America West Airlines

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America West Airlines
IATA ICAO Callsign
FoundedFebruary 1981 (1981-02)[1]
Commenced operationsAugust 1, 1983 (1983-08-01)[1]
Ceased operationsSeptember 25, 2007 (2007-09-25)
(merged into US Airways)
HubsPhoenix–Sky Harbor
Secondary hubsLas Vegas
Frequent-flyer programFlightFund
SubsidiariesAmerica West Express (1985—2007)
Parent company
HeadquartersTempe, Arizona, U.S.
Key peopleDoug Parker (CEO)

America West Airlines was an airline in the United States that operated from 1981 until 2007 when it merged with US Airways. It was headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. Its main hub was at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, with a secondary hub at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The airline acquired US Airways in 2005 and adopted US Airways as their brand name.[2] America West served about 100 cities in the US, Canada, and Mexico; flights to Europe were on codeshare partners. In September 2005, the airline had 140 aircraft, with a single maintenance base at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Regional jet and turboprop flights were operated on a code sharing basis by Mesa Airlines and Chautauqua Airlines as America West Express.

Beginning in January 2006, all America West flights were branded as US Airways, along with most signage at airports and other printed material, though many flights were described as "operated by America West." Apart from two heritage aircraft, the only remaining America West branding on aircraft were found on some seat covers and bulkheads. The merged airline used America West's "CACTUS" callsign and ICAO code "AWE", but retained the US Airways name. As part of a merger between American Airlines and US Airways in February 2013,[3] which led to American becoming the world's largest airline, the call sign and ICAO code name was later retired on April 8, 2015, when the FAA granted a single operating certificate for both US Airways and American Airlines.[4] The US Airways brand continued until October 17, 2015, when it merged with American Airlines.


de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8 series 100 in 1991

The airline was established in February 1981 and began operations August 1, 1983, using three leased Boeing 737s flying out of its base in Phoenix, Arizona (PHX), with Ed Beauvais, a well-known airline industry consultant, as CEO.[5] In the early years, passengers could purchase their tickets on the aircraft.

The airline quickly expanded, with 11 737s flying to 13 cities; in 1984, America West's fleet grew to 21 aircraft flying to 23 cities. The June 1984 timetable shows 71 weekday departures from Phoenix, non-stop to 18 cities; from 1985 to 1986, it established a second hub at Las Vegas.[6]

Confident in its expansion, the increasingly-dominant carrier at Phoenix Sky Harbor influenced the development of Terminal 4. America West requested that the construction include an auxiliary power facility and an underground cavity to accommodate a future rail station, to which the airport ultimately agreed.[7]

America West was one of the first airlines to use extensive "cross-utilization", in which employees were trained in a variety of airline jobs, such as pilots trained in dispatch, and both baggage handlers and flight attendants trained as gate agents. America West started as a "full-service" airline, in contrast with Southwest Airlines, a discount air carrier competing in many markets. America West used an aggressive employee stock-ownership program, in which new employees were required to invest 20% of their salary in company stock, providing a steady flow of cash as the company grew. America West pilots and other employees were paid wages far below those of competitors[8]

Revenue Passenger-Kilometers, in millions
Year Traffic
1984 2006
1985 3675
1990 17869
1995 21420
2000 30753
2005 39036
Source: Air Transport World
Former logo

By 1985 America West had outgrown their gate space at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and during the construction of Terminal 4, approved in 1986, a temporary concourse was added to the southwest corner of Terminal 3 to give them six more gates (growing to eleven by 1990).

The airline's growth continued in 1986 and the airline expanded its fleet, mainly with Boeing 757-200s purchased from Northwest Airlines (following Northwest's acquisition of Republic Airlines) and a number of de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8s. (Unusually, the Dash 8 flights were not code-shares and Mesa code-shares replaced them in 1992–93.) The airline started red-eye flights from Las Vegas to improve aircraft utilization.

Boeing 747-200 at Phoenix Sky Harbor in 1991

America West's rapid growth led to large losses and by 1986 the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Originally slated to occupy the vast majority of the gates in Terminal 4, the airline had to reduce their commitment to the city of Phoenix to just 28 gates, with the growing Southwest Airlines agreeing to lease the remainder of Terminal 4.

