Sacramento’s Big Build Will Create a Monstrously Expensive New Terminal

Flying through Sacramento last week, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the old terminal buildings and the new one that’s slowly taking shape, towering over the surrounding area. The humble, old terminals look like shacks compared to the monster they’re building. This is going to be one expensive terminal project, and you know how I feel about that.

Right now, there are two terminals in Sacramento. The oldest is the 13-gate Terminal B. Terminal A was built in a similar style in the early 1990s to add another 13 gates. Here’s the lay of the land:

New Sacramento Airport

The old Terminal B will be toast as soon as the monstrous new Terminal B gets built. That in itself is a good thing. I actually like the retro look and feel of the terminal, but it is hardly adequate for an airport today. Check out this front view of the high B terminal facade where JetBlue flies.

Old Terminal B SMF

Kind of cool, right? But it’s not exactly the most functional building around. The small lobby where JetBlue lives has JetBlue and Continental employees shoe-horned into a tiny ticketing area. That’s actually right behind the baggage claim, as strange as it sounds. Then there’s an enormously large open area flanked by the small Horizon Air ticket counter. After checking in, you go upstairs to a very small security area which undoubtedly is under-sized and not ideal for TSA operations.

Once you get behind security, you see a relatively short concourse. It isn’t connected to the other B concourse, so transferring between the two appears to require leaving one secure area and then going back through to the other side. The concourse is small and awkwardly arranged. I love it. But that’s only because I like the old-school retro feeling you get in a place like this. I mean, check out this gate sign.

Retro Terminal B SMF

But having gone through this terminal, there’s little doubt in my mind that it should go away. The question is, how do you fix the problem? The plans that were put together were ambitious to say the least. Sacramento used to be a cheap place to fly. As recently as a couple years ago, cost per enplanement was in the $5 range. That’s cheap. But after building new rental car facilities and parking garages among other things, costs have started to rise. In the fiscal year that just ended, cost per enplanement is expected to come out to $11.65. That’s expensive but not horrendous. After the new terminal is built, cost per enplanement will balloon to $17.75. That will be the peak cost in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013. That is horrendous.

Airlines had been vocal about not being happy about the project. I remembered that Southwest was really pissed, so I asked for comment. A spokesman told me:

Naturally, anything that might increase our costs is a concern for us. That said, they are moving forward with the project, and therefore we’ll continue to work with the airport to see how we can best operate in the most cost efficient way.

In other words, “we didn’t like it, but they’re building it anyway. Now we have to figure out what works and what doesn’t.” This is bound to hurt traffic levels at the airport, though a spokeswoman from Sacramento Airport said that no airlines have suggested they’ll cut back service. We’ll see about that. My guess is some traffic has already suffered from the creeping costs.

The project was trimmed a little bit, but I’m talking very little. They scrapped the in-airport hotel and another parking garage for now. Yet even without that, the cost will be over $1 billion. (It was going to top out at $1.3 billion.) What are they building? Well, here’s what they’ve built so far:

New SMF Terminal Takes Shape

It towers over the current Terminal B and it will have a lot of light and open area. The concourse will grow from the current 13 gates to 19 and it will be connected by a people mover to the main terminal. Here’s a mock-up of the landside part of the terminal.

New Sacramento Terminal

This seems extravagant to me. It also looks like they’re trying to set a world record for the number of escalators in a building. If it looks familiar, it should. This has been designed by Fentress Architects, the same people who brought you Denver International Airport (or as Holly Hegeman used to call it, Senor Peña’s Palace of Planes) and the overgrown new Bradley Terminal concourse at LAX.

Many have questioned why the airport even needs to build such a large new addition when traffic hasn’t grown in years. In 2009, 8,914,510 passengers used the airport. That was down 10 percent from 2008. Going all the way back to 2004, the airport had 9.5 million, so it’s not even back at 2004 levels yet. And it’s not like things look good for the future either.

This is a city that runs on state government, and massive government cuts are constantly in the works. The dysfunction of our government in California is legendary, and I don’t anticipate seeing much growth for years to come.

