Obituaries : Paul Barkley; PSA Chief Negotiated Airline's Sale


Paul Barkley, the puckish executive who brought style, humor and economy to maverick Pacific Southwest Airlines only to be forced to preside over its sale to USAir because of rate wars and deregulation, has died.

The owl-eyed former accountant who convinced a generation of Californians that cheap air travel was their birthright, was 63 when he died in El Cajon on Monday of cancer.

Barkley joined PSA in 1979 as vice president of finance and became chief executive officer in 1984 during an era of shrinking fares and increasing costs. He retired in April, 1989, after helping negotiate the sale of his beloved, independent airline, where captains would occasionally board their planes in wheelchairs sporting artificial limbs just to get their passengers' attention.

As the last PSA chairman, he remembered the time when there were 90 flights a day between Los Angeles International and San Francisco airports; so many flights that both PSA and Air California were losing money; so many flights that if you missed one, the next was only 20 minutes away.

"You could have gotten to San Francisco by walking on top of the planes," Barkley told The Times in 1989, savoring the thought.

He also recalled the singularly difficult year of 1978, when deregulation of the airline industry was announced, clearing the way for PSA to begin flying outside of California. It was also the year that a PSA jet collided with a private plane over San Diego, killing 144 people, including 37 PSA employees.

By 1986, PSA's halcyon days had disappeared into the contrails of its aircraft.

Competition was increasing, as was deregulation, and Barkley was publicly complaining that a rumor mill had cast regional air carriers as "helpless sparrows awaiting the kill by a pack of circling cats."

It was a prophetic remark.

On Dec. 8, 1986--shortly after American Airlines grabbed off Air Cal--USAir descended on PSA. Sixteen months later the last PSA "Smileliner" left Los Angeles and 500 signs at 28 airports were replaced with the more staid USAir logo.

The same day, some veteran flight attendants wore for the final time the controversial red-hot miniskirts that, along with their skewed humor, had often made the Grinning Bird a flying festival of fun.

Crews may improvise, Barkley said, "whatever they feel is appropriate."

After retiring, Barkley remained a member of the board of directors of PSGroup, an aircraft leasing, travel retailing and oil services company.

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