Local officials pin hopes of Sonoma County airport expansion on securing $20 million grant

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Sonoma County airport passenger traffic

Since commercial flights out of the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport began in 2007, passenger volume has quadrupled, and last year nearly equaled 90% of the county’s population.

Year Passenger total

2019 87,149* (as of March)

2018 440,644

2017 397,787

2016 339,191

2015 263,142

2014 238,320

2013 227,998

2012 213,917

2011 207,188

2010 188,755

2009 186,014

2008 204,230

2007 109,082

Source: Sonoma County airport

If a $20 million federal grant comes through, the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport could expand the passenger terminal to accommodate rapid growth at the county’s link to what soon will be 11 destinations, including big cities Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas and Minneapolis.

Federal Aviation Administration grant announcements are expected between now and June, and the county expects to seek construction bids for the $25 million terminal project in a few weeks, setting the stage for work to begin early next year with completion by the end of 2022.

The 30,000-square-foot expansion would be added onto the original 15,000-square-foot terminal, moving it closer to the road, Airport Manager Jon Stout said.

The added space will improve passenger movement in and out of the terminal, leave room for kiosks and expand the capacity for airline service counters and baggage handling, he said.

“We have exceeded all the space we have,” Stout said.

The terminal gets quite congested during busy periods, primarily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and when American Airlines adds flights to Los Angeles in May there will be as many as four flights in a two-hour window, he said.

The grant would require a $2 million match by the county, which also must pay about $2.4 million for facilities, such as concession space, that don’t qualify for federal funding, bringing the project to about $25 million.

If the federal grant is not approved, the terminal expansion will not occur, Stout said.

Sonoma County supervisors are scheduled to hear an update on the project during a Tuesday meeting.

The airport, which opened to commercial flights in 2007 and handled 109,082 passengers that year, quadrupled passenger volume to 440,644 in 2018, nearly equal to the county’s population of 503,000. Sonoma County’s population grew just 4.5% over the same period.

Counting outbound passengers only, the local airport is the sixth-fastest growing in the nation, with a 59% surge from 132,301 passengers in 2015 to 210,341 in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, located near St. Louis, Missouri, ranked first on the list with a whopping 483% growth — from 25,631 to 149,341 passengers — over the same period.

Airports in Ohio, Florida and New York state had growth of 90% to 109%.

But the numbers are relative, Stout said, noting that Long Beach Airport added at least 720,000 outbound passengers between 2015 and 2018 for a percentage increase just a bit less than Sonoma County’s 59%.

Peter Rumble, chief executive of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, said the local airport’s growth over the past 12 years “adds a significant amount of strength to our community.”

He cited an airport study that said each new flight route injects $23 million into the local economy and adds 70 jobs.

More flights to more places are a boon to residents, businesses and tourists alike with the “great convenience” of avoiding the drive to Bay Area airports, Rumble said.

“It’s so much smoother,” he said, describing the process of getting to and parking at the county airport, checking in and clearing security.

Flying out of San Francisco requires two hours of driving time in order to arrive two hours before the flight, amounting to four hours at the front end of every trip, Rumble said.

Sonoma County’s airport is time-saving and “a much more pleasant experience,” he said.

The county airport took a big step forward with the start of United Airlines daily flights to Denver in March, a route sought for nearly a decade connecting local travelers to a major international hub with connections to destinations across the nation and around the world.

United also flies daily to San Francisco.

American Airlines will add flights to Los Angeles in May and to Dallas in June, adding to its Phoenix destination.

Sun Country will offer seasonal flights to Minneapolis in May and Las Vegas in September.

Alaska Airlines, which has flown in and out of the airport since 2007, goes to Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

Sonoma County airport passenger traffic

Since commercial flights out of the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport began in 2007, passenger volume has quadrupled, and last year nearly equaled 90% of the county’s population.

Year Passenger total

2019 87,149* (as of March)

2018 440,644

2017 397,787

2016 339,191

2015 263,142

2014 238,320

2013 227,998

2012 213,917

2011 207,188

2010 188,755

2009 186,014

2008 204,230

2007 109,082

Source: Sonoma County airport

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