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"Stockton airport's big plan may get delayed"


 
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Airport's big plan may get delayed
Stockton hesitates to finalize, fearing Mexican airline may back out
By Paul Burgarino
The Tri-Valley (CA) Herald


STOCKTON - Costs for a proposed customs facility allowing international
flights from Metropolitan Airport have taken off in the past year. 

However, the airport's director is hopeful that recent financial turbulence
will not delay plans for flights from San Joaquin County to Mexico. 

Today, Barry Rondinella will present a new series of customs inspection
station designs to the Board of Supervisors that would range from an
estimated $5.3million to more than $6million. 

The airport, between Manteca and Stockton, has been a landing port for many
Bay Area corporate jets and several cargo firms - including the United
Parcel Service's heavy cargo division - and most recently began jet service
to Las Vegas. 

The next step is to expand service into Mexico, Rondinella said. 

"This will be great for anyone in the region; having an airport that can fly
internationally will help spur economic development," he said. 

Regardless of the building options, supervisors are skeptical of the
increasing costs for the plan. 

Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, who represents most of southern San Joaquin
County, said he would have a tough time supporting options that cost around
$5 million, not to mention the cost of staffing the new facility. Supervisor
Steve Gutierrez also said a commitment from Aeromexico would play a big part
in the decision. 

"Some assurances will have to be made on Aeromexico's part, if their
intentions from a year ago are still sincere. I need to see something a
little more concrete," Ornellas said. "It's an exciting prospect, but a huge
investment." 

Concerns of an airline committing to Stockton Metropolitan Airport for a
short period of time is not uncommon. The now-bankrupt America West Airlines
used to have flights to its hub in Phoenix before leaving Stockton, costing
the county hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

"If (Aeromexico) decides to fly out of Fresno or Oakland in six months, the
taxpayers are on the hook for a huge amount of money," Ornellas said. "What
makes us think this will be successful?" 

In February, the board reviewed preliminary designs for an inspection
station that would cost about $2 million. The station was to be added onto
an existing terminal. 

Those plans were denied by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol because the
new facility would not have provided enough room for baggage inspection or
staging. 

Of the three options that Rondinella will present to the board, the least
expensive calls for an entirely new 14,400-square-foot building. Rondinella
said modifications to the existing terminals would require additional
re-piping and rewiring to bring them up to code. 

"All those changes eventually add up," he said. 

The other options include having the Federal Inspection Station inside the
existing terminal or in an adjacent 2,000-square-foot building. 

"It's somewhat alarming that the costs have gone up that much," Ornellas
said. "It reiterates just how strong a commitment from Aeromexico would have
to be." 

Rondinella said Aeromexico remains "very committed and very excited" to
providing six flights a week to Guadalajara and that another Mexican
airline, Mexicana, would consider service if Aeromexico went forward with
its service. 

Earlier this year, Allegiant Air begin providing domestic passenger service
from San Joaquin County to Las Vegas. The company has expressed interest in
flying to such tourist destinations as Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta,
Rondinella said.

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