116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Construction is underway at Eastern Iowa Airport on its $21 million renovation to relocate two taxiways and expand the space between the taxiways and the terminal.
The upgrade will bring the taxiways up to the latest Federal Aviation Administration standards and remove a FAA-designated 'hot spot” on the taxiway, where pilots must be 'extra vigilant” of other aircraft, Airport Director Marty Lenss told The Gazette.
He said the space was especially tight before the coronavirus when airlines increasingly used larger aircraft. It's anticipated the larger jets will return with increased personal and business travel.
'When those larger airplanes come in and they're parked at the gate now, it makes the ramp tight,” Lenss said. 'So this allows us to accommodate those larger aircraft and do it much more efficiently and safely on the apron.”
Lenss expects the construction to be completed this fall.
'Ideally we'll be done before the snow,” Lenss said.
The renovation also will give more space for de-icing planes and snow removal in the winter.
'It's not going to solve all weather-related issues, but it will definitely help,” Lenss said.
He said the construction will not adversely affect travelers.
'It'll just be really something they would see outside the window of their airplane,” Lenss said.
The project also prepares the airport - essentially the 'entryway” for many first-time businesses and travelers to the Corridor - for the fourth and final phase of the terminal modernization project.
That includes widening the terminal to provide more seating near gates 5 through 9 and adding two gates.
Lenss said the airport remains in a 'hold pattern” on the fourth phase, which has a $41 million price tag, until passenger traffic comes back to 2019 levels. If traffic returns by 2022, he could see construction possibly beginning in 2023.
'The commission really prides itself on being good fiscal stewards of the public investment and the public asset,” Lenss said.
'It's not a scenario where we want to have an overbuilt terminal for the service we receive.”
Passenger traffic remained well below pre-pandemic levels through the first two months of 2021. Enplaned passengers were down 58 percent compared to the first two months of 2020, and commercial flight landings were down 44 percent.
The airport did see an uptick in passengers around spring break, though.
Between Feb. 21 and 27, it averaged 1,059 passengers going through the security checkpoint per day. Between March 7 and March 13, that rose to 1,373 passengers per day.
The taxiway renovation and terminal apron circulation project was in jeopardy earlier in 2021 because the FAA refused to fly engineers from Kansas City to Cedar Rapids to supervise the project.
Lenss proposed setting up a way for the FAA virtually to supervise the project, but the agency declined the option due to the pandemic.
He also offered the FAA a private jet to transport the crew because that would be cheaper than adapting the project in a way that wouldn't require FAA supervision.
The FAA, after letters from Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, agreed to let the FAA NAVAID engineers travel.
Other airports outside of Iowa, including the facility in Rochester, Minn., faced similar challenges before also getting the go-ahead from the FAA.
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