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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Western Pacific Airlines
Western Pacific Airlines, also known as WestPac for short, was a small Colorado airlines known for using their planes as billboards. The airline started in Colorado Springs in 1995 with eight Boeing 737-300 planes under the name Commercial Air. Soon after launch, Oklahoma millionaire and owner of Gaylord Hotels founder Edward Gaylord invested in the carrier, in the process requesting the carrier to switch names from Commercial Air to Western Pacific.
The airline quickly gained popularity through its unique aircraft. WestPac operated an all Boeing 737-300 fleet, but most were used as logojets to help promote businesses that cooperated with WestPac or were part of the airline’s route map. Some of these advertisements included Thrifty Rental Car, the Stardust and Sam’s Town Casinos in Las Vegas, and Fox TV’s hit show “The Simpsons.” Planes that didn’t bear a logo or advertisement were usually given a catchy slogan such as “Spring Fling Jet”, “Winter Wonder Plane”, or “Super Summer Saver Jet.”
Western Pacific had an advantage of being based in Colorado Springs, which gave them a stronger support from the southern Colorado population, reducing the drive to Denver as well as the airline prices out of Colorado Springs. The airline’s route map was mostly on the western side of the Mississippi River, with a few routes on the eastern US coming when the airline got more Boeing 737s. WestPac’s rapid expansion peaked with 80 flights a day to and from Colorado Springs, however, they found themselves losing $90 million in their first three years at Colorado Springs Airport.
Glitz and glam would eventually pull Western Pacific away from Colorado Springs as Denver had opened their brand new airport in 1995 and had a few slots open after Continental Airlines pulled out. Western Pacific, seeing that they hadn’t turned a profit in Colorado Springs since 1995, decided in 1997 to move most of their operations to Denver. Upon moving to Denver, Western Pacific immediately announced plans to share gates and code share with Frontier Airlines, who was also based in Denver. While announcing their code share with Frontier, Western Pacific also announced they had cancelled all plans to continue expanding Colorado Springs.
However in 1998, when Frontier received WestPac’s financial statements, they immediately pulled out of their deal with WestPac. Western Pacific was losing money fast and was quickly reaching bankruptcy. As soon as Frontier pulled out of their partnership, Western Pacific declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Due to Frontier and Western Pacific sharing equipment, the bankruptcy nearly dragged Frontier into bankruptcy as well, but Frontier was able to recover and still flies today. As for Western Pacific, they immediately grounded operations in February 1998 and never flew again.
Most of Western Pacific’s fleet was dispersed after their collapse, with most of the 19 Boeing 737-300s going to Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, or the Brazilian carriers VASP and VARIG. Colorado Springs turned out the be the largest loser from the Western Pacific era, after spending millions of dollars on a new terminal for Western Pacific called the Western Pacific Airlines Concourse. The terminal was suppose to house all of WestPac’s flights with the terminal being four gates connected to the main terminal through a walkway. As of today the terminal has yet to see any commercial jet use and is currently used by Colorado Springs as a conference room.
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