It’s Christmas in November for airports across the country.
On Friday morning, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren announced the Department of Transportation is awarding San Jose’s Mineta International Airport $10 million to revamp its Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting building.
“That’s really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of new stuff coming right behind it,” says Scott Wintner, deputy director of communications for the airport.
Last year, Mineta International broke its all-time record of number of passengers traveling through SJC, with 14.3 million people traveling in and out of the airport. In September of this year, that number has already been surpassed. Between Oct. 2018 and Sept. 2019, 15.3 million people traveled through SJC. And Wintner says airport officials expect to receive another 400,000 passengers by the end of 2019.
“That’s not sustainable, there’s no way we can continue to grow at that rate,” says Wintner. “We’ve been one of the fastest growing airports in the country over the last five years.”
Wintner says SJC employees are trying to meet the challenge of accommodating the growing number of passenger while maintaining the airport’s appeal amidst other Bay Area airports; SJC is easy, convenient to get to, and has shorter lines.
“We’re increasingly more convenient for people who don’t want to have to sit in traffic on 101 to get to SFO,” said Wintner.
This past July, the airport opened six temporary gates (gates 31-36) to accommodate the volume of travelers, and they’re building a new parking lot. But this new batch of funding from the federal government gives airport officials the go ahead to launch a new series of projects to expand SJC and ultimately build a new terminal.
“Improvements planned for Station 20 will ensure the Fire Department keeps pace with the training, equipment and technologies needed to support Mineta San Jose International Airport as it continues to grow,” said San Jose Fire Chief Robert Sapien Jr.
ARFF, or San Jose Fire Station 20, is staffed around the clock every day of the year by San Jose Fire Department officials specially trained for aircraft rescue and firefighting at an airport. The current building stands south of Terminal B. Wintner says the $10 million will be used to build a new ARFF on the west side of the airport and make way for construction of a new terminal. Overaa Construction, a Richmond-based company, has been given the design-build contract for the new ARFF.
“These types of infrastructure improvement projects provide a dual boost to our local economy — we provide jobs for construction workers today and build up our airport’s capacity into the future,” Lofgren said. “Plus, this specific improvement project will ensure we keep both our firefighters and travelers safe.”
San Jose airport officials are in constant communication with the Department of Transportation, but say they’ve been working on getting this funding for more than a year.
The money comes from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program, which offers to cover between 75 to 95 percent of the costs on projects that will make an airport safer, more capable or less noisy. A total of $485 million AIP grants were awarded this year to more than 100 airports in the United States, including three other airports in California. Getting San Jose’s airport needs noticed takes advocacy, for which airport officials credit Lofgren.
“Congresswoman Lofgren is a reliable champion for Silicon Valley’s Airport, and we greatly appreciate her leadership encouraging investment in critical public infrastructure,” said John Aitken, director of aviation for SJC.