In June 1987 Ansett Transport Industries purchased a 20% stake in America West, increasing it to 26% in April 1991.[9][10]

In 1988, Patrick Thurston, Vice-President of Operations, Bob Russell, Chief of Pilots, and Carl Wobser, a captain, all pleaded guilty to multiple counts of narcotics trafficking.[11]

Three America West Airlines aircraft operated services in Australia with Ansett Australia during the 1989 Australian pilots' dispute.[10]

Boeing 737-112 at San Jose International Airport in 1993

As they explored destinations beyond the United States, America West filed with Department of Transportation for a Phoenix to Sydney route to connect with Ansett Airlines in Australia. The proposal was rejected and the Reagan Administration awarded the route to another airline. In 1989, America West leased four Boeing 747-200s (formerly operated by KLM) and began non-stop 747 flights between Phoenix and Honolulu, Hawaii, and non-stop between Honolulu and Nagoya, Japan. The 747 was the only wide-body aircraft operated by America West. The airline also expanded narrow-body jet service to Mexican destinations.

In 1990, America West moved into the new Terminal 4 at Phoenix and took delivery of several Airbus A320s originally destined for now-defunct Braniff Airways. Braniff had purchased the order rights from Pan Am, another troubled carrier, and the A320s were sold to America West at a steep discount. Annual revenue reached a billion dollars, the threshold for the Department of Transportation to categorize America West as a major airline.[5] The July 1990 timetable shows 182 weekday departures from Phoenix non-stop to 46 airports and 132 departures from Las Vegas to 39 airports. (24 LAS departures were between midnight and 01:40.)

The airline continued to lose money: operating expenses at Terminal 4 were far higher than in the temporary Terminal 3 concourse; the Nagoya route carried almost no passengers; tensions before the Gulf War caused fuel costs to rise. America West filed for bankruptcy in June 1991.

In June 1995, W. Douglas Parker joined America West as senior vice president and chief financial officer; he would be elected chairman, president and CEO in September 2001.[12] The airline was fined $2.5 million for maintenance violations in July 1998, and in August 2000 the FAA was reportedly prepared to ground the airline for these violations.[13][14]


America West Boeing 737-300 and America West Express Beechcraft 1900D at Sky Harbor (1995)

America West operated under bankruptcy from 1991 to 1994; as part of the restructuring, employee stock became worthless, the airline's 747s and Dash8s were sold and the fleet was pared down to 87 aircraft. Hawaii and Nagoya routes were scrapped and America West feeder service to smaller cities and local markets was contracted to Mesa Airlines, which began flying turboprops and regional jets as America West Express.

On the management side, Founder Ed Beauvais was removed as CEO, remaining on the board of directors, and was replaced with Mike Conway, who had been with the airline since the start. Conway left the airline in 1994, replaced as CEO by A. Maurice Myers.

America West's flight attendants unionized in 1993, ending cross-utilization between customer service agents, flight attendants and ground agents. Several maintenance and training functions previously operated in-house by America West were outsourced during the bankruptcy.


America West Airlines Airbus A319 departing Portland International Airport

In 1994, America West was finally able to secure a reorganization allowing it to come out of bankruptcy, with a large portion of the airline owned by a partnership including Mesa Airlines and Continental Airlines, resulting in code sharing agreements with these airlines.

To help reinvigorate the airline as they emerged from bankruptcy, a number of changes occurred, including a new color scheme and logo (used until the merger with US Airways), new livery, E-tickets, and online ticket purchasing in 1996. The airline continued ordering Airbus A320s and began gradually retiring their older Boeing 737-200s.

In the 1990s, America West opened a hub at Port Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, using Chautauqua Airlines and Mesa Airlines to provide commuter and regional flights via code sharing agreements in addition to mainline jets. An America West Club was at the hub in an area previously used for a TWA Ambassadors' Club.

In late 2001, America West was the first airline to apply for and receive a loan from the Air Transportation Stabilization Board.[15] As of April 2005, the remaining balance on the loan was $300 million. The ATSB loan and its guarantees were paid back by US Airways and the debt refinanced by other lenders during the merger.[16]

In 2003, America West Airlines closed its Port Columbus hub, reducing scheduled daily flights from almost 50 to 4.

US Airways[edit]

An Airbus A320 in the 2005-2015 America West / US Airways livery at San Diego International Airport
A traveler boards an America West Express CRJ-200 regional jet operated by Mesa Airlines

In the second quarter of 2005, America West entered merger negotiations with then-bankrupt US Airways. It was structured as a purchase of US Airways by America West Holdings; however, the internal structure was a reverse merger, with legacy US Airways operations taken over by those of America West.

As the holding companies merged, brand conversion began. The America West Club was renamed the US Airways Club in October 2005. All-new America West aircraft were delivered in the new US Airways livery, and older aircraft repainted (while retaining America West interiors). Gates and ticket counters were consolidated at airports where both airlines had operated, aided by the March 2007 transfer of all US Airways reservations to the Shares computer system used by America West (US Airways had previously used a very different Sabre system).

