While passengers search for their gate or a place to eat, an ongoing renovation and improvement project has the team at Burlington International Airport thinking outside the box.
While the project began several months ago, the airport got a huge shot in the arm Monday when Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) announced the largest single grant award the airport has ever received – $15.9 million.
The grant comes from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to continue the airport’s work on a parallel taxiway. The funding will allow for the reconstruction of Taxiway G to the existing taxiway B/K intersection generating a full parallel taxiway with the main Runway 15/33. Officials say the parallel taxiway will create a more efficient operation and reduce noise levels for residents along Airport Drive.
Gene Richards, Director of Aviation at Burlington International Airport, was thrilled with the news of the grant.
“We are very grateful for the opportunity provided by the congressional delegation and the FAA to finish BTV’s first ever parallel taxiway to the main runway,” he said. “The $15.9 million grant ... will allow the airport to function at the highest level.”
The complete Taxiway G extension will create a single taxiway parallel to Runway 15-33 and link to the current Taxiway K. Construction of the first phase, at current Taxiway K, started early November 2015 and was completed in July 2016. Construction of the second phase started in October 2016 and was completed in October 2018. The final phase of construction is scheduled to commence in 2020.
But the parallel taxiway is just one of several projects the airport is pursuing in an effort to update and modernize. From a consolidated TSA checkpoint to creating a seamless connection between concourses, there are already several factors in motion.
Early to rise
“It’s quite an amazing feeling of what the airport could become, and what it will become is versatile,” said Richards.
It’s also become quite busy. With a large apron project underway, the airport has had limited use of the northern concourse and put the weight of passenger and air traffic on its second concourse to the south. Mornings are far from sleepy. Despite the hour, the airport sees its highest traffic during the early morning flights, before 8 a.m.
With enplanements also up nearly 14 percent over the previous year, the airport has had to create solutions to accommodate not only lengthening TSA checkpoint lines but also other issues that come with increased use.
The airport’s master plan, a 20-year technical document that helps guide airport development and management, keeps up with Federal Aviation Administration standards and industry changes and considers potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts. The airport shared data and general information about the plan with the public in March.
The FAA requires commercial service airports to re-examine their master plan every seven to 10 years. The master plan and an airport layout plan not only provide a vision of how to develop the airport to address facility deficiencies, but it is also essential to be considered for funding.
“If we have another economic shift, we’re going to be ready for it,” Richards said. “The good thing is that we won’t have huge amounts of deferred payments.”
Nic Longo, the deputy director at the airport, broke down the airport’s long and short-term goals.
“We have three challenges at our terminal: the TSA, the seating capacity inside the building and the physical parking spaces outside those buildings for aircraft,” he explained.
The long-term plan for increased safety and efficiency with the TSA is to have one checkpoint. But coming up millions for the project wasn’t as feasible as the airport’s temporary fix: the use of Conex boxes – shipping containers that will be used to conjoin the two concourses. The walkway will cost only $300,000 in comparison.
“It’s using real estate we already have,” Richards said. “We’re not spending a lot of money. It’s a process of upgrading security in this area so we won’t have to do that later when we do the merger of making one TSA checkpoint.”
“We made a jet bridge for Frontier, United and American,” he continued, elaborating that the storage containers have been the airport’s financial saving grace. “We can’t afford a million-dollar jet bridge, but we can buy a $5,000 Conex box to keep people out of the elements.”
Dubbed by Longo as a “grown up LEGO set,” the containers receive the carpeting, lighting, rails – all the amenities that traditional bridges get. An added benefit is that the containers are reusable.
Once a centralized TSA checkpoint is built, the extra space will make room for seating and concessions.
Longo said the airport is moving forward with applying for another substantial FAA grant to pay for the expansion, which will cost approximately $20 million for the consolidation, including redesigning the hallway.
“We’re moving forward with design this year, which is not a low-cost design,” Longo said. “Any vertical (build) is a pretty significant design and then we’re applying for grant funding next year for this.”
He said it could eventually be built in 24 months.
“This is one of the most aggressive projects I’ve been on and one of the most exciting because it truly is changing this terminal,” Longo said.
Make way for aircraft and amenities
In April, the airport continued updating its aprons, the area where aircraft are parked, loaded and unloaded, boarded and refueled. The construction resulted in a shuffling of airlines’ concourse destinations. Longo confirmed that the project will be wrapping up in under 10 weeks. This is a $25 million project and the next upgrade will be in 25 years.
Also planned is the installation of a million-gallon holding tank. The airport treats an estimated 22 million gallons of stormwater annually through an underground treatment system to prevent contaminants from discharging into the Winooski River.
Nearby, a Quick Turn Around car wash facility is being built to replace the older existing facility. This is projected to be completed by December.
The southern end of the existing parking garage will soon be home to a five-story, 102-room Fairfield Inn & Suites hotel. The airport is hoping to break ground on the hotel in October.
Inside, on the second floor where the concourses will be connected, patrons of the airport will soon have access to a museum dedicated to Abenaki history.
For those traveling with canine companions, a Service Animal Relief Area will be a new amenity on the same floor.
All of these improvements and amenities circle back to the airport’s master plan and the FAA’s requirement that the plan be re-evaluated every seven to 10 years in order to stay current with environmental and socioeconomic needs.
“We really need to see the best days of the airport, which we believe may be right now right here, to some of the worst days – what happens when a recession happens?” Longo said. “We want to plan and be flexible to accommodating planes, still accommodating the small planes and what the future looks like at the airport.”
For complete information regarding the airport’s master plan process, visit http://btvmasterplan.com.