The project looks nice, of course, but it seems entirely too expensive. My guess is airline service will suffer.

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58 Comments on "Sacramento’s Big Build Will Create a Monstrously Expensive New Terminal"

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JAR
Guest

People mover? Seriously? There was no other place to put airside?
I bet Sacramento also purchased the optional extended warranty protection for this thing when they were at the checkout line.

A
Guest

Given that architectural rendering it looks like Sacramento is trying to build a world class gateway of an airport. Why? They don’t, and probably never will get major international flights. The arrogance and one upsmanship of politicians never ceases to amaze. SMF should be trying to keep costs low and scabbing all the traffic off SFO & OAK they can get.

Frank V
Guest

J O B S
J O B S
J O B S

DGS
Guest

C’mon, Sacramento…seriously? Build some new gates, throw in a Burger King and a Cinnabon and call it a day. You’re not Singapore or Dubai, not even close.

ATL had some grand ideas for their new international terminal, but most of those got shelved when Delta protested due to projected costs. They went as far as to threaten to move the hub to MEM. That never would have really happened, but they caved and ATL will get a new efficient, but not spectacular, international terminal.

I’m sure SWA is probably making some pretty direct threats behind the scenes.

Nick Barnard
Member

There isn’t a connection to concourse A either? Plus they’ve gotta rework traffic flow? What were/are the buildings between the current A and B? Seems like they couldve put A there or
Built a temporary terminal out of trailers a la jetblue’s T6.5.

Nick Barnard
Member

Err forgot to finish the comment: then torn down the current a and put a new one in the place of the old one.

David SF eastbay
Member
A flashy terminal would be nice of it will be set up for international flights also. Getting new international business to California could have world travelers coming to SMF and some eye candy at the airport wouldn’t hurt. It also doesn’t hurt to build something larger now and grow into it then to have to rebuild again in 10 years because it’s to small. You make it sound like the only people who fly to SMF are on state business. Sacramento is a large metro area and those people all want to go places, and I just read some where… Read more »
A
Guest

Sacramento is decent sized city(just over 2 million metro) but it’s only 2 hours from a huge metro area considering the entire Bay Area. Sure SMF has more than just state workers flying in/out but they will always be eclipsed in O/D traffic by SFO. They should be playing to their strengths, i.e. less congested and inexpensive option for those wanting to drive 2 hours up I-80. People drive farther distances to save $25, literally. Jacking up the costs at SMF helps nobody.

RB
Guest
The everyday needs of the airlines, mainly functionality, space, and efficiency (low costs) have to be better balanced with the grand plans of politicians and airport administrators. Lower CPE (Cost per Enplaned Passenger) leads to more airline service. The opposite is also true, which San Jose, with the spectacular but expensive new Terminal B, currently suffers from. SMF’s terminal A could have been easily expanded to the East for more gates, and Terminal B could have been refurbished for a third of the cost and kept the CPE well under $10. Inefficient procurement policies and union rules also drive up… Read more »
Sean S.
Guest
People wanting to fly to a place is what creates more airline service, not cost per enplanement. Again most people fly somewhere because there is a reason, ouside of fare price, to go there, such as business, vacation, family. Could a lower cost per enplanement decrease or increase frequency? May it attract one more airline company into a market? Possibly, but it doesn’t generate traffic. While I could see some vacation destinations becoming more attractive with lower fares, Sacramento ain’t one of them. Does this mean Sacramento’s terminal is not a boondoggle? No, of course it is. But its not… Read more »
SEAN
Guest

Look at JFK airport in NY. As busy as it is, one whole 17-gate terminal is not even opperating.

How do you expect an airport like SMF to grow over the next few years? You are better off closing terminal A & moving those flights to terminal B. If nessessary add gates incramentally to cover the loss of those in terminal A.

Nick Barnard
Member

I presume you’re referring to Terminal 6, which used to house JetBlue. It currently has 14 gates, and they’re demolishing it to make room for the expansion of Terminal 5.

It used to have 21 gates, but seven of those were temporary ones in trailers..

