Lehigh Valley International Airport will shortly embark on a two-phase, $17.6 million renovation that will reduce delays for passengers checking in and passing through security.
The building project will create a separate security screening corridor for outgoing passengers that will connect the terminal where passengers enter the airport to the gate area where they depart.
The new security checkpoint, expected to be ready by the end of next year, will increase the number of people who can be processed. That should shorten the lines of passengers who must pass through the checkpoint before proceeding to the gate area.
The renovations will help the airport prepare for passenger growth. It will also remove some of the hassles of air travel that have cropped up since security procedures stiffened at U.S. airports after 9/11.
"Our first priority is to fix the capacity problem at the security checkpoint," said Larry Krauter, deputy executive director of Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, which operates LVIA. "We have to remove the bottleneck."
The Transportation Security Administration, which oversees passenger screening at airports, often requires passengers to remove shoes and other items before proceeding through a metal detector. Security officials also ask people carrying laptop computers to open them.
Lines at security checkpoints have lengthened at airports across the nation since the terror attacks in 2001. Officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for example, asked the TSA for help in May when lines at its checkpoint reached a half mile.
While not nearly as bad as Atlanta, LVIA has its share of lines, as well, particularly during its "rush hours" on Monday and Friday mornings when business travelers are on the move. Passengers can sometimes wait as long as 20 minutes at LVIA.
Plus, the airport has seen an influx of passengers in the last year. That's because the travel industry has recovered from the slump that followed 9/11, and local travelers have discovered Southeast Airlines flights to Florida. LVIA passenger volume is up 9 percent over last year.
Airport officials want to expedite the security check-in so the process takes 10 minutes or less for each passenger.
The 28-foot-wide hall on the airport's ground floor can now accommodate two lanes of outbound passengers. Often, passengers who must undergo extra security screening are directed to use one of the lanes, leaving the normal screening process with only one lane.
The renovation will allow for three security check-in lanes, with two for outbound passengers and one for extra screening. That's good news for the airlines as well.
"The airlines are on board," said George Doughty, executive director of the airport authority. "They know the security point is a potential problem."
Airport officials have been mulling improvements to the terminal for several years. They created preliminary drawings in 2001. Then the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, and changed the way airports screened passengers. So LVIA decided to hold off on renovations until it could incorporate a security aspect.
Passenger facility charges will pay for the project. The charges are added to the cost of each airplane ticket to cover airport renovations and improvements. Doughty said he likes to use the charges to pay for improvements that passengers can readily appreciate.
The airport's last major construction project was the $15 million expansion in 1997 of the Wiley Post Concourse that houses the gates where passengers board flights. The 60,000 square-foot terminal addition allowed the airport to increase the number of airplanes it could accommodate.
Besides the changes to the screening area, the airport will take care of some needed cosmetic improvements such as new carpet in the terminal.
In the ticketing area where passengers first check in, airport officials want to remove the clutter of the baggage scanning equipment. Currently, checked luggage is scanned for explosive devices by an electronic trace detection machine that sits in front of the ticket counters.
Officials say the equipment doesn't leave passengers much room to queue up at the ticket counters. The project will include the construction of a new baggage handling area that will be built behind the ticket counters.
Airport officials anticipate changes in baggage scanning equipment. Moving the equipment away from the passenger area will allow officials to more easily make changes to the process. For example, the airport will soon receive a CTX machine that scans for explosives. The machine's large size could create hassles if left in front of the ticket counters.
Terminal improvements will include renovating ticket counters so that they can be used by any airline. That will help the airport makes changes and add carriers to its lineup of airlines. The airport will also add automated check-in kiosks that will allow passengers to obtain boarding passes without waiting in line for a ticket agent.
Construction of the new security check-in above-ground walkway will begin in January. Officials hope to have it open for the 2005 holiday season and completed by January 2006. The renovations to the terminal are expected to begin next summer and end by summer of 2006.