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"Hartsfield projects abound"
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Airport projects abound
As international terminal prepares for debut, other changes already in sight
By Kelly Yamanouchi
The Atlanta (GA) Journal-Constitution
Hartsfield-Jackson International begins a new era with the opening of its
international terminal a week from Wednesday, but it’s hardly the final
expansion planned for the world’s busiest airport.
A wide range of other airport improvements and expansions are under way, being
planned or still possible. They include a revamp of roads leading to the main
terminal, a runway extension and concourse expansions, as well as the
possibility of a sixth runway and a new south gate complex.
“We’re building for the future,” Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Louis
The airport’s biggest tenant, Delta Air Lines, also is looking ahead. CEO
Richard Anderson said last week the airport could also expand by adding
Concourses G and H, with Delta moving its hangars in that area to former Ford
plant land the airport acquired last year.
That is only an idea at this point, but many projects under way or planned are
already part of the airport’s more than $6 billion capital improvement plan,
laid out after a 1999 update of its master plan. The plan gave rise to a fifth
runway and the international terminal, along with other major additions like
the rental car center.
Airport officials recently started a new effort to update the master plan to
examine what projects should be planned for the future — its first such
review in 12 years.
In the background is the nagging question of a second airport. There’s none
in the plans for the near future, but the idea seems never to go away entirely,
perhaps because Atlanta is one of the few major American cities with only one
A study funded in part by the Federal Aviation Administration concluded last
year that there are no feasible sites for a second airport.
Unless that changes, the focus will be back on expanding Hartsfield-Jackson.
The airport, on a 4,700-acre plot bordered by the cities of Atlanta, College
Park, Hapeville, East Point and Forest Park and by Fulton and Clayton counties,
still has some available space and some facilities that could be moved.
Of projects already in the works, among the most noticeable will be the
makeover of the approach roads to the main terminal. The aim is to eliminate
“problematic lane changes” and other complications of the maze-like tangle
of roads, the airport says. Work starts this summer and will be done in about
The airport also is working toward an expansion of the centers of Concourses C
and D to enlarge those claustrophobic areas and allow room for additional
restaurants or shops. Also planned is a modernization of the airport’s aging
escalators and elevators.
A $45.5 million, 500-foot extension of one of the airport’s five runways is
under way, to allow enough room for large jets to take off with a full load
when hot temperatures during the summer decrease air density and make it more
difficult to get off the ground.
And Hartsfield-Jackson is close to finalizing a contract for modifications to
gates on Concourse E and taxiway widening to accommodate the world’s largest
passenger airplane, the Airbus A380, part of some $30 million in improvements
to prepare for the super-jumbo jet. Korean Air plans to begin flying the A380
on its Atlanta-Seoul route starting Jan. 13, 2013.
“It’s a very dynamic, ever-changing place,” said Nick Parker, who is
working on the master plan at Hartsfield-Jackson.
Where does all the money come from? Airport work is funded through a
combination of passenger facility charges, airline lease and landing fee
payments, revenue from airport operations like concessions and parking, and
federal grants. The revenue streams are often used to back bonds or other
Some improvements are aimed at adding passenger conveniences. The airport is
installing huge interactive touch-screen directories at the international
terminal in its new Concourse F gate area and expects to eventually roll those
out in the main terminal and other concourses. Also planned is an online
parking reservation system.
Miller hopes to eventually open travel plazas near the airport with amenities
such as gas stations and eateries.
One of the perks most requested by travelers has been free Wi-Fi, which is
offered at many other major airports.
Miller plans a revamp of Hartsfield-Jackson’s fee-based Wi-Fi offerings
through advertising or branding partnerships, adding, “I’d like to see [the
fee] get down to nothing” eventually.
More than 92 million passengers used Hartsfield-Jackson in 2011, and the FAA
forecasts more than 100 million passengers using the Atlanta airport in 2015,
and as many as 188 million passengers in 2040. The master plan update seeks to
answer how Hartsfield-Jackson could handle such an increase.
The airport could need more gates or concourses, perhaps another runway,
additional parking and other development.
But some of those additions — particularly a sixth runway, which was
discussed but dropped when the fifth was added — can create conflict with
communities surrounding the airport.
The airport last fall struck a contract worth up to $3 million in the first
year with aviation consulting firm Ricondo & Associates to do the master plan
update over about two years. The airport plans to eventually hold public input
Beyond the airport’s borders, the international terminal was expected to
drive more commercial development in the area east of the airport. But such
development has been in wait-and-see mode after the sluggish economic
conditions of the past few years.
While some airports like Washington Dulles have worked to attract Fortune 500
companies and other commercial activity to areas near the airport, at
Hartsfield-Jackson, “there’s not nearly the quality of development you see
around other airports,” planning director Tom Nissalke
a master plan session with the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Meanwhile, many other major U.S. airports continue to expand and change,
consultant and former airport manager Bill Fife said.
“For a dynamic region like Atlanta’s,” he said, “being in the
forefront, as opposed to having a facility that’s from the 1950s or ’60s or
something, is very important.”
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