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"Fresno, California airport sits poised for big takeoff"



Tuesday, August 15, 2000

Fresno airport sits poised for big takeoff
New concourse, more parking and business area are among the upgrades.
By Sanford Nax
The Fresno (CA) Bee


In two years, Fresno Yosemite International Airport will look substantially
different.

A signature entryway will help highlight a two-story concourse complete with
covered jetways and a 180-degree view of the jets departing and landing.
Travelers will walk to waiting planes in comfort while business people and
others squeeze in a little last-minute work at one of the Internet
connections in the business center.

"It will be an airport experience second to none," Mayor Jim Patterson said
Monday as city officials kicked off construction of a two-story concourse at
the end of the terminal.

The $42 million project, expected to be completed in 2002, is part of the
city's effort to improve the airport, make a better impression on travelers
and visitors and to attract and retain airlines.

The modern concourse is the final improvement of a three-pronged expansion
that also started in 1988 with a new baggage area and included an upgraded
terminal in 1993. The current project will help in airline-recruitment
efforts, airport officials said.

Airlines considering expanding to Fresno have three main questions, said
Patti Miller, airport spokeswoman: Are there jetways? How much parking is
available? How is access to freeways?

Carriers such as Southwest Airlines like airports to have jetways because
they can get passengers in and out faster. "They want to be able to turn an
aircraft every 20 minutes," said Charlie Hayes, the city's transportation
director. "They can do it faster with jet bridges."

With the improvements, airlines can be assured of adequate parking and, when
combined with the expansions of Freeways 168 and 180, of having convenient
freeway access.

The improvements are not expected to lead to substantial increases in
passenger fares or fees paid by the carriers, Hayes said. Landing fees are
being increased over seven years, but that is because a survey determined
that fees at Fresno were unusually low.

Even with the increase, fees charged to airlines will still be lower than
those at other airports, Hayes said. And the price of an airline ticket
could drop if more competition among carriers develops, he said.

About 13,000 square feet of the terminal has been demolished to be replaced
by the two-story concourse and six jetways. The improvements also will
double parking, improve lighting and create a new entry off Peach and
McKinley avenues to be named after the late Terry O. Cooper, who was
transportation director before Hayes. Cooper, a driving force in the effort
to improve the airport, died in 1998.

New concession businesses and offices, a children's play area and a business
center with hook-ups for laptop computers, fax machines and the Internet
also will be built.

The improvements don't end there. Other changes will be less visible to
passengers but are important to the operation of the airport. Those include
a new radar system, installed in January, which replaces a 1950s-era system
that was the oldest in the nation.

The airport also is in line to get a new "fog-busting" instrument landing
system in mid-2001. That will allow aircraft to land in less visibility.

The new system is expected to benefit passenger carriers and cargo
companies, which are increasingly common at Fresno Yosemite International.

To capture more cargo business, Patterson wants to convert Airways Public
Golf Course into an airfield industrial park and develop a new championship
course across Clovis Avenue.

"This is a huge step forward in acquiring new jet service," Patterson said
of the construction. He predicted that coming months will bring strong
interest from carriers wanting to expand operations in Fresno.

That interest would be in addition to new service to Denver that starts in
October. SkyWest Airlines will operate the two flights a day on behalf of
United Airlines.

The Denver service was made possible by the advent of regional jets, which
are smaller than 737s and more suited to medium-sized markets such as
Fresno.

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