-4. Friedkin accepted the challenge by continuing to keep airfares as low as possible and beefing up frequency. California Central was losing money and with PSA’s pressure could not raise airfares. California Central traded the DC-3 and DC-4s for five used Northwest Airlines Martin 202s, which were much more expensive to operate. Friedkin stayed the course as California Central continued to go deeper into debt. In July, PSA added San Francisco to the route system with a third DC-3. PSA continued to charge airfares one third of both Western Airlines and United Airlines. Positive response to PSA’s low airfares resulted in a year-end profit of $6,000.00.
In 1952, PSA added a fourth DC-3 as Friedkin continued to stress high frequency between the four cities in the airlines route system, as it was a key ingredient in profits for the small airline. PSA was an early pioneer in quick turns between flights, as aircraft do not make money when sitting on the ground for long periods of time. PSA was able to turn the DC-3s in as little as five minutes in downline stations by keeping the right engine running while passengers and baggage were unloaded and loaded. The year ended with PSA losing money, although the company carried over 92,000 passengers using four DC-3s.
In 1953, PSA added Long Beach from San Diego. By the end of the year, PSA had carried over 115,000 passengers, but continued to fight California Central for market share throughout the year. Friedkin continued to keep airfares as low as possible, and made sure passengers always felt welcome when boarding PSA flights. The continued fight with California Central caused PSA to lose money for the second year in a row. Friedkin was forced to rethink his strategy on growing the airline and stop the red ink; otherwise, PSA would cease to exist.
As 1954 opened, PSA discontinued service at both Long Beach and Oakland, shrinking the airline back to a three-city network of San Diego, Burbank, and San Francisco. While this was a very difficult decision for Friedkin to make, he felt it was the only way to ensure that PSA survived. In February, with the economy cooling, California Central who had competed fiercely with PSA finally succumbed to bankruptcy and ceased operations. Even though PSA had shrunk the cities served from five to three, the company ended the year carrying only 13,000 less passengers. Friedkin again proved skeptics wrong as PSA closed the year with a profit.
In early 1955, PSA purchased two used 70 seat DC-4s from Capital Airlines. Friedkin was very careful not to mention that the aircraft were for PSA. Friedkin continued keep costs as low as possible; by not repainting the DC-4s but instead simply putting the PSA’s name over where the Capital name had been displayed. As PSA placed the two DC-4s into service, the DC-3s were withdrawn since the DC-4s were twice as fast and could carry double the passengers. As PSA profits continued to rise, Friedkin responded by lowering airfares, much to the disgust of the larger airlines. PSA was becoming very popular with businessmen, who knew they could always count on low airfares and frequent flights. The image of “Poor Sailors Airline” was starting to fade.
In early 1956, PSA added a third DC-4 to the fleet, while continuing to serve the three-city network. Friedkin continued to stress that frequency of service would bring more business to PSA. The strategy worked as PSA ended the year with the highest profit ever of $58,538.00.
In 1957, PSA added a fourth DC-4 as employees increased to 246. Friedkin stunned industry analysts when a press conference was held in San Diego to announce that PSA had placed an order for two French built Sud Caravelle jets. The excitement would be short lived, as Friedkin could not get any bank to finance the five million-dollar order. Upon hearing that PSA could not finance the Caravelle order, Lockheed brought the prototype Electra to San Diego for Friedkin and other top leadership to look at. Lockheed stated to Friedkin that if he ordered the aircraft, Lockheed and Allison (who manufactured the engines) would assist in getting the necessary financing. By September with the banks backing, PSA placed an eight million dollar order for three 98 seat Lockheed Electras with first delivery planned for late 1959.
As 1958 dawned, PSA added its first new city in over three years- Los Angeles. Friedkin listened carefully to businessmen, the tiny marketing department came up with catch phrases for the new flights including “the Coronado”, and “the San Franciscan” for morning snack flights while the “Golden Gate” was adopted for the afternoon snack flights. Friedkin continued to tell employees to treat passengers as if they would treat a good friend or family member. He also made sure that PSA hired the most beautiful women in California trained to pamper passengers and use their sense of humor to entertain. PSA was pulling passenger traffic away from its two biggest rivals in the San Francisco-Los Angeles market even though both United and Western flew the larger DC-6 and served full meals.
