The ABCs of Prescott’s Passenger Air Service | Part 2: 1940s-1960s

by Worcester P. Bong

Bonanza Air Lines January 3, 1958 timetable cover (courtesy David H. Stringer)

As noted in Part 1, Arizona Airways ceased operations on March 1, 1948. After that, Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc (TWA) provided the only passenger air service into Prescott. But in June 1949, CAB authorized a new interstate route between Reno, Nevada and Phoenix, Arizona for Bonanza Air Lines. CAB gave the Las Vegas-based Bonanza a three-year temporary certificate to operate this route which stopped in several cities, including Las Vegas, Nevada, and Prescott. CAB also gave Bonanza an opportunity to acquire TWA route 38 between Phoenix and Las Vegas and TWA route 2 between Phoenix and Boulder City, Nevada, if it could prove it had sufficient financial resources. By the end of the year, with support from TWA, these routes were transferred to Bonanza Air Lines.

On December 16, 1949, Bonanza’s initial flight landed in Prescott. The Prescott Evening Courier headline for that day was “Bonanza Flight Welcomed.” The article reported that three Bonanza airplanes landed, carrying a total of 83 passengers. Among the distinguished passengers were Governor Pittman of Nevada and Mayor Smith from Reno. Gifts and messages from several Nevada cities on the route were presented by Governor Pittman to Mayor Seale of Prescott. Mayor Seale then joined the flight to Phoenix to conclude the inaugural flight celebrations. 

Bonanza Air Lines F-27A aircraft at Phoenix Sky Harbor, 1961 (courtesy Ted Miley)

Regular flights began on December 19, 1949 between Reno and Phoenix, which included stops in Carson City, Hawthorne, Tonopah, Las Vegas, Boulder City in Nevada and Kingman and Prescott in Arizona. However, Bonanza’s route between the cities of Phoenix, Prescott and Kingman conflicted with those that had been assigned to Arizona Airways as reported in the January 13, 1950, Prescott Evening Courier. Although Arizona Airways had ceased operations in 1948, their temporary 3-year certification prompted CAB to approve the merger of Arizona Airways, Monarch Air Lines and Challenger Airlines into what became Frontier Airlines. On June 1, 1950, Frontier Airlines’ first flight landed in Prescott. Both airlines served Prescott until Frontier discontinued passenger air service into Prescott on August 1, 1964. 

In February 1952, CAB authorized additional routes to Bonanza. Their network of passenger air routes now expanded into other cities within Arizona and California, including Yuma and Ajo in Arizona, and Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oceanside, San Diego and El Centro in California. Bonanza also offered a non-stop evening flight between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Bonanza Air Lines November 1, 1960 timetable cover (courtesy David H. Stringer)

Throughout the late 1950s, Bonanza Air Lines continued to expand. They served Palm Springs, Ontario and Riverside, California, and in 1958, Salt Lake City, Utah was added. The Phoenix to Salt Lake City route was the longest non-stop commercial DC-3 flight in the continental US, at that time 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Besides expanding its interstate routes, Bonanza was also adding new planes with improved technology. The turbo-prop Fairchild F-27 aircraft replaced Bonanza’s fleet of DC-3s. On October 31, 1960, the last DC-3 operated by Bonanza flew from Salt Lake City to Phoenix with stops in Cedar City, Page, Grand Canyon, Flagstaff and Prescott. A Bonanza Air Lines timetable cover from November 1, 1960, touted the all-F-27 fleet, nicknamed the “Silver Darts.” Although the F-27 was a turbo-prop aircraft, the timetable cover erroneously proclaimed, “First all jet-powered airline in America.” Bonanza used this slogan for several years. 

In 1966 Bonanza Air Lines moved its headquarters from Las Vegas to Phoenix. Two years later, it began providing international flights into Mexico, and on April 17, 1968, merged with West Coast Airlines and Pacific Air Lines to become Air West. 

To date, Bonanza Air Lines remains the airline that provided the longest passenger air service (1949 to 1968) into Prescott.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1 The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to dayspast@sharlothallmuseum.org Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at archivesrequest@sharlothallmuseum.org for information or assistance with photo requests.

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