Dec. 3--SAN BERNARDINO -- Eight years ago, Highland, Loma Linda and Colton were being tapped for money to keep San Bernardino International Airport afloat.
On Friday, more than 200 civic leaders attended a ceremony commemorating the reconstruction of the airport's runway.
The nearly $37 million project elevates SBIA to one of a few in California designed to accommodate the world's largest commercial aircraft, the 1.3 million-pound Airbus A380.
Other Federal Aviation Administration designated Group 6 airports in California are in Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach and San Francisco, said Mark Gibbs, SBIA operations director.
The SBIA airport's 200-foot-wide runway, built on a foundation 27 inches thick, with 40 feet of shoulder on each side, makes it a member of the Group 6 class of runways.
Large airports that are not Group 6, such as Ontario International Airport, can still accommodate the Airbus A380, said Bill Ingraham, San Bernardino County director of airports.
"If you build it, will they come? There's no doubt about it. It's just a matter of time," said George Aiken, manager of the FAA's safety and standards branch.
Aiken was one of several speakers at the dedication ceremony Friday morning inside the airport's terminal building.
He praised airport and civic leaders as having a "vision of what should be and ought to be and what we will make happen in the region."
The event celebrating the reconstruction and widening of the airport was far removed from the uncertain period when member agencies of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority loaned $3 million to keep the airport solvent.
It was a time when there were expenses and virtually no income.
Authority members, the city of San Bernardino and San Bernardino County, were tapped in 1996, and the three other members -- Colton, Highland and Loma Linda -- joined in making loans two years later, said Martin Romeo, the airport's chief financial officer.
The county and the member cities were repaid early this year.
Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, another speaker at Friday's ceremony, said, "I view today and this airport runway celebration as a turning point for the entire Inland Empire. We have talked about it for a long time. Our time has come."
County Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, an SBIA board member, praised Lewis for his skills at helping to obtain funding for the runway and related projects, such as road improvements near the airport.
Most of the $36,607,000 runway-improvement project was paid for by the FAA.
SBIA's 10,000-foot runway has no regularly scheduled cargo or passenger service.
But airport officials hope to change that.
Penny Chua, airport marketing manager, said she is talking with five Asian airlines about locating some of their freight operations at SBIA.
Representatives of one of them, China Airlines, attended Friday's dedication.
As Los Angeles International fills up, then more business will come to Ontario International and as Ontario International reaches capacity, then business should move to SBIA.
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After two years and $34 million, the airport put the finishing touches on a 10,000-foot runway last week, and plans a formal ceremony in December.