In 1959, PSA marked its tenth anniversary as an airline. In November, PSA accepted delivery of the first four engine Lockheed Electra turbo-prop. The Electra was the ideal aircraft for PSA’s 400-mile average stage length. Later in the year, PSA placed an additional order for three more Electras.
In 1960, PSA’s two other ordered Electra’s were placed into service, while the DC-4s were withdrawn from the fleet and sold at a profit. Since the Electra’s cost more to operate, PSA discontinued snack service on all flights. This prevented Friedkin from having to raise the price of tickets. In October, PSA reentered Oakland with a leased DC-6 since the fourth Electra was not due to be placed into service until the following year.
In March 1961, PSA closed Oakland for the second time due to poor passenger loads and the DC-6 was returned, while the fourth Electra was delivered and placed into service within the existing route structure.
1962 was a stellar year for PSA as the fifth Electra was placed into service and the airline reached the one millionth passenger milestone. Since quick turnaround of aircraft was still a key ingredient, flight attendants were tasked with collecting tickets on-board the aircraft. In March, founder Kenny Friedkin passed away suddenly. His funeral was attended by thousands to pay tribute to a great man who vision of low cost air transportation was now a reality. Friedkin’s strategy and vision would not only stay with the future of PSA, but would repeat itself again decades later with deregulation of the industry. J. Floyd Andrews who had started with Friedkin Aeronautics succeeded Friedkin. PSA was so satisfied with the performance of the Electra that free demonstration flights were offered to Lockheed employees and their families to say “thank you”. PSA ended the year again with record passenger traffic and profits with a fleet of five Lockheed Electras flying a simple yet effective four-city route system.
On February 13, 1963 the company reached another milestone, as PSA became a public corporation. Later in the year, the sixth and final Electra was delivered. PSA has grown to become the largest in-state air carrier in the United States.
In January 1965, PSA reentered Oakland with flights south to Los Angeles, Burbank, and San Diego. Andrews placed an order for two McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 aircraft with planned delivery in 1967. On April 9, 1965, PSA entered the jet age as the first Boeing 727-100 was delivered and placed into service. Both United and Western tried to steal passengers away from PSA by using the bigger Boeing 720 and offering free meals and cocktails. PSA responded by simply doubling the flights, raising the hemline on flight attendant uniforms and giving Captains permission to buy drinks on any flight. Andrews’ only instructions to his employees were to make sure the passengers had fun. The strategy worked as PSA continued to pull passengers away from rival competition. On June 21, 1965, PSA was added to the New York Stock Exchange. By the end of the year, PSA had doubled its size with six Boeing 727-100s and six Lockheed Electras.
In 1966, PSA added two more Boeing 727-100 as the sixth city San Jose was added. By starting service between San Jose and Los Angeles with several flights at once, PSA drove Pacific Airlines completely out of the market. Other airlines were learning a hard lesson that it was impossible to compete with PSA’s total domination with frequent flights and low airfares. PSA ended the year with a profit of four million and with Andrews placing an order for seven of the larger Boeing 727-200s.
In January 1967, PSA would be challenged by what would be the rival for the rest of PSA’s existence as Air California began scheduled service at nearby Orange County airport with two Lockheed Electras. In February, PSA added Sacramento with flights to Los Angeles, Burbank, and San Diego. During the summer, PSA started helicopter service between Lindbergh Field and three local San Diego hotels using a Bell 206 Jet ranger, however the experiment only lasted one month as the one helicopter was cost prohibitive. In August, Andrews made a bold move as PSA applied to be an interstate carrier with planned service to Portland and Seattle. Within a few months PSA withdrew its application before the Civil Aeronautics Board citing concerns with having little control over schedules or airfares. Andrews was also concerned with the rapid growth occurring at Air California, which was using the PSA blueprint of frequent flights and low fares. Since PSA had set-up a state of the art training facilities for pilots training on the Boeing 727s, Andrews turned his attention to training other airline pilots. German airline Lufthansa became the first of many carriers to pay PSA to train their pilots. Andrews, signed an order with Boeing for ten Boeing 737-200s since it was a more cost-effective aircraft for PSA, and since several of the systems were similar to the larger Boeing 727 that PSA already operated. As the two McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30s were delivered, Andrew already had placed the aircraft up for sale pending delivery of the Boeing 737s, while with the delivery of the DC-9s, the Lockheed Electras were phased out. PSA was now a pure jet airline.
