XNA board members seek financial model for $60 million in terminal projects

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 1,112 views 

Nabholz is the general contractor for construction of the $35 million parking deck at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Work is expected to be completed in August 2018.

Board members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport want to determine the best way to pay for four projects that would expand several areas of the terminal and increase rental car parking at XNA. These projects have a price tag of about $60 million, and all but one had been planned for construction by 2021.

The project board members would like to move up is reconfiguration of the checkpoint, which had been planned for construction in 2024. The board discussed the projects and developing a financial model for them in its meetings Aug. 9 and Aug. 16.

In June, the airport’s planning consultant Mead & Hunt completed a final draft report on a terminal renovation and improvement project. It shows four phases of planning activity levels and the corresponding estimated levels of enplanements, or the passengers flying out. The first phase, which started in 2017, estimates 700,000 enplanements for the year, and the fourth phase, planned to start in 2034, projects enplanements rising 85% to 1.3 million, from the 2017 estimate. By comparison, Tulsa International Airport and Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock had 1.359 million and 996,897 enplanements, respectively, in 2016.

When each phase would need to be started would be determined on the number of enplanements. And, the financial model might help guide the board on the best path to pay for them, possibly allowing some projects to go forward sooner.

CEO Scott Van Laningham said the analysis could include multiple options, from a pessimistic to an optimistic estimate on the number of enplanements. Through the first six months of the year, enplanements have risen 5.12% to 332,902, from 316,680 in the same period in 2016.

The cost to design and build all 15 of the projects over the four phases is $223.287 million but doesn’t account for inflation. Excluding the parking decks, XNA might receive funding from the Federal Aviation Administration through the Airport Improvement Plan (AIP). The projects are eligible for various levels of funding, depending on the type of the project, and can pay for up to 90% of some.

“Just because it’s AIP eligible doesn’t mean we’re going to get that level of funding for it,” Van Laningham said.

The first phase and the second phase project for the checkpoint reconfiguration are those the board wishes to develop financial models for now. Including the $35 million parking deck now under construction, the other four projects in the first phase are a concourse for interim B gates, a building to connect the terminal to the new parking deck and would include administration office space and a parking deck for rental car companies.

A few of the major projects throughout the other phases include a concourse B expansion elbow to add four gates and an apron, another concourse B expansion to add four gates to match the existing concourse A, and a third parking deck, mirroring the one under construction. The first would be in the third phase, while the latter would be in the fourth phase.

The existing airport terminal is 176,500 square feet and includes a 71,500-square-foot secure area, three checkpoint lanes, an 18,830-square-foot baggage claim and car rental area and a 15,570-square-foot ticketing and bag screening area. It also has 28,235 square feet of nonpublic space and 36,830 square feet for building support.

The first phase would add 42,995 square feet to the terminal and become 219,495 square feet. The majority, or 25,811 square feet, would be added for building support (14,665) and nonpublic areas (11,146). The remaining additions would take place at baggage claim and car rental (8,738), ticketing and bag screening (6,211), secure area (1,458) and checkpoint (777).

If all four phases are completed, the projects would more than double the size of the existing terminal, expanding to 364,737 square feet. The size of the secure area would increase by 72% to 123,351 square feet, and the number of checkpoint lanes would rise to five. The baggage claim and car rental and ticketing and bag screening areas would expand to 50,259 and 38,649 square feet, respectively. The nonpublic and building support areas would become 62,008 and 79,950 square feet, respectively.

The XNA board also approved Mead & Hunt to remain the airport’s consultant for another five years. Ryk Dunkelberg, planning and environmental national practice leader and vice president of aviation services for Mead & Hunt, said the company has worked with the airport since the beginning and identified the land on which the airport was built.

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