More Passengers at Fresno Airport Mean Major Upgrades, Lower Fares

The airport, which the city of Fresno owns, is seeing a boost in revenues, which it plans to invest in new facilities.

Mercado and her 16-year-old daughter are from Alaska and recently visited family in Madera. Mercado considered flying into the Bay Area, but "it was actually cheaper just to fly right into Fresno."

Widmar said the airport's passenger growth was helped by the recent addition of two airlines: Mexicana Airlines, which has nearly filled its planes since opening in April, and Frontier Airlines, which Widmar said has helped keep ticket prices down throughout the airport.

At the Fresno airport, Mexicana operates one round-trip flight to Guadalajara five days a week. In May the airline led Fresno carriers with almost 86% of its seats filled.

Mexicana and airport officials are talking about adding flights.


Frontier is credited with making Fresno a more economical and popular airport. The low-cost carrier flies to Portland, Seattle/Tacoma and Denver, where travelers can connect to flights to the East Coast. Denver is a hub airport for United Airlines.

Frontier's first flight from Fresno took off last August. Before the first plane left the runway, the airline already had caused other carriers to drop their prices.

Some carriers also are adding flights or bringing in larger planes.

US Airways recently upgraded to a 124-seat plane, up from the 90-passenger regional jet used before. United Express and Allegiant Air each added a flight to Las Vegas in the past year.

Experts, however, say Fresno isn't likely to land Southwest Airlines.

To offset rising fuel and labor costs, Southwest and similar airlines need to fly more people than the central San Joaquin Valley can provide.

"They need at least a half million passengers, just by themselves, and that's still far more than Fresno can generate," Boyd said.

Fresno's terminal is packed most mornings and airport officials are trying to make the wait time shorter at baggage-claim and the security-screening area, one the airport's worst bottlenecks.

There are plans to double the size of the baggage-claim area and double or triple the size of the security-screening area. Work on the combined $3.5million project is scheduled to start in November and take about a year to finish.

A $3.5million remodel of the terminal lobby is next on the airport's ambitious project list. It is expected to start once the baggage-claim and security-screening improvements are finished. Matching federal aviation grants will help pay for the improvements.

Construction of a $27 million car-rental facility is set to start in 2008.

The airport's six car-rental agencies would be consolidated onto one site next to the airport terminal. The facility will shield patrons and cars from the weather.

The airport receives 10% of car-rental revenues, which translates to about $3million a year in user fees. Those user fees will pay for the new car-rental facility in about 10 years.

Car rentals, concessions and parking provide 45% of the airport's $12.5million annual income. Most of the rest comes from gate fees paid by airlines.

Airport officials planned the changes after surveying travelers about the improvements they want.

Steve Hickerson, a Visalia businessman who flies weekly to many destinations out of Fresno, said expansion of the security-screening area and baggage claim will greatly improve the airport.

Said Hickerson: "They should help with the two most important things at an airport: moving people in, moving people out."

The reporter can be reached at mleedy@fresnobee.comor (559) 441-6208.


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