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Airport History

From Lindbergh Field to San Diego International Airport

In 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh electrified the world when he made San Diego the starting point for the first-ever solo, nonstop transatlantic flight. In his Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh took off from Dutch Flat bound for St. Louis, New York and Paris. Lindbergh later agreed to lend his name to a proposed new airport: San Diego Municipal Airport - Lindbergh Field.

After the Airport Authority was formed in 2003, we needed a new operating certificate from the FAA. For the name of the airport, then-President/CEO Thella Bowens put “San Diego International Airport,” officially choosing to drop the name “Lindbergh Field.” The decision was made to match the “think bigger” philosophy of the newly created Airport Authority. “Lindbergh Field” sounded like a small, regional facility, which no longer reflected the mission or business model of the airport.

Early aviation supporters saw their efforts rise from the mud when construction began on the long anticipated municipal airport. A cast of public and private agencies, military officers, politicians, philanthropists, and engineers worked tirelessly to build upon the muddy ground that gave birth to San Diego International Airport on its Dedication Day, August 16, 1928.

On June 1, 1930, the San Diego-Los Angeles airmail route was initiated, becoming the airport's major selling point for local government. At 5 p.m. sharp, the first airmail plane left the only building at the airport and raced down the runway, marking the beginning of a new era for San Diego.

At the outbreak of World War II, and as San Diego's population boomed, the military transformed San Diego International Airport into a modern aviation transportation center. The U.S. Army Air Corps took over the airport in 1942, and Army engineers improved the existing runways to accommodate the heavy bombers churned out by San Diego's aircraft manufacturers during World War II.

The 8,750-foot "mega-runway" built to accommodate World War II-era long-range bombers made San Diego International Airport "jet-ready" long before United Airlines became the first airline to offer pure jet service in September 1960. American Airlines followed with their "Jet Ace" scheduled service to Dallas/Fort Worth a few weeks later. San Diego had entered the Jet Age.

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, San Diego International Airport is the nation's busiest single runway commercial airport and home to the first ever LEED-Platinum Certified airport terminal.


Airport Facts

  • Founded in 1928, San Diego International Airport is the busiest single-runway commercial service airport in the nation. The runway is 9,401-feet in length and 200-feet in width.
  • The airport features 51 gates in Terminals 1 and 2. 
  • The airport is conveniently located three miles northwest of downtown San Diego and sits on 661 acres. 
  • The airport and affiliated enterprises contribute an estimated $9.9 billion annually to the regional economy. 
  • Approximately 4,900 employees work for the airlines, support service providers, federal agencies, fixed base operator, cargo operators, concessions and San Diego County Regional Airport Authority at the Airport. 
  • In 1976, San Diego International Airport became the first commercial airport in the nation to enact restrictions on late night and early morning takeoffs. While arrivals are permitted 24-hours a day, departures are prohibited between 11:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. 
2016 Stats:
  • The airport served 20.7 million passengers in 2016, a new passenger record for the second consecutive year.
  • The airport was served by 22 passenger carriers and 5 cargo carriers.
  • The passenger carriers provided service to 77 domestic an d10 international nonstop destinations throughout the year.
  • The largest carrier is Southwest Airlines carrying 37.8% of the passengers, followed by American Airlines at 13%, United Airlines at 11.5%, Delta Air Lines at 10.5% and Alaska Airlines at 8.5%.
  • Passenger and Cargo Carriers transported 189,096 tons of cargo and mail
  • The airport supported an average of 540 operations per day including General Aviation and Military Operations.