Omaha's Eppley Airfield would get makeover under master plan

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Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 12:00 am

See a detailed site plan showing projects in Eppley Airfield's master plan.

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Visitors to Omaha's Eppley Airfield would see major changes in the airport's parking, terminal and concourse layouts well into the future if the Omaha Airport Authority Board's new master plan comes to fruition.

The board on Tuesday approved a 20-year master plan that will be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration. The plan would consolidate Eppley's baggage claim areas, ticket counters and security checkpoints, add a new parking garage to the north of the existing garage, which would itself be renovated, and expand and renovate the airport's north and south concourses, adding eight aircraft gates to the current 20.

The overall goal of the $1.2 billion project, which accounts for inflation, is to accommodate passengers efficiently in a cost-effective way while maintaining convenience for travelers, said David Roth, Eppley's director of strategic planning and engineering.

“What we don't want to do is overbuild now and hope that the traffic increases,” Roth said.

For passengers, the changes would lead to a number of improvements and would centralize areas they use most. The changes would include offering more retail and dining spaces beyond the security checkpoint, allowing for baggage dropoff and self check-in on the second floor and one meeting point for those picking up travelers.

“What we don't have today, once (travelers) get through the security checkpoint,” Roth said, are “a lot of concessions or restaurants on the aircraft side of the airport. We want to improve that customer experience as they come through the airport.”

The plan is need-based, meaning renovations and expansions would be done in phases based on the number of passengers the airport serves. The airport is currently at about 4 million passengers per year.

“Everything is based on demand,” Roth said.

The earliest projects are based on specific markers, such as wait times at the ticketing and security counters and checkpoints and available parking stalls. But even the first phase of the plan, which would kick in when the airport hits 4.8 million passengers, “could be many years out,” Roth said.

The plan has a number of similarities to an update drafted in 2008 that built on Eppley's 1997 master plan.

“We didn't just take the 2008 (update) and build on that,” Roth said, adding that other options were considered for relocating the terminal and concourses. “We looked at multiple sites and actually really wanted to make sure that we were getting this facility in the right location.”

In addition to three distinct phases of projects, the master plan originates with what the board calls “baseline projects” that would set the foundation for further improvements.

Here's a look at key elements of each phase:

>> New parking garage north of the existing facility with 2,000 public parking stalls and 1,000 rental car stalls. Bridges would be added to connect the upstairs terminal with the new garage, decreasing pedestrian traffic across the curbside pickup and dropoff area.

>> Renovation of the existing garage, with improved signage, lighting, paint and guardrails.

>> Checkpoint and curbfront improvements.

(This phase would kick in when the airport reaches 4.8 million annual passengers.)

>> Moving and replacing the facility's central utility plant.

>> Phase one expansion of the north concourse.

>> New de-icing pad for aircraft.

>> Information technology infrastructure.

>> Maintenance facility expansion.

(5.4 million annual passengers)

>> Expansion and renovation of the existing terminal, including consolidation of the ticketing counters, security checkpoints and baggage claim areas.

>> Increase in checkpoint security lanes from six to 10.

>> Runway and taxiway reconstructions.

(7 million annual passengers)

>> North and south concourse expansion, adding eight aircraft gates to the current 20.

>> Expansion of the new north parking garage.

>> New aircraft waste disposal building.

>> North and south overnight aircraft parking.

>> Expansion of the south economy parking lot.

>> Fire station renovation.

>> New south parking garage.

>> Runway extensions.

At a cost of $765.9 million, the terminal improvements, including the new central utility plant, main terminal expansion and renovation, and north and south concourse expansions, would account for the largest percentage of the total cost.

The projects would be paid for by FAA grants, airport revenue, bonds and new passenger and customer facility charges.

The passenger facility charge — set at a maximum of $4.50 per passenger by the FAA — would be implemented as a fee for passengers by the airlines. All other medium- and large-hub airports already have passenger facility charges, said Chris Martin, Eppley's director of operations. A customer facility charge is implemented through rental cars and can be charged per rental or per day that a car is rented.

From here, the plan will be submitted to the FAA, which already has been briefed on the plan and is expected to approve it.

“They have been part of the entire process,” Roth said.

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