Charleston airport officials are exploring the addition of four gates and a remote concourse to handle the increased airline load ahead of building a new wing.
Three of the proposed modular structures could be added to the end of Concourse A while a similar gate could be tacked onto Concourse B, according to a report by consultant Mark Ahasic, president of Ahasic Aviation Advisors of New York City.
A remote concourse with an elevated walkway could be added on either side of the terminal as well as rooftop patios with passenger waiting areas above Concourse B, according to the concept.
Ahasic offered several alternatives to increasing gate capacity, but airport CEO Elliott Summey said the plan for additional temporary gates and a remote concourse is the most likely to be presented to the board early next year for consideration.
An estimated price tag for the project has not been made, but Summey said the cost is considerably less than the projected $200 million cost of a new wing.
If approved, construction would not begin for several months, according to Summey.
The additions would help with aircraft capacity and the expected growth in passenger traffic before construction is completed on a third concourse in 2026, he said. The new wing is in preliminary design stages.
Summey also said jetbridges for the new gates could be moved to the new wing once it's completed.
Ahasic likened the current method of airlines using certain gates at Charleston's airport to a cubicle being dedicated for one person for exclusive use.
He believes a common-use strategy, with the airport dictating which gates are available when a jet lands, would boost the number of flights and passengers the terminal could handle in a year.
"There is capacity being left on the table," Ahasic said.
He believes the airport could handle 50 more flights per day at full common use and increase its annual passenger count considerably.
The airport currently has 257 arrivals and departures per day, but the number changes monthly, Summey said.
If air carriers want to expand service to Charleston, Summey believes the temporary gates will show them the airport is trying to increase its ability to handle more jets at the terminal.
"How do we capture their business without losing the opportunity?" he said. "If we don't have the capacity to handle them, they are going to go somewhere else and we might not get them to consider us again."
By next April, 11 carriers will be serving Charleston International when Sun Country Airlines launches service to its home base in Minneapolis. If British Airways brings back its international flights, the airport will have an even dozen providers.
The growth in the number of airlines serving the airport and the expected rise in passenger count once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control will result in the need for additional space for carriers at the existing 15 gates, Summey said.
"Growth has been tremendous at the airport, and it's expected to continue," Ahasic said.
The airport added five gates when it completed a $200 million overhaul in 2016. The terminal set passenger records every year for more than a decade leading up to the coronavirus outbreak.
In addition to a new concourse, plans are in the works to expand the airline ticketing and check-in area.