Was it worth spending $200 million on Birmingham’s airport?

Al Denson, President and CEO of the Birmingham Airport Authority
Al Denson, President and CEO of the Birmingham Airport Authority

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Al Denson.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

You probably don’t remember how dilapidated our airport was.

The infrastructure was no longer able to accommodate what we needed in order to offer the public and our stakeholders a first class facility.

We desperately needed to beef up security.

And visitors to Birmingham probably thought they were arriving in a third world country.

So we took an old outdated terminal that was built in 1931, reinvented it for the future, and built one of the nicest airport facilities in America.

During the summer of 2014, we completed the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport Terminal Modernization Project.  This project would bring the old 1970s terminal to its steel beams and overhauled.

We nearly doubled the terminal size from approximately 235,000 square feet to 455,000 square feet, by adding a third concourse, Federal Inspection Station (FIS), consolidating security into a single checkpoint and adding state of the art technology with a new baggage screening system.

We were able to expand the footprint and add many other great features to the facility with you, our user, in mind.

The Birmingham Airport Authority’s (BAA) comprehensive goal for the new terminal was to minimize operating cost and maximize efficiencies in order to allow for future growth and extend the useful life of the facility for the next twenty years.

Key Amenities and Efficiencies

The old terminal was built in the 1970’s and had two passenger security checkpoints.  Consolidating the checkpoint to one location was an incredible operational improvement for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); they no longer had to staff and equip two separate checkpoints.

It also allows our passengers to explore the entire terminal during their travel to include visiting their favorite restaurant or retail spot on a different concourse from their departure gate.

The new baggage screening system has improved passengers’ travel experience bringing BHM into the 21st century. The removal of baggage screening equipment from the terminal public circulation area has opened up the terminal to facilitate easier passenger traffic movement and flow.

Other necessary improvements to the terminal were centered on the passengers’ experience.  In the previous terminal, food offerings were limited in both pre and post security areas.  In the new terminal, our food and beverage is a complimentary mix of wonderful local flavors such as Jim N Nicks and Good People Brewery along with satisfying those with national brand favorites like Chick Fil A and Starbucks.

We were able to do away with the old terminal’s high repairs requirements and replace them with more efficient complement of terrazzo flooring, more favorable use of natural indirect daylight, and symmetrically divided bathrooms to eliminate cleaning closures.

The biggest change was the building envelope; it was designed to be one of the most efficient in terms of heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

We added amenities with your needs in mind like kidszones, nursing rooms, family bathrooms, a meditation room plus the recently added service animal relief area, located post security on Concourse C and kept our best features from before like free Wi-Fi throughout.

Throughout the construction process, the aircraft apron was repaired and adapted to the new configuration of the concourses, which entailed extensive storm sewer and utilities work.

Sustainability

A major sustainability program was part of the new terminal.  This program features a high efficiency HVAC system and a sunlight harvesting system designed to reduce the use of artificial light throughout the terminal.

The airport sits in a flood plain; rainwater harvesting tanks installed during this project collect and store roof rainwater and reuse it in the terminal.  To help illustrate the impact these tanks have on our community, imagine the airport essentially removed approximately five acres from the flood plain by reducing the amount of runoff that ends up in the streams running through the middle of the airport.

One of our focus points continues to be sustainability practices in our daily operations.  We accomplish this primarily through green landscaping practices and a recycling program for passengers and airport tenants.

In April 2016, this Terminal Modernization Project was awarded LEED® Gold Certification for energy use, lighting innovation, water conservation, and material use, as well as a variety of sustainable strategies used during the new construction and continue to be ongoing.

Art

Passengers spend quite a bit more time with us now than ever before therefore it was important to surround them by an aesthetically pleasing terminal as well as intriguing art.  The Terminal Modernization Program involved the design of an Art Program that showcased the history and essence of our local community.

On one end of the adjacent Concourse B stands a living/green wall, “Earth, Wind, and Water: The Landscape of Alabama,” extending 100 feet long by 14 feet tall.  This wall was built of 8,000 individual plants and 60 unique species.  It is the largest living wall located in an airport terminal in the United States.