David SF eastbay
Member

Maybe all airports should use trailers as terminals. Would make for easy expansion, just add more and/or move them around to better service the airports travel needs. They would cost less, could have easy changable facades inside and out to ‘redecorate’ when needed and be raised up to still be able to use jetways.

Sounds simple and logical. Now if we can only get rid of earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes that would move them around….lol

RB
Guest

Terminal A is newer and has more room to grow. Terminal B is as old as the hills and has little or no room to grow. There are far too many flights at SMF for the airport consolidate terminals as is.

WillinSMF
Guest
The real interesting thing in this whole project is Southwest. SWA kicked, clawed, etc to be in the at the time, the “new” terminal, which is now Terminal A. Then when the County proposed replacing Term. B (and believe me, its really needed), SWA said they were against paying the fees. Now, their arrogant you-know-what’s then said fine, if we are paying higher fees and rents, WE get to be in the new Terminal B. All the airlines currently in Terminal B were promised this new one after getting the snub for Terminal A, largely because of SWA. Now, some… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

They should spend a similar amount of money on replacing B, as they spent replacing A. If they’re spending more then SWA has an argument. If they’re spending a similar amount or less, then SWA should just shove it.

mike
Guest
Just proves out that most government entities, especially airports, fail to plan with economic theory in mind. It is pointed out that traffic is not growing in this area and that high yield traffic is at risk with budget issues for the state. The Southwest’s and Jetblue’s will reconsider when you double your cost when there are other airports offering incentives for them to fly to them. Its all about maximizing utility and they are doing the opposite. This has big government written all over it. We think this a nice pretty building is most important so the whole world… Read more »
RB
Guest

When has anyone picked their airport, especially in a one airport town, based on the terminal? Terminal 2 and 3 at JFK are so bad it could send some to other terminals at the airport, but that is an entirely different situation vs. SMF.

james
Guest

The question should be “does the average non-airline dork” care…

In the past I’d choose NW to DTW, knowing they use the shiny new terminal versus airlines using the old dumpy buildings..

I’m flying to Madrid this fall and bummed that my airline doesn’t use the new T4 at Barajas.

Of course I’m one of the few who watches uplifting videos like this as part of their travel planning:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwESe80qYj8

(Is this what SMF is apsiring to be?)

Scott
Guest
Mike–Sounds like you need a lesson on airport finance. Airport terminals aren’t financed by local tax dollars. Under federal law, airports are financially insular. That said, I also disagree with your short-term thinking on economics. If governments, or large public facilities such as airports, operated like big for-profit companies, it would be disaster. As one airline CEO famously said, “any airline is only 18 months away from certain failure.” The bottom line is that if airports operated with the short term investment/risk/return timelines that airlines (and private companies in general) do, airports would always be behind the demand curve and… Read more »
Scott
Guest
I’m sorry, but I diverge with most of you here. The reality is that airport costs make up an insignificant fraction of airlines’ total operating costs and an airports “CPE” (which any industry person will tell you is a totally unscientific and relative measure) is likely to be more volatile than airline scheduling. On paper, I follow the logic. But in reality, airport costs don’t drive airline route planning decisions. The airlines love to say it does, but it doesn’t. In some big, specific instances (i.e. US at PIT or CO at DEN) it may make a bit more of… Read more »
Allan
Guest
I like new terminals. I like new stuff in general, makes for a better travel experience. Terminal 3 in Dubai is ridiculous. My 5 hour layover went by rather quickly exactly because Terminal 3 is new and has modern amenities and options. Cranky would prefer if Long Beach was simply duplicated across the country. The more money airlines spend on upgraded facilities the less likely they are to send Cranky on a free flight under the guise of an “interview.” Sample Cranky interview: CF: “Thank United for this free flight to Chicago. This is fantastic. What would you like me… Read more »
James Williams
Guest

I took a short flight out of the old SJC terminal C to terminal B in SMF a couple weeks ago. Funny that both are slated to be replaced/are replaced. Anyways, Terminal B is awkward and it doesn’t feel like an airport in a capital city, I was puzzled as heck when I saw baggage claim next to checkin counters.

micah child
Guest

I like flying out of SMF, and I prefer flying out of the old Terminal B over A most of the time, just because Southwest isn’t in it with its extra traffic and long security lines. As far as costs goes, flight are often cheaper out of SFO or OAk, especially on the legacy carriers such as American. Some times cheaper enough to justify the cost and hassle of flying out of the Bay versus SMF.

