Proposed airport terminal expansion aimed at serving growing travel demand

Rendering of a new terminal proposed for the San Luis Obispo County airport.
Rendering of a new terminal proposed for the San Luis Obispo County airport.

As the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport continues to see steady growth in the number of passengers it serves, county supervisors Tuesday will consider applying for a federal grant to help pay for a new $30 million terminal at the facility.

County airports manager Kevin Bumen will ask supervisors for authorization to apply for a grant of nearly $20 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to help pay for construction of the new building.

If supervisors approve the grant application, Bumen will return to the board in May or June of next year for final approval of the project. Construction could begin in the fall of 2015.

The airport has been the subject of some controversy lately as the San Luis Obispo City Council debates whether to move ahead with two proposed developments near the airport.

The Airport Land Use Commission opposes the developments due to safety concerns.

The City Council must vote to override the zoning restrictions imposed by the commission in order to move ahead with the developments. On Tuesday, the council failed to approve an override, leaving the fate of the developments to be decided next year.

Planning for the new terminal has been ongoing for more than a decade. The building will be 50,000 square feet with enough room for future growth.

It will also be built farther back from the runway. As the airport has expanded, the terminal has gotten too close to the runway and does not conform to FAA safety standards, Bumen said.

As of the end of September, the airport has served 226,373 passengers so far this year. In September, 12.7 percent more passengers used the airport comparted to the same month last year.

“Right now, we are tracking 10 percent over last year and have experienced 18 months of growth,” Bumen said. “We are seeing really good, strong growth.”

He expects the airport to serve 300,000 passengers by the end of the year. If these trends continue, the facility should match its pre-recession peak of 360,000 passengers a year within the next year to 18 months.

One key element in that growth rate will be whether the airlines carry through with plans to retire their older turboprop airplanes next year. The turboprop planes carry a maximum of 30 passengers. The new regional jet liners that would replace them carry 50 passengers.

“The airlines do not have an abundance of pilots, so they want to maximize each flight,” Bumen explained.

Airport officials are also in discussions with the airlines to add Seattle and Denver to the list of airline hubs the San Luis Obispo airport serves. Currently, the airport uses San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix as its hubs to connect passengers with their final destinations.