The booming Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport has unveiled a $1.4 billion plan for a new passenger terminal that could open as soon as five years from now and eventually expand to 60 gates.
The airport is anticipating that rapid growth will continue with its focus on low-cost air travel, and that its continuously-expanding temporary terminal will soon reach capacity. Gateway served almost 1 million passengers last year and is on track to handle 1.3 million this year.
Lynn Kusy, the airport’s executive director, said the projected need for such a massive terminal will likely surprise many people.
“We knew we’d have to build it someday, but we didn’t know that it would come this quickly,” Kusy said. “The passenger growth has been amazing, astonishing.”
The ambitious expansion plan seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. Gateway was unable to lure airlines after the former Williams Air Force Base closed in 1993. When Allegiant started a few routes in late 2007, the demand surprised airport officials and the airline itself. Gateway began the study in 2010 because the airport will reach capacity soon.
“Within the next 5 to 7 years, we expect that we’ll need this terminal,” Kusy said.
The airport anticipates it can fund the expansion as passenger traffic generates more revenue, and through Federal Aviation Administration funding. But the airport’s board of directors expressed concern upon seeing the plan for the first time Monday.
Member Thelda Williams said Gateway needs a backup plan so the new terminal can be built if FAA and other federal funds get bogged down in Congressional infighting.
“To me, it’s almost frightening in a way because of the condition in Washington,” Williams said.
Kusy warned that not building the terminal would come at a cost. Once the existing terminal reaches capacity, the airport will forgo $800,000 a year in revenue and the Valley will lose $20 million a year in tourism revenue.
The expansion will require the existing two airlines to serve more cities, and probably additional airlines, Kusy said. Gateway hasn’t looked closely at whether projected revenue increases align with the expansion costs.
“We’ll see if we can skinny down the price a bit,” Kusy said. “The first thing we’ll do is reduce the cost. Then we’ll look at the funding.”
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