There are “too many people and too many airplanes” at Jacksonville International Airport these days, Jacksonville Aviation Authority CEO Mark VanLoh says.
So the airport needs more room for the growing number of passengers and aircraft, a solution that should be on hand by 2025.
Work has already begun on security checkpoint improvements, and a new six-gate concourse, the airport’s third, will begin construction this year. Along with the concourse will come another parking garage for passengers.
The final design of Concourse B should be done later this year, offering more room for passengers and, just as importantly, the aircraft waiting to fly those people out, VanLoh said. Since JIA is what’s called an origin and destination airport, airlines park their airplanes there overnight to prepare for when everybody flies out each morning, he said.
Sign up for the Jacksonville Today newsletterYour local weekday newsletter for news and ways to get involved in Northeast Florida.
“If you have flown into Jacksonville at 11 p.m. or midnight, you have seen it looks like a parking lot with all the aircraft,” he said. “So we need more gate space for these airlines. And, of course, as we are growing, more airlines are coming here. Breeze is expanding, and they want more gates. American Airlines wants more gates, and we are working heavily on more international, so it’s a matter of when.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic grew, air traffic in Jacksonville’s plunged in mid-2020, dropping from about 12,000 passengers on a normal day to about 400 a day. But growing numbers of people flew in and out as COVID eased in the past year. As busy holiday weekends approached, parts of the airport’s parking lot system filled rapidly filling with vacationers and travelers.
The first step in handling the growth is the new concourse, which will add six gates at a cost of about $300 million. The airport should break ground in August and finish up in mid to late 2025, with enough gate capacity for the next decade or two of expected growth in the region, airport officials said.
The new concourse comes as JIA and the Transportation Security Administration expand its checkpoint with new screening systems, VanLoh said.
The first of a planned nine new screening devices was unveiled just before the Labor Day holiday rush, which saw about 27,000 people ticketed to fly out on the three-day weekend compared with about 21,000 during the same period in 2021 according to the Florida Times-Union.
“The wait for the security checkpoint will be diminished by about half,” VanLoh told WJCT News. “We are underway with that project as we speak, and expanding the checkpoint to 10 lanes with all the brand new technology TSA has for us. It will speed up processing for passengers by 50%, we are told. That should be done by Thanksgiving.”
And the airport authority board just approved funds to design the third parking garage at an estimated cost of about $100 million, with ground to be broken later this year on part of the daily surface lot.
“Our passenger numbers are above our record-setting year of 2019, so we are already past that,” VanLoh said. “That’s why we have a new parking garage under design very shortly that will give us another six-story parking lot attached to what we have, so there will be no inconvenience. And it will give us another 2,000 spaces.”
The airport also will add about 500 spaces to Economy Lot 1, plus a redesign of its current employee lot. This will give the airport about 250 to 300 valet spaces, plus 250 slots for public use as the new employee lot will be located at what is currently Economy Lot 3. Airport officials say that should not affect customer parking since Economy Lot 3 is typically open only during the holidays and busy summer travel days.
The new garage should be open two years after its possible groundbreaking in late 2023 and could be done before the concourse, VanLoh said.
As to who is paying for the new terminal, parking garage and other improvements, VanLoh said it is all being funded by the aviation authority, airlines, grants and a “hodge-podge of different funding sources” that involve no taxpayer money.