In 1968, PSA rapidly accepted delivery of seven new Boeing 727-200s and four Boeing 737-200s. The PSA jets were configured with 159 and 114 seats respectively giving the planes a very comfortable appearance and plenty of legroom. In June, Ontario became the eighth city served as PSA’s fleet grew to 20 aircraft. While the hem line on flight attendant uniforms became hot pants, male passengers scrambled for aisle seats. Andrews placed additional orders for larger Boeing 727-200’s and held options on more Boeing 737-200s.
In 1969, PSA celebrated its twentieth birthday as 4.5 million passengers were carried. Andrews decided it made sense to sell the Boeing 727-100s with its three engines, and a Flight Engineer was too costly to operate while the Boeing 737-200s could carry the same passengers but were more cost effective with two engines and two pilots. However, no buyers approached PSA, so Andrews instead set up another subsidiary called Jet Air Leasing. The leasing company was successful in leasing out the aircraft. Another subsidiary, Pacific Southwest Airmotive that specialized in overhauling jet engines moved into new facilities at San Diego’s Lindbergh field. The year closed with PSA picking up seven more Boeing 727-200s as the fleet grow to 14 of the larger jet balanced with seven Boeing 737-200s and one Boeing 727-100, while one of the DC-9-30s was sold to Ozark Airlines.
In January 1970, PSA filed an application with the P.U.C. to merge with rival Air California. After numerous public hearings and delays in possible approval, PSA withdrew the offer. PSA moved the Pilot Training Center from San Diego to Phoenix’s Litchfield Park to take full advantage of improved weather conditions and little air traffic to contend with. In December, PSA returned to Long Beach after a sixteen-year absence. At the same time PSA purchased the Queen Mary as the company had decided to buy or build a hotel in every city PSA served. Andrews set up a new holding company called PSA, Inc. as PSA expanded into other areas as a car rental company, sport fishing, and several radio stations. On Christmas Eve, Andrews announced that PSA had placed an order for two Lockheed Tri-Star L-1011 jets with options of three more wide-bodies that would be configured to seat 296 passengers. Andrews had arranged financially by using some of the Boeing 727-100s that had been recently returned off of lease as down payment for the order. Mechanic Cleve Jackson approached Andrews about putting a smile on the front of PSA aircraft. After experimenting with putting the smile on one Boeing 727, and the public’s positive response, PSA’s signature smile would be placed on all aircraft. At the end of the year PSA flew a fleet of 26 Boeing 727s and Boeing 737s as the remaining DC-9-30 was withdrawn from service and sold.
In early 1971, PSA received news from Lockheed that the sole engine builder for the L-1011, Rolls Royce was in receivership and the entire program was in jeopardy. Not knowing what the future held for the L-1011, Andrews invited Airbus and McDonnell Douglas to San Diego to preview both the Airbus A-300 and the DC-10. With assurance from both companies that they could deliver aircraft to PSA, Andrews notified Lockheed that he intended on cancel the order and order the wide bodies elsewhere. Lockheed was informed that the British government was assuming control of Rolls Royce and that the L-1011 program was back on track. Lockheed responded to PSA’s request for cancellation by lowering the purchase price, and assisting with the necessary financing for the aircraft. Andrews was satisfied with the arrangement and the Board of Directors approved PSA moving forward with the order. PSA’s car subsidiary Val-car was sold, as the car company had become a huge drain on the bottom line of the holding company.
