S.J. Pares Mineta San Jose Int'l Airport Plan

Ditching a grandiose expansion plan that relied on a more robust economy for funding, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to accept a new pared-down and cheaper version to improve Mineta San Jose International Airport.

The new plan eliminates, among other things, a proposed central terminal, trimming the expansion's cost from $4.5 billion to $1.5 billion.

The revised plan basically calls for upgrading Terminal A, doubling its ticketing capacity while making more room for passenger pick-up or drop-off areas; keeps a two-level North Concourse that was in the old plan; does away with the existing Terminal C; and straightens out roadways.

The original plan was premised on 17.6 million passengers using the airport, but San Jose International only expects 11 million this year.

Necessary construction work on the airport has proceeded, but in a vacuum as the airlines and the city grappled with creating a new plan based on a new economic reality. The adopted plan envisions enplanement fees for each passenger to make up $8 to $9 of their ticket at San Jose International. Under the old plan, it would have cost $17 or higher on each passenger's ticket -- a detriment to the cost-conscious airline industry.

''That was a big impediment,'' said Greg Gillis, property manager for Southwest Airlines, the airport's largest carrier.

The airport's fund is separate from the city's general fund, meaning that the facility's operations and any construction are paid for by rentals and fees paid by airport users, concessionaires, and rentals.

Had the airport not scaled back its plans, Southwest might have been forced to drastically reduce the number of flights to and from San Jose. The airline currently has 74 flights and that number could have dwindled to 13 or 14 in a worst-case scenario, Gillis said.

Council members and airline executives at the meeting credited new airport director Bill Sherry for negotiating a workable plan.

''My first reaction,'' Councilman Ken Yeager told Sherry, ''was why hadn't we thought of this before? Some of it seemed so obvious and it's something we can do relatively quickly and certainly much less expensively than the other plan. So, I'm glad you were the one who sort of brought in a new pair of eyes.''

San Jose Mercury News

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