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After another record-breaking year, Sonoma County airport adding more flights on established routes

Commercial carriers operating out of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport will add four direct fights on existing routes early this year, building on the growth in local air travel after another record-breaking year for passenger numbers in and out of Santa Rosa.

American Airlines will add a second daily flight next month to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The world’s largest airline launched service from Santa Rosa to its Phoenix hub in February 2017, and will increase service Feb. 13 with an evening flight, supplementing its existing early afternoon ?departure.

American Airlines also is set to resume its flights in April to Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles International airports. The routes debuted last summer as seasonal offerings but passenger counts were high enough on each flight that the airline is planning to offer them year-round this year, according to airport officials.

In March, Alaska Airlines, the county’s primary commercial carrier, will add a second daily flight each to San Diego and Orange County. The extra trip to San Diego has long been a priority for the airport, and the new evening flight to Orange County is an unexpected bonus, said Jon Stout, Sonoma County airport manager.

“It’s finally come together,” he said of the second nonstop flight to San Diego. “It allows more flexibility to use the local airport. It gives more opportunities for the traveling public with more choices and times, so works better for making connections.”

In June, United Airlines will add a second daily trip to its hub at Denver International ?Airport. The 50-seat planes on that route, which debuted last March, have ranged about 90% full, airport officials said, touting United’s expanded service as another sign of its commitment to Sonoma County.

Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines also has plans to return in late August with its seasonal Minneapolis-St. Paul-to-Las Vegas route, which includes a layover in Sonoma County.

Altogether, the additional flights represent a 25% increase in trips out of Santa Rosa during the peak portion of the travel year, reaching 19 daily flights out of the airport.

The expansion comes on the heels of another strong year for local air travel, with an all-time high of more than 488,000 passengers flying in and out of Santa Rosa in 2019. The figure represents an 11% increase from 2018, with 440,000 passengers, and extends a now 10-year streak of annual growth.

The new flights make it more likely that Sonoma County will soar past the half-million passenger mark as soon as 2020.

“This is fundamental growth. It’s not going to deflate, and is going to grow to at least 650,000 (passengers),” said Michael Boyd, president of Colorado-based aviation consultancy Boyd Group International. “It will never be where SFO is, but it is reflective of the economics and demographics of that part of California. It’s a great tourist destination.”

The airport is in the middle of a $3.9 million upgrade to its tented gate area that will add permanent bathrooms and relocate the security checkpoint outside of the terminal, as well as enlarge the passenger waiting area. That remodel will set the stage for a major terminal expansion, which will relocate the baggage claim and triple the size of the airport entryway, an estimated $30 million project. The renovation is expected to be finished by the end of 2022.

“It’s been a great year,” Stout said. “It really shows the need for the terminal improvements, which are luckily starting soon. We’re hoping it improves the experience for passengers and customers at the airport.”

Two large-scale hotel projects near the airport, each more than 100 rooms, are also working their way through the county review process plans for completion next year if they are approved. The new lodging would join an existing 90-room hotel in the area, expanding lodging options within 1.5 miles of the airport, and further strengthening its stake as a regional hub for travel, Stout said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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