When San Bernardino International Airport started showing off its new more than $20 million international arrivals building last month, some airline industry analysts questioned the value of the new facility.
The airport, the former Norton Air Force Base, already had a domestic terminal. But that existing terminal accommodates no regularly scheduled commercial flights, so experts were quoted as saying they wonder whether the airport actually needed a new building international arrivals building.
I spoke this week with AJ Wilson, the airport’s executive director. He has read the criticism, such as in this KPCC radio piece, but Wilson said he is undeterred. The flights will come, he promises.
“I don’t feel that I need to argue with any so-called experts,” Wilson said. “We are carrying out a plan to market our airport and that’s what we intend to do.”
What’s this plan, you ask?
Like just about every airport head, Wilson wants to wow airline executives and persuade them to start flights in San Bernardino. He would not tell me which airlines he has spoken with, but he suggested that he understands that major and mid-major airlines — American, United, Southwest, Delta, Alaska, Virgin America and Jetblue — are probably off limits.
That leaves low cost carriers like Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier in the United States, and probably Volaris and Interjet in Mexico. But even those will be difficult to attract, especially since there’s another struggling airport nearby — L.A. Ontario International Airport — seeking the same type of tenants. Ontario recently attracted Volaris.
“We are doing fine,” Wilson said. “We are having discussions with a number of airlines. It’s simply a matter of when the market is ready and airline business plans are able to consider service. We are just in those preliminary discussions.”
There has been some discussion that the fees charged to airlines at Ontario airport, which is about 23 miles away, are too high. Presumably, San Bernardino’s costs to airlines would be lower. But Wilson said it is too early to know what the cost structure would be for a new market entrant in San Bernardino.
“That’s not necessarily even determined at this point,” Wilson said. “We will work out business deals with the people when there are greater in-depth discussions.”
The good news, Wilson said, is that the general aviation portion of the airport is flourishing.
“Everybody thinks an airport is only passenger service,” Wilson said. “Last year was our highest year ever in number of operations. We are ahead of that by about 10 percent this year. We are experiencing growth.”