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Airport to see $175 million expansion

By Staff | Jul 12, 2019

Renovations to Southwest Florida International Airport are on the horizon – cost-free to taxpayers.

The Lee County Port Authority, which is governed by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, has approved a $175 million expansion of the airport which they said is attracting more and more visitors each month.

“This is good for the economy,” District 2 County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass said. “People are coming here and hopefully they’re coming here to spend money.”

The airport (RSW) served nearly 9.4 million passengers in 2018 and is one of the top 50 U.S. airports for passenger traffic.

Pendergrass said that residents will be able to see the changes in the next five to 10 years at RSW, with terminal expansions, improved security checkpoints and TSA lines, improved rental car facilities, gate and concourse additions, improved curbside capacity, increased number of flights and more.

Funding for this expansion comes from general airport revenue bonds, passenger facility charges, federal and state grants, as well as money from the airport itself.

Grants include Federal Aviation Administrative grants from airport discretionary funds and Florida Department of Transportation grants for transportation infrastructure.

The passenger facility charge is a user fee created by Congress and regulated by the FAA to be used for airport safety, capacity, environmental and security projects.

The terminal expansion design objective is “An integration of the land and sea, a neutral color palette that reflects the influences found throughout the region and where the boardwalk meets the water’s edge.”

The interior of the facility also will get a new look with up-to-date flooring, walls and paint all designed to fit the theme.

Pendergrass said a new back wall of the main entrance will be redone with more glass to open things up.

RSW will get new food and beverage options, more conveyance and specialty retail, as well as currency exchange.

The terminal expansion project is set to be complete in January of 2023.

There will be a change in security checkpoints as well. Previously, passengers would not be able to travel from concourse to concourse once they pass through TSA, now, travelers will have access to all areas once through security.

“Most people want to buy food and drinks after they get through TSA, and not have to fumble around with items while trying to get though,” Pendergrass said.

Security checkpoint expansions will be easier to get through, Pendergrass said, as there will be new screening lanes just inside of the doors, with more lanes added.

Pendergrass noted numerous security line waits of more than 90 minutes in February, March and April.

“We’ll be putting TSA at one central location with multiple lanes,” Pendergrass said.

An increase in passengers visiting RSW also caused wait times to inflate, as RSW saw a nearly 10 percent increase of travelers between January and April compared to the same timeframe in 2018.

A new computed tomography machine, or carry-on bag scanner, is set to be installed this year, as well as the addition of a new K9 team.

New screening lanes are set to be operational in February.

RSW will also look to add more gates to be able to offer more flights.

They will also look into a ground boarding option for passengers.

“More gates means more airline options and more visitors,” Pendergrass said.

This process may take the longest to complete, as the board approval of terminal area plan preparation will begin in 2022.

Curbside services will also be getting a facelift, as well as updated ticketing machines that make boarding easier and offer more information.

RSW will also be working on a pet- friendly space for emotional support animals.

A pet-friendly room will be made so that, “Dogs think they’re outside,” said Pendergrass, as the room will have artificial grass for pets to do their “business” before boarding.

There will also be the addition of quiet rooms where passengers looking for a reprieve from travel can enjoy some peace and quiet.

Parking lot expansions will accompany the renovations as the LCPA expects an increase in travelers with gate and airline additions.

Rental car facilities with get upgrades and additions with help from rental car facility charges, a “stable and common industry funding option for the upcoming Rental Car Service Facility Relocation Project.”

The LCPA will begin to establish a target budget in January.

Groundbreaking for a new air traffic control tower is also set for this year.

Pendergrass is confident that these expansions and renovations will improve travel for local Southwest Florid residents and the visitors that come to see us.

Pendergrass said even numbers in the “offseason” are growing and that the county is touting the summer months in Florida.

“The number of visitors in these months are growing,” Pendergrass said.

RSW has seen an increase in visitors in the months of June, July and August from 2016-2018 according to a chart released in late June of this year.

“We’re trying to market our region throughout the year,” Pendergrass said, and he believes improvements to the airport are a step in the right direction.