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Charleston airport eyes $305M in expansion work over the next 5 years

Charleston airport parking

Construction continues on the new 3,000-space parking deck at Charleston International, one of six projects the airport will undertake at a cost of about $305 million over the next five years. Warren L. Wise/Staff

With the holiday travel rush tapering off, more construction is ahead at South Carolina's busiest airport.

Over the next five years, several projects will be underway to expand parking, the passenger terminal and supporting airfield elements at Charleston International at a cost of roughly $305 million. 

Now being built is the $100 million five-level parking garage that will handle just over 3,000 vehicles when completed by next November.

At about the same time it's wrapping up, work will begin on the first phase of an estimated $44 million addition to the airline ticket hall.

The configuration has not been determined, but the expansion could either extend out into an employee parking lot or wrap around the back side of the current ticket counter space, emptying passengers directly into the security checkpoint, according to airport CEO Paul Campbell.

"I prefer to take it out into the parking lot," Campbell said.

The expansion, which could be two levels, will add about 20 new desks, enough to accommodate about five new airlines, he said.

The Lowcountry is now served by nine carriers, including seasonal flights to London on British Airways, which is able to share check-in space with another airline during its April-October service window.

Campbell said if carriers Frontier, Allegiant and Alaska expand service, they will need additional space as well. He surmised that other airlines such as Air Canada could one day begin serving the Lowcountry again, and new nonstop routes, including a nonstop Los Angeles flight the airport is angling for, would require more counter space.

Not far from the ticket hall addition, work is already underway on an expansion of the airport's fuel depot at a cost of $7.4 million.

The extra tank space will provide about 40 percent more capacity and is needed because of the airport's growth with more and larger aircraft serving the Lowcountry. The fuel depot also serves Boeing Co.'s airplanes, which are assembled beside the terminal.

"There is no pipeline here, so we have to truck it in from Augusta to Charleston," Campbell said of the jet fuel.

Two other smaller projects not directly affecting passengers will be the $2.5 million renovation of the annex building where the police department is now located on Porsche Boulevard and the $1 million repaving of the apron where passenger jets park next to the terminal.

By reworking space in the annex, Campbell said the airport can lease office space to private businesses as another way to generate revenue.

The airport's next big-ticket item will be the $150 million addition of a third concourse. Work likely will start in late 2021.

The new wing will jut out from the terminal where the rental car pavilion is now located and then turn out toward the airfield in a second phase. When the new parking garage is completed late next year, rental cars will be moved to the bottom floor.

Construction on the new wing is expected to take about two years and will offer four or five gates in the first phase and about five more in a second section that could be added later or built at the same time, depending on demand and cost estimates, Campbell said.

Other projects are in the works as well at Charleston County Aviation Authority's two smaller airfields at an estimated cost of $12.2 million.

At Charleston Executive Airport on Johns Island, about $10.7 million will be spent to upgrade airfield lighting, the entrance road and two taxiways. The work is expected to be completed by 2023.

Over at Mount Pleasant Regional Airport, $1.5 million has been set aside to construct about 30 new hangars.

Campbell said about 80 people are on a waiting list for the East Cooper airport's hangars, but the airfield's expansion also must take into account the area's wetlands.

The Aviation Authority won't be on the hook for all of the expenses associated with its construction projects.

Federal airport grants will pay for about one-third of the ticket hall expansion, half of the new wing and 90 percent of apron repaving, airfield lighting, taxiway work and new hangars.

Other than federal funding for certain projects, Charleston International is a self-supporting entity. It does not collect money from local or state taxes.

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Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524. Follow him on Twitter @warrenlancewise.

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