A Brief History of Oakland International Airport

Today, it is Oakland International Airport, a city within a city that employs nearly 11,000 people and pumping $4.5 billion into the local economy, as 11 million passengers and 700,000 tons of cargo pass through its gates.

But in 1927, it was only an idea — but an idea that Oakland liked. That year, the Board of Port Commissioner’s (just one year old) was given the authority to operate an airport, and construction of what was then called the Oakland Municipal Airport began. The airport was dedicated later that year, with Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh presiding over the airport’s dedication.

By December, 1927, the airport had its first passenger service, provided by Boeing Air Transport (later United Air Lines), and in mid-1929, five hangars, a passenger terminal, and a restaurant had been added to the airport. In 1930, the world’s first airport inn was built adjacent to the terminal, and Trans World Airlines began passenger service from Oakland in 1932.

Not every memory is a happy one, however. In May, 1937, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, her navigator, took off from Oakland for what was meant to be an around-the-world trip. Their plane was lost, and neither of them were heard from again.

Earhart’s journey, however, and her earlier exploits from Oakland, demonstrated the popularity of aviation. Whether for daredevil-like records or practical travel, airplanes were becoming more popular. By 1940, the Port Commissioners bought an additional 302 acres of land near the existing airport, set on expansion.

And that expansion came, but in a somewhat unexpected manner. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1941, the United States was plunged into World War II. Oakland’s airport was an important part of the air defense during that period, and by 1943, the Oakland Municipal Airport became the center for all planes used in the Pacific campaign during the war. Passenger traffic was entirely diverted to San Francisco during the time.

Once the war was won, however, air passengers returned to Oakland in force, bolstered by a “Fly Oakland” campaign that was launched in 1946. That same year, Western Airlines began serving Oakland, and in 1947, American Airlines began offering flights from Oakland, too.

With peacetime, the general public became increasingly interested in flying. To keep up with demand, Oakland voters approved a bond for airport expansion in 1953. By 1960, a major construction effort was under way, which included a 10,000-foot runway, a new, 600-acre complex, and a 10-story control tower.

The new, expanded airport, now dubbed Oakland International Airport, opened in 1962. Jet service from Oakland, via Trans World Airlines, began the following year. In 1965, Pacific Southwest Airlines began service from Oakland, and by 1973, Federal Express established their Oakland headquarters. Passenger traffic was also increasing, as evidenced by a new International Arrivals Building, which was dedicated that same year.

By 1980, people from all walks of life had discovered the ease, convenience, and speed of air travel. To accommodate an increasing number of private planes, construction began on the Executive Terminal at North Field. In 1985, Terminal Two was dedicated.

Southwest Airlines began flights from Oakland in 1989. This was the beginning of numerous expansions, including a flight crew base, a pilot base, and additional flights, over the coming decade. Federal Express was also expanding at this time, adding an International Customs Clearance Center and a 13-acre Metroplex regional sort facility during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Oakland’s increased traffic — both cargo and passenger — meant that additional facilities were needed. In 1991, the airport added an International Arrivals Building, for passengers clearing customs and immigration. In 1997, it became the first airport in the Bay Area to have the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) install a new instrument landing system, which allowed for lower landing minimums. In 1998, the airport opeened a 33,000-square-foot Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting station, and in 1999, an Airport Roadway Project was announced. This project provided additional roadways in and around the airport, easing traffic congestion.

In 2000, the 10 millionth passenger in a 12-month period passed through Oakland International Airport. And even more airlines joined the Oakland family, including Aloha, JetBlue, and Continental. Delta Airlines began service in 2001.

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