More parking coming in Fresno airport expansion. Will new airlines be coming, too?

Fresno Yosemite International Airport is growing bigger with $115 million expansion project

Fresno Yosemite International Airport plans $115 million expansion project that will include an expanded international travel area and a three-level parking garage.
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Fresno Yosemite International Airport plans $115 million expansion project that will include an expanded international travel area and a three-level parking garage.

It’s going to be a couple of years before work commences, but Fresno Yosemite International Airport is going to spend about $115 million to upgrade two passenger gates, expand the international area of the terminal and add parking to keep up with a growing number of passengers on both domestic and international flights.

The project is dubbed “FATforward,” a nod to the airport’s official Federal Aviation Administration code for Fresno Air Terminal, even as the rest of the city’s airport marketing embraces the “Fresno Yosemite International” moniker.

“Airlines are bringing in bigger aircraft, the security checkpoints are more crowded,” and the holding areas at the terminal gates are also packed with more people, Airports Director Kevin Meikle told The Bee. Over the past year, and especially during the holiday flying season in November and December, he added, “we’ve observed just how much we were busting at the seams.”

Work is expected to begin in early 2021 on the project, which includes the addition of a new upper-level concourse with two new gates and jet bridges that can be used for both domestic and international flights; enlarging the segregated arrival and Customs area for international passengers; expanding the luggage-handling and sorting area for outbound flights; increasing the number of Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint lanes; and building a new three-level, 900-space parking garage.

“We anticipate that it will take about 20 months to build out,” Meikle said. “Hopefully before the holidays of 2022, everything will be online.”

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New airlines?

It remains to be seen whether the airport improvements could be just the bait that attracts popular low-cost airlines such as Southwest Airlines to Fresno. But Meikle said that’s not why the expansion is happening.

“This is needed to accommodate the growth we’re already experiencing.” Meikle said. “Whether that’s from our incumbent airlines that are adding flights and more destinations, or new airlines like Southwest or JetBlue or Sun Country, we need to accommodate the growth wherever it comes from.”

Last year, the number of passengers flying from Fresno Yosemite International was more than 816,000 – an increase of about 36 percent from the 600,000 outbound passengers reported in 2010. The growth was even more robust for the airport’s international flights provided by Aeromexico and Volaris to and from Mexico. International passengers taking off from Fresno aboard the two airlines in 2017 (the most recent full year for which figures are available from the FAA) numbered more than 102,000. That’s up by a whopping 72 percent from fewer than 60,000 international enplanements in 2012.

Meikle said the work on the terminal expansion is expected to cost about $70 million, while the parking garage will cost about $45 million. All of the cost will be covered by the airport’s existing income sources without any contributions from the city of Fresno’s general fund, the pot of money from which most of the city’s day-to-day bills are paid.

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An expansion of the Fresno Yosemite International Airport terminal will add an upstairs concourse with two new jet bridge gates, more space for handling outbound luggage, and a larger international arrivals area. The new areas will be open in mid- to late 2022. A new long-term parking lot is expected to be open by summer 1999. Illustration by Tim Sheehan The Fresno Bee

Behind-the-scenes work

Passengers likely won’t see any disruption of their pathways through the airport during the work; much of the construction will be behind the scenes.

The new baggage-handling area will be built behind the building that now houses most of the airline ticket counters facing the front entrance of the terminal. The additional passenger concourse and jet bridges atop that new construction will replace a pair of ground-level gates typically used for overflow, where passengers now use outdoor portable stairways to get on and off of aircraft.

“There’s no reason why if you’re arriving in a large Airbus, you should have to use stairs outside,” Meikle said.

While it will be two years before work begins on the terminal improvements and the parking garage, a more immediate expansion of parking will be happening by this summer to serve a pressing need. There were times during the holidays that the airport’s existing lots were completely filled. About 650 long-term parking stalls will be created with a new surface lot between the existing long-term lot and the Fresno Air National Guard base.

The Transportation Security Administration announced additional screening protocols involving carry-on luggage, primarily dealing with electronic devices, at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Tuesday afternoon.

Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.