May 9, 2017

Sonoma County Airport Grows at Rapid Pace

by Latife Hayson

Music to our ears! The Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport is growing by leaps and bounds – adding four new airline carriers by this summer. To accommodate more traffic, the airport is planning several expansion projects – including a new terminal, security area, and long-term parking lot.

Rapid Growth
The Sonoma County Airport is a quaint, regional airport located half an hour from Calistoga. During this time last year, Alaska Airlines dominated as the only service provider. After years of trying to attract additional carriers, the airport has suddenly landed four – making Calistoga the first point of entry into Napa Valley for many travelers, rather than the last.

Daily non-stop flights include:
• Alaska Airlines to Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Portland, and Seattle
• American Airlines to Phoenix Sky Harbor
• United Airlines to San Francisco (starting this June)

Twice a week nonstop flights include:
• Allegiant Air to Las Vegas
• Sun Country Airlines to Minneapolis (starting this August)

Sonoma County Airport
The Domino Effect
Following the success of Alaska Airlines, Allegiant joined on to provide flights from the Sonoma County Airport to Las Vegas. Other airlines soon took notice. In February, American began offering flights to Phoenix. United Airlines followed with plans to fly from Sonoma County to San Francisco starting in June. This will be United’s shortest flight (taking 40 minutes) but will provide an easier way locals and visitors connect with cities around the country and the world.

The East Coast Connection
The latest airline to come on board is Sun Country, a small carrier based out of St. Paul, Minneapolis. The airline flies exclusively to tourist destinations and specializes in charters. Sun Country will start by offering service seasonally – from August through December. A bonus with Sun Country is the potential to bring in more East Coast tourists – connection times are good from St. Paul, Minneapolis to Boston and New York.

Expanding Infrastructure
With more carriers on board, the airport faces a new challenge: expanding infrastructure and keeping the airlines happy. The Sonoma County Airport has one of the smallest terminals in the state. In 2016, the airport accommodated 339,000 passengers. An estimated 450,000 passengers will be travelling through the airport in 2017. The terminal was never designed for the amount of traffic it’s about to receive, falling well short of FAA recommendations.

A Decade Ahead of Schedule
The Sonoma County Airport will hit projections made for 2025 this year – nearly a decade earlier than expected. To accommodate higher traffic volumes, a planned terminal expansion has already increased from 19,000 square feet to about 28,000 square feet. A tent, costing $700,000 and debuting in June, will house security screening and additional gate space for about 250 passengers. A new $4 million, long-term parking area will add 450 spaces and should be completed by the end of the year. For now, only a short-term parking lot is available.

Paying for Growth
Expanding the terminal, as well as adding another parking lot, is currently estimated to cost $27 million. Sonoma County will cover the initial costs, through bonds and treasury notes. The airport will pay this back through airport fees, airline fees, and passenger facility charges. Newly revised plans, which will likely be very expensive, may be presented to the county board of supervisors this May.

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