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Charlotte Area

Charlotte Airport Expansion Plans Unveiled Tonight

Julie Rose

More than 44 million passengers flew through Charlotte-Douglas International Airport last year. That was a record, one that the airport hopes won’t stand for long.

Monday night, the Charlotte City Council will hear plans to expand Charlotte Douglas. They call for a new runway and nearly doubling the number of gates at the airport.

For the past year, airport consultants have been trying to suss out what the future holds. Their projections show its time for the airport to have a growth spurt. "To meet the aircraft demand we would need a fourth parallel runway," says Brent Cagle, Interim Aviation Director. More airplanes mean more passengers and by the 2030's Cagle says "we would need a significant increase in the number of gates in our terminal."

Charlotte Douglas currently has 95 gates. Under this plan that number could nearly double to 164 gates. And more places for passengers to congregate, eat, shop and, yes, wait, for their flight.

And it comes with some risks, says Cagle. "I may date myself here but if you’ve ever seen the movie Field of Dreams, if you build it they will come?" Some airports, he says, have been burned by that belief. "That’s a gamble and it doesn’t always pay off."

So be it new gates, expanded terminals or that new runway, Cagle says they wouldn’t be built all at once. And since these would be future projects, we don’t know how much it will cost or where that money would come from.

Now, the fees and other costs airlines pay to the airport works out to around $1.35 per passenger. That makes it the cheapest major hub in the country. One way the airport keeps the cost of doing business in Charlotte low, says Cagle, is by having one of the highest passenger per square foot ratios in the nation. Cagle translates it this way, "We have a lot of people in a little building."

Little building means lower costs for heating, cooling and maintenance. If expansion happens to fast, that will change and potentially make Charlotte less attractive to airlines.

Cagle will present the expansion plans to the City Council tonight. No vote on the plan is currently scheduled. This, Cagle says, is simply a chance to let the council know that when the time comes, the airport is ready to grow.