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Getting Around: SoCal Airports

Infrastructure Supports Travelers, California Economy

Southern California is one of the busiest airport systems in the world. Air travelers have flown in and out of the region since the Grand Central Airport in Glendale opened in 1928 as the first paved runway west of the Rocky Mountains. Today, more than 150 million passengers and billions of tons of cargo a year travel to and from thousands of domestic and international locations through SoCal airports.

It is critically important to maintain and expand California’s airport infrastructure to keep the state’s economy healthy and competitive. Here is information on some of SoCal’s biggest airports.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

The fifth busiest airport in the country is also the most well-known of all of SoCal’s airports. Located in the southwest corner of the city, it serves as many as 30 million travelers a year. Currently undergoing a major infrastructure project that began in 2018, five elements aim to modernize the airport and transform Los Angeles travel. These include the automated people mover (APM), Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility, two Intermodal Transportation facilities (ITFs), and roadway improvements. As one of the Twenty-Eight by ’28 transportation infrastructure projects, Angelenos and visitors from around the globe will be able to see a new LAX just in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics and the 2028 Summer Paralympics.

Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR)

Also known as the Bob Hope Airport, after the famous entertainer, it is located northeast of Los Angeles. For more than 90 years, the airport has served as the gateway to some of the region’s popular tourist destinations. Two terminals provide passengers with many nonstop domestic connections. In addition to commercial airlines, BUR also has two on-site fixed-base operators (FBOs), Million Air Burbank and Atlantic Aviation. Cargo planes, general aviation, and military aircraft also operate out of Hollywood Burbank Airport. 

Burbank voters in 2016 approved the building of a 14-gate replacement passenger terminal that is farther from the runways and meets current earthquake design standards. It is of no cost to local taxpayers and will not expand the airport. Elevate BUR will provide convenience and easy access as well as upgraded user amenities to elevate the airport experience.

Long Beach Airport (LGB)

This single terminal airport serves approximately 3.8 million passengers annually. Located south of Los Angeles, it provides 16 nonstop domestic flights. LGB is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the U.S. In addition to commercial airlines, charter flights, helicopters, cargo flights, and military aircraft use the airport. There are a number of recent capital improvements to runways and taxiways. Phase II Terminal Area Improvements, including a new ticketing building and adjoining checked-baggage inspection system facility are on schedule to be complete in the first quarter of 2022.

John Wayne Airport (SNA)

Located in the Orange County city of Santa Ana, this airport is also known as Orange County or Santa Ana Airport. Serving more than 10 million passengers a year, it is largely a domestic-traffic airport that also provides limited service to select cities in Mexico and Canada. More than 17,000 tons of air cargo also go through SNA. Capital projects include rental car reconfigurations, improved airfield lighting, and terminal building modifications. Improvements to the baggage systems, taxiway, concessions and remote lot with EV chargers are in the plans to provide a better travel experience.

Ontario International Airport (ONT)

Located east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County, the airport is the fastest-growing airport in the United States, according to Global Traveler. ONT largely serves domestic flights and limited international service to select cities in Mexico. Additionally, Avianca Airlines, a Colombia-based carrier, now provides the first-ever flights from the Inland Empire to Central America. Serving more than 2.6 million passengers annually, ONT is experiencing an impressive pandemic recovery, with passenger volumes inching to within 7% of pre-COVID levels. Cargo numbers have also jumped with double-digit growth to make ONT a leading North American cargo hub. 

In November 2021, FedEx Express completed a $100 million investment in its ONT facilities, making it capable of handling 12,000 packages per hour. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded ONT an $11.4 million grant for the rehabilitation of its existing taxiways through the American Rescue Plan Act. The money will be used to make repairs to taxiway pavements and to upgrade the lighting with more energy-efficient LED lights.

San Diego International Airport (SAN)  

More than 9.2 million passengers traveled through SAN in 2020 (63% fewer than 2019’s pre-pandemic record-breaking passenger number of 25.2 million). The airport serves more than 60 nonstop markets in the US and abroad with nearly 500 daily flights to destinations across the globe. It is one of the only airports in Southern California that offers “Green Concessions,” which are businesses committed to sustainable practices.

In October 2021, the San Diego County Regional Airport Board of Directors approved the master project schedule for a new $2.6 billion capital project set to begin in November 2021 and be completed in 2027. It includes the design and construction of a new terminal to replace Terminal 1, built in 1967. When completed, the new terminal will have 30 gates, updated concessions, and more security checkpoint lanes. The project also includes improvements to the airport’s roadways system and a new parking plaza for ground transportation services.

According to the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, the project is estimated to create between 15,000 to 20,000 jobs for local workers — 25% of the contract value will go to small businesses, 80% will go to local businesses and 3% are reserved for small enterprises that are veteran-owned.

Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)

Located just five minutes from downtown Palm Springs, PSP has 11 airlines with nonstop flights to more than 30 airports, including major hubs that can connect travelers to more than 500 cities worldwide. Open 24 hours a day, this airport has shops, restaurants, and bars nice enough to be considered a destination where people want to hang out for the day. PSP continues to set records for total passengers. September 2021 saw a 185% increase over the year before. Airport officials expect the increased passenger activity to continue as it adds more new routes.

Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA) 

Considered a small hub primary airport by the FAA, SBA is served by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, and offers multiple nonstop daily flights to domestic destinations. This small airport offers easy access; long and short term parking is only steps away from a charming Mediterranean-style terminal decorated with colorful tiles, rustic lanterns, modern art and Spanish murals. A multi-year project to bring the airfield into compliance with FAA regulations regarding taxiway naming conventions begins in 2021. Lighting and signage will be updated within the scope of work.

Van Nuys Airport (VNY)

Located in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles, the airport is operated by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), a branch of the Los Angeles city government that also operates Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). VNY ranks as one of the world’s busiest general aviation airports with 232,000 takeoffs and landings in 2020 of noncommercial airplanes. It is home to four major fixed-base operators (FBOs): Castle & Cooke Aviation, Clay Lacy Aviation, Jet Aviation, and Signature Flight Support. LAWA\’s FlyAway terminal is also located on the airport grounds; passengers bound for LAX can park and board buses that run nonstop between Van Nuys and LAX.

Used as a location for many music videos, television shows, and movies, it may be best known as the location of the climactic scene in “Casablanca.” During 1942 filming, VNY was known as Metropolitan Airport.

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