A new plan may fly for Terminal F: The airport facility is overloaded, but much work must be done first

Aug. 15--RELIEF MAY BE IN SIGHT -- although more than three years away -- for the beleaguered and befuddled travelers who use Philadelphia International Airport's Terminal F.

When Terminal F opened in 2001, two million travelers on about 180 flights a day passed through it annually, most connecting between flights on small planes. Today, the facility is the airport's most congested, with close to 300 daily US Airways Express flights. It is used by almost a quarter of the airport's 32 million passengers a year, many of them starting or ending trips here.

Last week, the airport administration unveiled a plan to use $10 million in proceeds from a new round of bond financing to redesign Terminal F. The plan would give the terminal larger gate areas, additional security checkpoints, more places to eat and drink, and a new baggage-claim area across the airport departures road, where other airlines' claim areas are situated.

"We're running more passengers through the terminal than it was designed to comfortably handle," said Paul Lambert, US Airways Group Inc. vice president of corporate real estate. "We recognized we needed to upgrade it."

The process, however, has barely begun. There is no concrete design, and no certainty the plan will solve the congestion, especially if passenger traffic continues its fast growth. And there is no guarantee that full funding will materialize.

No cost estimate for the overhaul has been disclosed, but it is likely to total several hundred million dollars. The expansion would take at least 31/2 years to complete and would be financed by airlines that use the airport, US Airways and airport officials said.

The bond financing also would pay for reconfiguring gates in Terminal A-West to accommodate more wide-bodied jets for overseas flights, and for designing a new domestic baggage-sorting area for US Airways on the ground level of Terminals B and C.

The airport is embarking on the new work as it continues a $255 million project to transform Terminals D and E with new ticket counters, bag-claim areas, retail space and a 14-lane security checkpoint that would serve both concourses.

The enlarged D-E checkpoint, scheduled for completion by Thanksgiving 2008, should relieve what have been the airport's longest waits to clear security this summer, airport officials said.

City Aviation Director Charles J. Isdell recalled in an interview that passengers were delighted with Terminal F when it opened in June 2001 because it replaced a remote parking area for planes, where travelers had to walk across the tarmac to board buses to take them to the rest of the airport.

Because of the crowded conditions now, "they're not so overwhelmed by the wonder of being indoors," Isdell said.

The travelers who may welcome the Terminal F improvements most are those who have been baffled by where they need to go to find ground transportation after they reach the small bag-claim area.

F is the only terminal where baggage claim is next to the departures road, where passengers are dropped off for their flights, rather than on the arrivals road, where they are picked up after arriving. It was set up that way because of the way the terminal was expected to be used -- by flights on smaller planes -- when it was designed in 1998, airport officials said.

To reach the passenger pickup zones from the terminal, travelers must go up one flight, walk across a bridge, and take an elevator or stairs down to ground level.

"Since we opened it, there's been this confusion over where do you pick people up," Isdell said.

The airport has tried to help with large signs directing travelers upstairs and over the bridge, and other signs warning them not to try sprinting across the departures road.

The airport's plan for Terminal F calls for enlarging the central area where three concourses intersect, to provide more room for concessions, and pushing out exterior walls to add seating space around gates, Deputy Aviation Director Mark Gale said.

Much of the work on Terminal F will be in areas passengers do not see, where bags are sorted and screened or airlines and other airport tenants have offices, he said.

US Airways' Lambert emphasized that the project was in its preliminary phases, saying the airline would not give it a green light until it knew more about what would be involved and how much it would cost.

"Over the next year, in a collaborative process with the airport, we'll see from an engineering standpoint what we can do," Lambert said.

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Read Tom Belden's blog on travel in and around Phila. at

http://go.philly.com/roadwarrior

Contact staff writer Tom Belden at 215-854-2454 or tbelden@phillynews.com

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