Swift Aire, San Luis Obispo’s only homegrown airline, was a source of pride for the community and a pioneer in local aviation.
After 12 years of service, it went out of business in 1981. A combination of factors led to the airline’s closure, including airline deregulation, PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers) strike, inflation, and an owner new to the airline industry, according to news accounts at the time.
Eight years after the airline folded, former employees gathered at Santa Rosa Park for a reunion. Almost half the former payroll of 300 attended, surprising Swift Aire founder, Charles Wiswell.
“Some of these people didn’t get their last paychecks,” Wiswell said in a 1989 article published in the then-Telegram-Tribune. “They could be bitter, but that spirit’s still there.”
Employees had fond memories of the airline, and at least one couple was married aboard a Swift Aire plane in 1982.
Fred Driggs, a former pilot for Swift Aire and Braniff International Airlines, married Martha Estrada in the Swift Aire plane Driggs flew until the airline shut down. After the ceremony, which actually took place on the ground, the couple sat in the cockpit as the plane — a 1954 British-made DeHavilland Heron — taxied down the runway.
As for Wiswell, he died in 2000 in a crash while flying a Cessna 340A in the fog. He was 78 and had been working for the California Transplant Donor Network.
In an article published about the crash, Wanda Strassburg, a pilot who worked with Wiswell as the company’s vice president of marketing, said, “Swift Aire came to us long before other people would have discovered the need here.”
“He really created a need for its existence, and when other airlines saw the types of service and support the company provided for us, they were very anxious to take Swift Aire’s place here.”