Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Airport plans on just 1 terminal

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HEBRON - Airport board members Monday got a first glimpse at what the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport could look like in 30 years, and it's radically different from the airport now.

The terminal-area master plan, updated at a cost of $1.2 million, calls for the airlines to be relocated into just one terminal: an expanded version of Terminal 3 that would include more ticket-counter space and a larger security checkpoint.

The other two terminals, including the 56-year-old Terminal 1, would be phased out, along with their combined 17 gates.

The roadways into and out of the airport would be redesigned and straightened, making it easier to reach the new terminal from Interstate 275 and to leave the airport.

Bill Martin, airport director of planning, presented those highlights to the board Monday, with the plan's details to be divulged at a special board meeting May 27.

One of those details not released Monday was the estimated cost.

But Martin said the plan is affordable and allows the airport to build when needs require it.

"A goal we set initially was that this would be financially feasible and flexible," Martin said. "With one terminal, we can take a bite at a time. And we can rely on existing infrastructure that includes existing parking, instead of having to build something new from scratch."

The 1994 plan called for the demolition of Terminal 1 and 2, and construction of a new terminal. The estimated cost then of that project was $800 million.

Martin would not say whether the updated plan would cost more or less.

Other highlights of the new plan:

• A new concourse west of the terminal that would be connected by underground rail, as are Terminal 3's A and B concourses. This "Concourse D" could eventually replace Comair's Concourse C, and would serve both larger jets and smaller regional jets.

• Expansion of concourses A and B, which now have 42 large-jet gates and 12 regional gates combined.

• Creation of a "transportation center" on either end of the new single terminal to handle all incoming bus traffic. A connection to a proposed light rail system running to downtown Cincinnati and beyond would be north of the terminal.

• Installing a "people mover" system from north of the terminal through the light rail stop and around the remade building. That parking could be expanded off existing garages and lots.

• Opening up land for development near the airport around a proposed new employee parking garage. An existing hotel would be moved.

Martin said airlines as well as concessionaires were consulted extensively for the plan.

Officials with Delta Air Lines, which operates its second-largest hub out of Terminal 3, did not return calls seeking comment.

Officials with Erlanger-based Comair, which operates the most flights locally, said the plan needed to consider the company's needs long-term.

"And it appears that this does that very thing," Comair spokesman Nick Miller said.

Martin said the new plan takes into account greater security needs as well as the changing airline landscape, which now includes several partnerships between domestic carriers.

"We can take one piece of the puzzle out at a time and can be very flexible with this," Martin said.

One such partnership among Delta, Northwest Airlines and Continental Airlines affects the airport directly.

Both Northwest, currently in Terminal 1, and Continental, in Terminal 2, have said they would move to Terminal 3 and give up their five existing gates to allow their customers to change to Delta flights more easily.

"This looks good, but like anything else with these things, it includes a lot of things that will never happen," said board member Ralph Drees, who also announced he was resigning his board seat after 13 years.

"But I think it's wise for them to consolidate into one building. Heck, you could make the argument that you could now, as little traffic we get in terminals 1 and 2."

Also Monday:

The airport board voted unanimously to approve a recommendation that it change the way it charges off-site parking lots to access the terminals with courtesy vans.

The fee of $600 a van each year will now go up to $1,200 a year for the remainder of the year.

In January, the fee structure will change to take 1 percent of each company's gross receipts.

That percentage will rise annually to reach a point of 2.5 percent in January 2006.

The increase was criticized by the off-site parking lot owners, who said they would have to raise their rates to stay profitable.

E-mail jpilcher@enquirer.com.

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