As 1972 opened, PSA added two more cities Fresno and Stockton. PSA fleet remained steady as 27 aircraft flew the entire route system. Jet Air Leasing accepted five Boeing 727-200’s that were immediately placed with All-Nippon Airways. The pilot training program expanded as PSA, Inc. purchases the first of two Japanese made NAMC YS-11 turboprop for training of Japanese pilots, although owned by PSA these aircraft would not be painted in PSA livery. Andrews decided that PSA needed a new paint scheme. Gone were the red and white planes that had served PSA faithfully for over twenty three years and in its place colorful stripes of pink, red, and orange ran down the side of the airplane with a sweeping rooster tail on the tail and the signature black smile on the front of the aircraft.
In 1973, PSA continued to dominate all the markets it served. PSA was now well known as a “party airline” as flight attendants added comedy and dry humor to all inflight announcements, a policy that would last through the rest of PSA’s life. The year ended with PSA locking in financing for the pending L-1011 deliveries. On November 15th, PSA’s maintenance and operations personnel declared a strike. The airline continued to operate most of the flight schedule and an agreement was reached one month later. While the strike was without violence, one Boeing 727 was heavily damaged after being set on fire.
The year 1974 would be known as the year of the wide body as PSA received both L-1011s. PSA flew several media and demonstration flights to show off “The Grinningbird” that had a lower deck 16-seat lounge in place of the forward cargo bin. The first flight of the L-1011 occurred on August 1st between Los Angeles and San Francisco. An Arab oil embargo, combined with a recessionary economy and rationing of jet fuel forced PSA to park the L-1011s, as the wide bodies were simply burning too much fuel on the short one hour hops that the aircraft was flying. The holding company accepted delivery of the second YS-11 for the Japanese pilot training program.
In 1975, PSA reintroduced the 4-engine turboprop the Lockheed Electra as PSA opened its twelfth city, South Lake Tahoe. The Electra’s were necessary since jet aircraft were prohibited from flying into the small mountainous town. PSA was in trouble financially in large part because of a dispute that developed between Lockheed and PSA. Andrews’ order for the L-1011s was regarded as a huge mistake, the company would not accept the three options held, and the other two aircraft already delivered had been parked in the desert. The Board of Directors ordered Andrews to immediately start selling off unprofitable parts of the company. PSA sold the sport fishing business, some radio stations, and the pilot training program. PSA had also decided to phase out the Boeing 737-200s in favor of just two types of aircraft the Boeing 727 and Lockheed Electra. J. Floyd Andrews announced his retirement as many on the board felt he was to blame for PSA’s financial difficulties. William Shimp who was one of the original pilots became Chairman and CEO and Paul Barkeley would fill the role as President. PSA closed the year with its first loss in twenty-two years.
As 1976 opened Shimp and Barkeley’s first priority was to return PSA to profitability. This resulted in the remaining radio stations being sold and selling the hotels. A second Lockheed Electra was added as PSA was granted additional flights into South Lake Tahoe. Two older Boeing 727-100s were leased as the fleet transition was completed selling the remaining two Boeing 737s. PSA operated a fleet of 25 Boeing 727s and two Electras. Shimp wanted the $18 million in deposits that had been given to Lockheed for future L-1011s back to PSA. When Lockheed refused, a legal dispute erupted that would last four years before being resolved. By the end of the year, Shimp and Barkeley’s efforts paid off as the company returned to the black as profits returned.
In 1977, PSA started encountering difficulties with the P.U.C., which in the past had always been supportive of PSA. Fare increases occurred only after lengthy review hearings and only after the P.U.C. felt the fare increase deserved merit. Other P.U.C. officials entered into debates on whether PSA and rival Air California should have domain on certain routes. Shimp had enough, PSA applied for immediate authority to begin interstate service between various California cities to Las Vegas and Reno. As had been encountered in the state level, the Civil Aeronautics Board held various hearing without granting authority. PSA countered by submitting additional requests for routes from California to Oregon, Washington, Utah, Texas, and Mexico, with promises to reduce airfares by as much as 50%. While the C.A.B. continued to hold hearings without resolve, PSA did receive permanent route authority from the state P.U.C to serve South Lake Tahoe from Southern California and San Francisco. PSA acquired the third Lockheed Electra to expand service from Los Angeles and Burbank. PSA solved a minor problem in the fall as the pink color in the paint scheme was fading too fast under the California sun, the company solved the problem by changing the pink to orange, while changing the PSA on the planes from solid to hollow block letters giving it a cleaner more modern look.
