New, larger terminal for Sonoma County airport slated for 2019

A backpack on his shoulders and sandals on his feet, Healdsburg sculptor T Barney was waiting for his luggage to arrive Wednesday at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, with only a few dozen other travelers on hand.

Barney, who flies out of the local airport about eight times a year, said the terminal is rarely crowded. But if there were more than seven flights a day - a prospect he favors in hopes it would cut down on delays - Barney said a larger terminal might be justified.

“I would vote for the expansion,” he said.

But he won’t have to, since the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved financing this week for a $20 million project that will more than double the size of the terminal and the number of parking spaces at the west end of Airport Boulevard.

Nor will taxpayers foot the bill, since the financial plan approved Tuesday involves a series of loans from the county treasury that will be repaid by airport revenues, officials said. Revenue this year is just over $5.5 million.

“This is really a big deal,” said Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the airport. “Right now the airport is bursting at the seams.”

On weekends, when the long-term parking lot typically fills up and an unpaved overflow lot is opened, “people are rolling their luggage through dirt,” he said.

With more passengers using the airport than ever and plans to boost the number of flights over the next 14 years, the pending expansion is “not just going forward, it’s (a matter of) catching up,” Gore said.

The county-owned airport, currently served by Alaska Airlines with seven flights a day and Allegiant Airlines with four flights a week, is on its way to a record of 320,000 passengers this year, breaking the previous record of 263,142 passengers last year and nearly triple the 109,082 passengers in 2007, the year Alaska started local service.

The airport master plan, updated in 2012, forecast as many as 600,000 passengers in 2030, a volume that would exceed the capacity of the planned expansion of the terminal from 15,000 to 34,000 square feet, making it nearly the same size as the new Olivers Market in Windsor.

“We are building what we can afford now to make the experience better for users and to accommodate additional airlines’ flights,” said Jon Stout, the airport manager.

The expanded terminal, expected to cost $12 million to $14 million and to open in early 2019, will be designed to allow future expansion up to 100,000 square feet, he said. While construction is underway, a $700,000 tent-style temporary space will accommodate security screening and passenger waiting.

The $4 million parking lot expansion involves paving a 4-acre area that includes the overflow lot, giving the airport a total of 450 to 500 spaces that should be ready by late 2017, Stout said. The financial plan envisions a final $20 million bond, enough to cover cost increases, he said.

Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said it makes sense to prepare for more people flying in and out of Wine Country.

“We know the trend is for more travel. The world is flying in increasing numbers,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a demand for more service.”

Stone noted that he has been at the airport when it was hard to find a space in the long-term parking lot.

“They don’t have much parking here,” said Steve DuCharme of San Diego, having a beer and sandwich for lunch Wednesday on the airport’s outdoor patio. DuCharme, a gaming commissioner for the Graton Resort & Casino, flies to Santa Rosa once a month for commission meetings.

“This is a no-frills airport,” he said, calling the bar and restaurant its best features. “I really have no complaints.”

Bill Lamkin, a St. Helena resident who usually flies out of Sacramento or San Francisco, said he was using the Sonoma County Airport for the first time for a business trip to Los Angeles.

“It seems nice in here,” he said, noting the terminal is a bit small. “I would think an expansion is a good thing.”

Meanwhile, Stout is hard at work lining up more air traffic.

The airport’s current agreement with Alaska sets a maximum of 10 flights a day, and a new agreement - which Stout hopes to present to the supervisors next month - would boost the cap to 13 flights a day.

“We’re very happy with them; they’re happy with us,” he said.

Stout hopes to see Alaska add a second daily flight to both San Diego and Orange County next summer, bringing the airline to 10 flights a day; the airline operates eight daily flights during summer. He’s also talked to Alaska about adding Burbank and Hawaii as destinations, but he said the airline is not ready to commit to them yet.

Expansion of the airport’s main runway to 6,000 feet two years ago allows it to handle long-haul jets like a Boeing 737.

By summer of 2021, the airport anticipates 14 to 16 flights a day, and Stout said each new flight, with 70 seats, adds $20 million to the county’s economy and creates 70 jobs.

The airport’s “primary goal,” Stout said, is to secure an eastward connection to an air traffic hub, such as Denver, enabling passengers to connect with flights to the rest of the country.

A United Airlines link to Denver is the most appealing option, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or On Twitter?@guykovner.

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