Airport Officials Outline Improvements at CLE

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Photo: Cole Goldberg – OPShots.net//

Crain’s Cleveland Business – The managers of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport briefed members of a Cleveland City Council committee on their short- and long-term plans to maintain and improve the city-owned airport.

Short term, Cleveland’s Director of Airports and Port Control, Robert Kennedy, told transportation committee members, the growth in passenger traffic is straining the airport’s roadways, parking lots and other facilities. Changes to those facilities likely would require moving existing underground utilities disturbed by above-ground changes. The airport handled 8.4 million passengers in 2016 and 9.1 million in 2017. Kennedy said he is forecasting 9.6 million in 2018. In the first quarter of 2018, the airport reported that traffic is up 9.9 percent from 2017, having served 2.1 million passengers compared with 1.9 million for the same period in 2017.

“Our facilities will not take that,” Kennedy told the committee. “That creates a challenge for us.”

Long term, Kennedy said he wants to spend between $4 million and $4.5 million on a new master plan to see how to better use space at the land-locked, 2,000-acre airfield. He said the plan would look at changes in the airfield, the terminal, the use of the air space above the airport and land side, which includes roadways, parking lots, outbuildings like a hotel and ground transportation facilities.

A view of the construction from the arrivals/lower level at CLE. Photo: Cole Goldberg – OPShots.net//

What will likely be a controversial first, short-term step is a plan to assess a per-trip user fee to the hotels, off-airport parking lots and limousine services. Those businesses currently buy a permit of $550 to come onto airport grounds. Taxi companies, Uber, Lyft, and the car rental companies pay either a $4-per-trip fee or, as is the case for the car rental shuttle service, a percentage of annual revenues.

The result is that the hotels and off-site parking lots pay little for disproportionately heavy use of the airport.

Pat Singleton, the airport’s Chief of Business Development and Management, said the hotels, in particular, take advantage of the lack of a per-trip fee. She put up on a screen the online rate page of one of the area’s airports that offers a night at the hotel and 15 days of free parking for little more than the cost of the hotel room. It provides overnight guests with a shuttle ride to the airport.

A nighttime view of the newly renovated terminal facade on the departures level at CLE. Photo: Cole Goldberg – OPShots.net//

Imposing the fee would raise $1.8 million annually, Singleton said. The new revenue would go toward a $2.5 million renovation of the ground transportation center along the roadway between the airport terminal and the parking garages now used by the off-site parking lot and hotel shuttles and limousine drivers. The plan is to add permanent canopies, better lighting and other improvements.

The money will be used to fund a list of short-term capital improvements at the airport.

It would also pay for a new airport master plan, expected to be completed in 2020, which will outline long-term needs at Cleveland Hopkins.

In addition to the fee increases, the airport plans to issue about $35 million in new debt later this year to fund the capital projects.

“We’re not in a position where we can increase airline fees,” said Airport Director Robert Kennedy, noting that Cleveland fees are among the highest in the industry.

An overview of the Delta gates and Airport Operations Center on Concourse B as well as the Airport Administration offices and the air traffic control tower. Photo: Cole Goldberg – OPShots.net//

Non-aeronautical revenue includes parking, retail, rent and other sources.

Among the capital projects on the airport’s to-do list: $3 million for the Ground Transportation Center, which is where Uber, Lyft, off-site parking and hotel shuttles pick up and drop off passengers. The center was initially conceived as a temporary solution during terminal renovations in 2015, but was made permanent last year, in an effort to divert traffic from overcrowding airport roadways.

In addition, the airport plans to widen the center’s driveway to improve traffic flow, and cover the area to protect travelers in bad weather. It will also add lighting, heating and other amenities. Those improvements should be complete by late 2019 or early 2020.

The airport is also proposing to spend $2.5 million to expand the new baggage screening system, which launched last fall. The new system has experienced numerous failures in recent months, causing flights to be delayed and baggage to be left behind.

Other airport improvements include updating sewer infrastructure and heating and cooling systems – what Renato Camacho, Chief of Planning and Engineering at the airport, called “the nonsexy stuff behind the walls and under the roadways.”

The departures/upper level at Hopkins. Photo: Cole Goldberg – OPShots.net//

Kennedy said the overall goal is to improve the customer experience. “We’re trying to do the best we can with the space we have,” he said. Airport officials produced for council members a letter from the major airline users of the airport that approves of the plan.

The location of the ground transportation center has been an irritant to travelers, who are used to those services being available outside airport terminals in other cities, and, until a few years ago, at Cleveland Hopkins. Cleveland City Councilman Martin Keane asked airport officials why those shuttles couldn’t be moved back to the terminal roadways under some future plan.

“You can’t move that back to the upper and lower roadways, you’ll have total gridlock,” Kennedy said. “As we’re configured now, we can’t move back, the traffic level is too high.”

Hopkins actually handled more passengers through the airport before United Airlines “dehubbed” the airport. Many of those passengers, however, were simply in transit from one plane to another. They never left the airport terminal. Now, Kennedy said, 97% of passengers begin or end their travel in Cleveland.

via – Crain’s – Airport Officials Outline Improvements and The Plain Dealer – Cleveland Hopkins Airport Seeks Fee Increase on Off-Site Parking, Hotel Shuttles to Fund Capital Improvements

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