In 1978, the winds of change were occurring as President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act. This was the break PSA was waiting for. Authority was finally granted to allow PSA to begin interstate air service between California and Las Vegas and Reno. The “Bright Light Flights” immediately became very popular as PSA launched service from both the Bay Area and Southern California. PSA was now the twelfth largest airline, as Shimp knew the future of PSA hung on expanding outside the state. Applications were submitted to the C.A.B. to grant authority to start service to Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and seven cities in Mexico with promises to reduce airfares by 30%. Both Shimp and Barkeley also knew that jet fuel would never return to the prices of the past and as fuel went up the Boeing 727s became more fuel inefficient. First, Shimp looked again at the Airbus A300, but decided with one-hour average flights, the aircraft was too big to accomplish quick turns. PSA looked to McDonnell Douglas’ redesigned new aircraft called the DC-9 Super 80. After looking over the new design, PSA along with Swiss Air became the launch customers for the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 Super 80. With the two next generation engines and state of the art design, it promised huge fuel savings and would be the first aircraft to meet the Stage III noise requirements that many airports would be imposing by the mid 1980’s. Shimp signed an initial order for 12 aircraft with options of 20 more. In the fall, PSA introduced new automated ticket machines at San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Sadly, on September 25th, a Boeing 727-200 flight 182 from Sacramento and Los Angeles collided with a private airplane on approach to San Diego, killing everyone on board including 37 PSA employees. Besides the normal crew compliment, there were also deadheading crewmembers and other employees from the stations that were arriving for a station roundtable. The crash deeply affected not only the company, but also the city of San Diego who continued to regard PSA as the pride of San Diego. PSA leased out the two L-1011s to Aero Peru, while closing the year with a fleet of 25 Boeing 727-200s, six Boeing 727- 100s and four Lockheed Electra’s.
In March 1979, PSA launched new service to Phoenix from San Diego. Soon after, Los Angeles was added. Jet fuel starting spiking by the middle of the year forcing PSA to raise airfares, although still well below that of the competition. PSA broke ground on a new building that would house aircraft simulators and both pilot and flight attendant training. The new building would be adjacent to the reservation center that was in the Scripps Ranch Business Park. After failing to convince the City of South Lake Tahoe to allow jet aircraft to fly into the airport and with the increasing costs of maintaining the Electra’s, the company closed the station exiting the market completely. The four Electra’s were sold at a profit, while four advanced Boeing 727-200s were delivered. Jet Air Leasing leased three Boeing 727-100s and one Boeing 727-200 to other airlines. PSA added Salt Lake City in November. The year finished with PSA making a record profit of $23 million with a fleet of 30 Boeing 727-200s, while Shimp increased the DC-9 Super 80 order to twenty with options on additional ten aircraft.
The year 1980 would be both exciting and challenging for PSA. A Texas based company called Valhi Corporation headed by Dallas businessman Harold Simmons attempted a hostile takeover of the airline. Shimp was alarmed by the fact that Simmons had been buying stock since mid 1978 and held 21% of PSA. Simmons attempts to takeover PSA failed and Shimp took necessary steps to prevent just an event from happening again by shedding Jet Air Leasing subsidiary and using the cash to strengthen PSA balance sheets. In April, PSA opened its first two international cities from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, while receiving notice from McDonnell Douglas that the DC-9 Super 80 program had slipped behind schedule. This forced PSA to reduce service in several markets since some Boeing 727-200s had already been retired from the fleet and sold to other airlines anticipating that the new aircraft would arrive on schedule. PSA pilots who were represented by the Southwest Flight Crew Association struck PSA on September 25th. The sole cause of the strike was refusal to fly the new DC-9 Super 80 with just two pilots. The union contended that three were needed, although the earlier versions of the DC-9 had always been flown with two pilots. PSA was losing millions of dollars as the strike dragged on. Shimp and Barkeley in desperation placed full-page ads in major city newspapers advertising that PSA was hiring pilots. This was enough to bring both sides back to the table and in the end; the union accepted the new aircraft with two pilots. The 53-day strike affected both earnings and passenger traffic, as it would take several months to reopen all PSA stations and resume a pre strike flight schedule. In October, PSA received the first new DC-9 Super 80, known as the “the world’s quietest commercial jetliner.” Because PSA did not have simulators for the new aircraft, pilot and flight attendant, training was done on the actual aircraft preventing the first flight from taking place until November. The year ended with PSA operating 22 Boeing 727s and one DC-9 Super 80.
