Neil Derry

Supervisor Neil Derry
Posted: 07/16/2011 07:13:16 AM PDT

For those who have tracked my concerns regarding San Bernardino International Airport (SBIA) there are few surprises.

During my years as a San Bernardino City Council member, I stated clearly that I did not believe that the creation of a commercial passenger airport at the former Norton Air Force Base was the best, highest use for that property for the immediate future.

It has been my contention that Norton, and the property around it, would have achieved more immediate results in business attraction and job creation if attention had been focused on industrial and logistical uses and the infrastructure necessary to support those endeavors.

There are a number of reasons for my position. First, LA/Ontario International Airport has been operating successfully, at least until this last economic downturn, and had expanded dramatically through the late 1990s, limiting the need for another passenger airport. Ontario is less than 20 miles distant, and only minutes as a plane flies.

But second and more importantly, the airline industry has been contracting and consolidating over the last 30 years. Bankruptcies of major airlines have taken a significant toll on the industry with 45 Chapter 11 filings since 1980.

Air travel has declined and will continue to do so compared to population growth. Technology has decreased the necessity of air travel for business purposes and the next generation of business executive is more likely to engage national and international business opportunities through tools such as videoconferencing rather than traditional face-to-face dealings. One need only look at the impact of email on the traditional use of letters and the resulting difficulties of the U.S. Postal Service to reduce the impact. Fuel prices, aircraft maintenance costs and aircraft replacement costs have driven up ticket prices to a point where business travel, a mainstay of the airline industry, may never recover. Cost, convenience, and familiarity with technology drive these new realities.

The recent Grand Jury report, with some needed corrections, points out numerous legitimate concerns related to the financing and construction of SBIA. It is my assertion that the faults identified by the grand jury are the result of a headlong determination to do whatever it took to attract a still amorphous airline from somewhere in the world to SBIA. The airport authority has made every effort, including hiring consultants from Mexico in this attempt. So far the only reported success has been a year-old letter of interest from an unnamed Mexican airline. If local experience at the Ontario airport has any lessons to teach, it is that after numerous attempts to bring air service to and from Mexico, each has folded due to lack of passenger interest.

For six years, the public has been promised that a passenger airline was imminent. If we “just built this” or “added that” the industry would reward us with a contract. Pronouncement after pronouncement assured the public that nearly $200 million in public investment would pay off with a passenger airline.

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