Rich in Aviation History and Heritage

Airport 1922

Circa 1919

Santa Monica Airport is the oldest operating airport in Los Angeles County with a heritage dating back to the days of many famous Barn Stormer's and Wing Walkers. And, though some folks say that pilots may originally have used the site as early as 1917; our records indicate the first flights in Santa Monica took place in early WWI biplanes where pilots used the site as an informal grass landing strip in 1919! We hope you enjoy the many historic events the Santa Monica Airport has endured in the following dialog.

1920's - 1940's
Douglas Aircraft Company begins to ramp-up production and testing of it’s early airliners and military aircraft (DC-3 & DC-4). During this time period Santa Monica Airport (which will commonly be referred to as "SMO" during the course of the website,) was used primarily by Douglas with some general aviation / sport / movie flying activities.

1922 Douglas begins using the airport to test and fly production aircraft - completely moves to SMO in 1929.


1924 - Douglas Aircraft (and Santa Monica Airport) was catapulted to super-star status when its World Cruiser biplanes became the first aircraft to successfully circumnavigate of earth (in approx. 6 months).

1924 Wrld Crusier Depart

1924 cruisers

During it’s peak years, Douglas employed up to 44,000 employees working three shifts - 24/7. Housing had to be built for those employees and it was built in the area surrounding the airport - Both L.A. & Santa Monica zoned residential up to the perimeter of the Airport and adjoining roadways to accommodate the housing demand. 

SMO Douglas plant 40

Douglas built and tested many different kinds of aircraft at SMO including the DC-3 / DC-4 / DC-6 / DC-7 piston powered airliners - these were very large multi-engine aircraft that rolled off the assembly line by the hundreds / thousands - these were powerful aircraft made lots of noise (and prop blast.).

DC3 - 7

Douglas also built and tested many military aircraft (inc A-20 Havoc & A-26 Marauder) and the B-19 the largest aircraft of its time.

Douglas changed the City of Santa Monica forever by transforming the once sleepy beach resort / bedroom community into a primarily blue-collar town.

Douglas Plant front ext

World War II

1942 Airport camo    The Airport in camouflage

The Federal Government (for national security reasons) leased the Airport from the City to provide protection for Douglas Aircraft - now a major defense contractor - and also participated in the expansion of the facility to accommodate the ever-growing production of military aircraft by Douglas Aircraft - it was during this time that the Airport grew to its present 227 acres.

Following the end of the war - the City and the Federal Government executed an “Instrument of Transfer dated August 10, 1948” in which the Federal Government relinquished its leasehold interest in the Airport and transferred it back to the City. Prior to its transfer back to the City, the Federal Government completed the relocation and expansion of the runway and taxiway system to its current configuration.

Runway Configuration

Runway 3 departs to the east
Runway 21 departs to the west
Runway was moved approximately 1,000 ft south from its original location
Runway’s were changed from an “X” configuration to a single east-west runway

x runways

Runway now 5,000 feet long with two full-runway-length parallel taxiways (A & B).


Douglas Aircraft Company 

During the post-war 1950's Douglas continued to expand its propeller-driven commercial airliner business -culminating in the production of the 166,000 lb - DC-7C capable of transporting 110 passengers at speeds of up to 400 mph for 5,600+ miles. 338 DC-7s were built at the Douglas plant.

At the close of the ‘50's, Douglas began development of a 4-engine jet powered airliner - the DC-8 - to compete with Boeing’s 707. Douglas came to the City with a proposal to lengthen the runway to accommodate this new aircraft and to acquire additional acreage to build new corporate offices - the City declined the request - subsequently, Douglas shifted the manufacturing of jet aircraft to Long Beach Airport. However, research and development, missile production, and sub-assembly work continued at the Santa Monica Airport plant.

General Aviation Activity

During the 50's and 60's general aviation experienced unprecedented growth and activity - pilots returning from WW II and the Korean War purchased aircraft and continued flying Airlines were expanding - hiring pilots - and pilot training reached an all time high.

This growth peaked at Santa Monica Airport (and at other airport’s in the Basin) in the late 60's when total operations reached 356,000+ per year - which equated to 975 operations per day (or an average of approx 40 arrivals & 40 departures per hour over a twelve hour period).


Early 1960's

SMO 65

The first civilian jets started coming to the Airport.  These early jets were "pure jet" aircraft that were 10 times louder and more polluting then present day jet aircraft using the Airport. The current jets using the Airport today being substantially quieter and cleaner (fan jets).

In 1966, Western Commander, an established FBO at the Airport began sale and service of the Jet Commander - one of the loudest jet aircraft in the fleet at the time.  Part of Western Commander’s marketing strategy would be to fly prospective buyers to Las Vegas late at night and return before sunrise - this created considerable consternation in the neighborhoods around the Airport.

In the late 1960's, approximately 5 - 6 jet operations occurred per day.

Nestle v. City 1967

Though there were only 5 - 6 jet operations per day during the 60's - these aircraft were so loud that it triggered a lawsuit by 232 homeowners living in the vicinity of the Airport - The plaintiffs sued for damages resulting from jet noise, fumes and nuisance.

