Our Voice: New concourse opening signals great progress

Congratulations are due to the Port of Pasco for completing a significant milestone in the renovation of the Tri-Cities Airport.

The first new concourse of the $41.9 million project was opened to the public earlier this month.

Travelers who have had to deal with the inconveniences of construction and suffer weather conditions picking up baggage in a tent outside the terminal can at least now see signs of real progress.

The shiny new concourse is home to gates 3, 4 and 5. It features things typical of modern day airports like video screens with flight and weather information, a kiosk resource for tourists and art reflecting the Tri-Cities region, from the B reactor to sturgeon to agriculture.

A new baggage claim area has also opened, with the modern conveniences like conveyer belts.

The rebirth of the airport began back in 2012 with a 20-year master plan as a blueprint for the future facility. The project is being tackled in phases and is set for completion in 2017 when it will have doubled in size to 110,000 square feet.

The airport is busy enough that a phased approach was really the only solution. Smaller airports will shutdown completely in the guts of a renovation but that wasn’t an option for Pasco.

The next phase will be demolition of the existing boarding area. It will be replaced with concession areas, gates 1 and 2, restrooms, a children’s play area and new airline check-in areas.

Travelers will have more amenities beyond security screening when the project is complete but for now, they’ll have to plan their snacks. The long-time airport restaurant is closed and the new concessionaire does not yet have a permanent facility. Grab-and-go type food is available and a kitchen is expected to open next month.

And construction will still impact travelers for the next two years, but in the end we should have an airport that provides a much better experience for visitors and business travelers used to more modern facilities.

Also good news for travelers is the potential for direct flights to Los Angeles to be added next year. Service to that major hub has been sporadic over the years. The airport recently received a $750,000 federal grant as well as $300,000 in matching money from area businesses. That money will help with marketing and start-up costs as well as guarantee revenues for the airline that signs on to provide the service.

And the airline war going on at SeaTac between Alaska Airlines and Delta has resulted in additional flights from Seattle to Pasco.

We look forward to the enhancements at the Tri-Cities Airport available now and in the years to come.