History of the Airport

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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.

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.

San Diego International Airport's Historical Timeline

The first daily-scheduled, year-round air passenger service was inaugurated by Ryan Airlines with service between San Diego and Los Angeles.

May 10, 1927
Charles A. Lindbergh took off from Dutch Flat in San Diego (the current site of the Midway Post Office and just north of today's airport) bound for St. Louis, New York and Paris, on the first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight.

Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis

Aug 16, 1928
The San Diego airfield opened on Pacific Highway and was dedicated in honor of Charles A. Lindbergh. It was the first federally certified airfield that could serve all plane types, including seaplanes, earning it the first ever AAA rating for an airport.

San Diego Municipal Airport was made a permanent international airport of entry by the U.S. Treasury Department, establishing the airport as San Diego International Airport.

The Airport's current runway was constructed.

Dec 18, 1962
The San Diego Unified Port District was created when the State Legislature approved Senate Bill 41, which was certified by the County Board of Supervisors. District purview included ownership and operation of the airport.

March 5, 1967
The new East Terminal (now Terminal 1) opened for business.

Jan 5, 1976
San Diego International Airport invoked a nighttime flight restriction for airlines flying in and out of the Airport. This action was believed to be the first formal action of its kind at a major commercial airport within the continental United States.

July 11, 1979
A new $15 million West Terminal addition (now Terminal 2) was opened. (Dedicated April 18, 1979)

Jan 1982
Southwest Airlines began service at the airport offering six round-trip San Diego-Phoenix flights a day.

Oct 30, 1983
United Airlines began offering daily flights from San Diego to Honolulu, the first such regularly scheduled service to Hawaii.


Nov 8, 1995
Airport officials broke ground to initiate the West Terminal expansion, a highlight of the $232 million airport upgrade to meet passenger demand into the next century.

July 23, 1996
The Commuter Terminal opened at San Diego International Airport.

The installation of 16 public art works at San Diego International Airport's West Terminal addition and Commuter Terminal was approved.

Jan 7, 1998
A 300,000 square-foot expansion of Terminal 2 opened for passenger traffic. The $232 million airport improvement program was completed and the Airport Master Plan was launched.

Oct 14, 2001
Assembly Bill 93 established the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Act, which created the Authority as a local entity of regional government to manage the day-to-day operations of San Diego International Airport and address the region’s long-term air transportation needs.The legislation mandated three main responsibilities for the Authority:

  • Operate San Diego International Airport
  • Plan for the future air transportation needs of the region
  • Serve as the region’s Airport Land Use Commission – and ensure the adoption of land use plans that protect public health and safety surrounding all 16 of the county’s airports

Jan 1, 2002
The new Authority began operation under an interim Authority Board.

Sept 27, 2002
Governor Davis signed Senate Bill 1896 into law, which amended Assembly Bill 93 regarding the selection and appointment of Authority Board members. (The Senate passed the bill on August 30, 2002.)

Dec 16, 2002
The first meeting of the new permanent Authority Board was held after the installation ceremony.

Jan 1, 2003
Ownership and operations of San Diego International Airport was transferrred to the Authority from the San Diego Unified Port District as required by the Airport Authority Act.

July 8, 2009
The Airport Authority breaks ground on an expansion of Terminal 2 West. The Green Build—a name that reflects both the Authority’s sustainability commitments and its ability to bring “greenbacks” to the regional economy—is a $1 billion project, the largest in airport history.

August 13, 2013
The Green Build expansion at San Diego International Airport opens to passengers. Highlights include:

  • 10 new gates to reduce terminal congestion and provide expanded, more comfortable passenger waiting areas; features include new seating equipped with built-in cup holders and electric outlets
  • Dual-level roadway to relieve curbfront traffic congestion by separating arriving and departing passengers
  • Enhanced curbside check-in, allowing passengers to print boarding passes, check baggage and view gate information at easy-to-use curbside kiosks or airline/Skycap counter check-in positions before entering the terminal
  • New security checkpoint with more security lanes to improve flow of passengers through the terminal, keeping lines and security wait times down; up to 12 lanes can be opened during peak travel periods, as needed, increased from six
  • New 25,000-square-foot ticket lobby, with 32 airline counter check-in positions and 10 self-service kiosks
  • Expanded, 9,200-square-foot concessions area called Sunset Cove, providing a wide range of dining options
Copyright 2011 San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. All rights reserved.