As 1981 began, the company aggressively continued the fleet transition from the Boeing 727s to the Super 80s as PSA received 17 new planes from McDonnell Douglas. The new jetliner performed as promised delivering a $1.7 million fuel savings over the Boeing 727s. PSA opened the multi-million-dollar pilot and flight attendant training center at Scripps Ranch. The highlight of the new building was the United States’ first full motion Simulator for the Super 80. This saved PSA thousands of dollars by using the simulator as opposed to using real aircraft. PSA’s old rival Air California rebranded itself with a new paint scheme and new name- Air Cal. Its corporate mission was to attack PSA by launching new service into Los Angeles International Airport. PSA would counter attack by launching service into Air Cal’s home base of Orange County. Air Cal aggressively added Burbank and PSA’s number one market, Los Angeles to San Francisco. PSA added Seattle and Tucson, while closing both Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, as passenger loads were weak. PSA, like all airlines was affected dramatically by the Air Traffic Controllers strike. PSA would not be able to return to a full flight schedule until mid 1982. Shimp created a new paper company called Pacific Northwest Airlines. PNA had been planned to be a non-union company, but nothing ever materialized.
Throughout 1982, PSA would receive eight more Super 80s. As the Super 80s were delivered PSA continued downsizing the Boeing 727s by selling the used aircraft to Pan-Am, Eastern, and Piedmont leaving only nine by the end of the year. In May, Braniff International filed bankruptcy and ceased flying. With the southwestern United States being a long-term growth plan for PSA, the company worked on a reorganization plan that would have PSA flying 25-30 former Braniff Boeing 727s in PSA’s paint scheme based in Dallas. The Braniff unions rejected the plan, since PSA refused to guarantee that only Braniff frontline employees would be used. In December, the company countered by proposing a new subsidiary called, PSA, Texas Division. The plan was still to be the company in Dallas, serving sixteen former Braniff cities using 30 Boeing 727s. PSA’s only promise to the former Braniff employees was a job interview. Later in the year with fierce competition from Western Airlines, PSA closed Salt Lake City, and for the first time in the company’s history; PSA was forced out of a market. PSA reinstated the popular late night, low fare “Midnight Flyer”, while looking seriously at acquiring Boeing 757s.
On February 1, 1983, PSA abandoned negotiations with Braniff when the unions and the bankruptcy court could not meet deadlines. By May, PSA added three new cities; Portland, Spokane, and Albuquerque by acquiring four used DC-9 series 30 aircraft from Air Canada. The DC-9s were originally going to Alt Air, but due to that company ceasing operations, PSA was able to pick up all four aircraft for the cost of one new Super 80. At the same time, PSA became the official airline of Disneyland with a sponsored attraction along with exclusive packaging for air and hotel packages. For the first time, PSA started assigning seats along with a new lucrative frequent flyer program called Executive Flyer.
