Fresno leaders have sky-high expectations for ‘monumental’ airport terminal expansion
Long before he was elected to the state Assembly as a Republican, Jim Patterson was Fresno’s mayor – a job he held when the city’s airport last underwent a slew of changes and upgrades. On Friday, speaking at the groundbreaking for a new round of terminal expansions, Patterson was reflective.
“This brings back an awful lot of memories for me,” Patterson told a gathering of city employees, construction workers and invited guests on Friday morning, under a tent set up amid a construction zone south of the existing airport terminal at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
“I happened to be the mayor when we built all that new stuff over here,” he said, gesturing at the gleaming glass and steel concourse behind him. “We also during my term changed the name from Fresno Air Terminal to Fresno Yosemite International, before we ever had an international flight.”
But, Patterson added, undertaking such changes as those made in the late 1990s and 2000 have a way of manifesting a new reality. “When you do these kinds of improvements, and you get more airlines flying in, something interesting happens,” he said. “Enplanements skyrocket while fares fall. And that’s what this airport is doing now, not only on the commercial domestic flights, but also international.”
The latest project to grow the terminal represents an ambitious expansion that will add a second upper-level passenger concourse with more gates for both domestic and international flights, an enlarged security screening checkpoint, upgraded baggage inspection technology, and a larger arrival and customs inspection area for international arrivals.
The $127 million project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2025.
“What we were trying to do (more than two decades ago) pales to what is going to happen here,” Patterson said.
“What we did then is what (current mayor) Jerry Dyer is doing now. It is to say, ‘This is the goal, this is what we will do,” Patterson added. “We will grow upon what’s here and make it much, much better.”
Largest expansion in terminal’s history
Dyer hailed the groundbreaking as the start of something big. “We will remember today as a day of monumental positive change for the city of Fresno, for our airport, and for the millions of people who will travel through these gates here at Fresno Yosemite International,” he said. The current terminal building opened about 60 years ago, Dyer added, but the new construction project dubbed FATForward will be the largest expansion in the terminal’s history.
“This historic expansion program will provide a spacious and efficient transportation facility, ensuring that Fresno’s airport remains a vital part of our growing economy and a source of civic pride in our community,” he said.
City Council President Tyler Maxwell, whose district includes the airport area and east-central Fresno, said that the council’s unanimous approval of money for the FATForward expansion “will be one of the best votes and investments we’ll have ever made as a city, and one that will continue to have an impact felt by this community for generations to come.”
The project comes as Fresno’s airport is experiencing record volumes of passengers in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the last full year before the global pandemic, Fresno Yosemite International Airport had a total of 1.96 million passengers on outbound and inbound flights. After sinking to fewer than 1 million passengers in 2020, demand has rebounded, with a record 2.1 million passengers coming through the airport in 2022.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law chipped in to help with parts of the new project, including about $7.1 million for loading bridges for the new domestic and international gates in the new concourse, $4.6 million for taxiway and terminal development and noise suppression, and $4.4 million to improve the airport runway to benefit private and commercial aviation as well as the Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing based in Fresno.
“I have a personal interest,” Costa added. “I’m in and out of this airport twice a week.”
Henry Thompson, the city’s director of aviation, said planning for the expansion project was in the works for more than five years before reaching the start of construction now. “That’s how long it takes to make something like this happen,” Thompson told The Fresno Bee on Friday.
The first stage of work by contractor Q&D Construction includes a vast new swath of concrete ramp where aircraft will taxi and park for the new concourse. “Then the next phase will be construction of the security checkpoint expansion, and simultaneously we’ll be working on the new Concourse B,” Thompson said. “And while that’s under construction, we’ll be rebuilding a new (federal inspection) facility.”
So by the fall of 2025, all of this will come together and open,” he added. “It’s very specific phasing, but we’ve got to get this concrete poured first because that’s what the terminal sits on.”
A new parking structure at the airport opened in 2021, and future work at the airport will include rebuilding the main Runway 11L/29R and replacing the aging air traffic control tower.
But there’s no firm schedule for those improvements. “We’re still trying to define that,” Thompson said. “There’s a long lead time on the planning, design and environmental work for those pieces before you even get to construction.”
And, he added, there will be a need to figure out how to pay for it. Thompson said federal funding will likely be a big part of the financial planning, particularly for the runway rebuild that could cost between $30 million and $45 million. Preliminary estimates for a new control tower are in the neighborhood of $30 million.