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"Two New Concourses to Debut at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport"


 
Friday, May 31, 2002

Two New Concourses to Debut at Minneapolis-St. Paul International
Airport
Saint Paul Pioneer Press, Minn.


Travelers are likely to give a warm welcome to the latest improvements
at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, mostly because the new
terminal there will keep them from the cold.

Two new concourses open Saturday and will comprise the airport's new
regional terminal, built especially for Northwest Airlines' fleet of
smaller planes that serve dozens of smaller Midwestern cities.

The 30 new gates -- plus six additional gates that can handle
Northwest's larger regional jets -- create what the airport and
Northwest believe to be the most passenger-friendly regional terminal in
the business.

The new terminal has proved popular enough that Northwest is reportedly
considering changing its new regional terminal in Detroit, which debuted
only three months ago, to look more like the one here.

Tops on the creature comfort list: jet bridges, or the enclosed tubes
extending from airport terminals to the planes themselves.

Only a handful of airports feature them for smaller regional jets.
Passengers typically have to brave the conditions to ride buses to get
to those planes, taking steps through slush, ice and rain to get on
board.

For Northwest's regional airline partners, the improvements will make
their jobs easier and likely improve on-time performance.

"If you have said to me five years ago that we would be loading our
passengers through jet bridges, I'd would have thought you were smoking
something,"said Jeff Wehrenberg, vice president of operations for Mesaba
in the Twin Cities. Mesaba hired about 80 additional gate agents and
ground employees to help get ready to run the larger terminal, he said.

Regional jets -- those generally with 50 or fewer seats -- represent the
growth area for Northwest, which admits it lags behind other large
airlines in using the cost-efficient planes. Northwest has ordered 170
regional jets, and has introduced several to the Twin Cities in the past
year. Northwest also uses a fleet of 34-seat Saab 340 turboprops and
69-seat Avro regional jets that are operated by Twin Cities-based Mesaba
Airlines.

Of the half-dozen new routes Northwest has announced from the Twin
Cities in the past year, nearly all of them are being flown using the
smaller jets compared with larger"mainline"planes like the DC-9 or
Airbus A320.

The regional terminal and six additional gates on the"C"concourse
represent an $85 million chunk of a $250 million terminal expansion
project, said Metropolitan Airports Commission's Denny Probst. The
project finished on time with a several-million-dollar cost overrun
related to some last-minute redesign."It's the last major expansion of
the main terminal,"said Probst, who as director of landside development
has overseen the airport's $2.5 billion expansion.

The new terminal blends with previous expansions: dark blue signs
against grey and off-white interiors, all encased in glass to let in as
much light as possible on dreary winter days. At eight-tenths of a mile,
the structure that holds the A and C concourses needs lots of moving
walkways to move people quickly. A short tunnel linking the A and B
concourses will have backlit glass panels and mirrors on the ceiling.

"You can't build a tunnel today without having a light show,"Probst
said. The 30 new gates replace a cramped offshoot of the C concourse
where regional airplane passengers were corralled before boarding buses
to reach their planes.

The new digs will have a slight hitch for a few months: A delay in
removing the old post office at the airport has left a sizeable
unfinished gap in the C concourse. To reach the new regional terminal,
passengers will still need to board a bus for a brief shuttle ride.

Probst said the"gap"will be finished by early December if not sooner,
and eventually an elevated tram will run alongside the 4,300-foot-long
concourse and speed passengers to the regional terminal.

For Northwest, the new terminal means it controls 93 of 117 gates at the
airport, or nearly 80 percent. The only higher percentage of gates
controlled at a hub airport nationwide is in Memphis, where Northwest
controls nearly 90 percent, according to research from Salomon Smith
Barney.

By controlling more gates at a hub airport, airlines can increase their
margins. Northwest flies eight of every 10 seats flown from the Twin
Cities, including two of every three passengers whose journey starts or
ends here.


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