Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS) is more than just a local resource for getting to and from nine major cities in the West, Southwest and Upper Midwest. The convenience of flying out of Santa Rosa is one thing, but when you consider the economic impact these flights have on our county, it’s all the more reason to book air travel close to home.

I was astonished to learn from Airport Manager Jon Stout at the August SCA General Membership meeting that there are 11 to 15 flights per day and that every new flight brings an average of $23 million in economic value and supports 70 jobs to our community.

Eighteen airport management staff members and 276 other on-airport employees owe their jobs to this air transport center. Alaska Airline’s 15 daily flights alone in June represented approximately $345 million in local economic benefit while providing 1,050 community jobs.

With four airlines offering service, our airport is poised for greater growth with the expansion of the terminal to 29,000 square feet. There will be more ticketing and check-in space, and extra room for rental car agencies. Parking spaces are also increasing from 450 to 900 spots, a solar system will provide 100% of the airport’s power plus generating a surplus, and a sidewalk connectivity project is underway – all part of a plan to remodel the terminal and its surroundings to reflect its role as a gateway to wine country.

STS saw 397,787 passengers pass through its gates in 2017.  With 199,000 passengers booked by June, a 10% increase over last year, the airport could exceed the 400,000-passenger plateau by the end of December.

Flights to Las Vegas will resume by the end of August, and there is a possibility that flights to Denver may begin next year. Discussions are also being held that could lead to a flight connection from Phoenix to Dallas in 2019, another major hub for air travel.

Tourism, a second key driver for our economy, is also supported by air travelers who spend an average of $442.98 per day while visiting our area.  Jon Stout said that while the goal of the Tourism Bureau is to put “heads in beds,” the goal of commercial passenger aviation is to put “butts in seats.”

Building strong community partnerships with the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, Chambers of Commerce, Visit Santa Rosa and the hospitality industry to create incentives for visitors is the perfect recipe to help attract airlines to include Sonoma County in their strategic planning.

Other new things are coming as airport growth continues and customer needs change. We’ve become used to waiting in the “tent” for our flights, but the new terminal features an open design and outdoor area to reflect the area where travelers can sip Sonoma County wines while waiting for their flights (however, the tent will be kept for future growth). Bar service at the gate and more first class seating (on Alaska as well as American flights) are added conveniences to look forward to.

With housing as a major regional concern, there is long term potential for additional housing to be developed in and around the Airport Business Park where 8,000 people work today. Let’s hope this can happen sooner, rather than later.

What’s the takeaway from this? We all need to support our economy by flying out of this wonderfully convenient asset – the Sonoma County Airport.  As many of us already know, it is welcome relief from traveling Highway 101 to and from Bay Area airports.

Kris Wilson, President of the Sonoma County Alliance