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SANTA ROSA -- Construction is officially underway in the runway expansion of the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport, a project that will bring the airport’s runways up to current federal standards and potentially attract new commercial airlines and add destinations.

With four distinct phases, the project is expected to be completed in late 2014.

A number of commercial carriers have expressed interest in providing flights from the airport in recent years, including Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways, according to airport officials.

Regional leaders in business and tourism have speculated that an expanded list of destinations could be a significant economic boost, particularly for eastbound destinations such as Denver and Salt Lake City.

“If we have an airport here that serves eastbound traffic, we will clearly put Sonoma County on the map in the business community,” said Jonathan Coe, president and chief executive of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce.

He noted that companies such as Medtronic and Agilent Technologies have large units in Sonoma County and are often users of eastbound flights from hubs like San Francisco or Oakland.

Ken Fischang, chief executive of Sonoma County Tourism, said that visitors arriving via Sonoma County Airport add around $1.5 billion to the county’s economy and generate around $95 million in taxes. A total of around 7.5 million people visit the county every year, he said.

[Read more of "Sonoma County Airport expansion project gets off ground," Sept. 9, p. 1.]