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"Sonoma County Airport poised to expand as United Airlines mulls SFOflights"


 
Monday, February 27, 2017

Sonoma County Airport poised to expand as United Airlines mulls SFO flights   
By Derek Moore
The Sonoma (CA)  Press-Democrat


Sonoma County's airport may need to redraw current expansion plans to 
accommodate a crush of passengers and the arrival of more airlines, including 
the possible addition of United Airlines, which is considering restarting daily 
service to San Francisco this summer, an airport official said.

United, which discontinued daily flights to San Francisco from Sonoma County in 
2001, is now weighing whether to resume the service, only this time with a 
70-passenger jet and not the smaller turboprops the airline relied upon back in 
the day.

"They were saying that if it's going to happen, it would potentially happen 
this summer," Jon Stout, manager of the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County 
Airport, said last week.

In fact, United's website already offers roundtrip flights from Santa Rosa to 
San Francisco beginning June 8 for an advertised fare of $495.

The 40-minute flights would allow local travelers to avoid the hassle and 
expense of getting to SFO, where they could connect to destinations worldwide.

Even more tantalizing, United might decide interest in flying to and from 
Sonoma County is such that the airline might start service directly to its hub 
in Denver, which has been a long sought goal for local airport officials.

"If that flow is strong enough, that helps justify doing a Denver flight," 
Stout said.

A United representative did not immediately respond to a message seeking 
comment.

The addition of United would further squeeze Snoopy's home airport, where the 
terminal at times is a tight fit.

Alaska Airlines offers between seven and nine daily flights out of Sonoma 
County, depending on the season. 

American Airlines debuted a daily nonstop flight to Phoenix-Sky Harbor 
International Airport on Feb. 16, marking the first direct connections from 
Sonoma County to a major hub east of California.

And Allegiant Airlines offers a weekly nonstop flight from Sonoma County to Las 
Vegas.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in September approved financing for a 
$20 million project that called for more than doubling the size of the terminal 
and the number of parking spaces at the west end of Airport Boulevard.

But Stout on Friday said he'll return to the board with options to add an 
additional 9,000 square feet to current terminal expansion plans, bringing the 
total expansion to 43,000 square feet, or larger than the new Oliver's Market 
in Windsor. 

Stout said current expansion plans may not be enough to address the need for 
more space in baggage hold areas and for more bathrooms in passenger waiting 
areas.

"We're now having times of the day when there may be three airplanes checking 
in at once, and that's where we are running out of space," Stout said.

He said going to supervisors for direction will push the start of construction 
on the terminal expansion back by about three months, to late this year. That 
also would delay the its opening to summer of 2019.

Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt said he believes the airport is making 
the right adjustments to meet demand.

"These are good growing pains to have," Rabbitt said.

The airport, which receives funding from landing fees, terminal rents, 
passenger facility charges and other sources not tied to the county's general 
fund, has a total budget this year of $5.9 million - nearly $1 million more 
than two years ago, according to Stout.

He said the budget is balanced. However, he said the airport's current reserves 
of about $400,000 are below what officials would like to have on hand for 
contingencies. 

He said the airport is still seeking reimbursement from the federal government 
for local costs tied to the 2014 extension of the airport's runways - work 
deemed critical to attracting more airlines.

Stout said a $700,000 tent-style temporary space that will accommodate security 
screening and passenger waiting in the short-term is on schedule to debut June 
1. Construction on expansion of parking areas is scheduled to start around the 
same time.

The $4 million project involves paving a 4-acre area that includes the overflow 
lot, for a total of 450 to 500 parking spaces.

County supervisors last week approved a lease extension for Alaska Airlines. 

Some 2.1 million passengers have flown Alaska in and out of the Sonoma County 
airport since the airline's local service began in 2007 with flights to Seattle 
and Los Angeles. 

The new lease agreement allows Alaska to schedule as many as 13 daily 
departures from Sonoma County. 

Stout said hopes Alaska would add direct service to Maui have stalled because 
of the airline's merger with Virgin America, and because of concerns Sonoma 
County's runway still is not able to accommodate larger aircraft weighed down 
with lots of bags, as flights to Hawaii typically are.

But Stout said a new generation of Boeing 737 aircraft may alleviate those 
concerns. 

The airport's lease agreement with American allows the airline to schedule up 
to three daily departures. Stout said the Phoenix flights are booked at 75 to 
80 percent of capacity through early April.

He said American officials told him that if those trends continue, the airline 
may add a second daily flight to Phoenix as early as next year.

Both the Alaska and American lease agreements are for five years, with an 
option for either party to bail out with advance notice. The airport has 
forecast revenue of $1.1 million from Alaska and $170,000 from American in 2017.
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