St. George Regional Airport plans on future expansion

After recently opening following a four-month closure, St. George Regional Airport officials say the trajectory for passenger growth and future infrastructure improvements is well underway.

Although some of the improvements have already taken place, including expanding the terminal ramp by 110 feet, expanding the Transportation Security Administration’s area and repairing the pavement and roadway at the fuel farm, the next major improvement planned is the construction of several commercial hangars.

Within the next two months, construction will begin.

In preparation for the construction, the St. George City Council recently approved the expenditure of $150,000 to cover half of the costs to pay for shared parking at the hangars. The remaining half, along with the cost of constructing the hangars, will be paid for by their owners.

“Instead of doing it piecemeal, the city will pay for its portion of the parking lot, and as the hangars are leased out we will collect that money back,” Airport Manager Rich Stehmeier said. “This year we will probably put in up to five new hangars.”

The council has also approved an airport budget increase by $404,400 to slightly more than $1.3 million to cover the costs of construction on a building to house the airport’s snow removal equipment.

While the need for snow removal equipment may seem a little odd for a city that receives minimal snow, its inclusion is a federal requirement, Stehmeier said.

“Because we are a commercial airport the Federal Aviation Administration requires that we have a snow removal plan and the equipment,” he added.

A few years ago, the airport purchased the required equipment to clear the runway of snow in less than one hour. Prior methods for removing snow would take up to three hours to accomplish.

Additionally, the snow removal equipment has the capability to blow dust and debris off the runway, making it an “awesome” machine, Stehmeier said.

Adding to the path for success is the recent addition of service to Dallas-Fort Worth by American Airlines.

“For the first full month we are going to run at 85% peak capacity on this flight, which is phenomenal,” Stehmeier said. “Normally on run like this during your first two or three months you would expect 50-70%.”

On a 50 passenger airplane, tickets for more than 40-45 seats are being purchased for this flight.

Despite a four-month closure, Stehmeier said he has a clear vision for the future, and it’s full steam ahead.

“We lost revenue during this time and we are looking to make that up,” Stehmeier said. “Next year we expect to set new records.”

Along with American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines fly out of the St. George Regional Airport. There are approximately 12 flights each day between the three carriers. An additional flight to Los Angeles by United is in the works.

“To give you an idea on our growth, last year we had more than 277,000 passengers who flew in and out of our airport,” Stehmeier said. “During the first five months of this year’s operations, we were 30% above what we saw last year during the same time period.”

City officials are also excited about what is happening at the airport.

“The buzz created from the reopening of the airport is palpable,” St. George Communications Director David Cordero said. “A great airport helps set the tone for future economic development, and it is part of why we refer to St. George as a world-class city.”

The airport first opened in January 2011.

With the exception of a drop in ridership in 2013 from the loss of one flight to Los Angeles and a six-month wait to start flights to Denver, the airport has experienced steady growth.

“Every year since 2013 we’ve increased the number of passengers by an average of 10-12% every year,” Stehmeier said.

Financially, the airport is also on a stable footing.

The airport generates income that must stay in its coffers to cover its share of improvement projects, Stehmeier said. For major projects, the FAA pays approximately 90% of the costs with the airport picking the remaining 10%.

“For the last three years, we have generated a surplus about $600,000, which is a good thing,” he added. “What the surplus allows us to do is some of these types of projects that the FAA will not pay for.”

Every time a passenger that flies out of the St. George Regional Airport the facility receives $4.40. This money is restricted to capital improvements.