All express flights were branded as US Airways Express and aircraft were no longer confined to operations out of their pre-merger hubs (America West aircraft could fly from Philadelphia to cities other than Phoenix and Las Vegas, for example). The two airlines' operating certificates were merged on September 25, 2007. After initially using the "CACTUS" callsign for the west fleet and "USAIR" for the east fleet, all aircraft began flying under a single "CACTUS" callsign and ICAO code "AWE" in September 2008. Former America West aircraft were distinguished apart from US Airways pre-merger aircraft by their use of registrations ending in "-AW", while pre-merger US Airways aircraft used registrations ending in "-US". US Airways would later merge with American Airlines in 2013, with the former America West callsign and ICAO code retired in 2015 (alongside with the US Airways brand). America West's Phoenix hub has remained intact with American Airlines.


Final fleet[edit]

An America West Boeing 757-200 in 2006

As of September 27, 2005, at the time of the merger, America West Airlines' fleet consisted of the following aircraft:[17]

America West Airlines fleet
Aircraft In
Orders Passengers Notes
C Y Total
Airbus A319-100 34 12 112 124 Taken over by US Airways
Airbus A320-200 57 12 138 140
Boeing 737-300 36 8 126 134
Boeing 757-200 13 14 176 190 Taken over by US Airways
Total 140

Retired fleet[edit]

America West Airlines previously operated the following aircraft:[17]

America West Airlines retired fleet
Aircraft Total Introduced Retired Notes
Boeing 737-100 5 1984 1999
Boeing 737-200 62 1983 2005
Boeing 747-200B 4 1989 1994
de Havilland Canada Dash 8-100 12 1987 1993 Repainted for America West Express
de Havilland Canada Dash 8-200 1

America West Express aircraft[edit]

America West Express services primarily operated by Mesa Airlines via a code sharing agreement with America West utilized the following regional jet and turboprop aircraft.

Cancelled/Planned Orders[edit]

In 1991, America West had plans for purchasing 4 Boeing 747-400 aircraft to replace the aging 747-200s in Honolulu service, but an order of 10 further Boeing 757-200s was also mentioned.[18] Furthermore, it was in the plans to purchase 15 Airbus A318s in the late 1990s aside with their new orders of A320s at the time but this never came to fruition.[19] America West had also planned on announcing an order of 60 aircraft on September 12, 2001, but this was quickly retracted after the September 11th attacks.[20]


The airline had a frequent flyer program called FlightFund.[21] In 2006, FlightFund was merged into the US Airways Dividend Miles program.

Codeshare agreements[edit]

America West had codeshare agreements with the following airlines:


The headquarters of America West Airlines in Tempe, which also served as the headquarters for US Airways post-acquisition

America West had its headquarters in Tempe, Arizona from the airline's start in 1983 and it retained the same location when it merged with US Airways and retained the US Airways name.[25] The airline used the nine-story[26] 225,000-square-foot (20,900 m2) building as its headquarters once America West and US Airways merged,[27] but the building has since been vacated when US Airways' management team took over American Airlines in an acquisition. Jahna Berry of the Arizona Business Gazette said in 2005 that the building "is one of the dominant buildings in downtown Tempe."[25] The City of Tempe gave America West $11 million in incentives and tax breaks so it could occupy the headquarters, which cost $37 million to construct.[28] The construction of the building began in January 1998; the groundbreaking ceremony was held on February 19 of that year.[29] The previous America West headquarters were demolished.[30]

Other commercial interests[edit]

America West had promotional partnerships with the Phoenix Suns NBA team, the 2001 World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, and the Arizona Cardinals NFL team.

In 1992, America West paid $26 million for the 30-year naming rights of the Phoenix Suns' home court, which it named America West Arena. Since the merger with US Airways, the arena was called US Airways Center (not to be confused with the USAir Arena in Prince George's County, Maryland, razed in 2002), until it was renamed to Talking Stick Resort arena.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

America West had four in-flight incidents on its aircraft, but never had an accident resulting in a fatality. Two accidents resulted in hull loss write-offs.

Flight Date Aircraft Location Descriptions Injuries
America West Airlines Flight 450 December 30, 1989 737-200 Tucson, Arizona A fire in the wheel well burned through hydraulic conduit; consequently, during landing, braking was ineffective and the aircraft overran the end of the runway. After colliding with a concrete structure, the plane came to a stop. The aircraft was written off. NTSB probable cause 10 minor
America West Airlines Flight 727 January 16, 1990 737-300 Austin, Texas On January 16, 1990, America West Flight 727 was hijacked en route to Las Vegas from Houston. The hijacker forced the pilot to land the aircraft in Austin, Texas, so it could be refueled and flown to Cuba. Austin police overpowered and arrested the hijacker. none
America West Airlines Flight 556 July 1, 2002 A319-100 Miami, Florida The flight was halted by Transportation Security Administration and local police after a tip that the pilots appeared to be drunk. Sobriety tests showed that the pilots were legally intoxicated and they were eventually sentenced to prison for operating an aircraft while intoxicated. none
America West Flight Airlines 794 August 28, 2002 A320-231 Phoenix, Arizona The pilot failed to maintain directional control during landing, causing the aircraft to veer off the side of the runway onto a dirt infield, where the nose gear strut collapsed. The aircraft was written off. NTSB brief 1 serious, 9 minor

