Front entrance of the SBA Terminal

2023 Airport Year in Review

Authored on

2023 was another notable year for Santa Barbara Airport, with record-breaking passenger counts, the introduction of new customer experience programs, and refined plans for upcoming improvement projects. 

"Reflecting on a year of soaring achievements at Santa Barbara Airport, I am immensely proud of the remarkable collaboration among our dedicated staff, tenants, and community partners,” said Chris Hastert, Airport Director. “Thank you for making my first year as Airport Director an incredible flight of accomplishments." 



Passenger and Flight Data 

2023 brought a record-breaking 1,277,545 million passengers traveling through Santa Barbara Airport. This is a 4.8% increase from 2022’s total of 1,219,581 million passengers, which was the first time SBA surpassed one million total yearly passengers. October ranked as the busiest month with a total of 119,894 passengers arriving and departing. 

Bar chart showing yearly passengers from 2018-2023


In 2023, the total number of operations decreased by 6.5% compared to 2022. “Operations” refer to either the take-off or landing of an aircraft at Santa Barbara Airport. Approximately 80% of operations was categorized as general aviation, 18% was commercial airline service, and 2% was military. On average, there were 183 operations per day in 2023.

Pie chart showing percentages of aircraft operations

Commercial service in 2023 was provided by four airlines - Alaska, American, Southwest, and United Airlines. With an average of 20 flights each day, these airlines offered direct service to ten destinations: Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Seattle.   

In June of 2024, SBA will welcome back Delta Air Lines, who previously stopped service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Delta is returning direct service to Salt Lake City and introducing new service to Atlanta. The route to Atlanta will be the farthest direct destination in SBA history. Both of these international airports will provide hundreds of additional connections to destinations around the world. 



Customer Service and Outreach Programs

Therapy dog standing inside SBA Terminal

Improving the passenger experience is always top of mind at SBA, but a focus on accessibility programming was made a priority in 2023. The goal of these efforts is to continue offering all travelers an experience that is easy, stress-free, and enjoyable.  

With the launch of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program last spring, SBA joined more than 200 airports across the globe to offer this service to travelers. The Sunflower Program provides lanyards to individuals with non-visible disabilities to wear as they travel through the airport. These lanyards, covered with the signature sunflowers, discreetly indicate to staff that a person may need a little more time or understanding. This simple signal has made a significant impact in further removing the stress of traveling. To date, SBA has provided more than 300 people with these lanyards, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. 

Just in time for the busy holiday season, SBA welcomed an exciting collaboration with some furry friends. Therapy Dogs of Santa Barbara spent multiple days in November and December greeting passengers traveling through SBA for the holidays. Trained therapy dogs, alongside their volunteer handlers, were available for guests to interact with throughout the Terminal. Their presence helped relieve stress and bring a smile during a busy time of year. SBA is excited to expand this partnership even further in 2024. 

In March of 2023, SBA was proud to host the second annual Plane Pull in collaboration with Alpha Resource Center and Alaska Airlines. This event raised more than $55,000 for Alpha - a local nonprofit dedicated to empowering people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for more than 70 years.    

This event brought great support from the community, with 23 teams competing to pull an Alaska Airlines Embraer 175 for the fastest time possible. These participants included local businesses, City officials, aviation enthusiasts, and public safety personnel; and another 300 people attended to watch the event. This fundraiser has served as a great opportunity to support people with disabilities, as well as connect with SBA’s wider community. The third annual Plane Pull will return to SBA on Saturday, March 2, 2024. To learn more, visit Alpha’s website. 



SBA on the Horizon  

SBA on the Horizon

SBA is excited to introduce the Airport’s capital improvement projects program: SBA on the Horizon. This program incorporates both immediate improvements currently taking place at Airport, as well as future projects that are in various planning stages. All of the projects “on the horizon” are designed to propel Santa Barbara Airport into the future with updated technology, improved customer experiences, and safe, standardized operations.  

The Planning and Development team at SBA have their hands full with a variety of projects on both large and small scales. Two of the larger capital improvement projects include the Master Plan Update and the Terminal Improvement Project.  

Currently, SBA is developing a Master Plan Update (MPU) to the 2017 Master Plan. The Airport Master Plan is an FAA-funded, airport-developed document that looks at potential operations and development over the next 20 years.  The objective of the MPU is to provide the community and public officials with proper guidance for future development, which will satisfy aviation demands and be wholly compatible with the environment. The next set of public meetings regarding the MPU begin next week, including an interactive Open House on March 7. 

The objective of the Terminal Improvement Project (TIP) is to maintain comfortable, safe, and convenient levels of service in the terminal, as well as accommodate forecasted growth. The TIP is one of the projects recommended in the 2017 Airport Master Plan.   

The proposed TIP consists of approximately 33,000 square feet of new space, with the largest portion adding onto the south end of the existing building. Significant improvements include two additional boarding gates, additional and improved gate seating areas, expanded concession space, as well as enhancements to the existing ticketing counter, baggage claim, and security screening areas. This project is currently in the Conceptual Design Phase, with construction estimated to begin in 2027. Public meetings with opportunity for community input will be scheduled later this year.   

Learn more about the TIP in the video below. 


Whether you’re a partner, tenant, or a frequent flyer, we want to thank you for your support of Santa Barbara Airport. Stay tuned to our website and social media channels for the latest news and updates in 2024!