May 30—The Dane County Regional Airport will unveil its new south terminal on Monday in a 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony hours after its inaugural flight takes off.
The new terminal boasts two floors, with 45,000 square feet of restaurants, retail and other public space on the upper floor and 45,000 square feet of maintenance workshops and infrastructure on the lower floor. The new terminal adds three new gates to the airport, for a total of 16.
"You want to see the airport continue to grow and continue to offer more flights," said Michael Riechers, the airport's director of marketing and communications.
When the first American Airlines flight takes off from the south terminal after 6 a.m., it will mark the completion of the first phase of a two-phase, $85 million project launched in 2021. The second phase, the removal of the former south terminal, will be completed in early 2024.
The old south terminal became a barrier to the airport's record-breaking growth from 2016 to 2019. Designed for small commuter planes, the old terminal "dog-legged" out toward the airfield with ramps going down to ground level. As planes became larger, parking them in those south terminal gates became more of a challenge, creating a "choke point," Riechers said.
"We realized if this growth continued, we were going to run out of space to park airplanes," he said. "The thought process was that the planes at those gates would be really small, meant for short jumps — you know, Madison to Duluth or Madison to Omaha or something like that. But that's just not the direction that the industry ended up taking over the last 30 to 40 years. ... We couldn't park two modern large aircraft next to each other at those two gates."
The new south terminal's straight design will eliminate that bend, said Riechers, making for more room for today's larger planes.
"It really is setting us up for the future," he said.
Because of the "cataclysmic drop" in service caused by the pandemic, a majority of the new terminal's construction was completed "without impacting a single flight or turning a flight destination away," Riechers said.
"The timing couldn't have been better in that regard," he said.
Currently, the airport's service levels have been similar to those of 2017, he said.
"It's been a very slow and steady recovery which we appreciate because we're able to accommodate that travel as it eases back into pre-pandemic levels," he said.
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