Santa Maria Airport proves Aesop’s wisdom

Santa Maria, North County and all of California were hit hard by the Great Recession. Some places responded with hand-wringing, worrying and sheep-like bleating to elected officials for a government program of one sort or another.  There is no renewed prosperity on that path.

Perhaps we have been guilty of some fretting ourselves. Perhaps Santa Maria is not a perfect picture of fiscal health, but it could be doing a lot worse. And that would not be good for the area, because a healthy Santa Maria is essential to the well-being of North County.

On the other hand, Santa Maria benefits from a healthy Buellton, Lompoc, Vandenberg, etc.  It is in the best interest of each for all to be healthy.

Recall Aesop’s fable, a practical illustration of strength in unity. It is easy to break one stick at a time. It is not so easy to break a group of sticks bundled together.

With that in mind, consider the Santa Maria Airport. It may be in Santa Maria, but it is a jewel for all of North County.

Begin with the radar system. It was installed about seven years ago and it helps guide Central Coast air traffic between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This includes flights into and out of both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

SMX has a runway that is almost 2,000 feet longer than the longest runway in either Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo. The runway is one of the reasons travelers can fly non-stop to Hawaii now.

Allegiant Air uses that runway to fly travelers to Hawaii on a Boeing 757. That is a big airplane, much bigger than anything flying into or out of the airports located 35 miles north or 65 miles south. Hopefully, neither Santa Barbara nor SLO develops an inferiority complex — although one might be entirely appropriate.

In addition, Allegiant Air provides service to and from Las Vegas, and Skywest/United flies to and from LAX. Efforts are continuing to add service to other cities as well.

SMX has amenities that serve both commercial and general aviation. SMX is home to the Central Coast Jet Center, CALSTAR Air Ambulance Service, and the supply base for the U.S. Forest Service firefighting team. Additionally, both the Museum of Flight and the Radisson Hotel are on the airport grounds.

The entire region enjoys benefits from the activities that occur around the Santa Maria Airport. At the same time, SMX enjoys benefits from the activities that occur throughout the region.

For example, the success of efforts aimed at increasing travel options from SMX depends on having travelers. Many of the travelers needed to justify more flights live in Santa Maria, but many also live throughout North County. For that matter, many live in Nipomo and the Five Cities in southern SLO County.

Travel options become more viable if SMX thinks like a regional airport rather than a municipal one. And a robust regional economy will help make SMX busier. In turn, a busier SMX contributes to a healthy regional economy. Each contributes to the well-being of the other. SMX illustrates the benefits of a regional approach.

No amount of fretting will expand our regional economy; only work will do that. We need to roll up our sleeves and go to work, together. If we unite and work cooperatively as a region, we will be like the bundle of sticks in Aesop’s fable. There is strength in the unity that comes from common purpose. That is the surest path to prosperity for all.

1/10/13  Trent Benedetti / Improving North County  (Trent Benedetti is a member of the board of directors of the Committee to Improve North County and a long-time local business owner.)