Charlotte/Douglas Int'l Airport plans $3 million project to lengthen Concourse E

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Mar. 10--Charlotte/Douglas International Airport plans to begin design work next month on a 120-foot extension of Concourse E, giving US Airways Express access to four new gates.

After that $3 million project is finished in early 2011, the airport plans to build two new international gates at the end of the concourse. The international gates would be an addition to the concourse, which is used primarily as a home for regional jets.

US Airways recently told the airport it will add six new flights to two of its banks of departures, which prompted the expansion.

LS3P, which designed the other sections of the concourse, was awarded a $125,700 design contract by Charlotte City Council last month for the extension. Airport aviation director Jerry Orr said construction will begin in May.

US Airways, whose largest hub is in Charlotte, recently expanded international service out of Charlotte/Douglas. It has added a nonstop flight to Rio de Janeiro and Paris and will begin nonstop service to Rome this spring. The airline would like to fly nonstop to Sao Paulo, Brazil, but that is contingent upon a complicated deal between US Airways and Delta for gates and landing rights in New York and Washington, D.C.

Orr said he didn't have specific information on new international flights by the airline. But he said he's "reading the tea leaves" and believes more international service will be coming.

That prompted him to change the original design of Concourse E to add the two international gates, which will be built to accommodate Airbus A330 wide-body planes.

Orr's long-term vision for the airport is to build a new international concourse on land now occupied by rental car companies. But that project is at least five years from construction, so Orr decided to add the two international gates at the end of Concourse E. Almost all of the airport's international flights use the 13-gate Concourse D.

The airport currently has 93 gates.

Orr said Customs and Immigration has said it's OK with moving some staff to Concourse E for international flights.

If the airport needs more gates after Concourse E is expanded, Orr said, the airport would extend Concourse B. That concourse is also used by US Airways.

US Airways, headquartered in Tempe, Ariz., has in the last year shifted more planes from the west coast to Charlotte, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. It has made deep cuts at a former hub in Las Vegas and has cut flights in Phoenix, its home city.

In March, US Airways has 558 daily departures from Charlotte to 128 nonstop destinations. Phoenix has 267 departures to 80 cities, and Philadelphia has 424 flights to 106 cities.

The airline will start nonstop service to Ottawa this spring, said US Airways spokesperson Michelle Mohr. She said the additional flights the airline is planning could include new cities from Charlotte, but some of the flights would be additional service to cities the airline already serves.

Charlotte/Douglas handled 34.5 million passengers in 2009, down slightly from 34.7 million passengers in 2008. Airlines worldwide reduced flights in response to the recession, and Charlotte's decline in passengers was smaller than those at many airports.

"I anticipate the hub continuing to grow," Orr said.

Last month, the airport opened its third parallel runway to help relieve congestion during peak times. The new runway will allow the airport to land three planes simultaneously -- making Charlotte/Douglas one of seven airports nationwide with that capability.

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