As the year marched on PSA started looking for smaller aircraft since many of the 153 Super 80s were flying around half full. Shimp and Barkeley first turned to McDonnell Douglas who was studying a shortened version of the Super 80 called the MD-87, but the new plane was more than three years away from being manufactured. The all-new Boeing 737-300 was still a prototype with no plans for a smaller version. Fokker in the Netherlands also had no viable solution for PSA. British Aerospace in England heard of PSA’s dilemma and contacted Shimp inviting him to come to England to see the new high wing four engine BAe146 aircraft. Shimp flew to England, where excited engineers from British Aerospace took him immediately on a demonstration flight, which included him flying the aircraft. After landing Shimp, unimpressed with what he thought was an ugly cargo looking plane; said little and returned to San Diego. Barkeley was already pushing for the new aircraft with the Board of Directors as British Aerospace was making promises of 30% fuel savings over the Super 80 and offering the planes at rock bottom prices, with an agreement to start delivering the aircraft by early 1984. PSA placed an order for 20 BAe146-200 aircraft valued at $300 million with options for 25 more. By the end of the year, PSA received four additional Super 80s. Air Cal continued to aggressively pursue PSA passengers throughout the year by reducing seating on their Boeing 737s, offering snack service, seat assignments, and increasing frequency in key PSA markets.
In January 1984, PSA moved from terminal six to the state of the art terminal one in Los Angeles. After two years of substantial losses, PSA initiated several cost cutting measures including reducing from 153 to 150 seats on the Super 80 and eliminating the need for a fourth flight attendant. In addition, the company imposed increased productivity by all work groups, and a 15% reduction in wages in exchange for 15% stock ownership of the airline. In the spring, PSA became the first U.S. airline to order the heads up display or H.U.D. for all Super 80s, allowing PSA to operate with much lower landing minimums at several airports. This would take the edge away from Air Cal and give it back to PSA since Air Cal would not be able to retrofit the Boeing 737s. During this time, Shimp became Chairman of the Board, as Barkeley became the CEO and took over the day-to-day operation of the airline. In May, PSA’s first two BAe146-200’s arrived from England with special ceremonies held at the San Diego hangar to show off the new plane to employees and VIPs. The first revenue flight of the BAe146, called “The Smileliner” took place on June 20th between Burbank and Oakland. Major problems with the new aircraft would quickly grab PSA’a attention as oil from the auxiliary power unit or APU dripped into the air conditioning system, followed by flight deck windows that were cracking and popping, door seal cracks, and finally the high failure rate on the Avco Lycoming ALF 502- engines. Inside the plane, passengers were squeezed in a six seat across configuration with high seats and curved walls. Passengers and employees alike were despising the 100 seat aircraft. The planes were designed to have the middle seat fold down to serve as a work area, but with constantly full flights, this seldom happened. PSA mechanics at first lowered all seats in the aircraft, to prevent window passengers from sitting at a slight angle. The elite Executive Flyers starting flooding Consumer Affairs Manager Judy James with letters threatening to cancel their frequent flyer cards and fly Air Cal. Barkeley acted quickly by ordering the removal of one whole row of seats giving a five across seating configuration and reduced seating to 85 passengers. This was followed by new door seals, and new flight deck windows, but the dispatch reliability of the BAe 146 would continue to haunt PSA and forced British Aerospace to loan two BAe146-100 aircraft to act as back up aircraft for the fleet. To make matters worse, a strike at British Aerospace started delaying deliveries of the BAe 146. PSA and TWA entered into a marketing and frequent flyer exchange program, giving Executive Flyers more options around the world, while PSA received TWA connecting passenger traffic. By summer, PSA reached service between Los Angeles and Stockton. On November 26, 1984, PSA’s last Boeing 727-200 operated the final flight between Las Vegas and San Diego. After the flight had emptied its passengers, it was towed to the hangar where hundreds of employees came out to say good-bye to the faithful workhorse that had logged more than 300 million miles and carried over 92 million passengers. Barkeley’s turnaround plan was successful as by the need of the year the company recorded a $2.2 million profit operating a fleet of 26 Super 80s, 6 BAe146s, and four DC-9 series 30 aircraft.
