SACRAMENTO COUNTY (CBS13) — The Sacramento International Airport may finally be digging its way out of debt, as for the first time in years, the number of people flying has gone up.

Sacramento County borrowed $1 billion to build the airport’s Terminal B just as the recession started. The airport pays tens of millions of dollars toward that loan a year, as the number of fliers had dropped 18 percent over seven years.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel as the airport is seeing a nearly two percent increase in passengers, and that number is expected to go up even more.

“For the first 7 months of the calendar year we are up 1.7 percent,” said airport director John Wheat. “Every year has been down so hopefully we’ve hit the bottom and we will see an upswing.”

Sacramento County Supervisor says the county will pay $75 million a year until 2041 to pay off that bond debt. More passengers would ease that $1 billion burden.

“No question it put a strain on our financials out at the airport,” he said. “Grow your local economy so the users both folks that travel to and from but those that will visit and for business; that will help build the passenger load over time.”

To help, the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes to increase the number of events to entice travelers.

“We are not a San Francisco or a New York we don’t have a Statue of Liberty or Golden Gate Bridge, so it’s incumbent on us to design things that draw visitors to Sacramento,” said spokesman Mike Testa.

A new downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings and more national conventions will help increase passenger numbers over time, but airport officials admit there’s no quick and easy fix.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” Wheat said. “There’s still a long ways for us to go.”


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