First passengers arrive at SLO airport’s ‘beautiful’ new terminal

The crowning achievement in an already exciting year at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport came to fruition Wednesday night with the official opening of its new $39.5-million terminal.

The first arriving passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 5529 from Denver entered the new 56,000-square-foot terminal ahead of schedule, perhaps a good omen for a project that’s been years in the making.

Airport Director Kevin Bumen said the new facility is “beautiful in many ways” and will deliver a safe, smooth and convenient travel experience to and from the Central Coast.

“It’s been built as a perfect welcome mat for visitors to come explore our region,” Bumen said. “We’re glad to finally have a facility that’s so worth that effort.”

Construction of the building — almost 45,000 square feet larger than the previous terminal — has been ongoing since 2015 and aims to provide travelers with a variety of new amenities, including a larger checkpoint area and a food and beverage concession post-security.

The expanded security checkpoint area also includes a full-body scanner, in addition to a walk-through magnetometer scanner, so passengers won’t have to endure physical pat-downs if one machine goes down.

Chuck Davison, president and CEO of Visit SLO CAL, said the new terminal “is a game-changer for our destination,” particularly at a time when regional airports across the country are losing service.

“I hope that the residents and the businesses and the municipalities really understand the depth of that,” Davison said. “When a consumer, a visitor, a traveler gets off the plane and they walk in to this experience, it changes their outlook on what this destination provides and what we’re capable of.”

Bumen said in mid-October the airport has seen the passenger load triple since the addition of flights to Denver and Seattle, and that growth is driven by the planes having more seats to fill.

The new terminal can handle about 1.2 million passengers per year, according to Bumen, though he emphasized that that figure is a “soft number” and the terminal could accommodate more.

Bumen said the airport currently expects to see about a half-million total passengers over the next year, which also could feature the addition of nonstop flights to Portland and Dallas.

Ermina Karim, president and CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, said community members should be proud of the upgraded facility.

“Our airport is the most critical asset to our business community and it is the linchpin for our local economy,” Karim said. “For people to be able to succeed here, they need a way to be able to come and go from here.”

The first departing flight is scheduled for 5:30 a.m. Thursday en route to Los Angeles.

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