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LAX, Orlando Among U.S. Airports to Debut New Terminals in $13 Billion Overhauls

Edward Russell

March 18th, 2022

The Terminal 2/3 Delta Sky Way in Los Angeles to the South Terminal Complex in Orlando are just a few of the multi-billion dollar expansion projects poised to open at airports across the U.S. in the coming months.

Pieces of more than $13 billion in airport investments in cities coast-to-coast will open as airports wrap up work that they began before and carried on during the pandemic. One of the largest imminent openings is the $2.8 billion South Terminal Complex at Orlando International Airport that will open for its first travelers this summer. Other coming openings include an expansion of Terminal 5 at Chicago O’Hare, the new Terminal A at Newark Liberty, and major pieces of Delta Air Lines-led projects at Los Angeles, or LAX, and New York LaGuardia.

The openings come after an uncertain time for airports during the pandemic. Passenger numbers collapsed in 2020 with Orlando, one of the country’s busiest airports, handling just 1,517 departing passengers on April 15 that year. But the recovery, at least for domestic travel, has been faster and more robust than most expected with many airports — especially in leisure-oriented markets — back to near bursting. Airports that continued works through the crisis, rather than postponing or cancelling them, are sitting pretty as U.S. domestic number approach 2019 levels.

And even airlines’ capacity discipline amid elevated fuel prices, and cuts to regional flying owing to the U.S. pilot shortage are expected to do little to slow the travel recovery.

“We see low risk to our base case that passenger traffic will increase throughout 2022 and reach 95 percent of 2019 levels by year-end,” wrote Earl Heffintrayer, a senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service, in a report on March 14. The risks he referred to are the fuel price spike and pilot shortage.

Airports, for their part, are pressing forward with openings and restarting paused projects with traveler numbers on track to soon surpass 2019. These works are seen as key to handle growing passenger numbers with both new and renovated facilities that meet contemporary traveler demands.

Chicago O’Hare is moving forward with its phased $8.5 billion terminal modernization plan that includes a new Global Terminal on the site of today’s Terminal 2, and new satellite concourses for American Airlines and United Airlines’ hubs. The first piece of the project, a $1.2 billion, 10-gate expansion of Terminal 5, is scheduled to open in the first half of the year. Delta Air Lines will move to the gates from Terminal 2, and allowing work to begin on further phases of the project.

Renovations to Terminal 5, which include the expansion project, are due to open from 2021 through 2023, according to a Chicago Department of Aviation spokesperson.

Delta is ready to open of the new headhouse piece of its $2.3 billion Terminal 2/3 modernization at LAX on April 20. The facility is the centerpiece of the new “Delta Sky Way” at the airport, and includes expanded check in, security, and baggage claim facilities. Still to come aspects of the project are a new Terminal 3 concourse, and an updated Terminal 2 concourse.

“Despite the global uncertainty, Delta continues to push forward toward a bright future,” CEO Ed Bastian told staff in a memo on March 17. “In a couple of weeks I’ll be at LAX with our people to celebrate the opening of our world-class consolidated terminal.”

The Atlanta-based carrier will also open the new terminal headhouse and Concourse E pieces of its phased $4 billion reconstruction of Terminal C at LaGuardia this spring. The first piece of the modernization, Concourse G, opened in 2019, with two additional concourses — D and F — planned to open in phases through 2026.

And the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark, is expected to open the $2.7 billion, 33-gate new Terminal A at Newark in the next few months. United will occupy at least 12 gates in the facility that, a year ago, targeted an opening this April. Air Canada, American, Delta, and JetBlue Airways will also operate from the facility.

The Port Authority did not immediately respond to inquiries on the Terminal A opening.

Orlando’s South Terminal will add 15 gates and a new terminal complex when it opens this summer. JetBlue will move to the facility, while other airline assignments are pending. The new terminal is also connected to a station on the soon-to-open Brightline rail line to Miami. And, in recognizing the strong recovery — Orlando was the third-busiest in the U.S. in January and February — the airport has restarted work a $400 million, eight-gate expansion of the South Terminal that was deferred in May 2020. Work on the additional gates is scheduled to begin in the second half of the year.

These are just five of numerous expansion projects underway at airports big and small across the U.S. Missoula, Mont., one of the many small communities that saw a boom in travelers during the pandemic, will open a new terminal in May. While facing delays, Denver is prepping a number of concourse extensions to debut later this year, and recently the city council recently approved additional funds to complete a renovation of its terminal building.

In 2019, Chicago O’Hare, LAX, and Orlando were among the 10 busiest in the U.S., according to Federal Aviation Administration data. Newark was the 12th busiest and LaGuardia the 21st.

Edward Russell

March 18th, 2022

Photo credit: Delta will open a new terminal headhouse, the latest piece of its $4 billion LaGaurdia modernization project, this spring. Delta Air Lines

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