Santa Maria airport runway extension could bring flights to Hawaii

A $12.3 million runway extension project at the Santa Maria Public Airport is nearing completion, which will allow airlines to carry more passengers and travel farther distances.

As a result, airport officials hope they’ll be able to add more flights and destinations — possibly to Hawaii.

Airport managers in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara are waiting to see whether airlines might have interest in such a route before they would judge how it might impact their operations.

The majority of the two-phase project in Santa Maria was funded by grants from the Federal Aviation Administration. Over the course of several years, improvements have been made to the airport’s infrastructure, and its runway was lengthened by 1,700 feet, taking it to 8,004 feet.

The additional footage allows planes to carry more passengers and more fuel, thereby allowing the planes to travel farther distances while carrying more cargo.

“Before the extension project, the planes weren’t being used to their full potential,” said Santa Maria Public Airport Manager Chris Hastert.

The new runway is also able to accommodate U.S. Forest Service tankers contracted for firefighting and other aircraft on trips to far-off destinations.

In addition, “Allegiant Air recently purchased several 757 planes to go to Hawaii,” Hastert said. “They are expected to announce what airports they will fly out of any time now. We’re hoping we’re on the list. The announcement was supposed to come on Valentine’s Day, but we still haven’t heard anything.”

The longer runway means added competition for San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport and Santa Barbara Municipal Airport.

At the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, where the runway is 6,100 feet, officials are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“It’s hard to say how it will really impact us,” said Craig Piper, assistant general manager. “The question really comes down to, is the demand there? If an airline feels the demand is not there, they’re not going to want to go into or stay in a market that has a potential to lose money.”

Karen Ramsdell, director of the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, where the runway is 6,052 feet, agreed. “Thinking if we build it they will come doesn’t really work in the airline industry,” she said. “We’re always concerned about competition, but you have to have the market.”