Sunday, February 10, 2008
Sonoma County airport hoping to lure Marin travelers
By Nancy Isles Nation
The Marin (CA) Independent
Officials with the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport want to make a pitch for more Marin travelers to use Santa Rosa as an alternative to flying from San Francisco or Oakland – but it could be a hard sell because its service is limited. Jon Stout, the airport manager, said he will try to get funding to market to Marin and other counties. The amount has not been determined, he said. The Sonoma County airport has taken on more visibility since Horizon Air started service from Santa Rosa to Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles last March. On April 24, Las Vegas will be added, departing daily at 7:35 p.m. and returning to Sonoma at 10:15 p.m., a two-hour flight. Horizon declined to comment on its success in Sonoma. Spokeswoman Jennifer Boyer said only: “We’re happy there. It’s exciting being part of Charles Schulz airport.” Stout said officials are in talks with other airlines, hoping to attract more service, and more customers. Discussions are taking place with Frontier Airlines and Vision Airlines, and Stout is hoping to initiate talks with several others.
The airport probably will need additional destinations to spur use by Marin travelers. Since it initiated service, 70 percent of the 20,764 travelers who purchased round-trip tickets directly from Horizon have been from Sonoma County. Only 221 were from Marin.
“We are always talking with other airlines, trying to get them to serve Sonoma County,” Stout said.
While the Sonoma County general plan allows 21 departures a day, the terminal can only accommodate 10 to 13 outgoing flights daily, Stout said.
“We are in the process of hiring a consultant to do research for a new terminal,” Stout said. “Hopefully, we can have a new terminal in four to five years.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is looking at airports like Charles M. Schulz to ease congestion at major transportation hubs.
Doug Kimsey, planning director for the MTC, said a study is under way and should be completed in about a year. It will assess whether other commercial airlines would be interested in providing service there and how much air traffic the airport can handle.
Kimsey said the major airports are expected to reach congested levels in the next 10 to 15 years.
Getting Horizon to begin service at the airport required a federal grant of $635,000. Officials spent $115,000 for marketing and used the balance as a revenue guarantee for Horizon.
In addition, landing fees for Horizon were waived during the first year of service, Stout said.
The airport, a division of the Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works, is funded through user fees, including hangar rental, aircraft storage and parking. The airport does not receive general fund or tax revenue. (Editor’s Note: All California airport users pay taxes into the state’s general fund).
Travel agents in Marin say they rarely issue tickets for flights from Sonoma.
“I just don’t get as much demand in Novato,” said Linda Marsh, a travel agent with Alamo Travel in Novato. “We’re only an hour from San Francisco airport, and the commute from Novato to Santa Rosa is 40 minutes or more.”
Pat Honeycutt, manager at Just Travel in Novato, said she writes tickets for clients from places like Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park but thinks the flight options are too limited to attract Marin residents.
“If they could only get it going, I think more people would use it,” Honeycutt said. “For Novato and north, it would be faster because it’s a small airport and the check-in is quicker.”
CHARLES M. SCHULZ-SONOMA COUNTY AIRPORT