If you’ve ever struggled to cool your jets in a long security checkpoint line at Southwest Florida International, know there are airport expansion plans designed to ease your pain.
But it’s going to take four more years before the big relief comes.
Meantime, things could get worse. Analysis shows wait times could soar to more than two hours if passenger traffic soared beyond its current levels during peak hours, in the peak winter travel months.
The expansion will cost between $150 million and $180 million, shift shops and restaurants to post-security spaces and enlarge the passenger terminal’s second floor.
Project design could begin this year and the work go out for bids the last half of 2019 –with construction starting in 2020 and completion targeted for 2022.
Lee County Port Authority also wants to update passenger check-in areas inside and outside the terminal, at an estimated cost between $7 million and $10 million.
The plans go to Lee airports’ citizen-advisers Feb. 20. County commissioners sitting as the port authority board will weigh-in on the design contract on March 8.
Also in the plan: a lounge for international travelers.
This all has to be done while operating airport business as usual.
To accomplish that, spots in the two high-ceilinged atriums would be outfitted for limited food and-beverage service, pre-security. And, the existing row of restaurants and retailers in the non-secured area would first be relocated to the concourses.
Because even more room is required for this super-checkpoint area, the walls on the second floor also would be bumped-out to expand the terminal further into the airfield side.
The main goal of this renovation: Slash passenger wait times at security screening checkpoints during peak hours in the peak season months – without overbuilding for reduced passenger demand during the rest of the year.
Secondarily, port authority officials believe it will reduce the need for extra, in-season TSA staffing.
Also, they expect concession revenues will rise, because most shops and restaurants now in the pre-security area would relocate to beyond the checkpoints, where fliers spend more time and dollars.
Walt Justice, a health care consultant who flies from here on business, hasn’t endured the occasionally epic lines in February, March or early April, which might stretch from checkpoints into the atriums and around the corner, to the ticketing area.
That’s probably because Justice doesn’t need to depart between noon and 1 p.m., the hour identified as RSW’s year-round peak.
But he loved the idea of more food-and-beverage options, post-security.
He’s a Delta customer, and says choices on Concourse C are limited.
“I don’t want to eat and then go through the checkpoint. I want to go through security, eat … and then get on the plane.”
Port Authority numbers for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2017 show gross receipts for food and beverage sales averaged $1.11 per departing passenger from the pre-security concessions – and anywhere from $4.41 to $5.43 per outbound passenger on the concourses.
Non-food retailing averaged 98 cents per passenger land side, with averages ranging from $2.74 to $3.68 on the concourses.
The port authority gets a cut of the concessions revenues, which funds operating the airport.
Projects like the terminal expansion typically are funded through state and federal transportation department grants – and airport-earned revenues. No property tax dollars are involved.
Among U.S. airports, Southwest Florida Internationa encounters some of the biggest seasonal swings in passenger demand and air service.
In March, the airport has 125 percent more takeoffs and landings than in September, its slowest month.
By comparison, the airports in Orlando and Tampa have about a 30 percent change between season and non-season.
In preliminary studies, Atkins Global, an engineering firm hired to design the expansion, hypothesized about an April 1 in the future when departing passengers would increase by 23 percent or nearly 3,600 passengers over present levels, during the peak hour of noon to 1 p.m.
If more security screening lanes aren’t created, Atkins Global’s analysis showed that extra passenger demand could bring wait times exceeding two hours in some lanes, during peak travel times in peak season.
And, even where the wait times weren’t that long, most lanes in most concourses would exceed TSA’s preferred wait times of no more than 20 minutes in a standard line and five minutes in a PreCheck line.
“That’s certainly not acceptable,” Mulder said.
Expanding to accommodate more screening lanes isn’t unusual. Many airports have done it or are planning it – from Newark to Boston to Grand Rapids, said airport spokeswoman Victoria Moreland.
RSW will average 9 percent more airline seats year-over-year in January through March of this year.
More seats or capacity typically brings more passengers.
Although the expansion will be challenging, Mulder noted that even if everything comes together as planned, “we’ll have operational challenges for four more (tourist) seasons.”
Source: Naples Daily News