When Ed Beauvais’ new airline made its first flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to Los Angeles, he had three airplanes, 250 employees and use of a few Terminal 3 gates that he was told he’d have to give up “if a real airline wanted them.”
Beauvais, who founded Tempe-based America West Airlines in 1981 and propelled it airborne in 1983, on Friday helped dedicate a new US Airways plane with a vintage America West paint job.
Beauvais said that, despite dire predictions by industry experts that his new business wouldn’t survive, he always expected his airline to blanket the country and go global. It’s a feat that the year-old merger with US Airways accelerated.
“I’m very proud of what America West did, and the course it is on under (US Airways CEO) Doug Parker is the right course,” Beauvais said. Still, something of Beauvais’ dream has been lost in the process.
“I miss the name, but my feelings don’t count,” he said.
In fact, post-merger comments from lots of America West employees about the loss of their brand led Parker to paint a few planes in the old colors and logos of America West and three other airlines the merged company had swallowed up over the years — PSA, Piedmont, and Allegheny.
“We needed to change the name to what we thought was the right brand for our customers but not lose the America West culture,” Parker told employees gathered for Friday’s dedication. “We built the best airline in the world, but we don’t want to lose our roots.”
One of the employees who lobbied for the unique plane designs was Bill Lehman, a flight attendant for 18 years and unoffi cial America West historian.
“This is what I remember,” Lehman said, eyeing the old maroon, blue and taupe logo on the tail. “I feel like I came home.”
Beauvais said his airline changed the economy of Arizona by “providing fares lower than any other in the United States,” encouraging travel to the Valley for tourism and commerce.
America West was the only airline among the dozens started since the deregulation of the industry in 1978 to evolve into a major carrier, Parker said.
“We have a lot of stories to write, and this is one of them,” he said.
The handful of special-design planes will display their background colors “until they need a new paint job, which is typically about seven years,” said Phil Gee, US Airways spokesman.
As for all the other planes still displaying America West’s more modern colors, logo and name, Gee said about half have been repainted in the new US Airways design, and the rest should be done by the end of first quarter.