The first projects of the highly anticipated Phase II Terminal Area Improvements at Long Beach Airport are scheduled to be completed in the spring, but the timeline for other projects remains uncertain following the financial toll of the pandemic, officials say.
The municipal airport’s new ticketing building and adjoining checked-baggage inspection system facility are on track to open to travelers sometime in the first quarter of 2022, according to Operations and Maintenance Bureau Manager Ron Reeves. About 90% of framing for the ticketing facility is finished and the building overall is about 50% complete, he said.
“This will be the entryway for departing passengers when they come in,” Reeves said. “It is going to be opening and inviting.”
The building will feature about 30 ticketing kiosks where passengers can check in for their flights, Reeves said. The kiosks will be state-of-the-art touchless machines, he added, noting that airport officials have learned from the pandemic. The machines also will be for common use, meaning passengers can use any kiosk regardless of which airline they are flying on.
The building also will include 21 ticketing counters that can be utilized by any airline by simply changing the display screen based on demand. Behind the scenes of the ticketing facility will be offices and meeting rooms for the various airlines that operate out of Long Beach.
The ticketing building pairs with the checked-baggage inspection system, or CBIS, facility and the two will open at the same time. When luggage is checked in the ticketing building, conveyor belts carry them into the CBIS where they are screened prior to being loaded onto their respective aircraft.
Combined, the ticketing and CBIS facilities cost $42 million to construct, which was a tall order amid the pandemic that saw revenue streams stall for months as travel plummeted. However, with millions of dollars in federal and state relief grants, the airport was able to continue work on the projects.
A third project, the new baggage claim area, is in the demolition phase. An existing structure has already been torn down and the site is being cleared for grading and a slab. However, further work on the $15 million baggage claim and other projects is contingent on a reevaluation of the airport’s financial standing, according to Claudia Lewis, bureau manager for finance and administration.
“We continuously evaluate our ability to move forward and to pay for these projects,” Lewis said. “Additionally, we are evaluating the bond market to assess our ability to sell bonds in the future. But no decision has been made on that.”
The phase two program also includes renovations to the historic terminal building, which will become the rental car facility, and a meet-and-greet plaza with concessions available to the public. All these projects were originally expected to be completed by 2022. However, a new timeline has yet to be determined.
Other future projects under phase two include a rental car ready-return lot, a ground transportation center and terminal roadway improvements.
The overall project was initially projected to cost $80 million. The Long Beach City Council approved a budget increase in February 2020, bringing the total to $110.24 million. However, increasing construction costs, including skyrocketing lumber and steel prices exacerbated by the pandemic, could mean a larger price tag in the end.
Reeves emphasized that the improvement projects do not equate to an expansion of the number of flights the airport offers. Long Beach Airport is regulated by a noise ordinance that only allowed 53 daily flights. More flights can be added based on annual noise reviews but that will not even be an option until the end of fiscal year 2021, according to airport staff.
Regardless, the improvements promise a bright future for the small airfield and especially those traveling through it, Reeves said.
“It’s incredible to see this from a long-term vision to something that is now going to benefit our passengers,” Reeves, who has worked at the airport for eight years, said. “We’re already known as the most convenient airport in the nation and this is going to make our experience even more convenient for our passengers.”