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Business & Economy

Columbus airport's $2 billion upgrade would boost capacity, ease customer commutes

A rendering of a proposed terminal for John Glenn Columbus International Airport
Columbus Regional Airport Authority
A rendering of a proposed terminal for John Glenn Columbus International Airport

The Columbus Regional Airport Authority wants to replace the 65-year-old airport terminal at John Glenn Columbus International Airport with a $2 billion terminal by early 2029.

The proposed facility would modernize a space that's been in use since 1958 and has seen many renovations and changes, most drastically as CMH adapted to post-9/11 security and facility changes. Many parts of the airport are nearing the end of their useful life and the airport authority is already designing and planning to seek approval for a new facility from the airport's governing board.

Airport Authority President and CEO Joe Nardone said that time is not on the side of the current facility and a new one will alleviate a lot of problems.

"We will have more capacity. This (new) terminal will hold more folks, it'll be more comfortable, it'll be more efficient, it'll be more energy efficient. There are just so many things that our buildings built in the 2020s will have that our buildings built in the 1950s won't have or didn't have," Nardone said.

Renderings show a terminal in a similar layout to the current one with gates for multiple planes. It would go in the current location of the Blue and Cell Phone Parking Lots, adjacent to the existing Rental Car Center. A new parking garage would go next to that rental car center.

The airport serves 33 counties in central and southeast Ohio and acts as a medium hub, per FAA regulations like its neighbors in Cincinnati and Cleveland.

The airport was renovated as recently as 2016 when the ticketing and baggage check area was modernized, but Nardone said the Airport Authority knew for years that a new terminal would be needed.

Nardone said one issue is that some water lines run over some electrical switchgear and if they were to fail or break, it could create a situation where much of the terminal's electrical system would go down.

Nardone said a main driver to build the proposed facility isn't just replacing the core infrastructure of the facility, but an improvement to customer experience.

Fliers traversing the three concourses at John Glenn are separated from the other concourses and are therefore limited in the lounges and restaurants they can seek out. If someone wants to go from one side of the terminal to another while waiting on a flight, they may have to go through security checkpoints just to do so.

"As we've seen rising inflation, as we've seen construction costs, as we've seen our customers suffer from an experience that is not quite up to par," Nardone said.

He said the interior of the terminal will not only be larger, but will be more interconnected and easier to traverse. The terminal will also be built to expand in the future as central Ohio continues to rapidly grow.

Nardone said the Airport Authority is able to afford such a massive price tag, because it has been saving money, more than $200 million so far, and is receiving funding from continuing airport operations and from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs law that former Ohio Senator Rob Portman helped usher through Congress.

Nardone said when the new facility opens, he hopes people who first walk in take away that it is the most efficient and most modern terminal in the world. He said many airports that were recently replaced or modernized are now highly regarded as some of the best airports in the country.

Construction could begin next year on the project and the new terminal could open in late 2028 or early 2029.

The project also faces votes by the Airport Authority's board before it gets underway.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.