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Salt Lake Airport plans renovations

As a destination resort that markets itself heavily on its proximity to an international airport, the recent announcement that the Salt Lake City International Airport is planning a major renovation is both exciting and terrifying.

In the past, airport administrators have proposed similar redevelopment plans, which were cut short due to a drop in demand for an increase in capacity. Because of Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, terminal traffic forecasts for future demand, the airport has been given permission to reinitiate plans for an expansion.

On June 8, airport administrators met for an Environmental Assessment and Project Scoping Meeting to outline various options for renovations and the reasons behind the renewed interest in airport expansion, airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann said.

For two years the airport has gathered quarterly surveys from travelers on how to improve airport facilities and this feedback has influenced the redesign.

The proposed Terminal Redevelopment Program will replace existing terminals and facilities and calls for constructing new, more efficient concourses to expand airport capacity.

Necessary Redesign

Many airport facilities, including terminals are nearing the end of their design life and require ongoing and expensive maintenance, according to project meeting notes posted online at http://www.slcairport.com. As well as being inefficient for aircraft traffic, many of the aging terminals and facilities are not energy efficient.

The issues of energy and traffic efficiency will be a driving force in the way the terminals and concourses are redesigned. Because of the "U" shape of the current terminal layout, planes are forced to wait in line both to dock at a terminal and to taxi to runways, leading to airfield congestion and increased aircraft emissions and fuel use.

The redevelopment proposal also cites terminal layout as a contributor to inefficient passenger transfers and a lack of space for concessions and vendors.

The Need to Grow

The Salt Lake airport has outgrown its initial responsibility as a small origin and destination airport to become a major hub for national and international flights, Gann said.

Of the 20 million total travelers the airport saw in 2009, almost half were just for connecting flights – a demand the airport was not initially designed to serve, she added.

After acquiring Western Airlines, Delta Air Lines made Salt Lake City a hub for Delta traffic, which contributed to the increase in connecting flights. Delta has continued to grow and today, 75 to 78 percent of all of the airport’s traffic is through Delta Air Lines, said Gann.

According to the project proposal, from 2002 to 2005, the airport saw huge increases in airfield traffic and in 2005 annual aircraft operations reached nearly 450,000, just shy of the estimated full capacity of the airport’s existing runways.

Last year terminal gates averaged 6.7 "turns," or arrival/departure cycles, per day, equaling about 375,000 annual aircraft operations for 2009. Though projections dip slightly over the next two years, by 2012 the FAA reports that annual aircraft operations will begin to steadily increase.

Proposed Renovations

The proposed redevelopment includes phased reconstruction over approximately eight years of the three current terminals and the addition of one new terminal. Existing terminals and parking facilities will be demolished for the construction of a four terminal-concourse layout similar to those of the Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth international airports, featuring parallel concourses adjacent to the terminal for less airfield congestion.

Next to a new, consolidated central terminal will be a new parking structure and rental facilities, alongside road and ramp improvements, which will accommodate the proposed terminal and help reduce congestion on the airport road system.

New mechanical and utilities plants will also be constructed to power and maintain the new terminal set-up. Renovation and reconstruction will make the airport more energy efficient and cost effective to maintain.

The phased growth of the terminals and concourses will meet projected growth of aircraft operations for the next 10 years and will maintain Salt Lake’s ability to be a national and international hub.

The Future

This November, the airport will finish environmental analyses and will begin finalizing renovation plans over the next year.

Though the plan is only a conceptual footprint of the final project, Gann said construction on a first phase of the airport could begin as early as next year. Because the plan is in such an early stage she said there are not yet any cost estimates for the whole redevelopment.

"The airport is in a very good financial position and it’s perfect timing to begin even one piece of the project in the next year," Gann said.

The construction will be completed in phases to keep traffic moving through the airport at normal levels. Though there may be some delays, the nature of the phases allows the airport to plan custom timetables for different parts of construction to ease traffic constraints.

"We want to build the right airport at the right time," Gann said.

The next scheduled public hearing on the project set for next summer.


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