An aerial view of San Bernardino International Airport in California.
SBD is already a busy cargo airport and hopes to soon become an even busier passenger airport.
San Bernardino International was hired out to film-makers to boost funds in the days before the airport was passenger ready.
Stater Bros plan to open its largest distribution centre in the US onsite at SBD in 2008.

For San Bernardino International Airport (SBD), is undergoing an incredible transformation. From air force base to blockbuster film set to busy cargo airfield, the California airstrip has been constantly reinventing itself over the last 60 years. Now, thanks to a £350m cash injection, SBD has been reborn as a fully-fledged passenger airport.

There has been an airport at San Bernardino since the 1940s. Norton Air Force Base, as it was known, was built as a supply and transit point for troops heading for the Pacific. When it closed in 1994, over 10,000 jobs were lost and the city fell into a near terminal decline.

When the military closed Norton down they handed the site to the Inland Valley Development Agency (IVDA), which runs the non-aviation portion of the airport alongside the San Bernardino International Airport Authority (SBIAA), which operates the aviation arm.

When the IVDA and the SBIAA breathed new life into the old military base, the San Bernardino was set for the big time.

With a newly reconstructed 3,408m x 61m runway, over 200 acres of paved ramp areas, new Category I Instrument Landing System (ILS), automated weather observation system III, fair weather climate and 24/7 service capability, San Bernardino is a now a fully certified FAA Part 139 airport. A non-federal control tower commenced operations at the airport on 9 November 2008.

San Bernardino hopes to launch a passenger service soon and, finally, become an international airport.

“SBD has transformed itself from air force base to blockbuster film set to busy cargo airfield.”

On 23 September 2009 IVDA approved an incentive package for airliners that promised up to $1m in revenue guarantees per year for the first two years of operation, among other benefits. Airport authorities say a single airliner is planning to operate at the airport, while another airliner may be interested.

Airport authorities broke ground for a new US-customs and immigration facility at the airport in October 2009. This customs facility forms part of a $20m Million Air (fixed base operation company) terminal which opened at the airport in May 2010. The 18,000ft² customs facility is scheduled for completion by mid 2011.

A contract for operating and managing the airport was awarded to Aviation Facilities Company (AFCO) on 27 July 2009. The duration of the contract is five years. AvPorts, the management division of AFCO, will manage the operations.

The contract, which was implemented from 1 September 2009, allows AvPorts to receive 50% of the net income generated from future airport operations. The airport authority made the contractual terms rewarding to the operator in order to encourage new business activity at the airport premises.

Building a business

San Bernardino International Airport has been built thanks to some astute business operations. Whilst the SBIAA has developed the air cargo and heavy aircraft maintenance services you might expect of an airport, the IVDA has thought a little more outside the box.

They have developed an impressive portfolio of property spread over 2,100 acres and home to over 500 companies including Stater Bros (a privately owned supermarket chain) which, on 5 October 2009, opened the largest distribution centre in the US onsite. The airport has also been rented out to film crews with blockbusters including The Aviator, The Fast and the Furious and Bad Boys filmed at SBD.

Rebuilding the site

Since Norton Air Force Base became San Bernardino International Airport in 1994, an estimated £350m has been spent on improvements to the site. Over £40m has been spent on upgrading the infrastructure, allowing the commercial property and air cargo elements of the airport to flourish.

Now, as San Bernardino gears up to become a fully operational passenger airport, over £15m has been spent building a runway capable of hosting Boeing 747s, nearly £20m has gone on building a four-gate passenger terminal and over £4m has been invested to widen roads leading to the airport in eastern San Bernardino. The main terminal building underwent renovation worth $80m.

Increase in operations

San Bernardino has geared up for life as a passenger airport by increasing its operations significantly. The SBIAA owns a Million Air franchise, allowing it to offer an upscale aviation service to its new customers. They also expanded the international charter business and built a customs and immigration centre.


“San Bernardino hopes to launch a passenger service soon and become an international airport.”

This is not the first time big things have been planned for San Bernardino. An earlier attempt to turn the airport into a cargo hub failed when the target client DHL opted to go elsewhere and, in the late 1990s, Santa Barbara Aerospace and American Air Carriers Support tried to operate out of the airport and both went bankrupt.

"For scheduled airlines, this is the low-cost facility close to the fastest-growing part of the state," said Scot Spencer, manager of SBD Aircraft Services. "

If you were an airline operating six flights a day into San Bernardino and compared fees to other California airports, you would save an average $3m a year to operate here. You would save on every fee."