On the other end of Concourse B scrolls 100 feet of digital images representing both present day and historical Birmingham, titled “The Long March.”  Images entering each end of the line of monitors come together at a kaleidoscope of images on monitors in the shape of our state flower, a Camelia.

Future 

Airlines have evolved their business models since deregulation.  I have seen the aviation industry weather bankruptcies, mergers, and consolidations leading us into a very lean and profitable airline industry.   In 2016, we served over 2.6 million passengers with 19 gates and room to grow for four gates more should the need arise.  The current facility could easily accommodate double our current volume.

In addition of Concourse A, we created a Federal Inspection Station (FIS).  The new Customs and Border Patrol facility can process 400 passengers per hour with expansion space to add 180 more passengers per hour.  The FIS does not guarantee anything; however, it gives us the opportunity to market the airport for international travel.  Our first international non-stop flight from BHM to Cancun, Mexico by way of the FIS was in the summer of 2015.

Accolades

The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport has received numerous awards and accolades since the completion of the terminal modernization.

  • 2017: currently maintains a 4.2 out of 5 star rating on social media reviews.
  • 2016: LEED® Gold Certification
  • 2016: Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars on YELP!
  • 2015: Living Wall takes Grand Award for I-Plant Magazine, International Design Contest
  • 2015: Awarded second place for Best Food & Beverage Program by Airport Council International – North America in a Medium/Small Airport.

We’ve created a first class facility to set the stage for growth.

Opportunities are coming to Birmingham and we are ready!

Alfonso Denson is President and CEO of the Birmingham Airport Authority

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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7 thoughts on “Was it worth spending $200 million on Birmingham’s airport?”

  1. The renovation was nice and much needed. But when will we reap the benefits from the renovation? Sadly, here is where BHM stands now: 25% lower passenger volume than 2006. The largest metro in the USA only served by the 4 legacy carriers. Fewer non-stops than any metro area within 10% of the size of Birmingham. Zero international non-stops in 2 years. Multiple lies from airlines who claimed they would start service only to renege later – Silver Airways, Southern Airways Express.

    Why isn’t Jetblue operating at BHM? Why isn’t Frontier operating at BHM? Why isn’t Allegiant Air operating at BHM?

      1. I can’t find better sources right now on limited time, but here are a few links to get you started:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham%E2%80%93Shuttlesworth_International_Airport

        http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2015/04/silver_airways_to_offer_nonsto.html

        http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2015/06/nonstop_to_new_orleans_not_so.html

        The flight(s) referenced below never materialized and Souther Airways Express quietly did not comment:
        http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2015/02/southern_airways_to_begin_birm.html

        Honolulu, Grand Rapids, Buffalo, Rochester, Tucson, Tulsa(all the smaller MSA’s just below Birmingham) all have more non-stops than BHM. Birmingham is the 49th largest MSA but has the 77th or 79th busiest airport depending on who you believe.

        Of the 48 MSA’s ahead of Birmingham, all have airports that fly at least 1 additional airline more than Birmingham and most have many more. Even looking again at those cities smaller than Birmingham, they have more airlines, which leads to more non-stops and options.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments above. I travel for work 8-10 times per year and now find myself driving to Atlanta roughly half of my trips because the pricing and options are so unattractive in Birmingham. Yes, the building is much nicer but we need to get some better flights in and out. Some low cost carriers would be better. More Southwest flights would be best.

  2. The changes to the airport were much needed and have made flying out of Birmingham very pleasant. However, there is still a MAJOR problem flying into Birmingham:

    Baggage Claim is incredibly slow!

    I have routinely had to wait 30+ minutes to get my luggage, and if you fly in late at night (especially if your flight was delayed), it can take 45-60 minutes. There is nothing worse than having traveled for the last 24 hours and having to sit at baggage claim for another hour. It is completely unacceptable!

    Other airports have 10 minute guarantees on their baggage claims. Birmingham should too!

  3. $200 million plus the life of Luke Bresset from Kansas. My answer would be that the renovations were not worth the price that had to be paid by Alabamians or the Bresset family.

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