In just a few months, one of the biggest construction projects in New Orleans’ history will be ready for its close-up. The new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is slated to open for business in February, whereupon local travelers will get to see for themselves the results of a nearly $1 billion investment that created a completely new terminal on the north side of the existing airport campus.
The project has been a long time coming, as the city made do over many years with upgrades and remakes of old facilities within the original airport footprint. But early indications are that the new terminal will not disappoint. Its features include:
- An arc-shaped terminal that encompasses 650,000 square feet, with a giant skylight in the main arrivals hall;
- Two connected concourses with 35 gates and a single, consolidated security checkpoint;
- About 80,000 square feet of retail space, most of which will be located down the center of each concourse, allowing for maximum use of windows and views of all the gates;
- A concessions lineup that mixes local restaurants (including Leah’s Kitchen, Ye Olde College Inn, Angelo Brocato’s, MoPho, Emeril’s, Munch Factory and Mondo) with national brand names (such as Chick-Fil-A, Shake Shack, Chili’s, and Panda Express).
- A new 2,100-space parking garage and surface lots, with the old garage remaining in place to serve long-term parking needs;
- Shuttle service between the new airport and the existing rental car facility.
The new airport, which completely replaces the old facility, aims to better accommodate rising passenger numbers now and well into the future. Airport statistics show that total passenger counts topped 12 million last year, rising nearly 8 percent over the 2016 figure. Through the first half of 2018, passenger totals were up about 11 percent from the count a year earlier.
Total aircraft operations are also on an upward trend, as airlines have expanded their flight schedules, including adding more nonstop service from New Orleans. And the Federal Aviation Administration predicts a continued increase in air traffic through the next two decades.
Aviation experts have warned for years that the need for improved air travel facilities is nearing a crisis point. “America’s airports have significant infrastructure needs that must be addressed in order to remain competitive and support our economy,” Airports Council International President Kevin Burke said in releasing a comprehensive survey of airport needs last year.
Development of the new local airport tracks a trend that has been playing out around the country. Capital investments approaching $100 billion have begun in 50 U.S. airports, including New York’s Laguardia, Denver International and San Francisco International.
Jeff Davis, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C., research institute Eno Center for Transportation, said that cities such as New Orleans that are seeing increased demand from tourism-related travel, are scrambling to find ways to expand capacity at their airports. But he added that development of a whole new airport, such as that in New Orleans, is unusual due to the high cost.
To help fund the construction, New Orleans has turned to the usual sources, including fees paid by airlines and grants from funding pools available from the FAA. The bulk of the funding is coming from revenue bonds that will be paid off from future Passenger Facility Charges paid by travelers.
While this is a common method of funding airport construction, Davis sais the term of the indebtedness – some of the local bonds extend through 2043 – is unusual. The only other big U.S. airport that has borrowed against PFC revenue that far into the future is Sea-Tac in Seattle, he said.