As passenger traffic increases at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, so too does the amount of people moving through the airport for departures and arrivals.
Moreover, the airport authority is realizing that its facility for handling all those people is outdated, which prompted them to plan for infrastructure improvements in the main terminal to accommodate more people.
At its October board of governors meeting, the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority introduced and discussed a concept plan that focuses on increasing capacity at its Transportation Security Administration Checkpoint and making changes for passenger flow to reduce the need for passengers to go up and down the elevators and escalators to get to their destination.
These upgrades could cost about $22 million, said Thomas Stoudt, executive director of LNAA.
“We are already programming money into the 2020 capital budget to advance the design work, we’ve already been moving on this project,” Stoudt said. “It helps us have those conversations about funding; we are working on meeting with our elected officials.”
Right now, the airport authority is looking at grant opportunities and potential state or federal funds for the project.
Twenty-four consecutive months of positive passenger traffic growth is part of what led to the need for the project, according to Stoudt. Furthermore, information from the airport authority’s master plan reinforced the notion that traffic would significantly increase in the coming years.
In addition, with passenger growth happening faster than the authority’s projections, the infrastructure improvements have a heightened priority, he added.
In the underground tunnel beneath the main terminal, the airport has no more room to expand for additional TSA checkpoint lanes, he said. By increasing the capacity from two processing lanes to four, that would streamline the process and help keep up with demand.
The airport authority hired Airport Design Consultants of Philadelphia to design the concept plan.
This concept design would create a connector that would lift the departing passenger area above ground and place it level with the Wiley Departure Concourse, said Cedrick Johnson, president of Airport Design Consultants of Philadelphia. Outbound passengers would go through the connector and inbound passengers would go beneath.
In addition, TSA is developing new technology and requires space for new equipment, he added.
“The technology continues to evolve and we want to make sure we can keep up with that,” Stoudt said.
The increase in passenger traffic also provides additional revenue to the airport, which it could apply to the project, Johnson said.
According to Stoudt, about 690,000 passengers used the airport from January to September. In all of 2017, it was that same number. The airport authority could use that revenue to fund projects such as this.
With two lanes, the TSA checkpoint processes up to 150 people per lane, per hour. With four lanes, TSA could process up to 180 people per lane, per hour, Johnson said. That means TSA could process a 720 people total per hour, per lane as opposed to 300, which it handles today.
Stoudt said Allegiant Air’s recent announcement to build an aircraft base at LVIA, which would open in February 2020, also prompted the need for a plan to expand capacity with the TSA checkpoint.
“As you start adding flights, you have a much larger number of passengers,” Stoudt said.
Construction could begin later next year, with an estimated opening in the beginning of 2022.