Bill Ingraham, aviation director for the San Bernardino International Airport, looks out a terminal window at the airport Wednesday. The county s annual Grand Jury report has found serious issues with S.B. International s management. Meanwhile, Ingraham says the future is bright for attracting carriers to the airport. (LaFonzo Carter/Staff Photographer)

By Josh Dulaney Staff Writer
Posted: 07/07/2011 04:47:18 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – There’s been no shortage of activity in the skies above the airport in the past few months.

Folks who notice such things have seen aircraft ranging from a WWII bomber to Conan O’Brien’s famous blimp.

What hasn’t been seen – and what has been promised since Norton Air Force Base closed in 1994 and the effort began to convert the base into a civilian airport – is a commercial jet full of travelers landing or taking off from San Bernardino International Airport.

Airport executives at one point projected 500,000 passengers in 2010 and that 1million passengers were possible by 2020.

Still, airport officials insist – despite a stinging report from the San Bernardino County Grand Jury on how the former base’s transformation is being handled – current activity at the airport bodes well for its future and a commercial airline is just around the corner.

“It’s so damn close I can taste it,” said Bill Ingraham, the airport’s aviation director.

Ingraham said he has a letter from a foreign airline that is ready to fly to and from Mexico twice a day as soon as the airport completes its U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, a requirement for international flights.

That could happen by the first of the year, he said.

Ingraham said airport officials are digesting the Grand Jury’s report, which he says is a mix of errors and good recommendations.

An audit commissioned by the Grand Jury found that the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, a joint-powers authority composed of the county of San Bernardino and the cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Loma Linda and Highland, entered into multiple contracts with Scot Spencer, a convicted felon who has served time in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud and has been banned from the aviation industry.

The audit also found that the cost for a terminal construction project grew from $22million in January 2006 to more than $100million this past January.

“There’s a lot of things that we need to study more before we can make a response,” Ingraham said. “What you don’t find is that we did anything illegal or there’s any corruption or anything like that.”

Don Rogers, executive director of the airport and a founding partner of an accounting firm hired to conduct the airport’s audits, wrote a letter to the Grand Jury saying the agency will incorporate any procedural recommendations from the report “where applicable and beneficial to the continued public stewardship, accountability and success of our region’s airport and military base reuse agency.”

Rogers could not be reached for comment.

Some don’t see good prospects for the airport.

Brett Snyder, an airline analyst and founder of www.crankyflier.com, said factors such as the tough economy, lack of demand and L.A./Ontario International Airport’s better location and facilities spell a long wait for commercial flight out of San Bernardino.

“I just don’t see anything coming anytime in the near future,” Snyder said. “Unless they want to start paying for service.”

By that he means guaranteeing revenue for an airline before it agrees to come to San Bernardino.

And while some airport officials don’t believe the Grand Jury report will hurt efforts to get a commercial airline, Snyder said they may be mistaken.

Airport officials have argued that airlines go where they can make a profit.

Snyder said that’s true but factored into the equation is the airlines’ desire to have a longterm relationship with an airport, and if an airport, especially a smaller one, has a reputation for poor decisions, the airlines won’t come.

“It really is this issue of profitability,” Snyder said. “That being said, airlines are also looking at airports that don’t do stupid things, and by that I mean doing things that raise rates and charges.”

Snyder said if San Bernardino International hasn’t gotten commercial service by now, he doesn’t see why that would change.

Still, the airport continues to buzz with activity.

Boeing Co. routinely tests its jets there, and Ingraham says that’s good for business because its work at the airport has drawn the attention of those in the aviation industry who may be interested in coming to San Bernardino.

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