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Lambert to Push Ahead With Makeover

July 15, 2008

By Ken Leiser, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jul. 15–ST. LOUIS — Officials at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport said today that they will push ahead with a major makeover of the airport’s Main Terminal and concourses.

Airport staff said last week that they were re-evaluating some of the costs of the $105 million project in the wake of flight cuts by American Airlines.

“A careful analysis has determined we have the ability to begin these improvements for the Main Terminal and remain fiscally responsible,” Airport Director Richard Hrabko said at a news conference. “We will analyze each future project and make assessments at every stage of the program.”

OUR EARLIER STORY 7/10/2002

ST. LOUIS — Officials at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport said Wednesday that they were taking a close look at their ambitious, $105 million makeover of airport concourses, in light of forthcoming cuts in American Airlines flights.

Airport Director Richard Hrabko told the St. Louis Airport Commission that his staff was looking at the effects of American’s shrinking schedule and other uncertainties in the airline industry might have on the airport makeover. By fall, American said it will have cut 30 flights a day — including direct service to four cities — from its schedule at Lambert.

The so-called Airport Experience program, announced in February 2007, includes restoring the Main Terminal’s domed ceilings, replacing baggage carousels, simplifying the dizzying array of directional signs on terminal roads, and new floor, ceiling and wall finishes.

Hrabko offered no specifics about what that review might yield, but airport officials said details should emerge in the next week.

“We’re looking at it,” Hrabko said. “We will know in the next day or two.”

American’s sharp cuts — part of a systemwide service reduction — will leave the airline and its regional partners with 116 daily departures from St. Louis as against 146 at the beginning of June. But Hrabko said St. Louis remains a strong market for flights that begin and end here.

“If there is any positive news about that it’s to tell you that American has still shown their commitment to this airport as a hub, even though it’s 116 flights and we’d like it to be 500 flights,” Hrabko said. “It’s not. It is what it is. The options would have been to pull service even deeper. American elected not to do that.”

Other U.S. airports have been hurt worse than Lambert, he said. St. Louis will be losing only one destination — John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. — that is not served by another airline at Lambert.

Passenger boardings at Lambert had rebounded somewhat since American drastically scaled back its flight schedules in 2003 — but not nearly to the level it was in the 1990s, when St. Louis served as a major midcontinental hub for Trans World Airlines. American swallowed TWA in 2001.

Lambert relies heavily on air carrier landing fees and other airline revenue to help cover its operations and major projects. St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green is seeking authorization to issue as much as $250 million in bonds this year to pay for airport improvements. The request goes to the city Estimate Board today.

Lambert spokesman Jeff Lea said “airports have to take a look at their financials” when the level of airline service changes, and that’s what Lambert officials are doing.

The first work on the Airport Experience is scheduled to begin this month with restoration of the domed ceilings.

Replacement of the baggage system and the sign projects were to begin early next year.

kleiser@post-dispatch.com — 314-340-8215

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