Determined to continue to give Phoenix air travelers the high level of customer service they now enjoy, Sky Harbor International Airport's managers are upgrading and expanding terminal facilities to keep up with the airport's 5% annual growth rate. FAA approval is expected this month for a new terminal complex, taxiway system and people-mover.

Aviation Director David Krietor expects traffic this year to top the 2005 total of 41 million passengers by about 5% and to reach 50 million by 2015. PHX is the world's sixth-busiest airport in total flight operations. "This is driven by tremendous economic and population growth. There are three-and-a-half-million people in the Phoenix metropolitan area today and there will be five million by 2020. We've got to build the facilities here to handle . . . that growth" and continue to give passengers a first-class experience, he says. "We have to be up-front and aggressive about doing that . . . Fortunately, we have the political will to do it, and strong airline support to do it."

The new terminal complex and cross-field taxiway system will be built on the west side of the airport. The automated people-mover will connect all the terminals, parking lots, the new rental car center and the region's light rail line. These facilities could go into service as early as 2011, Krietor says.

As it begins detailed planning for the new projects, the airport is upgrading its three existing terminals. "We are completing many projects that were planned in the nineties (ATW, 6/01) and postponed after 9/11," he explains. A 320-ft.-high, $54 million control tower is to go into service in early 2008. Projects totaling around $700 million were completed recently or currently are underway.

Sky Harbor's 3,000 acres accommodate three runways ranging from 7,800 ft. to 11,490 ft. in length. Although a fourth runway is in the long-range plan, managers hope the three can handle expected traffic for the next 15-20 years, says Acting Deputy Aviation Director Deborah Ostreicher. The three terminals in service now have a total of 110 gates, 80 of them on 16-year-old Terminal 4.

The airport's cargo facilities also are adequate for the near term. US Airways recently moved into a new 16,000-sq.-ft. structure built for it by the airport, increasing its freight handling space by 33%, according to Matt Eggers, director-Phoenix operations. There is room for another building, which he expects to need in about five years, next to it.

US Airways is PHX's largest operator, with more flights and passengers than any other carrier. Some 70% of its passengers connect at Sky Harbor, which was America West's largest hub and home base and is now the merged carrier's home. Krietor expects the transfer percentage to go even higher as a result of the America West-US Airways merger. Southwest Airlines, a close No. 2, is the largest O&D airlineabout 70% of its passengers start or end their trips in Phoenix. "The two major carriers are mirror images of each other," Krietor comments. Sky Harbor's low operating costs are welcomed by these two low-cost airlines. Its landing fee is $1.11 per 1,000 lb. of landed weight.

The pair share Terminal 4, with US Airways occupying the four long concourses on the north side and Southwest in three concourses on the south. The Southwest concourses are shorter than those on the other side because a taxiway is close behind them. A spacious central area houses bag claim on the first floor, ticket counters on the second and restaurants and shops on the third, which leads to the four security checkpoints. AeroMexico and British Airways operate from international gates on the north side. These gates are controlled by the airport, but all others are on 30-day leases. Some 75% of Phoenix passengers use Terminal 4.

Terminal 3, completed in 1979, has two concourses branching from a central core. Terminal 2, completed in 1952, has a single concourse. Terminal 1 was demolished years ago to make way for the modern terminals. Both T3 and T4 feature dramatic artworks, some on walls and ceilings and others free-standing. Shops showcase regional products, several of them selling high-quality goods made by Native Americans. Exteriors of the buildings are desert-brown concrete decorated with traditional Native American designs in darker brown. They are integrated with their garages, so travelers can walk to and from their cars indoors. There are more than 25,000 parking spaces on the airport, but demand is so strong that charges recently were increased in an attempt to encourage use of public transportation.

Six in-line baggage screening systems are being built. Terminals 2 and 3 each will have single systems but T-4 will have one serving US Airways on the north section, a second for Southwest on the south concourses and separate lines for re-checked and international outbound items. The latter two are to go into service firstin Juneand the others by year end. The T4 screening complex will cost $120 million and use L3 screening machines. L3 and InVision equipment is in use now. All the in-line screening systems are to be in service by summer of 2007, using conveyor systems designed by Cage Inc. of Irving, Tex.

