Jon Stout stood on a low mound last week and looked down the soon-to-be lengthened main runway at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
An Alaska Airlines twin-prop Bombardier Q400, the 4 p.m. from Portland, swooped out of the sky and glided in for an on-time arrival.
Stout, the airport manager, expects to have a busy 2014 leading the airport through its biggest expansion since World War II and attracting new commercial service to destinations east of California.
So far, this graded dirt mound and some new signs along the runway are the only evidence of a $53.8 million runway expansion project that broke ground in August. Construction, which is shut down for the winter, will resume in earnest in April with a flurry of work to extend both runways and divert an adjacent creek.
Stout said the project will be completed 10 months from now. Passengers on Alaska Airlines, currently the only airline serving Sonoma County with flights to Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego, won't likely notice the construction.
"We should still be on track to be done by Nov. 1," Stout said. "We've developed a construction schedule to have no impact on commercial traffic."
The Federal Aviation Administration, which is funding 90 percent of the project, mandated that the airport decouple the ends of both runways so that they cross instead of forming a "V" shape. The project will also add new taxiways and safety improvements, which pilots will appreciate.
But the main benefit for the majority of North Coast travelers is the extra 885 feet of pavement on the main runway that will extend it to 6,000 feet, the key length for attracting regional jet service, Stout said.
"The interest from airlines definitely went up once we broke ground," Stout said.
In October, Stout met with a number of airline executives about adding service to Sonoma County. The most promising developments include a future United Airlines flight to Denver, which is a major hub for east coast connections, and American Airlines service to Phoenix, Stout said. Neither airlines have made commitments, though, he said.