News Article | 11/2/2007

San Bernardino International Airport

Ontario or LAX – which is it?

San Bernardino County residents ask that same question when it comes to deciding which airport to use.

But the day isn’t far off when families can say, “What about SBIA?”

San Bernardino International Airport – site of the former Norton Air Force Base – is turning out to be quite a transportation hub.

Airport officials are dreaming of a freight and passenger airline magnet that global businesses and local residents won’t be able to pass up.

“It’s all about jobs … and it’s also about perception,” said Don Rogers, interim director of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority Commission. “And once the airline services come, it’s about convenient and material changes. It’s about the way the outside world evaluates and views San Bernardino.”

When the former air force base shut down in 1993, about 10,000 jobs vanished – a devastating blow to San Bernardino’s blue-collar employment base and local economy.

Nonetheless, almost a decade of groundwork, planning and marketing is resurrecting the airport’s glory years.

With Los Angeles International Airport’s capacity almost maxed out – and LA/Ontario International Airport expected to double in size within 20 years – SBIA is positioning itself to handle an overflow of passenger and freight airline services.

In December, the airport completed its new 10,000-by-200-foot runway, which can handle any passenger airline jet and most cargo aircraft, Rogers said.

Plans to build 40 small hangers and a few large ones on the runway’s east side are also in the works.

The airport’s first U.S. Customs office came online earlier this year, and its new air-traffic control tower will be completed in May.

Projects like these will help SBIA ready itself for Million Air Interlink, a private jet charter starting services in June.

“They see a market here,” said Penny Chua, director of economic development, about Million Air. “But they have to build their brand.”

Current expansion and refurbishing projects totaling $38 million for passenger terminals include three new gates, with plans to build three more by June 2009.

Of course, the upcoming passenger airline services represent only half of the story, and only a portion of the new jobs SBIA expects airline companies will bring to the region.

The Inland Valley Development Agency, the airport’s development entity, has already worked with Hillwood development company in building millions of square feet of industrial space for several companies.

Rogers said Hillwood is almost finished acquiring 130 more acres of land at the airport’s south end, where 5 million square feet of new industrial space – called Southgate – is planned.

“We’ll end up replacing approximately 5,000 jobs,” Rogers said.

But the ultimate goal is beyond 5,000, and that’s why Chua is building relationships oversees. In September, she made her second trip to Hong Kong on behalf of SBIA, promoting the airport’s logistics/freight capabilities at the Air Freight Asia 2007 exposition.

“We have … to promote awareness of the airport, because everyone knows where LAX is,” Chua said. “The market is still not aware of who we are.”