The nation’s major airports find themselves in the midst of a massive facilities makeover as rising passenger numbers, coupled with air-carrier stability, have spurred a spate of capital projects. According to U.S. Bureau of Transportation statistics, U.S. airlines’ domestic and international passenger enplanements reached a seasonally adjusted all-time high of 71.6 million in July, part of a 12.6% systemwide increase recorded over the past three years.

And with route and service realignments from the most recent air-carrier mergers and acquisitions now settled, Christopher Oswald, Airports Council International-North America’s vice president of safety and regulatory affairs, says many airports currently have “a high level of confidence that they can bank on stability and growth for some time.”

Unexpected increases in passenger traffic led New Orleans to add five gates to its in-progress North Terminal project, securing its carriers’ approval to delay completion of the now $993-million project until early 2019. In Chicago, O’Hare International Airport is developing a $7-billion expansion plan that calls for a new international terminal to complement the already announced gate additions to domestic terminals.

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This summer, Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport launched a $1-billion program to improve access inside terminals straining to handle 26 million passengers annually—nearly twice their design capacity.

Even relatively new airports find themselves in need of improvements. Pittsburgh International Airport has proposed replacing its 25-year old landside terminal as part of a proposed $1.1-billion overhaul. Denver International Airport (DIA), in operation for just over two decades, begins a $650-million renovation of its main terminal’s Great Hall next summer to make better use of currently under­used ticketing-area space. Existing counters will be replaced mostly with kiosks, freeing up room for advanced passenger screening systems on the same level.

“We have more origin-destination passengers than the facility was designed for and more airlines than ever,” says Stu Williams, Denver project manager.

Denver is also among the airports taking advantage of nontraditional project delivery methods. The Great Hall renovation is part of a 34-year, $1.8-billion public-private partnership; Madrid-based Ferrovial Airports is the P3’s lead.

Similarly, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey will rely heavily on private investment to complement state and local resources in funding a $10-billion suite of major projects to accommodate projected growth at JFK International Airport. Upgrades to LaGuardia Airport also are benefitting from Delta Airlines’ self-financed, $4-billion renovation of its primary passenger facility. 

Oswald observes that airports, like other public owners, have long wrestled with balancing P3 financing advantages with maintaining an acceptable level of operational control over the end result. Williams says DIA “had to work hard” to achieve a comfort level with its P3 plan, noting that, since design and construction oversight is similar to design-build and construction manager-at-risk, “that process is pretty much the same.”