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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
"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,"
A United representative did not immediately respond to a message seeking
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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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