Misperception #4: New terminal Wasn’t Needed...


Before reading this blog entry, be sure to read the accompanying entries, Cameroon Monkeys and Leaky Windshields , Misperception #1: Airport Uses City Tax Money, Misperception #2: Airport Sets and Controls Ticket Prices, and Misperception #3: The Airport Can Order Airlines to Fly Wherever We Want!

"The new terminal wasn’t needed and it's a huge waste of tax money!"

This misperception is wielded like a weapon. The accuser stands tall, spinning the ball and chain above their head while saying, “I don’t like the new terminal and you’re wasting my tax dollars!”

Well, first of all, the new terminal wasn’t built with tax money. The total cost of project was $117 million.  $97 million of that total will be paid off with airport revenue—that’s money that the airport generates. The remaining $20 million came from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The money that the FAA distributes comes mainly from fees on airline tickets, aviation fuel and cargo shipments.

As for need….

People who say the terminal wasn’t needed almost always put it in this context: “The new terminal wasn’t needed because the old terminal was never crowded.”

There are several points to make, here’s the first: you don’t build transportation facilities for down times, you build them for peak times. Here’s another way of putting it...

The state highway department is currently spending several million dollars to improve the horribly congested intersection of highways 60 and 65 in Springfield. Suppose it’s four years ago, before construction began, and you’re driving your car through the intersection at 3:00 in the morning. You look around and say to yourself, “Why do they want to spend all that money on this intersection? There’s no traffic out here!"

New terminal critics use the same sort of logic. They went out to the old terminal during a lull and decided a new terminal wasn’t needed.

The old terminal was built in 1964 and was added on to at least five times. Over the years it served well, but by 2005 it had reached its limits—especially in its abilities to handle security, plane parking, and passenger numbers.

Expanding the old terminal was given lots of thought, but a study concluded that it would actually be cheaper to build a new one. Why? The old terminal is landlocked. Major industry sits to the east. Taxiways and runways sit to the west. Expanding to the south and north would have robbed the private aviation community of space and would end up making the terminal longer (from north to south) and less functional.

These are difficult concepts to explain—not because they can’t be understood, but because they are out of sight and unknown to airport customers and the general public.

The old terminal lobby: March 18, 2008
The old terminal lobby: March 18, 2008. That line you see was the line for security screening. It was nearly a 30 minute wait, and reached nearly to the north lobby entrance.


You had to be out there, behind the scenes, standing on the tarmac, witnessing aircraft operations at six in the morning, to see that the old terminal was not up to the task. You had to stand in the baggage screening rooms, watching security screeners do their vital work in cramped conditions, while the sheer volume of baggage grew from year to year. You had to witness the staggering passenger growth and watch ticket counter lines snake out the front door. You had to see the parked airplanes waiting for a turn to use the loading gates at six in the morning. 

Here’s the bottom line: the old terminal was at the end of it’s life span; it was functionally obsolete. The new terminal will serve us well until the mid 21-century. In the transportation business you have to look to the future and act now. If you don’t, you’re criticized later for doing nothing.


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