The San Luis Obispo Regional Airport (SBP) experienced record-breaking numbers in 2017 and 2018 may continue the trend. More than 400,000 passengers traveled to/ from the airport in 2017 as compared to a little over 330,000 passengers the year before, marking a 23.4 percent increase.
Every carrier saw an increase in total passengers for the year including American Airlines with 156,368 passengers noting an 11.8 percent increase and United Airlines, which carried 216,918 passengers for the year, a 13.9 percent increase over 2016 numbers, according to the SBP website.
Kevin Bumen C.M., C.A.E., the director of airports, said that the influx of growth for the airport was greater than projected, but it also started sooner than anticipated. Bumen said that the increase began while the new facility was being built.
“We’re getting a tremendous increase from United [Airlines] beginning in April,” said Bumen, “the largest single increase in service that the market has ever had. It’s good on all fronts, it’s just happened sooner and to a larger volume than we expected.”
United Airlines is set to start flying the larger Embraer 175 (ERJ-175) aircraft on its San Luis Obispo (SBP) to Denver (DEN) route as well as on two of the daily Los Angeles (LAX) flights and one of carrier’s daily trips to San Francisco (SFO) beginning in April.
According to Bumen, the ERJ-175 is the “best of both worlds” when it comes to larger and smaller commercial jets. The seating “feels” like the larger 737, but without the middle row, giving the passengers more space and leg room. It seats between 76-78 people and features an upper class section.
The current market shift in airlines is to expand service to smaller facilities. One of the reasons SBP is experiencing its remarkable increase is due to United Airlines interest to build its infrastructure in these airports. Bumen expects this trend to last for the next few years.
“For the first time in a long time [it] includes small markets. In fact,” said Bumen, “United is focused on the small markets for the next few years. We’re evidence of that how they are shifting the growth of the company to feed the hubs from the smaller airports to really optimize the United network, and we couldn’t be happier about that.”
However, rapid expansion can have its drawbacks. At the rate that the terminal is growing, the parking lot will need to be revamped. Bumen says that they have already begun looking at building a parking structure that can handle the additional volume. Years ago, plans had been developed for additional parking; however the funds were not available to make such a project feasible.
“The facility is designed for this,” said Bumen, “certainly the parking is going to feel the limits sooner than the terminal will, but we’re working on planning for that right now. We’re ready. Incremental growth, I would not call this. This is significant growth and we’re looking forward to it.”
The recently constructed SLO terminal was possible due to federal grants from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF), also known as the Aviation Trust Fund. The AATF was created in 1970 to help the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) finance airport infrastructure, which includes technology upgrades and safety improvements; unfortunately, this does apply to the things like parking structures. With the recent uptick in growth, SBP will be able to generate the revenue for a parking structure.
“It was a great year at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport,” said Bumen said is in press release. “Regional travelers continued to discover our great airline service and improved airport experience. As evidenced by our new passenger terminal, San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport is committed to adding amenities and service options passengers have come to expect for their travel needs.”
The airport opened its doors to a newly constructed terminal in 2017. Construction of the structure was complete on time and on budget. The $39.5 million dollar project was made possible by the before mentioned AATF and passenger facility charges.
The facility’s gate area is 11,000 square feet and can comfortably hold 350 waiting passengers. The building’s wing holds six gates (the previous terminal had only one), 70 of the 100 charging outlets of the airport and a post-security concession stand. Post-security comforts include a smoke-free 5,700 square-foot open-air courtyard that includes a 120 square-foot “animal relief area” complete with a drinking fountain and “fire hydrant.” The pet provided potty also meets ADA requirements for service animals.
The building was also designed to showcase the beauty that the Central Coast has to offer. Huge swaths of windows offer a wonderful view of the surrounding hills as well as the airport and tower. The views combined with the open air waiting area illuminates the building with natural light and hopefully dispels some of the stresses and anxieties that some travelers face.
The building also received approval from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization that was established in 1993. USBC developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) which has become an international standard for designing environmentally responsible buildings, neighborhoods, and homes. The structure meets LEED’s specifications with the Airport Authority paying particular attention to energy efficiency by using low water use solar-powered faucets and flush valves, motion sensor light controls and daylight harvesting, which is a fancy way of saying that the sun is used to light an area instead of a power plant.
For more information, or to book a flight, visit www.sloairport.com.
Story and Photos by Mark A. Diaz