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A New Gateway to California's Central Coast

By Joe Jackson

September 14, 2016


San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport is the gateway to California’s Central Coast. Replacing its undersized and outdated passenger terminal has been a long-term dream of the community. The new replacement was first master planned more than 20 years ago, but suffered from several false starts caused by the after effects of 9/11 and the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009. But through the airport’s determination and our team’s hard work, the terminal is now under construction – providing the community with the terminal they’ve always wanted.

After a multi-year design and funding process, the new passenger terminal broke ground in 2015. The design takes its inspiration from the unique Central Coast environment and the residents’ love of the outdoors.

San Luis Obispo Airport.

The airport’s area is home to world-renowned wineries, the Hearst Castle, and CalPoly. Father Junipero Serra founded the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772 and the Mission church remains an active part of downtown. As a result, San Luis Obispo is a vibrant college town that retains a small-town atmosphere and old California feel. In addition to the city, the county’s small communities scattered along the beaches, coastal hills, and Santa Lucia mountains, support a wide variety of fishing, agriculture, and tourist activities.


The 55,000-square-foot terminal complex draws on the simple lines of the area’s agricultural buildings while incorporating the functionality expected in a modern terminal. Views of the local mountains and vineyards were an important consideration in the placement of the building on the site and the extensive use of glass throughout the structure. The terminal’s unique exterior courtyard connector between the ticketing building and holdrooms takes full advantage of the area’s Mediterranean climate and positively responds to the outdoor lifestyle of the community.

RS&H acted as the airport’s financial consultant. As a result, it will be able to fund all but approximately $2.5 million of the $32.5 million cost with FAA grants and Passenger Facility Charges. The FAA agreed to provide the vast majority of the grant funding in a single year, reflective of the FAA’s confidence in the quality and importance of the project.

San Luis Obsipo Airport.

While the airport chose not to pursue certification, RS&H’s design is LEED Silver equivalent. Moreover, the fundamental concept of the terminal, with its outdoor courtyard connector, natural lighting, and open-air emphasis is responsive to the community’s focus on environmental stewardship and quality of life.

This new, modern terminal will be representative of the California lifestyle – one that community will cherish for years to come.

Topics: Insights, Architecture, Aviation, Case Studies, Planning

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About the Author

Joe Jackson is a Vice President for Aviation at RS&H. His experience includes airport terminal projects, airfield projects, airport planning and Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) programming, airport finance and business issues, airline/airport CIP coordination, environmental planning, Federal Aviation Administration and state grant coordination, and air service analysis. His clients include airports ranging in size from the largest airports in the world to general aviation fields as well as many major airlines.

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