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"Plan for flights to Mexico progressing at Stockton airport"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Plan for flights to Mexico progressing at Stockton airport
By Les Mahler
The Tri-Valley (CA) Herald

STOCKTON - A year after pitching the idea of international air travel to and
from the Stockton Metropolitan Airport, Barry Rondinella, director of the
county-run airport has two of the three parties on board.

Now all he has to do is make sure Aeromexico Airlines is still interested.

"We're in discussions right now," Rondinella said.

San Joaquin County supervisors last week unanimously approved spending
$26,250 for the design of a $5.4 million, 15,000-square-foot inspection
station and terminal. While the county will spend $26,250, Federal Aviation
Agency grant money will provide the remaining $500,000 for the design costs.

Customs and Border Protection, which had previously rejected the design,
agreed on the new plan in October.

The federal agency had earlier denied the county's request to be an
international airport based on the proximity of other such airport
designations, including Sacramento, Oakland and Fresno, according to
Rondinella. But with the help of valley congressional leaders, the agency
changed its mind, he said.

Last week, Rondinella gave San Joaquin County supervisors three options for
the inspection station and terminal, with the least expensive - $5.4 million
- one that is separate from the present-day terminal. 

The county already has $2 million in federal money towards the $5.4 million,
and anticipates another $150,000 in fall 2007, $1 million in 2008, 2009 and
2010, Rondinella told supervisors last week.

The $5.4 million price tag was different from a year ago, when the outside
inspection station was more expensive, Rondinella told supervisors. The
other options would have cost $6 million and required the terminal to be
upgraded to come under code, he said.

Last year, Aeromexico signed a letter of agreement to provide three days of
service between Stockton and Guadalajara, Mexico, for one year.

But that was last year, Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said. And it was only an
agreement, not a contract.

"I'd like to see a contract with Aeromexico that they will stay in
operations for one full year," he said. 

Besides a contract and one year of service at the Stockton airport, Ornellas
said he also wanted the Mexico-based airline to invest $500,000 after 30
days for security and lights in the parking lot, and that the $250,000 for
marketing come from private sources, not the county.

"That would make me feel more comfortable before we move forward with $6
million," Ornellas said.

Stockton and several Spanish-speaking radio stations have provided the
$250,000 for marketing, Rondinella said.

As for the other demands, including a new contract, Rondinella said he would
try to "entice them into doing what the board has asked me to do." Although
an agreement is a contract, he said.

"These things are pretty high level" Rondinella said. "We'll certainly ask
the questions."

If the airline agrees to county demands, the final design phase will take
about nine weeks, with the bids going out for the inspection station.

The anticipated start date for air service is in the fall of 2007,
Rondinella said. "Hopefully, before the holiday season next year," he said.

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