The Portland International Jetport would get new gates, more large airliners and a host of upgrades under a 20-year, $312 million master plan that envisions the airport accommodating nearly 40 percent more passengers than it currently handles.

The plan outlines what the jetport should look like in 2036 after the improvements. A funding plan for the first project on that time line – a bigger apron to accommodate larger airliners already using the jetport’s gates – comes before the City Council on March 21.

541712 JetportImproveNU_F#2

“Since this is the culmination of work by a public committee that pulled in people from the community, businesses, city government and others, I like to think it will be well received,” said Paul Bradbury, executive director of the jetport. “It’s the first master plan that’s been injected with sustainability, a priority of the City Council, throughout the planning process.”

The $3.4 million apron expansion would be the first in a series of requests to position the jetport for anticipated growth. If all projects are approved, the jetport will expand from 10 gates to 12, improve amenities such as baggage claim and parking, enhance the safety of its cargo operations and increase its passenger capacity by 38 percent.

In 2015, the jetport served 1.73 million passengers, a 3.7 percent increase over 2014. The jetport recorded its busiest year ever in 2008, with 1.8 million passengers, before the Great Recession reduced air travel.

The planned capital improvements total $312 million, roughly one-third of which would be covered by federal grants administered by the Federal Aviation Administration. The rest of the money would come from jetport revenue, increased passenger charges and state government. The grants, offered by the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program and funded through ticket and fuel taxes, are dedicated to infrastructure and capital improvements.

The cost of the first project would almost be fully covered by an FAA grant. Airport managers will seek permission to request that funding at the March 21 council meeting.

The master plan comes five years after completion of a $160 million expansion of the terminal and upgrade of the runways, enhancements that have helped the jetport serve more passengers while similar regional airports have seen business decline, Bradbury said. Passenger volumes dropped by 18 percent to 20 percent from their peak years at regional airports in Burlington, Vermont, and Windsor Locks, Connecticut, he said, and Manchester, New Hampshire, reported a drop of 50 percent from its peak, largely attributable to the arrival of Southwest Airlines at Boston’s Logan Airport. The jetport is just 0.7 percentage points below its peak, Bradbury noted.

“We’re lucky in that all of our carriers have no more than 30 percent and no less than 12 percent of market share,” a diversity that protects the jetport from a significant impact when a particular carrier makes changes, Bradbury said.

815184_541712-JetportPlaneSeatFIX0“We also have a great catchment area – we were never trying to capture Boston’s market,” he said. “Within our own (area), we have half-a-million people who need to travel.”

Overall, the jetport expects to sustain annual growth of 1 percent to 1.5 percent throughout the 20-year plan. In 2036, it projects handling 2.38 million passengers a year.

DIVERSE GROUP DEVELOPED MASTER PLAN

The master plan was put together by about 20 people who have been meeting for more than a year. They include representatives from the community, local businesses and city government. The group, the Sustainable Airport Master Plan committee, is submitting its draft to the city’s Sustainability and Energy Committee on March 15. From there, it goes to a City Council workshop planned for April 11 before coming before the full council, probably sometime in May, Bradbury said. The agenda item on the March 21 council meeting is just to seek permission to apply for the FAA grant.

The first apron improvement would allow larger jets already using the airport to more easily navigate around gates. Bradbury said several carriers have upgraded from smaller airliners that ferried between 50 and 70 passengers in and out of Portland to bigger ones carrying more than 140 passengers. The change reflects the greater cost-effectiveness of the larger aircraft, the authors of the master plan said.

“For instance, Air Tran used to fly a Boeing 717. Now that service has been replaced by Southwest’s Boeing 737,” Bradbury said. A 717 has a wingspan of 93 feet while a 737 has a wingspan of between 112 and 117 feet. The number of airliners carrying more than 100 passengers into the jetport would increase slightly under the plan.

The apron expansion and an environmental assessment for airport improvements are the only two projects scheduled for fiscal year 2017 in the 20-year plan. Bradbury said that when the apron project is finished, the jetport would reshuffle the gates. Gate 5 would move from the middle of the gates to the end, and the entire apron area would be re-striped to give airliners more room to maneuver.

SEVEN IMPROVEMENTS PROPOSED FOR 2018

In the next year of the plan, seven improvements are listed, including a rehabilitation of Gate 1, enhancements for loading bridges and the installation of a runway-incursion warning system. The estimated cost of all the fiscal year 2018 projects is $8.9 million.

Although the master plan has yet to win the city’s endorsement, aspects of it already are underway. Bradbury said that by incorporating sustainability into the planning process, the group realized the jetport was not paying attention to solid waste management. For instance, airlines were typically dumping 50 pounds of ice into trash receptacles after each flight, which made a mess and unnecessarily increased the weight of the disposed trash. That’s now stopped, Bradbury said.

“Also, there are organic options on the menus of our restaurants and concessions that were going into the waste stream,” he said. “Now we peel that off for composting.”