Published in December 2014 issue

By Bill Hough

Despite its relatively small size, Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA/KSBA) was a fascinating place to watch aircraft during the early 1980s. United Airlines, the airport’s dominant carrier since 1936, operated daily flights to its SFO and DEN hubs. Other jet operators included American Airlines, which started flights in the spring of 1984 with their then new “Super 80s” and Pacific Express, who would briefly serve the airport in before becoming one of the early “Deregulation Knockouts.”

Since the Airline Deregulation Act had been passed a few years previously, many new airlines appeared and disappeared frequently. This was still the era of the small, independent commuter airline, and carriers such as Sun Aire, Imperial, Air Resorts, Dash Air and ConnectAir served SBA during this time.

The airport was home to the former Apollo Airways, by then renamed Pacific Coast Airlines and its distinctive fleet of Handley Page HP.137 Jetstreams. Also at the field was Tracor Aviation, which had a large 3-bay hangar on the northeast side of the airport. In early 1984, Tracor performed work converting Pan Am’s former National Airlines DC-10s to American Airlines configuration. Tracor Aviation was also involved in Comtran’s Q707 program, as they were authorized sales representative for that program in North and South America and the Caribbean Basin.

Commercial aviation has a long history at SBA, dating back to Pacific Seaboard Airlines in the early 1930s. United Air Lines (as it was then known) commissioned a distinctive Spanishstyle terminal building in 1942. This building, which served as SBA’s terminal until 2011, has now been relocated and refurbished as part of a new terminal project. The airport’s layout, however, is mostly unchanged. The major runway is the 6,054’ by 150’ Runway 7/25, which has an Instrument Landing System in the. Runway 7 direction. Additionally, a pair of shorter 15/33 runways exists for general aviation use.

Thirty years ago, the airline scene at SBA was significantly different than it is now, with United and American operating “mainline” service alongside several independent commuter airlines. In 2014, the only “mainline” flight serving SBA is a Frontier A319 operating to and from Denver. United, Alaska and American/US Airways service is provided by regional carriers under code-share arrangements.