As Southwest prepares for landing, CVG's Concourse A hurriedly enters upgrade mode

$10.4 million project doesn't settle area's fate
Posted at 7:00 AM, Jan 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-01 14:39:50-05

HEBRON, Ky. -- Officials at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport are planning a multimillion-dollar buildout in Concourse A to accommodate growth in 2017 -- and quickly.

But long-term, that space -- a once-bustling hall from Delta's heyday -- could meet a wrecking ball as CVG continues to position itself as a multicarrier facility.

On the heels of Southwest's big splash, CVG's team is now expediting the concourse's completion by bringing online four additional departure gates, among other improvements, to accommodate new and expanded air service.

The estimated cost is $10.4 million -- which pushes investment in that facility to nearly $50 million over a five-year span.

In its current configuration, Concourse A is fully utilized at its peak hours. Planned new service by Southwest -- and other airlines, like Frontier, which is boosting its summer schedule by 63 percent year-over-year -- would exceed its availability.

Additionally, American Airlines is introducing mainline service to the Dallas market in April. United continues to offer two-class cabins on all its weekday flights.

"This is going to be a hopping place," said Adam Kressler, CVG's director of air service.

The project, in detail, would include the build-out of four gates, passenger loading bridges, ramp and bag system improvements, seating and ticketing area upgrades and more.

And time is of the essence. The project needs to be complete prior to Southwest's launch June 4. The airline, known for its "bags fly free" policy and focus on customer service, will initially serve two cities via CVG: Chicago-Midway and Baltimore.

There's hope for additional city pairs in the near future.

"We need to be able to move this as quickly as possible," CVG CEO Candace McGraw said. "We're pushing for the third week of May at very latest. That would be our absolute drop-dead date."

Concourse A was once a casualty of Delta's decline in Cincinnati. In 2010, the airline cut hundreds of jobs locally and completely phased out of the facility, consolidating all operations to Concourse B. In 2012, the airport spent $36.5 million on a spruce-up in an effort to attract new carriers; its 17 gates are now split between American, United, Air Canada, Frontier, Allegiant and OneJet.

Additional gates weren't added back in 2012, McGraw said, because there was simply no need. The renovation wrapped before CVG landed either Frontier or Allegiant, in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Those two carriers alone now account for 21 percent of the airport's traffic.

Still, even with these updates, Concourse A is outdated in a sense.

"(Both) Concourse A and Concourse B were constructed (as) large hub, primarily one-carrier facilities," said CVG planner Barb Schempf. "They're now oversized and not really the right type of facility that we need … for our type of market and operation going forward."

CVG's long-term master plan, which runs through year 2035, suggests demolition as one option, after a new, expanded concourse, of course, is built to take its place. Airport officials are still studying their options. The last renovation at Concourse A extended its shelf life by approximately 10 years. Concourse B will need "significant renovations around 2030," the master plan study says.

"We know there's additional operating costs to continue business as usual," Schempf said. "A new facility is a large capital investment up front but (has) lower overall cost down the road. … It's really time," she added. "We're at the point where we really need to make decisions."