Blue Grass Airport Addition OK'd

Six more gates for commercial jets, four new loading bridges to protect airline passengers from inclement weather and two new concession shops will be included in a multimillion-dollar addition to Blue Grass Airport that was given the go-ahead yesterday.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Airport Board voted unanimously to award a $13 million contract to Messer Construction Co., based in Cincinnati, to handle most of the work on the addition to the airport's Concourse B, now used mainly by Delta Air Lines.

Work on the project, divided into two phases, should begin within the next two weeks and is expected to be completed by spring 2007, airport officials said.

The total cost of the project is expected to be $15.5 million, $3.5 million more than initially planned. Rising construction costs are the reason, said Mike Gobb, airport executive director.

Gobb said the addition and improvements, part of a larger master plan, are necessary because the number of flights at Blue Grass has increased. Delta, Northwest, US Airways and American have all added new destinations and flights during the first half of the year.

"We want to make sure we're accommodating the airlines," Gobb said of the expansion. "We want to make sure we're accommodating the airline customer, which is our customer."

In 2004, the airport served nearly 1.2 million passengers, a record for Blue Grass, though the numbers are down about 10 percent through May this year.

Currently airlines have to play a game of "musical planes" every day because there are only 10 parking positions near the airport terminal for the 14 commercial planes that are parked overnight every night.

Two of Blue Grass Airport's 10 gates are practically obsolete and now used mainly as plane parking spaces. There are loading bridges at six of the eight gates being used by passengers.

The changes will bring the number of gates to 16, with 14 to be used by passengers on a regular basis. The number of loading bridges will increase to 10.

Details haven't been worked out yet, but the new concession space on Concourse B could include a food and beverage shop and a retail store. The new vending areas will provide "psychological comfort" to passengers afraid of missing their flights if they head to other parts of the airport to make purchases, Gobb said.

"It allows us to keep concession product close to the customer," he said.

The Concourse B expansion also will include an enclosed smoking area.

Messer Construction will receive $11 million from the proceeds of a $34.3 million city-backed bond issue from late 2003 to complete the first phase. That work, which includes primarily the outer shell of the addition, is expected to take 14 months.

The remaining $4.5 million, of which at least $2 million is to go to Messer, will be used mainly for furnishings and interior work in the new part of Concourse B and refurbishing the existing part of that concourse. The second phase is expected to take an additional six months to complete.

The addition is the first major expansion of the airport terminal since 1990, when Concourse B opened.

In August, remodeling also will begin on the airport's Concourse C.

It will include enlarging restrooms and adding new seating and carpeting. That work will cost an additional $650,000 and is expected to be completed by December or January, said airport spokesman Tom Tyra.

As of now, it's not clear which airlines will use the new gates.

The new construction means that airlines will have to play musical planes a while longer. Delta will be affected most by the new addition work, Tyra said.

"The passengers should see very, very little impact at all. From our end it will take quite a bit of logistics," he said.