11:10 PM PDT on Thursday, September 23, 2010

By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino International Airport doesn’t have an airline yet but officials estimate 2 million passengers could depart from its terminal by 2030, according to a forecast.

The airport’s leaders also want to expand the finished, but so far traveler-free, terminal in the next 20 years, potentially tripling the number of gates for parked airlines.

It has cost $94.4 million to make the terminal ready for commercial airlines. The airport has offered incentives to the first two airlines that agree to land there, but so far none have signed on.

An updated airport layout plan, much like a master plan, was approved by the San Bernardino International Airport authority Wednesday.

This one focuses on developing the airport as a hub for commercial airlines rather than air cargo. The document lays out specific development plans at the airport for the next 30 years, including costs, and takes a stab at predicting passenger activity in the years to come. The plan will go to the FAA for review.

In order for capital improvement projects to be funded with FAA grants, they need to be listed in the layout plan.

“It’s a demand-based plan,” said Bill Ingraham, aviation director at the San Bernardino airport. If more traffic arrives at the airport than expected, the forecasted passenger counts could be higher and expansion sped up. Conversely, if traffic is slow to develop, the forecast could drop and projects could be put on hold.

Already, the forecast estimates that 500,000 passengers would use the airport this year. That’s not going to happen.

Ingraham said it took a good deal of time to get the forecasts approved by the FAA – the agency did so, partly, in April 2009 – because the airport didn’t have any prior traffic to base an estimate on, or an airline committed to offering flights.

In a letter to Ingraham, the agency wrote that the forecasts were acceptable, “however, full approval is withheld, because the forecasts are significantly different,” from the FAA’s own forecast which projects no passengers at the San Bernardino airport.

The airport doesn’t have an airline and hasn’t had any passengers besides those using the recently finished Million Air general aviation terminal.

“Absent a signed agreement or a letter of commitment from a carrier, we cannot be sure when or if scheduled service might start,” wrote FAA capacity planner Richard P. Dykas.

In comparison, the FAA has forecast that Ontario International Airport will have just 2 million boarding passengers this year (the forecasts don’t count passengers who land at the airport), and expects that number to grow to 2.5 million by 2030.

Burbank is expected to have 2.9 million enplaned passengers 20 years from now. John Wayne Airport in Orange County is expected to grow to 6.4 million passengers by 2030, according to the FAA forecast.

San Bernardino International Airport’s terminal has four gates now. Airport officials eventually want to add up to seven more gates, along with the extra space needed for ticketing and baggage claim.

The plan estimates adding three gates in the next five years and adding three more within 10 years at a cost of $11.7 million for each gate. The airport expects FAA grant funds to pay for half.

Ontario International Airport has 35 gates at twin domestic terminals and an international terminal.

The plan cautions, overall, that any improvements would be made only when demand at the airport justified it.

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