San Bernardino Airport Negotiates For Flights

Wednesday, October 10, 1007
San Bernardino Airport Negotiates For Flights
The Riverside (CA) Business Press

Commercial passenger flights will begin at San Bernardino International Airport next summer, airport officials say. Negotiations are under way with four commercial carriers to bring passenger flights to the former Norton Air Force Base starting next June, said Donald L. Rogers, interim executive director. Rogers declined to name those four carriers. Adding commercial flights will bring between 250 and 300 jobs to the airport, which closed as a military base in 1994, taking with it an estimated 10,000 jobs. Since then, San Bernardino airport has concentrated on attracting passenger and cargo flights and developing its three aircraft maintenance facilities, which collectively cover more than 50,000 square feet.

Airport officials have also met a fourth long-term goal: attracting a private jet charter service. Million Air is expected to open a facility at San Bernardino airport during the first quarter of next year.

Several corporations, including Mattel toys, operate warehouse-distribution facilities on property surrounding the airport. Stater Bros. Markets is in the process of moving its corporate headquarters and logistics facilities to the airport from Colton.

Stater Bros. expects to complete the move next year.

The airport’s 10,000-foot runway, which underwent a $34 million renovation in 2005, as well as its freeway access and proximity to major population areas, make it uniquely positioned to become a commercial airport, Rogers said.

“We’ve wanted to get passenger flights since the base was closed, but we didn’t get serious about it until two years ago,” Rogers said. “The goal is to get a regular schedule of commercial passenger flights, and there is a lot of interest [among carriers] out there.”

The airport’s plan is to start with six passenger flights a day and expand. He declined to speculate on the maximum number of commercial flights the airport might handle.

“There’s no way of knowing now what our maximum capacity might be,” he said.

Remodeling has started on an existing $36 million passenger terminal that will cover 70,000 square feet at the north end of the airport, said Scott Spencer, aircraft services manager.

The passenger terminal will start with four gates but could expand to 10 gates within two years, Mayor Pat Morris said.

“We’ve spent the last 10 years working on the infrastructure and the land surrounding the airport and now we’re working on the airport,” said Morris, who chairs the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, which oversees the airport’s renovation.

The airport and its surrounding development will someday replace the estimated 10,000 jobs that were eliminated when Norton Air Force Base closed, Morris said.

San Bernardino airport officials hope to pick up some spillover passenger traffic from the major Southern California commercial airports, particularly Los Angeles International Airport, John Wayne Airport in Orange County and Burbank Airport.

The Southern California Regional Airport Authority has endorsed the former air force base’s plan to accept commercial flights as a way of reducing traffic at other airports, Spencer said. Ontario International Airport would welcome any airport that helps spread air traffic around, spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin said.

“It’s not about competition between airports, it’s about alleviating air traffic in Southern California so that no one area is adversely impacted too badly,” she said.

About 7 million passengers a year pass through Ontario International Airport, well below the airport’s 12 million-passenger capacity.

When the airport reaches 10 million passengers in consecutive years – probably between 2010 and 2015 – it will begin planning construction of its third terminal, Tesoro-Fermin said.

The 1,300-acre San Bernardino airport still must get approval from the federal Transportation Security Administration, which oversees security procedures at all commercial airports in the Unites States, before it can accept commercial flights.

“We’re never going to compete with Los Angeles or Ontario, but we should be able to supplement those places and handle some of their overflow,” Rogers said. “We can be a low-cost alternative to both of those places.”

San Bernardino airport officials announced Sept. 27 that U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, had helped secure a $6 million grant from the U.S . Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.

That money will be used to improve the traffic flow and to modify the hangars that will accommodate commercial carriers.

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