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Norwood, Tom; Wegg, John (2002). North American Airlines Handbook (3rd ed.). Sandpoint, Idaho: Airways International. ISBN 978-0965399388. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  2. ^ Alexander, Keith L. (May 20, 2005). "US Airways To Merge, Move Base To Arizona". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  3. ^ Bartz, Diane; Jacobs, Karen (July 1, 2013). "State Attorneys General Join Probe Of American Airlines, U.S. Airways Merger". The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  4. ^ Gilbertson, Dawn (April 10, 2015). "'Cactus' call sign fades into US Airways history". The Arizona Republic. Phoenix.
  5. ^ a b "America West Holdings Corporation". Funding Universe. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved August 23, 2008.
  6. ^ Timetable maps showing America West routes in 1983, 1984, and 1991
  7. ^ Beauvais, Ed (2016). Up, Up And Away, From The Beginning to My Journey's End 1981-1992. Scottsdale, AZ: Ed Beauvais. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-692-45268-4.
  8. ^ Pilot salary history, MIT Study
  9. ^ Ansett gets 20pc of American airline Canberra Times June 19, 1987, page 14.
  10. ^ a b The Story of the Rise and Fall of Ansett 1936-2002. Fyshwick: Stewart Wilson Aerospace Publications. 2002. pp. 19, 21, 34, 37, 38. ISBN 978-1875671571.
  11. ^ Quig, Brian Downing (September 1, 1991). "The Phoenix-Bangkok Heroin Connection". Monetary and Economic Review. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved December 20, 2015.
  12. ^ Bounds, Jeff (July–August 2015). "How Doug Parker Has Transformed American Airlines". D Magazine.
  13. ^ Wald, Matthew L. (July 15, 1998). "America West Airline Fined $2.5 Million for Violations". The New York Times. p. A16. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  14. ^ "FAA May Ground America West". ABC News. January 7, 2006.
  15. ^ "Air Transportation Stabilization Board Conditionally Approves Application By America West" (Press release). Department of The Treasury. December 28, 2001. Archived from the original on September 8, 2008.
  16. ^ US Air Uses Cash To Buy Back ATSB StockAviation Week October 2005. Archived March 13, 2017, at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ a b "America West Airlines Fleet Details and History". August 9, 2021. Archived from the original on October 29, 2021. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  18. ^ "America West Reconsidering $1.5 Billion in Boeing Orders". AP NEWS. Retrieved May 22, 2021.
  19. ^ "America West to Sign For Up to 77 Airbus Aircraft Airline Joins Growing List of Customers for A318". Archived from the original on June 24, 2021. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  20. ^ "History of America West". Archived from the original on September 1, 2018.
  21. ^ "Welcome to FlightFund". America West Airlines. Archived from the original on October 22, 1996. Retrieved October 1, 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  22. ^ "British Airways ends code-share with America West". Cheapflights. September 9, 2005. Archived from the original on February 27, 2007.
  23. ^ "Continental Ends Ticket Alliance With America West". The New York Times. Bloomberg News. March 28, 2002.
  24. ^ "America West Airlines route map". October 23, 2020.
  25. ^ a b Berry, Jahna (June 2, 2005). "Tempe breathes a sigh on AmWest merger plan." Arizona Business Gazette. Retrieved March 1, 2010.
  26. ^ "Phoenix mostly shrugs at prospect of Delta merger." Atlanta Journal-Constitution. November 19, 2006. A1. Retrieved on March 1, 2010. "More than 700 people work at US Airways' nine-story headquarters."
  27. ^ "Article: Carey Diversified Finances America West Headquarters; $25 Million Non-Recourse Mortgage Secured by Recently Completed Facility.[dead link]" PR Newswire. July 27, 1999. Retrieved on March 1, 2010.
  28. ^ "United-America West Deal Has Implications Across The West". Lodi News-Sentinel. Associated Press. January 22, 1999. p. 13. Retrieved November 4, 2020.
  29. ^ "America West Completes Financing of New Corporate Headquarters[dead link]." PR Newswire. February 19, 1998. Retrieved on March 1, 2010.
  30. ^ Lehman, William. "Part VII - America West." US Airways. Retrieved on February 18, 2010.

External links[edit]