Stockton Airport Has Customs Plans

In the ongoing effort to open the region to international travel, Stockton Metro Airport officials are scheduled to lay out three potential designs for a customs building today.

All are larger and are likely to cost more than twice that of the smaller building nixed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in May as having inadequate space for baggage inspection and for passengers to line up.

Airport Director Barry Rondinella is scheduled this morning to present the plans to the Board of Supervisors. They will be asked to select one of three designs. In addition, they will be asked to approve a contract of up to $525,000 for engineer Reinard W. Brandley to finish the selected design.

"All of the options have been reviewed and discussed, and all three are feasible with (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)," Rondinella said. "We are going to be working with them on every step of the design just to make sure we would not have to go through this again."

Customs denial in May put the brakes on six months of preparation to get direct service between Stockton and Mexico. Aeromexico Airlines applied in October 2005 for a permit from the U.S. Department of Transportation to start direct flights to and from Guadalajara. The airline also said it wanted to serve Morelia. The Board of Supervisors endorsed the effort two months later.

Given the potential price of building for the required customs facility -- estimated to cost at least $5.4 million -- Supervisor Victor Mow said the county needs "some assurance" that if it's built, Aeromexico will start and continue service.

With that, he said, "I think we will probably proceed. It's a good opportunity for the airport. And a good use of facilities."

Pending board approval today, flights could start next fall.

Calls to Aeromexico were not returned Monday, but Rondinella said the airline confirmed its commitment as late as Monday morning. It wants to schedule six flights a week.

"They are still very interested in coming," he said. "Their common question to me is, 'When can we start?' They want to start right away."

He said Allegiant Air is interested in charter flights to resorts in Mexico, pending Aeromexico getting off the ground. That airline started service to Las Vegas on June 16. A third airline, Mexicana Airlines, showed interest about a year ago.

The county would have to invest $26,250 in the design of the customs building. The Federal Aviation Administration would pay the remaining 95 percent of the $525,000, according to the proposal.

Likewise, the FAA would pay 95 percent of the cost of the building, Rondinella said.

His proposal suggests a stand-alone building for the customs lines and baggage inspection about 40 feet from the existing airline terminal. A covered walkway would connect the two.

It's the cheapest option at about $5.3 million, although Rondinella said the figure represents a worst-case scenario, and not the actual estimate.

If supervisors decide to move forward today, a financial plan would be part of a second approval process early next year.

The other two designs for supervisors to consider -- costing $6.7 million to $6.9 million -- are more expensive because the customs building would take up more of the existing terminal and thus require the entire building be brought up to current code, Rondinella said. The existing terminal was built in the 1960s.

Operating the new terminal would fall on the county at leastfor the first few years. Calculationsbyconsultant Campbell-Hill Aviation Group show an operating loss of $226,308 the first year. It projects the customs station ultimately would be a moneymaker, however, generating a $16,432 surplus for the first two years combined under a worstcase scenario.

Under a best-case scenario, the county would make $1.7 million cumulatively in the fourth year.

Revenue would be generated from fees on fuel, tickets and aircraft landing rights.

There is risk, Rondinella said, to the extent the plan depends on international travel.

An event like Sept. 11 might bring air travel to a halt, he said. But given "that the construction costs are largely covered by FAA grants and that we are effectively in the black in year two under all the scenarios we show here, I think from a dollars and cents point of view, it is a good deal."

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at 599-8760 or .

AT A GLANCE

ISSUE: International air service out of Stockton Metro Airport

WHERE IT'S AT: The Board of Supervisors today considers several potential designs for a customs facility required for international service.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: Flights to and from Mexico

AIRLINES:

Aeromexico, Allegiant Air, possibly Mexicana Airlines

WHAT IT WOULD COST:

Design: $525,000

95 percent paid by the Federal Aviation Administration

5 percent paid by San Joaquin County

Customs facility: Potentially between about $5.4 million and $6.9 million

95 percent paid by FAA

5 percent paid by San Joaquin County

Running the international hub:

First year: Loss of $226,302

Second year: Surplus for both first and second years $16,400-$146,700.

At the end of four years: $500,700-$1.7 million surplus.



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