Spokane International Airport. (Spokane International Airport/Visit Spokane)

Spokane International Airport. (Spokane International Airport/Visit Spokane)

Spokane airport considering scaled-down terminal expansion

The original design was deemed too expensive because of a federal cap on the passenger facility charge.

By Amy Edelen / The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane International Airport is considering changes to its proposed expansion project, with a scaled-down design at a reduced cost that still includes expanded gate capacity and a centralized security checkpoint for passengers to travel between terminals.

But before moving forward with the new design, the airport board has to give it a green light.

The initial $190 million design for the airport’s terminal expansion and renovation project, or TREX, called for a centralized security checkpoint and baggage claim in a two-story mezzanine with a connector between terminals, a skywalk, curbside canopies, additional gates at the Alaska Airlines concourse and infrastructure improvements.

But as the airport narrowed its scope on the TREX design, it was deemed too expensive because of a federally imposed cap on the passenger facility charge — a $4.50 per flight fee the airport collects from travelers and uses to fund FAA-approved projects.

Spokane International Airport CEO Larry Krauter presented the airport board with a $144 million revised TREX design at a July meeting.

The design includes the centralized security checkpoint, three additional gates at the Alaska Airlines terminal and expansion of the existing baggage claim areas, but forgoes curbside canopies, a skywalk, the second-story mezzanine and an expanded taxiway at concourse C.

Krauter suggested to the board at the July meeting there are enough cost savings to consider the new TREX design.

“We might say that it’s worth looking into further to determine if we can actually achieve the level of savings that we think we can right now, based on this level of effort,” he said.

Airport officials introduced TREX in 2013 but decided to expedite the project based on record passenger growth at the airport, which served 4 million travelers last year.

Frontier Airlines returned to the airport in 2018 after a three-year hiatus, with flights to and from Denver and Las Vegas. Southwest added nonstop flights to San Diego this year, and Alaska Airlines will begin nonstop service in November to Paine Field-Snohomish County Airport in Everett.

The airport board approved a $2.8 million contract with Architectural Alliance International last year to design TREX, whose team includes Wolfe Architectural Group, T-O Engineers and WSP USA. Inc.

TREX would be funded through a combination of bonds, grant funds and airport and passenger facility charge revenue.

Krauter said the previous TREX design would require more federal and state government grants, which can be speculative, with some giving priority to runway improvements rather than terminal expansions.

The previous design would also obligate passenger facility charge revenue to the project for three decades, he added.

“And that means no other project could be funded at this airport with passenger facility charge funds because we are obligated for 30-plus years,” he said to the airport board.

Congress is contemplating changes to the passenger facility charge as airports nationwide are actively lobbying lawmakers to increase the fee.

Krauter testified before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in March, asking lawmakers to raise the cap on the passenger facility charge from $4.50 to $8.50, stating its purchase power is half of what it was when the charge was adjusted by Congress in 2000.

U.S. Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, and Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, introduced a bill in July proposing to remove the federal cap on the passenger facility charge altogether, giving airports local control to finance construction projects.

Spokane County Commissioner Al French, also a member of the airport board, prefers the previous TREX design, but indicated the airport has to build the expansion within funding constraints.

French noted the airport’s proposed expansion is not paid for by taxpayers but by travelers using the airport.

“I think there’s great potential and opportunity for the airport to expand at a very rapid rate, and we want to make sure we have a facility to accommodate that,” he said. “The number of people flying is increasing exponentially, and we need to provide a facility to keep pace with the demand.”

A challenge with the new TREX design is it limits how the airport can physically expand if passenger growth continues. The board is evaluating how many years the new design will accommodate passengers before further expansion is needed, Krauter said.

The airport board is expected to vote on the TREX design by September, Krauter said.

If approved by the board, construction on the project could be complete by 2023.

“I think this is the end of the process in that we’ve examined every conceivable option,” Krauter said. “It’s just a question if the board thinks (the design) is a good fit.”

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