Since 1923, aviation has played a key role in Orange County's rich history, helping transform the community from an agricultural setting into one of the most vibrant counties in the nation. What started as a rural landing strip is now the award-winning John Wayne Airport.

Our history is deeply rooted in general aviation (GA), currently representing 68% of the Airport's total operations. In addition, our Fixed Based Operators provide services to the GA community, such as fuel, maintenance, and aircraft parking and hangar space.

Together, we celebrate 100 years of history, and invite you to take a trip from then to now through the milestones and memories highlighted here.

100-Year Timeline


Santa Ana mechanic, Eddie Martin, began flying passengers for $2 from a field at Main St. and Newport Ave. In 1923, he opens flying school and Martin Aviation, one of the nation's oldest aviation firms.


Eddie receives a 5-year lease on 60 acres for $35 a month.


Needing a right-of-way to extend South Main St, the County of Orange, Irvine Company and Marin Aviation form a partnership and move the new Orange County Airport south of the old Eddie Martin Airport. FAA assigns the Airport designator "SNA" for Santa Ana, the largest city nearby.


The Federal government leases Orange County Airport during World War II to support war efforts during which time the Army builds a control tower, extends the runway and adds runway lighting.


Following WWII, the abandoned runway on the west side of the airfield becomes a drag racing strip until 1959.


The first regular airline service begins as Bonanza Airlines initiates commercial service to Los Angeles, San Diego, El Centro-Yuma, and Phoenix.


May 6, the new terminal opens, dedicated by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, serving an average of 30,000 passengers per month. The runway is extended to 5,700 feet to accommodate increased airline service.


Martin Aviation receives a 25-year lease for a larger site, with additional hangars and maintenance area off of Campus Ave, and later acquires more property in 1980.


The Airport establishes one of the most aggressive noise management programs in the country, hiring the nation's first Airport Noise Abatement Officer and installing the first ever computerized aircraft noise monitoring system.


The Orange County Board of Supervisors adopts a resolution to formalize a curfew for jet aircraft operations.


The Board of Supervisors renames the Orange County Airport to John Wayne Airport in memory of the late movie star and Newport Beach resident.


The landmark 1985 Settlement Agreement between the County of Orange, the City of Newport Beach, the Airport Working Group, and Stop Polluting Our Newport establishes quarterly noise limits and hours of operations, creates an annual passenger cap, and sets limits on the number of commercial aircraft operations.


The FBO facilities on MacArthur Blvd. were moved to the west side of the Airport, and new tiedown areas were added in 1989.


The new 337,900 square foot Thomas F. Riley Terminal (Terminals A & B) opened September 16, 1990. It included 14 commercial passenger gates, four baggage carousels, two airline club lounges, and could accommodate 8.4 million annual passengers.


Fire Station #27 closed in 2000 due to an attic fire. The current Station #33 opened in 2005.


The first FAA tower was built in 1959 at the site of today's Lyon Air Museum and was later replaced in 1983 at its current location. In 2001, an enlarged cab at the top of the structure was built.


The Transportation Security Administration Explosives Detection Canine Team program was established at JWA and staffed by Orange County Sheriff Bomb Technicians.


The new Terminal C opens with six commercial passenger gates, two commuter terminals, three baggage carousels, international arrival facilities, central utility plant, and more than 2000 parking spaces, along with new concessions, and art exhibit spaces and sculpture.


Sixty covered tiedown spaces were built on the west side and made available for lease.


The County of Orange Board of Supervisors approved the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the General Aviation Improvement Program (GAIP) and a proposal for two full-service and one limited-service FBOs. ACI Jet, Clay Lacy, and Jay's Aircraft Maintenance were awarded leases in 2020 and construction planning is currently underway for their new facilities.


John Wayne Airport is consistently recognized as one of the best large airports in North America. The Airport ranked #1 in 2017 and 2018, and placed second in 2019, 2020, and 2022, reflecting our efforts to continually elevate the guest experience.