Airport prepares to opens new gates, security area

Workers are adding the finishing touches to five new gates that will open Tuesday on the new extension of Concourse B at Charleston International Airport. On the opposite side of the terminal, the new eight-lane consolidated checkpoint will open Wednesday. Both new sections are part of the ongoing $189 million overhaul of the 30-year-old terminal.

Many travelers at Charleston International Airport are in for a surprise next week.

Starting early Tuesday, passengers of US Airways, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines will be the first to see and use the five new gates at one of the airport’s two boarding areas.

The extension of Concourse B is in contrast to other parts of the terminal, which remain an active and messy construction zone marked by exposed insulation, hanging wires and heating and air conduits. The Charleston County Aviation Authority is spending $189 million to expand and renovate the 30-year-old building.

The older part of Concourse B still needs to be upgraded. But in the newly built expansion area, the floors glisten, fixtures beckon and windows flood natural light into a place where thousands of waiting passengers a week will sit, read, text or watch planes take off and land.

“You are going from a third world to a finished product,” said Paul Campbell, airports director. “When the curtain comes down between the five new gates and the old concourse, it’s really going to be a wow factor.”

Airport spokeswoman Charlene Gunnells echoed his remarks. “People aren’t going to recognize it. I think they will be stunned when they see it.”

The opening of the new boarding area is a carefully orchestrated dance with the federal Transportation Security Administration, which is moving to a single security checkpoint the next day.

The new TSA station will have six equipped lanes and two spaces for future needs.

Workers will begin moving the equipment from the two existing checkpoints late Monday. It’s expected to be in place at the new location by the start of business Wednesday.

On Tuesday only, one less TSA lane will be available at each concourse. Airport officials suggest that any passengers flying out of Charleston that day arrive extra early to avoid delays.

The opening of the TSA’s new home will pave the way for the next phase in the terminal overhaul.

The restaurants along the back wall and the offices and boardroom directly above them will be dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere.

“We’re really glad to open up some of the finished areas,” said John Connell, deputy director of airport facilities. “So much of what has been done has been behind the scenes. It will be nice for the public to see some of the finished product.”

The airport is expanding to meet growing demand. Last year, Charleston International set a record at 3.1 million arrivals and departures, a growth of 1 million travelers in five years.

Officials are already talking about adding a third wing to handle passenger boardings. While walking through the construction work earlier this week, Campbell said he expects work to begin on Concourse C within five years.

“It’s called growth,” he said. “And it’s a good problem to have.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.