Bigger concourses, other improvements planned; ‘Southwest effect’ cited
By Allyson Bird
Friday, January 21, 2011
Local airport officials plan to make their first major changes in 25 years, expanding both concourses and all passenger comforts — from concessions to seating and restrooms — just in time for the crowd Southwest Airlines is expected to bring.
The Charleston County Aviation Authority on Thursday approved a layout plan for Charleston International Airport that now it must submit for Federal Aviation Administration approval. The group also signed off on a contract for an environmental assessment that the FAA requires before redevelopment begins.
Airports Director Sue Stevens said the project would carry the airport into the next several decades.
“This is important stuff,” she said. “It’s a blueprint for the terminal and for the airport itself.”
Most notably, the proposal more than doubles the size of Concourse A, and it increases Concourse B by about half its current space. The plan also expands the baggage claim area, adding a third carousel.
Experts predict that Southwest and the resulting ” Southwest effect” on the markets it serves could save travelers to and from Charleston $180 million a year, while also bringing an extra 200,000 passengers through the airport annually.
The Dallas-based discount carrier will begin flights to and from Charleston on March 13.
“We know we’re going to need additional facilities to process all these people,” Stevens said. She added that the average passenger used to spend a half-hour or so waiting to depart, but that travelers now spend about two hours hanging out at airports.
“Because of security, travel times have changed,” she said.
The concourse expansions include additional seating, shops, restaurants and restrooms to accommodate those people. Other, secondary elements of the plan include another parking deck and an expanded rental car lot.
Stevens would not disclose cost estimates, since the aviation authority has not yet seen them.
She said funding would come from the FAA, rent paid by companies that operate at the airport and the passenger facility fee, a $4.50 charge that airlines tack onto their fares, then forward to Charleston International to pay for capital improvements such as this project.
Airport officials plan to move into the design phase of the plan this year, with construction set to begin in 2012.
Aviation Authority Chairman Chip Limehouse, also a South Carolina state representative, said the change could mark Charleston’s shift from a travel destination to a hub, thanks to Southwest and the Boeing plant being built here.
He added that the airport needs a more modern look to greet those businesses and the people they bring to town.
“We’re 25 years old,” Limehouse said. “And we are in need of a face-lift.”
Copyright © 1995 – 2011 Evening Post Publishing Co.
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