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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Philadelphia Airport's $45M Expansion Opens Today

Philadelphia Inquirer

A $45 million expansion to Terminal E at Philadelphia International Airport, where Southwest Airlines Co. has its gates, opens to passengers today.

Mayor Nutter will be on hand, as will officials from the airport and Southwest Airlines, for a ribbon cutting and dedication in a central rotunda of the terminal.

The improvements are part of a $300 million makeover to Terminals D and E that began several years ago, after the arrival of Southwest, the nation's largest low-fare carrier.

Southwest invigorated travel when it came here in May 2004, reducing fares on routes where it competed, particularly with US Airways Group Inc., the region's dominant airline.

With the growth of Southwest, which began with 14 flights to six cities and now operates 54 nonstops a day to 18 destinations - and more flights by discount carrier AirTran Airways - there was a pressing need to renovate Terminals D and E, airport officials said.

A fan-shaped extension at the end of Concourse E adds seven gates for aircraft, a 500-seat passenger waiting area, a mini food court with new concessions, and a 350-foot curved-glass wall.

The improvements do for Southwest, AirTran, United, Delta, Continental and Air Canada - all of which fly out of D and E - what a $139 million makeover to Terminals B and C did in 1998 for US Airways.

About a fourth of Philadelphia passengers depart and arrive in D and E.

Southwest, Philadelphia's second busiest carrier, acted as general contractor for the Terminal E face-lift, the latest phase of a multistage project.

It is the airport's largest construction project since the International Terminal opened in 2003.

In December 2008, a 204,000-square-foot "connector" building opened - wedged between Terminals D and E - with a 14-lane passenger security checkpoint, a mall with 10 shops, and a view of the airfield. (Previously there were four security lanes in D and four in E.)

This Friday, a new D-E baggage-claim building with nine carousels is scheduled to open and connect the existing bag-claim areas for Terminals D and E.

In May, an automated bag sorting system with high-technology explosives-detection machines that screen bags at a rate of 750 an hour will be completed on a floor below the D-E passenger screening. After testing, the system should be ready for use in the fall.

By the end of 2010, passenger ticket counters will be replaced in Terminals D and E, to include 23 additional counters and new escalators and stairs.

These changes mean passengers can now walk from Terminal A - where international flights come and go - all the way to Terminal E without having to go through security screening more than once.

The $300 million tab for the entire project will be paid by airport revenue bonds funded by the airlines, federal grants, and passenger facility charges, which are fees of up to $4.50 imposed on departing passengers to use on Federal Aviation Administration approved projects.

Looking to the future, the airport wants to revamp Terminal F, where nearly 400 commuter and regional jet flights depart daily. That $100 million project would link Terminal F to E so passengers would be able to walk from A to F - the full length of the airport - after going through security only once.

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