Detroit, Mich.'s Metro Airport Constructs New Concourse For NWA Flights

Flying to Muskegon or Milwaukee out of Metro Airport on Northwest Airlines isn't like jetting off to New York or London.

For those destinations, travelers usually walk past Concourse A's high-ceilinged, naturally lit grandeur, through the kaleidoscopic tunnel and eventually through a narrow hallway to their gates.

But that will change by the end of the year when Northwest expects to open the first gates to its new Concourse C, a taller, wider version under construction next to the current boxy concourse.

The entire building -- with Concourse A-like ceilings and light -- should be complete by summer 2006, said Thomas Gunn, Northwest's director of design and construction for the project.

A new Concourse C is part of a $190-million project that also expanded Concourse B from eight gates to 17. Concourse C will expand from 25 to 41 gates. On average, 9,400 passengers use the two concourses each day.

To pay back the bonds sold for the project, the Wayne County Airport Authority is using $4.50 fees charged departing passengers.

The airline has expected to rebuild Concourse C since it opened it in 2002 for 34-seat propeller planes. But it delayed construction in 2003, when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the war in Iraq and terrorism concerns caused uncertainty in the industry, said Northwest spokesman Thomas Becher. But Northwest resumed construction to make Concourse C feel more like Concourse A because more passengers would be using it as the airline started using larger 44- and 50-seat planes at that concourse.

Travelers who use the existing Concourse C wait in a large lobby along with passengers flying to other commuter stops until an agent calls their flight. After that, passengers leave the lobby -- their last stop to buy snacks or use a restroom before boarding -- for a long corridor, where they find their gate.

The new Concourse C is intended to be more comfortable and easier for travelers to use, with a more conventional airport experience, Gunn said.

"You've got restrooms and you've got concessions," he said.

That's a welcome addition for Cindy Gibbs, who was frustrated when she couldn't buy a bottle of water after reaching her gate on her way to Myrtle Beach, S.C., last week.

"I just wanted a bottle of water. There was no vending machine. No kiosk. No nothing," said Gibbs, 47, of Clawson.

The airline will add gates to Concourse C's large waiting room. It also will build four of what Gunn calls pods, each with six gates, concessions and restrooms.

Walkways will connect each pod and a 10-gate waiting area at the end of the concourse. In all, Concourse B and C will span a half-mile -- half the size of Concourse A -- when construction is complete.

The new design makes sense, said Paul Powers, manager of aviation architecture at Madison, Wis.-based architecture firm Mead & Hunt Inc., which is not involved in the project.

The pod design is common and saves money compared to terminals that maintain a single width because it takes up less space, uses fewer materials and requires less maintenance, he said.

An April 25 article in the Business section about the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport incorrectly said Northwest Airlines' flights from Detroit to Milwaukee depart from Concourse C. They depart from the terminal's Concourse A.