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SLO airport plans major expansion

The future of San Luis Obispo Regional Airport is more planes flying more frequently and giving passengers more destinations, which they can reach with fewer transfers.

That’s the end result of an expansion that will cost about $100 million over the next five years -- $60 million from the Federal Aviation Administration and $40 million from airport revenues. The plan has been approved by the county and is now being reviewed by the FAA.

Some of the key elements, either here or on the way:

* The three-story passenger terminal will nearly double in size, to 66,000 square feet from 35,000. The bottom level will be underground. Construction will begin in 2008 with occupancy by 2010.

* The new terminal will include a parking structure and adjacent spaces that will double the vehicle capacity to just more than 1,200.

* The main east-west runway will go to 6,100 feet, an addition of 800 feet, which will allow regional jets to take off fully loaded in hot weather.

* A $4.7 million hangar with room for 65 additional privately owned small aircraft will be built. There are currently 323 aircraft stored at the airport, airport Manager Klaasje Nairne said -- some in tie-down, others in hangars.

* A $3.5 million CDF/County Fire station, which opened March 24 and serves the airport and Edna Valley. It has the only aircraft rescue vehicle that CDF/County Fire operates in the county.

* Additional taxiways.

* Realignment of Santa Fe Road to accommodate the expanded runway.

Runway extension

For passengers, the single most important part of the expansion is the extended runway, Nairne said. It will allow the larger so-called regional jets, which carry about 50 people, to get off the ground 90 percent of the time.

Right now, the jets can’t get sufficient lift on the shorter runway under certain weather conditions. During one hot week in September 2004, four to 17 passengers were held off planes daily.

New destinations?

The airport is trying to expand service to eastern and northwestern locations by luring Delta Air Lines, which flies to Salt Lake City. Twice-a-day flights there would create one-stop flights to dozens of cities.

The airport has applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a $250,000 “small commuter air service” grant to entice Delta.

If the airport wins the grant and persuades the airline to come here, the Delta Connection 50-seat regional jet service would go twice a day to Salt Lake City.

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