A $285 million rental car center, largest in the US, opened in late January on a 141-acre site on airport property. Its three-level garage can store 5,600 cars and a separate lot 40,000 more; Phoenix is the third-largest rental car market in the nation. Each of the 13 companies operating from the center has its own maintenance and operations facility. A $40 million, 3,500-space economy garage opened last fall. Taxiway improvements, including a new bridge, also opened in the fall and cost $33 million.

A $25 million project adding more than 40 new shopsincluding one of the few drugstores in a US airportto T4's lobby and concourses will be completed this year. The old Indian-design carpeting there is being replaced with terrazzo that looks like individual tiles, ceilings are being raised and an innovative visual and aural paging system has been installed (see box, p. 7). Last year the airport spent $50 million to upgrade Southwest's Concourse D and another $8.5 million on the checkpoint for Concourse A on the US Airways side. Some $10 million worth of work is underway to expand the B checkpoint, also serving US Airways passengers. Expansion of Checkpoint C is being designed. The single checkpoint at T3 also will be enlarged.

Terminal 2 is getting upgrades to its mechanical systems, a renovated lobby, wider sidewalks and an expanded checkpoint. The lobby work is expected to cost $5.3 million. The improvements are intended to see the building through for the next 6-7 years, when it will be demolished to make way for a new West Terminal.

The airport plans to build another eight-gate concourse on the south side of Terminal 4, completing that building. "US Airways will probably want those gates," Krietor says. "We think Southwest has all the gates it needs for its plans here." If traffic demands, a temporary boarding wing could be added at T3.

With FAA approval in hand, Krietor plans to start design work on the West Terminal complex, which will go into service in 2011 "at the earliest." It will have up to 33 gates. "We're building it this size because with our three runways we can go up to 55 million passengers a year, and the 33 additional gates will balance that," he explains. "The West Terminal could be expanded later if we build the fourth runway."

The region is constructing a light rail system at a cost of about $1.3 billion that will connect the airport with downtown Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe, home of Arizona State University. Sky Harbor will provide bus service to and from an off-airport station at first but later will incorporate a light rail connection into its people-mover. The automated system, using trains of three rubber-tired vehicles, is to open at the same time as the West Terminal. Cost will be at least $1 billion, Krietor estimates. "We're grappling right now with whether the whole system needs to be in a tunnel, or whether we can have part of it elevated. It would have to be high enough to go over the taxiways, but elevating at least parts of it would help hold down the cost."

"We need the airport people-mover for connections," says Eggers. He also "wants that north runway . . . to allow us to expand," pointing out that it would permit simultaneous approaches. All of Sky Harbor's runways are parallel, since weather conditions do not require a crosswind strip.

Eggers agrees with Krietor that US Airways probably will want all the gates on the final concourse on Terminal 4. Its current 48 gates, plus five hardstand positions for Mesa's Express flights, are "sufficient for now" because it does not plan significant schedule changes at Phoenixits second-largest station, after Charlottein the short term. But, he says, "We will need more gates in a couple of years." For its Canadian, Mexican and Central American operations it uses the airport-controlled gates in the international section.

US Airways is still integrating its two parents, a process that will continue at Phoenix for about another year. The old US Airways had operated from three gates on Terminal 2, but its flights "fit in easily" on the 48 America West gates, Eggers says. Some of its check-in kiosks were moved over and some gates have two computer systems, one for what the airline is calling its east and the other its west operation. It expects to integrate the systems early next year. "We probably won't be able to merge the operating certificates until next year," he notes.

Although Krietor admits that "we're salivating" at the possibility of US Airways flying nonstop to Europe, Eggers says, "That's a question for the marketing department." Phoenix now has nonstops to other countries within the Americas and connecting service to England via British Airways. "Now that our largest carrier has European service, we see an incredible opportunity" for flights "to 11 or 12 European destinations," Krietor adds. "We would like to have some nonstop service instead of all connections over Philadelphia, but right now they don't have the equipment for it. We expect to get some nonstops in three or four years. We finally have a hub carrier in here that's a player in the international market."