New Orleans airport rehab to cost $82.5 million

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport officials are forging ahead with $82.5 million in repairs, including safety and capacity improvements, with help from federal transportation grants.

Airport Aviation Director Sean Hunter and his team are working to improve airport appearance, efficiency and security. The bevy of rehabilitation projects should help the official push to attract more post-Katrina flights.

"We've been meeting with members of the community about how to make the airport more attractive (and) what we want it to look like," said Hunter. "The major renovations have already been bid and soon will be awarded. "

The Federal Aviation Administration gave more than $8 million in U.S. Department of Transportation grants to the airport and additional grants are expected, Hunter said. New Orleans most recently landed $23,750 in federal money in April to replace its radar guidance system for helicopters.

Hunter said one of the most pressing projects - and most expensive at $11.5 million - involves fixing the terminal and concourse roofs, which were in disrepair even before Hurricane Katrina ripped them open and a February 2006 tornado inflicted more damage. The roof over Concourse C, Armstrong's busiest concourse, sustained the most damage.

The airport organized its rehabilitation program into 10 project groups, which consist of approximately 80 smaller construction projects, said Mario Rodriguez, Armstrong deputy director of planning and development.

The rehabilitation program will cost an estimated $27.5 million, including $11.5 million in roof work. Insurance will cover repair costs, Rodriguez said.

"(Concourses) A and B are almost complete for roof repair and basically have a whole new roof," said Hunter. "C and D's (roof repairs) are under way. "

The airport has a $22-million budget for exterior and interior improvements, most still in the design phase although $2.5 million in renovations have begun, said Rodriguez. The airport's Passenger Facility Charge Program, a federal program that allows commercial airports to collect $3.50 for every boarding passenger to pay for capital improvements, will fund all costs, he said.

Exterior improvements include paving, lighting, signage, and exhaust and ventilation systems on the roadway system. Exterior renovations will improve the first- and second-level facades along the curbside pickup and dropoff points, replacing overhead signs and installing digital message signs at the terminal building approach.

The airport will also add more walkways and aluminum siding with stucco near the curbside check-in locations on the upper level. Lower-level enhancements include exhaust ventilation.

Interior improvements include new walls and floor finishes, code compliance, lighting and replacing all transportation counters and information kiosks in the baggage claim area.

Improvements will be made to the Parabola lobby near the entrance to Concourse C, and to the public restrooms. Flight information display screens will also be replaced with state-of-the-art versions.

The airport plans several security upgrades. Hunter has a $10.2-million budget to build a new Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Station east of the existing station.

"The current facility has outlived its useful life and expansion on the current site is not possible," said Rodriguez. "The new facility was designed to meet the airport's future needs and the demands of increased aircraft operations levels. "

The New Orleans Aviation Board rebid the ARFF project in mid-May after the only bid received was 71 percent higher than the engineer's $7-million estimate.

The FAA is funding 75 percent of the project with federal Airport Improvement Program grants. The airport's share will come from its Passenger Facility Charge program. The ARFF project is expected to begin this summer.

The airport's new $20.1-million Security Operations Center will consolidate the Aviation Communications Center and security departments in early 2009.

The new center will be constructed in two phases. Phase I will replace equipment and Phase II will enhance existing equipment, such as installing a facility for employees to obtain badges. Enhancements will be made to the existing security infrastructure both in the terminal and on the perimeter of the airfield, said Rodriguez.

"The new construction will provide an op center where all security components of the airport can work together to partner for the best overall security," said Kevin McCarthy, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration in New Orleans. "This new piece will be a much larger, dedicated space with new and improved technology, which will allow even better communication and cooperation among the agencies. "