by Worcester P. Bong
On March 30, 2021, a new passenger terminal opened at the Prescott Regional Airport, Ernest A. Love Field in Prescott, Arizona. As reported in the March 31, 2021, edition of the Daily Courier, the terminal represented a new era for air travel into the Prescott/Quad Cities region. Currently, United Express (operated by SkyWest Airlines) connects Prescott with daily flights to Denver and Los Angeles.
The airport’s history was described in Days Past articles on August 25, 2012, and October 5, 2019. This article explores more of the early history of passenger air service in the region.
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), a federal agency, was formed in 1938. Their role was to regulate aviation services, including scheduled passenger air service, in the United States. In 1939 CAB assigned Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc (TWA) a route into Prescott. Route 38 was planned to connect the Arizona cities of Phoenix, Prescott and Kingman to Las Vegas, Nevada. TWA didn’t begin air service on this route as they were focused on other major routes across the U.S.
Then in 1942, Hillis O. “Rocky” Nelson founded Arizona Airways as a U.S. Navy flight school in Safford, Arizona. In 1943 Rocky wanted to start passenger air service between principal cities in Arizona. Because these flights would only operate within Arizona, he was able to proceed without CAB approval and on September 17, 1945, the Arizona Corporation Commission issued Arizona Airways a carrier certificate. They purchased three war surplus C-47 aircraft and converted them to 21- passenger DC-3s. An article in the January 10, 1946, Prescott Evening Courier noted that Prescott would be on a planned air route. Regularly scheduled intrastate flights were established between Tucson, Nogales, Safford, Bisbee, Wilcox, Globe, Miami and Phoenix.
However, it was not until April 3, 1946, that Arizona Airways announced scheduled flights to Prescott, Grand Canyon and Yuma were to commence in four days. On April 7 the inaugural flight into Prescott touched down at 11:00 a.m. On board were airline officials, radio technicians, photographers, Papago and Hopi tribe representatives and the mayors of Phoenix, Nogales and Prescott. The flight traveled over the Grand Canyon and returned to Prescott. This route eventually became popular with Phoenix residents escaping the summer heat and tourists enjoying scenic views of the Grand Canyon. Later in the year, Flagstaff was added to the route.
Arizona Airways initially provided the only passenger flights into Prescott. This changed on November 1, 1947 when TWA began providing twice-daily service. TWA Flight 119 (Washington D.C. to San Francisco) and Flight 152 (San Francisco to Chicago) both stopped in Prescott. As reported in the November 3, 1947, Prescott Evening Courier, many dignitaries were on hand for the first arrival of TWA. The departing flight also included the first bag of air mail out of Prescott.
However, due to financial constraints, Arizona Airways flights throughout the state ceased on March 1, 1948. Although CAB provided a 3-year temporary certification for them to continue, attempts to raise needed capital were unsuccessful. In April 1950, CAB approved the acquisition of Arizona Airways by Monarch Air Lines. The following month, CAB approved the merger of Arizona Airways, Monarch Air Lines and Challenger Airlines to become Frontier Airlines. Their first flight into Prescott was on June 1, 1950. “Rocky” Nelson became regional vice-president for Frontier Airlines; however, on March 6, 1951, he died at the age of 46.
As for the name “Arizona Airways”, a Tucson-based company separate from the original company used the name and received approval in 1992 from the Federal Aviation Administration to provide passenger service. However, in 1995, the company experienced financial problems and merged with Great Lakes Airlines.
Next week: Bonanza Air Lines provides passenger service into Prescott.
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