The long-awaited major remodel of the Billings airport is scheduled to start next month with goals of expanding the airport to accommodate more flights, make travelers more comfortable while they await flights and giving the passenger terminal a brighter, more open and contemporary look that showcases the local landscape.
The price tag for the whole project is around $55 million. None of that will be paid by city taxpayers.
This city airport is run as an "enterprise fund," which means that it must generate revenues to cover all its expenses. The remodeling that is scheduled for completion will be covered with accumulated air passenger fees collected by the Federal Aviation Administration and remitted to Billings airport, earnings from airport rentals and other operations, federal grants and revenue bonds that will be repaid with future airport revenues. No local property tax money is involved.
The city's five-year Capital Improvement Plan indicates that the greatest expenditure for the $55 million airport project will occur this fiscal year when $40 million has been allocated to it. Additional terminal building expansion costs are budgeted in FY 2021, FY 2022 and FY 2023.
The city airport actually will have other, smaller capital projects under during the nearly four years of the major construction — projects such as airfield lighting improvement and repaving an aircraft parking ramp. Those projects also will be covered by airport revenues.
The legal and accounting requirements that the airport pay its own way also restrict its funding to the airport. For example, the city can't transfer airport funds to other departments to pay for non-aviation expenses, such as city parks or police officers.
After more than five years of planning, this major remodel should progress on schedule with completion in spring 2023.
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As airport director Kevin Ploehn told The Gazette's Rob Rogers, a challenging part of the project is keeping the airport operating continuously during construction.
First, all flights will be moved to the east concourse (B) while the west concourse (A) is demolished and remodeled with more gates, a restaurant, bar and children's plan area.
Then all flights will be moved to concourse A while B is remodeled. When only one concourse is in use, some flights will board outdoors from the ground. The plan is to construct heated tunnels to shield passengers from the weather as they board and deplane.
The overall project will transform the terminal that remains basically designed as it was before 9/11. After the attacks, new national security measures resulted in U.S. travelers spending most of their airport time inside security areas. Billings had its restaurant, bar and most restrooms outside security. In recent years, additional restrooms, a small cafe and gift shop were opened inside the secure passenger area, but the new services are more limited than what used to be available outside of the secure passenger area.
Want to see what the airport has planned? A "fly thru" video of each phase of the project is posted on the city website. Find it on the airport page or click on the link with this Gazette opinion at billingsgazette.com.