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Sonoma County airport expansion nears start

  • Passengers walk across the ramp while deplaning from a Horizon Airlines flight from Portland at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport Thursday, June 6, 2013. (Christopher Chung / PD)

A long-awaited plan to lengthen the runways at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, potentially delivering more flights and an economic boost to the region, is close to winning approval and construction should start this summer, officials said.

“We are working very hard so we can do something in August,” airport manager Jon Stout said, referring to an anticipated groundbreaking in two months for the $53.8 million project.

If that schedule holds up, the extended runways should open in October 2014, fulfilling a plan hatched 15 years ago and improving the prospects for larger jet aircraft to service the county's only commercial airport.

A year ago, the project was put on hold by federal environmental requirements that officials now believe have been accommodated.

The project is “close to a green light,” Stout said.

It is also expected to coincide with implementation of a new landing pattern that will reduce noise over Windsor and aircraft fuel consumption.

With the main runway extended by 885 feet to 6,000 feet, the airport will have a better chance of attracting major airlines such as Delta, United and Frontier that could bring in jets capable of flying east to air travel hubs at Denver, Salt Lake City and Phoenix, Stout said.

“It's a game-changer for us,” said Jonathan Coe, president and chief executive of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.

The airport currently offers six flights a day in and out aboard Alaska Airlines' twin-engine turboprop Bombardier Q400 aircraft to the West Coast cities of Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego.

With direct jet flights to inland hub airports, Santa Rosa would become a more attractive location for business and leisure travelers going to and coming from the rest of the country, Coe said.

For a major employer like Medtronic, for example, trips to corporate headquarters in Minneapolis could depart from Santa Rosa, eliminating the drive to either the San Francisco or Oakland airport, he said.

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