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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 3:30 am | Fog/Mist 53º


Santa Barbara Airport Has High Hopes for More Commercial Air Service

Master Plan looks to keep facilities in line with passenger demand, available funding

Santa Barbara Airport officials have proposed numerous changes based on planned expansion of commercial air service. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara Airport officials have proposed numerous changes based on planned expansion of commercial air service. (Contributed photo)

The Santa Barbara Airport is looking to attract more air service while also planning for the future of its facilities.

Airport officials realize that for a small, one-terminal airport sandwiched between the city of Goleta, UC Santa Barbara and the Goleta Slough, getting flight service back to levels of yesteryear — before all the airline consolidations lessened competition — is a tough task.

Taking a creative approach, Airport Director Hazel Johns has been pitching to airlines, and recently applied for a grant that could add a much-sought mid-continental flight to Houston, Dallas or Chicago.

Right now, Santa Barbara flights transport some 635,000 commercial passengers annually to western locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Denver and Phoenix.

An extra two flights per day to a mid-country hub could mean fewer transfer connections for passengers, not to mention the financial boon to an airport that has lost about 25 percent of air service in the past decade due to airline mergers.

“The competition for air service is just incredible,” Johns said. “The airport needs to come up with some additional service.”

Regaining service is accounted for in the airport master plan. The city released a draft environmental impact report of that updated plan this week, outlining development goals for the next 15 to 20 years.

The main changes include extending Taxiway H and relocating all general aviation and smaller planes to the north side of the field, with all commercial planes on the south side. Both moves are meant to improve safety and security.

Eventually, the airport would also relocate Atlantic Aviation from the south at 404 Moffett Place to the north end of the field — not for at least 10 years, Johns said — so a new long-term parking lot could be built in its place.

Long-term parking is currently off site at the old drive-in off Hollister Avenue.

All changes will be based on projected flight activity, as well as available Federal Aviation Administration funding for projects, and depending on comments obtained between now and Oct. 16, the end of the draft EIR public comment period.

Two public meetings will be held on the master plan topic, including at the Airport Commission Sept. 16 and before the city Planning Commission meeting Oct. 1.

By the end of September, Johns will have heard whether Santa Barbara Airport earned the Department of Transportation grant to expand service. She said Oxnard and Santa Maria airports have received similar grants in the past.

While writing the grant, Johns gained support from area chambers of commerce and Visit Santa Barbara, which will help develop a marketing plan if new service comes through.

“Visit Santa Barbara believes that improved air service is vital to our area’s continued economic growth and the development of new markets for our tourism outreach,” said Kathy Janega-Dykes, Visit Santa Barbara’s president and CEO. “A successful resort community must have air service to stay competitive and attract visitors year round. According to our research, air service is critical to attracting meetings and conference business as well as leisure visitors.

“In attracting more visitors, additional money is generated for the local economy. Visit Santa Barbara is pleased to be one of a number of community partners who are trying to assist our airport to attract more air service to the area.”

Johns said she would continue courting other airlines in the meantime.

“We’re just a strong market,” Johns said of Santa Barbara’s handy location between Los Angeles and San Francisco, where customers may grumble but still pay higher prices to not have to drive to a larger city airport.

She added that the airport doesn’t set rates, airlines do.

“I do want people to know that we are working hard to improve service,” Johns said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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