PASCO -- Getting through security at Pasco's Tri-Cities Airport might get smoother in the next few years despite the continued growth of passenger boardings.
The Port of Pasco is talking about remodeling the terminal building to expand the security area, and more passengers means more Transportation Security Administration employees likely will be added to screen them.
The port could begin a $6.5 million upgrade of its terminal building in 2013, according to the port's draft five-year capital improvement project plan.
The project would open up the bottleneck where passengers go through security, move the existing restrooms and add two boarding gates to the northwest part of the terminal building, said Damon Smith, project manager with Mead & Hunt, the company that's developing the airport master plan.
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Airport Director Ron Foraker said the remodeled security area would allow operating three checkpoints at the same time, rather than the current two. Both of the current lines only are used during peak passenger boarding times.
Port Commissioner Bill Clark said he wants to ensure the port will see passengers get through security faster if the port spends money on an expansion.
By year's end, the TSA is expected to add advanced imaging technology, which scans a person and shows any weapons on a standard outline of a person, Foraker said. That likely will mean more TSA staff, but won't necessarily speed up screening.
The TSA likely will add 15 staff once the airport is upgraded from Category 3 to a Category 2, Foraker said.
The airport had more than 250,000 passenger boardings in 2009 and 2010, he said. After three years of having more than 250,000 passenger boardings, the category change takes effect. The first quarter of 2011 already showed a 13 percent gain over first quarter 2010.
Once the airport receives the new designation, Foraker said the current 35 TSA employees would grow to 50.
That is why the port will improve the efficiency of its security screenings, he said.
If the port applies for the change this summer, it could be moved to the higher category by year's end, he said.
The proposed terminal project would be paid for with about $3.3 million in fees collected on airline ticket sales. The port likely will have to borrow about $2 million for the project, said Stephen Horton of Leibowitz & Horton Airport Management Consultants.
The port would receive enough revenue from the fees to pay off the debt and reimburse it for the other $1.2 million in port funds, he said.
Smith said the port also is likely to need to expand the baggage area and add up to three more gates as demand grows. Those projects are part of the 20-year master plan, but are more than five years away.
The preliminary five-year plan also calls for adding a parking lot dedicated for credit card users in 2013 and a $6.9 million project to realign a taxiway in 2016 that is the main route for passenger aircraft so it parallels the runway northwest of the terminal building.
Other projects on the long-term list include moving the access road east of the parking lot and expanding that lot.