Wings of Destiny By Tom Morrow | Photos courtesy of Ted Vallas, by Sam Wells
Ted Vallas has spent his career building resort and aviation empires. Now his dream of a local airline is ready to take flight.
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Carlsbad entrepreneur Ted Vallas has worked hard over the past 80 of his 89 years, and now he’s putting forth the efforts and experience he’s accumulated by creating a long-held vision: a scheduled airline. That vision soon will become a reality and will operate from Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport beginning in the third quarter of this year.

Born in Idaho, raised in New Hampshire, Vallas began working odd jobs when he was barely old enough to attend school. His widowed mother needed help raising her seven children and Vallas, the third of four sons, did everything from collecting soda pop bottles to working in a print shop in order to bring home desperately needed dollars before and during the Great Depression. At times, Vallas held down two and three little jobs and still managed to go to school, as well as become a star athlete in football, baseball, basketball and swimming.

In 1940, a world war was looming on the dark horizon. At 18, Vallas found himself in naval flight training at Pensacola, Florida. He was training to be a pilot, but a temporary sea assignment to fill out the ship’s crew for the newly commissioned USS Wasp aircraft carrier got in the way. That “temporary” duty lasted nearly three years as the Wasp and her air squadrons scoured the Atlantic looking for the Nazis’ dreaded battleship Bismarck, and shuttled Royal Air Force Spitfires to Malta.

Vallas was determined to get into the air—if not as a pilot, then as a crewman. He transferred from moving planes on and off the Wasp’s decks to flying as a radio gunner aboard Navy dive bombers and torpedo planes. Vallas quickly rose through the enlisted ranks, and by age 23, he had become a chief petty officer—the youngest in the U.S. Navy at that time. By 1942, Vallas was flying bombing and torpedo missions in the Pacific aboard the Wasp and USS Saratoga. Then, in 1944, he went ashore in Hawaii and was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe, Oahu as leading chief petty officer in charge of a PBM (flying boat) squadron.

After the war, Vallas returned to civilian life and pursued a college degree. He had played football and baseball in the Navy and thought he might be able to compete early in college. After attending school for a couple of years in New Hampshire, Vallas traveled across the country and finished his degree work at San Diego’s fledgling Balboa University (later known as California Western University). He earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s in business administration degrees while playing baseball and basketball.

As good as he was as a quarterback, it was as a pitcher that Vallas thought he might have a chance at a career. Vallas played semipro baseball for the local Altez Brewery, then talked his way into the minor leagues as a batting practice pitcher for the Pacific Coast League’s San Diego Padres with firm hopes of making the team as a regular.

As a rookie, age was an issue for Vallas after four years of war and another four in college. When the Padres assigned him to a Tacoma farm club, he realized that as a 28-year-old he had little to no chance of going any farther in baseball. It was time to start building a business career. He began as a cofounder, with one of his brothers-in-law, of General Design Wind Tunnel & Instrumentation Company.

After a couple of years, Vallas earned enough money to buy the struggling El Camino Country Club in Oceanside as well as a number of land developments around the sprawling golf course. In 1958, ECCC was barely a year old with slim prospects of becoming any older when Vallas took over. He began by expanding meeting facilities, putting in a swimming pool and tennis courts, and doubling the golf course from nine to 18 holes. By 1960, ECCC was one of Southern California’s premier golf facilities, hosting the first PGA tournament on the West Coast. Within a few years, Vallas bought another struggling course, Rancho Santa Fe’s Whispering Palms Golf Resort (now Morgan’s Run). He doubled the size of that course and added a new clubhouse, hotel rooms and spa facilities, building it into another top North County resort.

As soon as ECCC and Whispering Palms were operating smoothly, Vallas began building golf resort facilities in Holtville, Palm Springs and Carlsbad. He was gaining a reputation for excellence in planning and operating golf businesses—the king of Morocco commissioned him to build a golf course in the nation’s capital, Rabat, and a number of other cities.