Chris
Guest
I’ve flown in and out of SMF my entire life, and Terminal B is a complete joke and can’t handle the traffic it currently has. Terminal A at its height could hardly handle the flights it had with Delta’s absorbed NWA flights moving into terminal A a busy travel day there means LOTS of headaches. Its funny people say Sacramento is small, but they fail to take into account it services most of the Sacramento/San Joaquin. This includes Chico and Redding to the North and Stockton, Modesto, Fairfield to the South. For many of these people SMF is the only… Read more »
Dan at JFK Airport Parking
Guest

I’m not sure if the others have the same impression, but it sounds like you’re lobbying on behalf of the airlines. Terminal costs, in my opinion, constitute just a small fraction of the total operating expenses of airlines, and these guys won’t think twice about passing costs to passengers if their bottomlines suffer because of increased airport costs. As a passenger, I wouldn’t mind extra costs for improved services and convenience. You may be right about the extravagance, though, I’m just glad they scrapped the in-airport hotel.

Ron
Guest

Green line to SMF?

JamesK
Guest
About terminals, the best commentary I ever heard about it was from an interview years ago about the then-new terminal at SAV (the awkwardly named Savannah/Hilton Head International, not to be confused with Hilton Head Airport). Basically, the terminal is the first and last impression a visitor has of a city is its airport terminal. I just flew out of MDW for the first time since the new terminal opened (the last time was on Valujet, to give you an idea). I was very impressed by the result, especially considering I flew into T2 at ORD that morning. The cramped… Read more »
Wingtips
Guest
I worked in SMF Terminal B for many years, and it was undersized for all of them. It was the original paired terminal for SMF when it opened brand new in 1967. It was maligned as oversized then and would never be filled. However, by 1978, it was “… handling more than four times the passengers originally projected…” (Sacramento Magazine, Jan/Feb 1978), and that’s when PSA was the biggest operator with just 19 flights a day followed by United with 16. The terminal has not been significantly enlarged in its 43 years. The United/American concourse was lengthened one gate pair… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Wingtips good post. Nice to hear from people with first hand experience about something.

Steve
Guest
What Cranky fails to note and most comments (with the exception of Scott) also miss is that all of this was planned and approved when SMF was booming. While nearly every other airport in the nation (and particularly. The 3 Bay Area airports) was declining in traffic and flights in the post 9/11/2001 period – Sacto was an exception seeing significant growth. The Sacramento Valley realized promising relocations from major Bay Area firms like HP, Oracle and Intel placing large administrative groups into the region. Terminal B, while quaint was and is – as Cranky noted terribly inadequate and expansion… Read more »
Andrew
Guest

HP (Roseville) and Intel (Folsom) were already in the area but population projections did show significant growth over the next 20 years. The cost to continue to maintain and operate TB must be very high (there is a term for this and it escapes me at the moment.) These two considerations did and likely continue to justify a new terminal. Whether is should be “this” terminal, I leave for others to debate.

Jim DeLong
Guest

Given the fact that: forcasts suggest the facilities are needed, it is difficult to get any project on an airport started given the “anti everything” attitude of many, and a six dollar increase which will go down as traffic builds, I’m all for the project. Remeber all the hell raised about Denver International which was to cost fourteen dollars a passengers. Today it is the best buy the airlines have in the country.