In the early part of 1985, the company introduced the “PSA Expressway” offering departures every half-hour during the week in both directions between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This was followed by the opening of a second reservation center in Reno. Air Cal started advertising to fly the roomier Boeing 737s over PSA’s cramped BAe 146’s. Air Cal employees openly made fun of the homey looking ugly jets that they called “Frownliner”. Air Cal was not prepared and caught completely off guard when the Orange County Airport granted PSA unlimited slots since the noise footprint on departures registered below 80 decimals. PSA responded by adding flights from Orange County to every city where they competed with Air Cal. Air Cal would be forced to eat their words as orders were placed for six BAe 146s to compete specifically with PSA out of Orange County. In the spring, PSA experimented with a solid gray logo and a slight change to the tail logo. However, numerous complaints by employees that the logo looked like a primer and the new straight tail stripes did not look right caused PSA to retain back the familiar rooster tail and logo. Sadly in May, William Shimp passed away suddenly of a heart attack. The Board moved quickly in moving Barkeley to title Chairman of the Board as a former Eastern executive Russell Ray was named as President. Although British Aerospace’s strike had settled, aircraft deliveries continued to slip. To make up for the shortfall PSA leased two Super 80s from Hawaiian Airlines during the summer and two former Midway Airlines Super 80s were permanently added to the fleet. In the fall, PSA moved into a new terminal at San Francisco that included additional gates to support future expansion. In October, PSA became the first commercial jet carrier to begin service at Bellingham, Washington. Followed on December 19th, by the largest expansion in the history of the company, including seven new cities; Eureka/Arcata California, Eugene and Medford, Oregon, Pasco and Yakima, Washington, Boise Idaho, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. At the end of the year 14 BAe 146s had been added to the fleet.
In 1986, PSA began service from Los Angeles to Concord, California, bringing the first commercial service to this East Bay community. However, due to poor passenger loads, both Eureka/Arcata and Boise were closed. In February, PSA started naming all aircraft individually in the fleet after cities and states that were served by the carrier. On July 1st, PSA became a Northwest Airlines “Airlink” partner code sharing flights, marketing, and frequent flyer programs. By summer, mega merger mania was breaking out across the United States, involving airlines much larger than PSA. Later in the year, PSA would add Air Canada under a similar arrangement. Both these arrangements helped to boost both ridership and profits for PSA. In November, American Airlines announced that they were acquiring Air Cal and planned to boost flights in California. Four additional BAe 146s, plus two factory new Super 80’s were added bringing the fleet to a total of 58 aircraft.
In January 1987, with a simple phone call from Pittsburgh to San Diego, PSA agreed to be acquired by US Air. Barkeley and Ray had been approached by several airlines including Texas Air Corp. (Continental), TWA, and Northwest since Americans announcement and with a modern fleet and good productive work force; it was not a matter of if, but when. Ed Colodny flew to San Diego to make announce the merger to the media and employees. PSA and the management team would spend the rest of the year starting to coordinate the thousands of details required to complete the merger. Both TWA and Northwest announced that they would terminate the code share agreements by the end of the year. On December 7th, PSA would suffer a second crash, involving a former disgruntled US Air employee. The resulting crash of the BAe 146 would shake PSA to the core and forever change how airline and airport employees accessed aircraft.
On April 8, 1988, PSA officially became US Air, marking the third merger in the history of the company. Literally overnight, the PSA name disappeared from everything. Surprisingly within a few short years, US Air would completely dismantle the former PSA route system. The BAe146s would be out of the US Air fleet by 1991. The DC-9 series 30s and Super 80s would fly until late in the 1990s.
Today, the smile of PSA continues to live in many US Airways employees.
The Pacific Southwest Airlines Fleet
Douglas DC-3 9 -- 1949-1955
Douglas DC-4 4 -- 1955-1960
Douglas DC-6B 1 -- 1960-1961
Lockheed Electra L-188 9 -- 1959-1969/1975-1979
Boeing 727-100 16 -- 1965-1983
Boeing 727-200 34 -- 1967-1984
Boeing 737-200 14 -- 1968-1976
Bell 206 Jetranger Helicopter 1 -- 1967
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 6 -- 1967-1969/1983-1988
Lockheed L-1011 Tristar 1 2 -- 1974-1975
McDonnell Douglas DC-9 Super 80 33 -- 1984-1988
British Aerospace BAe146-100 3 -- 1984-1988
British Aerospace BAe 146-200 24 -- 1984-1988
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