Word of his success and work ethic spread throughout Europe’s golfing community and Vallas soon was designing and building courses in France, Portugal, England, Ireland and The Netherlands. It was during the planning stages of a golf resort in the Caribbean that he bought another thriving business: an interisland airline with domestic and international routes.

The purchase of the Caribbean-based American Airlines Inter-Island Airline was merged into his Carlsbad-based Air Resorts airline, which operated daily scheduled flights to a number of western cities with 13 airliners flying out of San Diego’s Lindbergh Field. Vallas also operated a nationwide charter service transporting several college athletic teams. Flying Convair 440s, and later Convair 580 turbo jets, Air Resorts flew from 1980 to 1997. He added the Super 580 Manufacturing Co., and a number of FAA repair stations. Juggling these various high-profile businesses wasn’t easy. Not satisfied to be an xecutive behind a desk, Vallas spent a lot of time traveling between his various facilities throughout Southern California. He obtained his private and commercial fixed-wing and helicopter pilot licenses. The thrill of aviation that he first experienced as a Navy crewmember had never left Vallas. Now a highly successful golf executive and land developer, he set his sights on building an airline that would serve all major cities in California, Arizona, Canada and down into Mexico. He not only operated a flight training school, but he also owned a fleet of Convairs and an old DC-3 converted by Kodak as its executive aircraft. Vallas began refitting Convair 580s into “stretch” airliners, plus put the finishing touches on new Hughes helicopters. Most local residents had no idea all of this work was performed at Palomar Airport. And the busy Carlsbad entrepreneur continued expanding his resort empire by building Olympic Resort & Spa adjacent to Palomar Airport.

By the mid 1990s, he began divesting his holdings by selling off El Camino Country Club, Whispering Palms and other resort facilities. In 1997, Air Resorts was sold, and by the turn of the century, Vallas had liquidated everything except the Olympic Resort at the corner of El Camino Real and Palomar Airport Road, and Flight Trails Helicopter in Mesa, Arizona. In early 2008, he sold those last remaining properties. At this juncture in life, most men who have reached their late 80s would be retired. Not Ted Vallas. The ink was barely dry on the Olympic’s sales contract when Vallas, at age 87, founded US International Consultants in Carlsbad and immediately purchased the franchising rights to four subsidiary businesses. And the idea of owning a scheduled airline continued to bounce around his mind.

“My vision of sending daily nonstop flights from Palomar to important destinations such as Sacramento, San Jose, Oakland, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson and Canada has been a continuing dream,” says Vallas, who turns 89 on March 11. “I figured if it was ever going to happen, I would be the one to do it and I’m willing to stack my fortune on its success.”

By mid-2009, his dream began taking shape and by January of this year, three new Brazilian-built Embraer 170s were ordered for the new Palomar Airport-based California Pacific Airlines. The 67-passenger pure twin jet planes are “stage four” aircraft, meaning they are less than 65 decibels in noise impact—very quiet for a pure-jet airliner. He’s planning to have “wheels up” later this year.

“It takes many months and a lot of hard work to secure the various FAA clearances and licenses to operate a scheduled airline,” Vallas explains. “We have a staff of more than a dozen former airline executives, pilots, and ground supervisors working to get the various government approvals.”

Among the fledgling CPA staff are a few members of the old Pacific Southwest Airlines in San Diego.

“The best way to describe what we’re doing is we are re-creating PSA’s routes throughout the west and eventually we’ll go into Mexico and up into Canada,” he says. “Within five years we’ll end up with nine or 10 aircraft and maybe go east as far as Kansas City, Salt Lake City and Houston.” A stock issue is forthcoming and North County will soon have its own airline, making Carlsbad a premier business and resort destination in the west.

“Retirement? Age is only a number,” Vallas contends with a smile. “If you have a vision and reason to get up in the morning, working toward your goal should never end.”