It’s been busy at San Bernardino International Airport this year.
A cluster of seven single- and twin-engine propeller-driven airplanes on the landing apron in front of Luxivair SBD, the airport-owned and operated fixed-base operator that serves private and charter pilots, hints at a major change from past years.
“No previous year had exceeded 30,000 aircraft operations” until 2015, said Mark Gibbs, director of aviation for the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, referring to takeoffs and landings.
In 2015 there were 40,217 aircraft operations and this year is on pace to see even more, he said. He noted there will be between 46,000 and 47,000 general aviation aircraft takeoffs or landings, which nearly doubles the number in 2012 and is likely to be more than 14 percent above 2015’s record year.
“This is a pretty cool place,” said Pius Choi, 29, a Chino resident who passed his instrument rating test at SBIA on Wednesday.
In addition to the 10,000-foot runway, capable of accommodating the largest cargo and passenger aircraft in the world, the Luxivair pilot facility has a conference room, small movie theater and business office.
“They even have a nap room,” said Choi, who is working toward passing the commercial pilot’s license test early next year.
A civilian air traffic control tower opened at the former Norton Air Force Base in late 2008. Accurate air traffic numbers began for a full year the following year, Gibbs said.
Federal Aviation Administration records show that for the first four years, between 2009 and 2012, airport flight operations were flat, registering between 24,000 and 25,000 annually.
Then, “2013 marked a turning point in air traffic activity, with consecutive year-over-year traffic records realized” every year since, Gibbs said.
In 2015 there were 40,217 aircraft operations, representing an increase of 37 percent above 2014’s record.
Within the general aviation group, air charters — generally jets carrying business executives — are the fastest growing segment, increasing from 532 flights in 2014 to 4,448 in 2016, records show.
The turnaround came from focused marketing of the airport and its services, according to Adrian Fox, managing director of BFT International Inc., a Florida-based aviation-oriented marketing consulting firm.
This included placing advertising in targeted trade publications highlighting the airport’s location and the quality of its independent fixed-based operator, Luxivair SBD, as a low-cost and convenient entry point for the Southern California business market, Fox said.
From a time standpoint, Fox said that a private jet passenger would probably come out ahead landing at SBIA if doing business in eastern Los Angeles County or downtown Los Angeles.
“For Malibu or the South Coast, probably not,” he said.
Gibbs noted that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility on-site makes clearances for airplanes entering the United States fast and painless compared with Los Angeles International Airport.
“Clearing customs at San Bernardino International is very efficient and a great alternative to busier, crowded airports like LAX and Van Nuys,” Gibbs said.
Costs could be a factor as well.
“Our landing fees and gas prices are very competitive,” said Amber Casarez, marketing director at SBIA.
A check on the pilot-oriented website SkyVector.com shows Thursday’s Jet A fuel price as being $3.49 per gallon at the San Bernardino airport while the same fuel is $6.43 per gallon at Palm Springs International Airport and $5.08 per gallon at John Wayne/Orange County Airport.
“Fuel at Luxivair SBD is never sold at a loss,” Gibbs said. Generally, Luxivair SBD does not have the lowest prices on aviation fuel, Gibbs said. “However, the prices are always competitive.”
The significant increases in general aviation traffic coincides with the two-year period the airport has been actively marketed, Casarez said.
Flying the SBIA flag at conferences has been an important part of Casarez’s role since joining the airport in 2014.
In early 2016, Casarez attended an aviation trade show in Toluca, Mexico, in an effort to market SBIA to Mexican business travelers.
In November, she attended the National Business Aviation Association’s convention and exhibition in Orlando, Florida. Early in 2017, she will attend a business aviation group’s conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
While Choi is taking his flight training at a school at Chino Airport, Gibbs said workers are refurbishing a building that will house a flight school at SBIA that is likely to open in the spring.
Some 30 hangars will be ready to house private aircraft in early 2017 as well, Gibbs said, marking the first time SBIA has been able to house general aviation aircraft.