Business

Eastern Iowa Airport sees growth despite major construction

Operation costs remain low in midst of $65 million terminal modernization

A view from the ground level to the concourse level and oculus as construction continues of phase three of the $30.8 million Terminal Modernization Project at The Eastern Iowa Airport in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. The 54,000 square foot expansion will include new stairs, escalator and elevator to go up to the concourse, a new hold room along the concourse, a living wall adjacent to the new stairway, an outdoor patio and a large oculus at the center of the addition. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A view from the ground level to the concourse level and oculus as construction continues of phase three of the $30.8 million Terminal Modernization Project at The Eastern Iowa Airport in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. The 54,000 square foot expansion will include new stairs, escalator and elevator to go up to the concourse, a new hold room along the concourse, a living wall adjacent to the new stairway, an outdoor patio and a large oculus at the center of the addition. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Despite challenges in the airline industry and local ongoing upgrades at The Eastern Iowa Airport, Airline Industry Expert Michael Boyd described the Cedar Rapids airport as being “in a good spot.”

Boyd, president and Chief Executive Officer of Boyd Group, International, Inc., which forecasts and tracks industry trends, was the keynote speaker at Eastern Iowa Airport’s first State of the Airport event Wednesday.

“You have no larger airport within striking distance that will materially draw people away. Des Moines is there, but Des Moines doesn’t offer significantly more than what this airport offers,” Boyd said after the event. “You’re in a really good position where people will fly and they’re going to fly here.”

Boyd said a successful airport, which provides communitywide economic development growth, is all the more important as the industry faces challenges in modernization, airplane upgauging - the implementation of larger planes - and the pilot shortage.

Airport Director Marty Lenss said, that even while The Eastern Iowa Airport is in the midst of one of its largest modernization projects in facility history, operation costs have remained low.

Last year, the airport’s cost per enplanement — or cost to operate — was $6.67, well below the national average of $8.20 for airports of a similar size.

“We’re very proud of that and it’s forecast to go down even further in the coming years,” Lenss said Monday. “Even while we’re doing these projects, we’re able to drive down our operating costs, which is phenomenal, quite honestly.”

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The airport also saw record passengers last year with 1.14 million total passengers - up from 1.13 million in 2014.

As part of Phase 3 of the airport’s terminal modernization, work is underway to add 54,000 square feet to the terminal, building two new jet bridges, expanded concessions and hold rooms and the addition of an outdoor patio.

The project also includes the installation of about 740 solar panels on the terminal roof — equivalent to about 240 kilowatts, or enough to power about 21 homes per year, Lenss said.

What’s more, the 54,000-square-foot addition will be heated and cooled through geothermal and include a 29-foot living wall of plants to provide aesthetic and air quality elements.

Phase 3, which should be finished next spring, is estimated at about $31 million, while the entire terminal modernization project is expected to cost up to $65 million. The entire project is to be funded 71 percent by airport reserve funds, 27 percent by federal passenger entitlement dollars and about 2 percent from the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation, Lenss said.

“We’re doing it completely on our own. We’re able to do that because we have just fantastic business support and use of the airport that those dollars generated, we can reinvest in the public asset,” Lenss said.

While design and planning for Phase 4 has just begun, Lenss said it’s possible it will take into account added traffic and aircraft size at the airport that wasn’t originally foreshadowed in the 2014 master planning process.

“We are outpacing some of our passenger traffic data as well as some of the aircraft size projections,” Lenss said. “We’re doing some more data analysis in Phase 4 to see and project really what the design needs to be.”

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While expanded parking at the airport — two parking lot expansions took place over the last three years — are not in the next phase of work, Lenss said the airport’s surface lots are at maximum capacity.

“We’ll continue to evaluate our parking needs, but at this point we do not have a parking deck planned in the near term. It’s certainly out there in the 10- to 15-year planning horizon,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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