City prevailed on inverse condemnation, but other mitigation issues remained.

Stegg V. City - December 1969, aircraft operator challenged the City’s night time (11:00 p.m. - 7:00 a.m.) jet departure curfew. Upon appeal, the court ruled on behalf of the City and upheld the departure curfew finding that the enabling ordinance “clearly comes under the City’s power to ‘regulate the use of the airport’.


The Airport Neighbors Forum & Noise Regulations

In 1974 the City formed the “Airport Neighbors Forum” consisting of representatives of local airport neighborhoods and aviation interest for the expressed purpose of developing proposals to mitigate aircraft noise.
The current recommended flight tracks are a direct result of this citizen group involvement.
Subsequently, the City Council adopted several ordinances designed to reduce aircraft noise based upon of the Forum’s recommendations which included:

  • Ban on helicopter flying
  • A Total Ban on All Jet Aircraft
  • Departure curfew between 11:00 p.m. & 7:00 a.m.
  • A Noise Limit of 100 dB SENEL (Sound Exposure Level)
  • Prohibition on “touch & go’s” (nights, weekends & holidays)

After the City adopted the jet ban in April of 1975, it was challenged in court by SMAA in 1977. 

Federal District Court enjoined the jet ban in 1979, but upheld the City's other regulations Court of Appeal upheld the Federal District Court's decision in total in 1981.
After the jet ban, the City lowered the noise level to 85 db, but it was challenged by NBAA. The judge enjoined this ordinance also on the grounds that it was a disguised jet ban.

Douglas Aircraft Company Leaves Santa Monica Airport.

During the 1970's, it became apparent that Douglas was leaving the City to consolidate its operation at the Long Beach Airport site. The City subsequently conducted an economic analysis of the property to determine the best use of the site - during this process the City requested a ruling from that State as to whether or not the City could close the Airport. The State Attorney General ruled that the City could not close the airport.

Douglas completed its relocation to Long Beach in 1975 and by September 1977 the entire Santa Monica Plant had been raised to the ground leaving only a large vacant dirt lot.

The Airport thus became purely a general aviation airport.


During the 1980's General Aviation experienced a dramatic nation-wide down turn in total operations as a result of many factors including: 

  • Economic recession
  • FAA controllers strike
  • WWII & Korean vets started dropping out of the pilot pool
  • Slow-down in the airline industry which reduced the demand for new pilots
  • Increased product liability cases against GA aircraft manufactures - driving up the cost of new aircraft

During the late 80's annual SMO aircraft operations dropped to their lowest level since the early 50's.

In 1980, the City again conducted an economic impact analysis of the Airport and determined that there was greater revenue generating potential if the Airport was closed and converted to mixed commercial use. The City notified the Airport tenants on month-to-month leases that their tenancies would be terminated in one year.

1981 City enacts an interim 100 db noise limit which repealed the 85 db noise limit In June 1981, the City Council adopted a resolution declaring its intention to close the Airport when legally possible.

The 1984 Agreement

After the City indicated its intent to close the airport, the FAA (DOJ) and other aviation interests challenged that intent; resulting in negotiations with the FAA that formulated in the 1984 Settlement Agreement (between the FAA and City.) The City’s only other option was to either let another party operate the Airport with no guarantee that there would be attempts to mitigate impacts or agree to operate the airport until 2015 with the restrictions in the 1984 Agreement, which included: 

  • 11-7 / 11-8 curfew
  • Helicopter restrictions
  • 95 db SENEL Noise Limit
  • Removing land from aviation use
  • Limitations on the number of tie-downs (540 + 50)
  • Pattern restrictions on weekends, holidays & evenings
  • Movement of aviation facilities to North and South sides of airport closer to the runway and away from residents on southern property line.

The intent of 1984 Agreement was to lessen the impact of aircraft operations for all homes / neighborhoods around the airport.

1983 Airport Master Plan - conformed with the 1984 Agreement - reduced the size of the Airport - created two new FBOs on the north side of the airport (away from the residential areas) and released a significant amount of aviation land on the south side of the Airport for non-aviation purposes - new Airport Park will be constructed in this area.

Airport Improvement Projects 1986 - 1989

The FAA funded 90% of the AIP’s which included runway overlay, new perimeter road, sound walls.


The Airport Noise & Capacity Act of 1990 (ANCA)

Passed by Congress in 1990 as a result numerous local airport restrictions

  • Grandfathered existing noise ordinances/noise restrictions
  • Prohibited airports from adopting new access restrictions based on noise impact w/o conducting an impact analysis under FAR Part 161.
  • SMO Noise Code and noise abatement procedures remain the most restrictive and punitive in the Nation.
  • In 1990 the FAA proposed an amendment to SMO's IFR departure procedures changing the 250 degree turn "immediately after departure" to "at reaching the LAX 310 degree radial". This change was instituted as a result of the Cerritos air crash.

 Photographic History of the Airport  

SMO 2004