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"Stockton airport customs house gets supervisors' boost"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Airport customs house gets supervisors' boost
By Greg Kane
The Stockton (CA) Record

STOCKTON - San Joaquin County's push for international flights to Mexico
received a boost Tuesday when county supervisors supported plans to build a
$5.4 million customs terminal at Stockton Metropolitan Airport.

The board unanimously agreed to spend $26,250 in taxpayer money to be used
with nearly $500,000 in Federal Aviation Administration grants to pay for
the estimated 15,000-square-foot terminal's design. The airport is required
under federal law to build and staff a customs inspection facility before it
is allowed to receive passengers from outside the country.

Supervisors chose to pursue a new building after reviewing three options
presented by airport Director Barry Rondinella on Tuesday. The two that
weren't selected were projected to cost more than $6 million and would have
required the existing terminal to be gutted to meet new standards,
Rondinella said.

Mexican airline Aeromexico agreed last year to provide three flights a week
between Stockton and Guadalajara, Mexico, for at least one year once
international travel received approval at the airport.

But those plans hit a snag last year when U.S. Customs and Border Protection
rejected plans to build a customs station in the airport's existing
terminal, saying more space was needed for baggage inspection and lines.

At the time, the customs facility was projected to cost $2million.

Now, building onto the existing terminal would cost triple that amount,
because new requirements would force the entire building to be upgraded to
current codes, Rondinella said.

The $5.4million plan for the new building, which would be connected to the
existing terminal by a covered walkway, is still in the preliminary stages,
Rondinella said. A revised spending plan and design likely will come back to
the board in March before the project breaks ground, but officials still
hope to have service to Mexico by Thanksgiving.

Supervisors were leery of making such a large investment at the airport
without guarantees that Aeromexico and other airlines will be there
long-term. Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said he wants the airline to sign a new
contract guaranteeing it will stay at least one year after launching service
before he would feel comfortable building the terminal.

"This is a real roll of the dice on $6million," Ornellas said.

Rondinella said he believes the agreement reached in October 2005, which
called for three flights a week for at least one year, is still valid.

Officials with Aeromexico could not be reached for comment, but the airport
director says the airline still wants to pursue passenger service from

The airport resumed passenger service after a three-year layoff this year
when Allegiant Air began flying to Las Vegas.

If Aeromexico begins service from the airport and Allegiant continues its
pace of four flights a week, Stockton Metropolitan next year likely will
have its busiest year since the 1980s, Rondinella said.

Key dates

Stockton Metropolitan Airport Director Barry Rondinella said Tuesday that
the decision to build a new terminal could bring international flights
between Mexico and Stockton by the 2007 holiday season. Here are a few dates
of note:

   . Tuesday: Board of Supervisors supported plans to build a new customs

   . Today: Airport officials begin designing the new facility.

   . March: The board is to review final plans for the terminal, along with
a final cost estimate and spending plan.

   . Spring: If plans are approved, construction is to begin.

   . Next fall: Aeromexico is to begin flying passengers between Guadalajara
and Stockton.

Source: Stockton Metropolitan Airport

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