The Charlottesville Albemarle Airport is celebrating its 60th anniversary with improvements to better accommodate passengers’ needs.
The projects include modified passenger screening areas, family restrooms, a full-service restaurant and bar, travelers lounge and additional parking.
“We want this facility to make a very good first impression on the community,” said Melinda Crawford, executive director of airport. “The people that choose to travel with us are the ones that keep us going.”
Four airlines operate at CHO — Delta, American Airlines, United and US Airways. They offer nonstop flights to six destinations — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Washington-Dulles, New York and Philadelphia.
The terminal renovation project was designed by airport staff with the help of the Richmond office of Gresham, Smith and Partners. The Virginia Department of Aviation is funding 90 percent of the cost for the terminal projects, which total $4.2 million.
Crawford joined the staff in 2013 after serving as director of the Pensacola Florida International Airport for three years. One of the first things she wanted to fix when she arrived in Charlottesville were the bathrooms.
“If you have 100 people getting off an aircraft and there are only four fixtures, or they are closed for cleaning, there will be a lot of people waiting,” she said.
Plans call for two-sided restrooms so half can be closed for cleaning while the other half are available for use.
“There will also be a family bathroom and a designated mothers nursing lounge,” said Crawford.
Much of the airport layout will be rearranged. The passenger screening area, which spills out into the rotunda, will be reconfigured.
“There is no fixed way for the passengers to go,” Crawford said. “If we put a queue there, it organizes it and decreases congestion.”
Crawford said they are designing the screening area to adapt to technologies the airport might adopt in the future, such as full-body scans.
“We are very close to half a million passengers,” said Jason Burch, the airport’s director of marketing and air service development. “This accommodates us moving forward with more open space to work with.”
Plans include new retail vending and a full-service restaurant and bar, with future plans for a bar on the outside observation deck.
Crawford said they want passengers to have the option of a hot meal and not just prepackaged sandwiches and snacks.
The airport has an electronic charging station but Burch said the high amount of business travelers at CHO prompted the need for a designated business lounge.
“We are hoping while people are waiting for their next flight that they can get something hot to eat and bring it to a lounge where they can work, as well,” he said.
The airport also plans to have a space to accommodate handicapped passengers and a covered pedestrian ramp from the parking area to the terminal.
The airport also will be repaving the runway and adding a 200-space parking lot, increasing total parking to 1,200 spaces.
“[The parking] project doesn’t get funding from the Virginia Department of Aviation or the Federal Aviation Administration,” Crawford said. “We took out a 15-year debt of less than $2 million to pay out of pocket.”
All of the renovation projects will happen within the airport’s existing terminal footprint.
“It would be cost prohibitive to ever expand,” Crawford said.
Burch said the airport’s goal is to continually upgrade aircraft and that in order to do so, CHO has to prove it’s running better than other airports.
“It’s a competitive market,” he said. “Gaining a larger aircraft will take a plane away from another airport, so you have to constantly prove yourself.”
There are about 450 commercial airports across the country, and Crawford said CHO is the 167th largest in the country, based on the number of passengers.
“For an airport our size it’s impressive to have the six destinations we have,” she said. “You can get on a plane here and go anywhere in the world by stopping one time or going direct.”
Crawford said the airport has 1,200 jobs associated with it and contributes about $128 million a year to the local economy. The airport uses no local taxpayer dollars and relies solely on revenue generated by flights, rental cars, parking and passenger purchases for its operations.
“This airport is an independent authority, making or breaking it on our own,” Crawford said.
The renovation projects are expected to be finished in the next 12 months.