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Up and away

Will Rogers World Airport is set for a $70 million terminal expansion.

Kelley Chambers March 12th, 2014

U.S. Airways plans to add nonstop service between Oklahoma City and Charlotte, N.C., beginning July 2.

The announcement came in a March 4 media release from Will Rogers World Airport.

Airport officials, however, said it won’t be too many more years before the airport cannot add new flights or handle larger aircraft or even international flights with the airport’s current configuration and capacity.

But airport officials have a plan. Mark Kranenburg (pictured), director of airports, said $70 million in infrastructure improvements planned over the next decade will add gates, expand the terminal and make check-in and security screening more efficient for passengers. The last major renovation was completed after a 1998 planning study.

“We’re working in a complex that was designed over 15 years ago,” Kranenburg said.

That design also was completed before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City that resulted in higher standards and Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. The terminal at Will Rogers had to be retrofitted to accommodate those checkpoints.

While the 1998 renovation made the terminal larger, it did not account for the increased demand for flights in the following years.

“While the terminal project expanded the footprint ... we only added one extra gate,” Kranenburg said.

In recent years, airlines have added additional nonstop flights between Oklahoma City and other destinations, which required more available gates for the aircraft. The airport handles five mainline carriers and one low-fare carrier.

Kranenburg said 88 percent of the airport’s 17 gates are currently committed.

One of two remaining gates is smaller and can only handle a regional jet.

“We’re running out of gates,” said Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee, who also serves on the city’s airport trust. “This is a plan to lay the framework so that as additional gates are needed, we can add those gates in an economical and effective manner.”

About 12,000 travelers pass through the airport each day, and Kranenburg said that number will only continue to increase. He said the airport needs to build the new gates on the east end of the terminal.

“As our business environment continues to flourish, we need to be able to meet the growing demands of air service to support economic development and also tourism,” he said.

Airlines also have continued to provide more options to Oklahoma City, but Kranenburg said that could stop if the facilities cannot handle the demand.

When looking at airports similar in size to Will Rogers, the Federal Aviation Administration showed that in recent years, airlines decreased scheduled departing flights in many cities, while only Oklahoma City and Louisville, Ky., saw increases. In the last few years, Oklahoma City has added nonstop service or additional nonstop flights to San Francisco, Cleveland, Atlanta and Orlando, Fla.

“Unlike a lot of airports, the airlines are very bullish on Oklahoma City,” Kranenburg said. “They have increased capacity.”

Part of the plan calls for the demolition of a cargo building on the east side of the terminal so new gates can be constructed. A first phase would add three airliner bays on the east end of the terminal. Later phases would include six additional gates, including at least one that could handle international flights to vacation destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.

“We may not need to do this today, but we need to start planning for future flights as we go forward,” Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch said.

Kranenburg said the city needs to be ready when airlines decide to add flights here or start using larger aircraft. He said airport officials regularly court airlines to add or even increase service here, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

“Sometimes it takes two or three years to cultivate a route,” he said.

Federal grants, bonds and airport revenue will pay for most renovations and will be paid off over 30 years. A portion of the debt for the terminal expansion will be charged to airlines and will be included in their terminal rental rate.

Kranenburg said it will take about 4-6 months to select an architect and engineer and then 12-16 months for design and 24 months for construction. If work began immediately, Kranenburg said the terminal expansion with three new gates would be completed in 2017.

“Without facility expansion, we are going to risk discouraging that future airline growth in the market,” he said.

Growth-related projects
in progress at
Will Rogers World Airport

» Checked Baggage Inspection System (CBIS): Estimated completion in the fourth quarter of 2015.

» Re-striping lines for aircraft parking positions to accommodate larger aircraft.

» Consolidated Rental Car Facility (CONRAC). Construction began in December 2013, and is estimated to be complete in the first quarter of 2015.

» Reclaim rental car spaces for more public parking.

» Complete the terminal and roadway signage study.

» Complete the tunnel repairs and enhancement project.

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