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Leisure travel: Solid bet for airport
Allegiants success may bode well for Stockton Metro
Stockton Metro Airport Interim Director Patrick Carreno outside the new hold room terminal for passengers once they pass through security checks. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

Niche leisure travel is helping build a foundation Stockton Metro Airport’s future growth.

Allegiant since it started flying from Stockton to Las Vegas in 2006 has experienced yearly increases in passengers. For 2011, that number is expected to top 55,000 passengers for departures.

“Allegiant has been very successful in Stockton,” noted Patrick Carreno who serves as the interim director for Stockton Metro Airport.

San Joaquin County’s goal is to build on Allegiant’s success to eventually lure other carriers to serve a market that has upwards of 1.2 million potential passengers. At the same time, the county is using the airport with its 10,600-foot runway that can accommodate almost all commercial aircraft as a sales tool to attract employers to nearby business parks.

Part of that strategy for job development and greater effectiveness of the airport as a way to strengthen the economy is the project now underway to extend Sperry Road to Interstate 5. Once completed, a major east-west route will be created when Sperry connects with Arch Road for access to the airport from both Interstate 5 and Highway 99.

Stockton Metro Airport is almost the same distance from downtown Manteca as it is from downtown Stockton. As such any airline service or business park development would have a positive impact on the Manteca economy as well.

De-regulation of the airlines plus the cost of providing infrastructure to support passenger service has proved a challenge for the airport. The airport has a large terminal but it is outdated especially in terms of design on how airports must handle passengers.

Feeder airline service operated by major carries has changed substantially since de-regulation. At the same time, Sacramento International overshadows Stockton Metro with service to major hubs.

That is why having success with Allegiant could easily catch the attention of other carriers that want to expand service in the future into Northern California that aren’t going for the traditional business traveler who needs to get to a hub airport and change flights.

And that success isn’t happening with small prop planes but modern 150-seat jets that Allegiant often fills.

Carreno pointed out that the airlines are pretty much in the driver’s seat as to what airports they will pursue for flight services. But Carreno believes that ultimately at some point down the road Allegiant’s continued success will work in Stockton’s favor as airlines seek to expand to serve congested nearby markets such as Sacramento or the Bay Area.

“Airlines do a ton of research,” Carreno pointed out.

Allegiant is based in Las Vegas. It has been successful by zeroing in on affordable travel between non-hub markets and two of the country’s top tourist destinations - Las Vegas and Orlando. They also include vacation packages as part of their offerings although passengers can simply book flights.

Besides offering a number of flights each week to Las Vegas, Allegiant now flies to Palm Springs as well out of Stockton.

The county working with Stockton has taken steps to assure the viability of not just the airport for passenger and future cargo service but also as the heart of a massive employment center.

Zoning has been put in place to place compatible uses next to the airport and under the approaches.

“Stockton Airport isn’t hemmed in by housing,” Carreno noted.

The county has historically regarded the airport as part of a four-pronged transportation effort to lure employers along with the Port of Stockton, two intermodal railroad facilities, and the freeway system that includes the state’s “Main Street” for commerce as Highway 99 is sometimes referred to as well as the West Coast’s key north-south route on Interstate 5.