By Jodi Richards, Associate Editor
ATL prepares for the future with investments in technology, infrastructure
Lance Lyttle (left) and Ben DeCosta
ATLANTA - Recently
renamed, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport bears the names
of two mayors whose support of the airport helped make it the airport
it is today, William B. Hartsfield and Maynard Jackson. As the airport
undergoes a $5.4 billion capital development
program, including the addition of a fifth runway and a new international terminal, as well as the installation of a wireless infrastructure, the
foundation for a strong future is being established.
It's impossible not
to guess that aviation general manager Ben DeCosta is an East Coast native,
having worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey previously.
No one says "La Guardia" like a New Yorker. However, in the
five years he has been with the City of Atlanta he speaks of the airport
and the region with the fervor of a hometown guy, actively pursuing the
city's goal of keeping ATL at the top of the charts. Serving some 78 million
passengers in 2003, DeCosta says ATL has the distinction of busiest airport
in the world.
In 1997, ATL, which is owned and governed by the City of Atlanta, began a ten-year, $5.4 billion capital development project which encompasses several major features, including a fifth runway, a new East International Terminal, a consolidated rental car facility, and other terminal and airfield improvements.
A GOLDEN RUNWAY
At an estimated cost of $1.25 billion, the fifth runway is referred to by DeCosta as "the most important runway in America" because of the impact it will have on air transportation. He explains, "In the year 1999 going into 2000, when we were the busiest at 80 million passengers, we were also the busiest in numbers of takeoffs and landings. And it also gave us the dubious distinction of being the most delayed airport in the nation. Those delays here cascaded across the nation's air transportation system. [The fifth runway] will cut those delays in half."
The fifth runway, which will be 9,000 feet long, is located nearly 4,300 feet from the next closest runway and will allow for triple, independent streams of arrival traffic, according to DeCosta.
According to runway director Dwight Pullen with International Aviation Consultants, LLC., the airport invested $300 million in land acquisition for more than 900 acres to accommodate the new runway.
An intricate conveyor system of more than 5.5 miles moves fill from a quarry to the site. The fill is then emptied into enormous trucks called 777s, weighing in at 100 tons each, that were built onsite because of their size, Pullen says. Twenty-one million cubic yards of dirt has been transported by the conveyor and truck system for site preparation of the runway, at an estimated cost of $360 million. Paving of the runway is expected to begin in 2005.
The runway, 10/28, will be built over Atlanta's I-285, which requires the airport to construct an impressive 1,200-foot long bridge, at a cost of $159 million, over the roadway that will support future expansion of the roadway from ten lanes to a possible 18. A separate bridge structure will be built over the Interstate to support the taxiway.
Atlanta is one of few airports that neither halted nor scaled back its capital development program following 9/11. "Hartsfield turned out to be far more resilient than most major large hub airports in the United States," DeCosta explains. "I'm confident our economy has seen the worst, and traffic will be coming back. And while other airports will start or restart their programs, we'll be finished with major portions of ours and be positioned to move to the next step."
The contract calls for DeCosta to get a base salary of $255,000 a year with a 4 percent annual increase through June 30, 2010.
A series of public and private celebrations are planned for the days leading up to the May 27 opening.