Steve Becker was leaning against a brick pillar at a gate at the Akron-Canton Airport waiting for his plane on Thursday.
Unfortunately for Becker, mechanical issues had delayed his scheduled 6 a.m. Delta flight back to his hometown of Atlanta to an 11:15 a.m. departure.
It was the second visit to the airport for the salesman — both times in the older gates currently occupied by Delta Airlines and American Airlines.
That gate area, built in 1962, is showing its age, airport officials said. It’s congested and was built at a time when airplanes were smaller.
Delta and American customers at Akron-Canton Airport have to wait for their flights in an area that vastly differs from the bright and open gate areas with high ceilings and plenty of windows in the airport’s upper level.
“This definitely looks old,” Becker said.
Becker said anytime travelers are delayed, they’re annoyed, but it’d be nice to be able to at least wait in a comfortable seating area. He was stretching his legs and leaning against the brick pillar waiting for the latest announcement about his delayed flight since most seats in the gate area were taken.
There’s good news for Becker and other airport travelers: the airport is planning a $30 million to $35 million upgrade to demolish the old Delta and American gate area and move those gates to an extension of the upper level.
The gate replacement project, which is scheduled for late 2018 or 2019, is part of a $240 million, 20-year plan guiding capital investments and improvements at the airport that was unveiled on Thursday morning.
The upgrades will keep the airport positioned for future opportunities and keep travelers happy, airport officials said.
The 20-year plan has been a work in progress for four years and was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration late last year, said airport Chief Executive Officer and President Rick McQueen.
Many of the parts of the plan shouldn’t come as a surprise to airport customers and the community, McQueen said, since airport officials had wanted customer input and had been communicating about its long-term plans, including its CAK 2018 plan. That 10-year plan included such things as expanded auto parking lots, expansion of the upper passenger concourse, TSA screening areas and ticket wing and runway expansions.
Projects currently underway are the near completion of the glass-canopy and ticket-wing expansion and work on the reconfiguration of the entrance road loop around the front of the terminal. That will include new commercial lanes to make it easier for passenger vehicles, the relocation of the rental car lot to the front of the terminal and about 250 covered parking spots near the terminal — requested by customers — which should be ready by later this summer.
The 20-year plan is flexible and can be slowed down or accelerated, depending upon airport activity, McQueen said.
While the airport is expecting a drop in passenger levels this year with the loss of three nonstop destinations from Southwest Airlines, airport Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Kristie Van Auken said the airport’s facilities still need a long-term plan.
“This program is not responding to the demand levels. It’s much more about what we need to do to update facilities and create a reasonable amount of space for the size of airplanes flying in and out of here,” she said.
Airlines that used to fly 50-seat regional jets are upgrading to planes that seat 70 to 100 passengers and more, she said.
As of April 12, Southwest will drop its nonstop flights from Akron-Canton to Las Vegas, Orlando and Tampa. It will fly only to Atlanta, but will add a daily flight for three flights a day. Airport and airline officials have said travelers can then have access to 125 daily departures to 100 cities from there.
Van Auken said Southwest’s reductions are going to hurt the airport this year and the hope is to return to growth in 2017. The airport expects about 1.3 million passengers this year, off the peak of 1.8 million in 2012.
Other longer-term projects in the 20-year plan include airfield/taxiway improvements, upgrades to the checked baggage security system, additional aircraft gates, general aviation land development and a parking structure.
The gate replacement project is in the design phase and is slated for construction sometime in the spring or summer of 2017 with completion within two to three years, said McQueen. Once the new gates are built, the old gate area will be demolished and used for airplanes. The new gates also will all have jet bridges so passengers will not have to load onto airplanes from the ground, Van Auken said. Features in the older gate area, such as a play area and lactation room for moms, will be moved to another area of the airport.
The airport is an incredible asset, said Gerard Neugebauer, the new mayor of Green. The terminal improvements should make for an even better experience for passengers, he said.
Becker, the Atlanta traveler, also thinks the terminal improvements will be good for the airport’s passengers. Even though he mostly flies in and out of Cleveland, he said he appreciates the ease of Akron-Canton.
“It’s so easy to get in and out,” he said.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.