Santa Maria Airport

Saturday, February 12, 2005
How big is too big?
By Janene Scully
The Santa Maria (CA) Times

Recognizing the rocketing costs of construction and mindful of the community’s growth, Santa Maria airport officials are weighing just how big is too big when it comes to expanding the airport terminal. Officials are considering designs to enlarge the waiting room for passengers who have already gone through security screening before their flights. Working with an area designed for 30 passengers, authorities say they need room to hold four to five times that many people.

Along with trying to recruit airlines that use larger planes, Santa Maria’s airport gets charter flights, such as “gamblers’ specials” that take people to Laughlin, Nev. and other destinations.

Citing concerns about ballooning construction costs, the airport district’s board of directors debated Thursday night whether to expand the terminal beyond its current needs.

“We’ll have a workshop and I think people can get a good handle on that,” said Carl Engel Jr., airport board president.

That workshop likely won’t occur until early March.

Construction costs climbed some 40 percent in 18 months, prompting the debate about whether to double the size of the passenger holding area. Although it would double the project costs, that number likely would be even larger in the future, board members said.

“The real issue is what decision is in the best interest of the people of the Santa Maria Valley,” said Director Ted Eckert.

For example, he said, in 1982 a previous airport board could have removed a mobile home park from airport property for $900,00.

“Now, because it was a politically difficult decision to make, the board decided not to make it and dumped it off on future boards like us,” Eckert said.

That mobile home park on Blosser Road sits on land the airport district plans to develop into a business park and golf course.

“We need to decide which way we need to go in order to make the airport grow,” said Director Michael Houser, adding that the district plans multiple major projects.

“Let’s focus on reality as opposed to a pipe dream,” he said.