mike
Guest

i work at the new airport project and have lived in sac almost my whole life.im a carpenter and i do alot of work on the side for business people and alot of them say it’s easier to fly out of sac than frisco so why not make their trip here even more modern quit crying about evolving

sergeant sense
Guest
How about they fix the damn poor bus service instead of working on a people mover? I park in economy frequently and the bus sevice is just totally unpredictable, plus the countly just seems to have decided to neglect the lot entirely, weeds 3 feeet tall in some places, dirty bus stop areas and just general disrepair. Half of the lot isn’t even paved and they are spending over a billion on a new area? Oh and add in the fact there are rairly enough cashiers on hand when you leave, it’s really totally annoying parking here, are they trying… Read more »
Just Jim
Guest

Just wait until Southwest Airlines takes over the WORLD! You all won’t be laughing at the new terminal then. It will be the headquarters for a New World Order of Southwest Airlines and LUV is mandatory. BAAHHH HHAAAA HAAAAA!!!

Get Real
Guest
You people need to get real. If this were a matter of your own personal home, you would expect it to be all it could be. You cannot keep sinking money into antiquated facilities and expect them to keep working. Obviously you people know nothing about construction, cost and what it takes to run an airport. Everything that has been done, the airlines have been involved in. Have they agreed with everything, no but they are not the owner. This terminal will reflect Sacramento in a positive light and ultimately will prove the smartest decision made by the County. The… Read more »
marta
Guest

Do you happen to know if it was built by local people and with made in the USA materials? Haven’t found the info on that for airport extension and the new bus terminal. In San Francisco the last large project built was built by China and the materials where not manufactured in the USA.

lackADaisycal
Guest
Well well it seems the new terminal has not resulted in a financial boon and now they plan to cut expenses 15 percent. Who could have guessed this would happen? Everyone maybe? Of couse they will blame the cost of labor and try to make any decent jobs just part time instead of looking at all the money wasted on imported executive types and ridiculously overpriced art.New technology at the exit gates translates very simply.Less customer service, but don’t worry since your getting less they won’t raise the parking rates right?? hahahahhahah suckers! guarantee the rates will rise soon.Here’s some… Read more »
GHOSTTOWNSMF
Guest
I work in SMF terminal B and must say, its a shame what they have created, definate overkill. It feels like a ghost town, with only southwest, alaska, and american operating during the day. Jet blue moved to terminal A. Volaris and aeromexico operate at night. Customers ask daily whats going on, why so empty. The management has a serious marketing problem and are unwilling to lure airlines to enter or stay in SMF.. they are unwilling to take it on the chin a bit to attract new business. All the airlines have cut back their schedules, and nothing new… Read more »
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[…] charges higher fees. It's not that complicated This debate is hardly unique to DEL anyway: http://crankyflier.com/2010/07/22/sa…-new-terminal/ __________________ Editor of […]

Jesse Singh
Guest

I used to fly in and out of Sacramento regularly, pre-renovation, but over the past couple of years I have decided to drive up from Southern California or fly into Oakland. I can simply not justify spending almost double on the same ticket to pay for someone else’s idea of what an airport should look like. Passenger use as fallen greatly and it will continue to until they get their prices in line with other airports. People are not going to pay nearly double to fly to Sacramento to be tourists.

jim long
Guest
Give me a brake. It cost you somewhere between fifty to eighty cents a mile to drive to Oakland, not to mention the time you spend assuming it has some value. I’ve not checked but the new construction project probably increase the cost to the airlines by about ten dollars per enplaned passenger. Whether they have passed the cost on to the passenger is always hard to tell since competition will tend to dampen price increases depending on the amount of competition between city pairs. I heard all the “crap” regarding DIA and today compared to many of the other… Read more »
john valiant
Guest

I read they are opening a bunch of new restaurants. i don’t understand this at all.
if the current customer numbers caused massive recent cuts in employees why do they need even more restaurants to serve an essentially empty terminal?
or was all that talk just an excuse to make less full time jobs all through the airport.This doesn’t add up at all

J.Wheat
Guest

Looks like the original poster had it spot on. this has turned into a economic burden for sacramento county and the airport itself still has bad problems with service.

J.Wheat
Guest

Looks like the original poster had it spot on. this has turned into a economic burden for county and the airport itself still has bad problems with service.