Circling back around to a recent UPoR article on the airport’s proposal to build another runway and some terminal upgrades. Going through what Jerry Orr’s talking about point by point:

• $160 million for a new runway, the airport’s fifth runway and fourth parallel runway. It will be 12,000 feet long to for allow departures “deep into Europe or the Pacific rim.” At the same time, the UPoR notes “There are no firm plans now to add more Europe flights or to start Charlotte’s first non-stop flights to Asia.” This runway will also lessen noise complaints.

Analysis: A 12,000 foot runway has been on Jerry Orr’s agenda for a very long time. The justification given is a bit silly though. US Airways already flies to Rome from Charlotte — not sure how much deeper into Europe you can get than that. There just isn’t a much of a market for flights to the Balkans… The Asia reference is just as unrealistic — US Airways doesn’t even currently have planes that have the range to fly to Asia and has already stated that that Philadelphia will be their gateway to Asia when they do acquire them from 2017. A better argument would be that the longer runway allows additional payload on existing flights to Europe, particularly during the summer months.

Note the rapid timeline for construction of the the proposed new runway. That comes because the airport already has most of the necessary environmental approvals. Here’s Orr addressing the topic at the December 2009 Airport Advisory Committee Meeting right after the third parallel runway had been finished:

The new runway we just completed was originally planning to be located 1,200 feet separation from the other parallel runway. That’s 1,200 from centerline to centerline of the runways. That’s the standard for separating arrivals and departures. By giving the runways 2,700 feet of separation, allowed us three streams of dependent approaches. We did the environmental work on that and got it approved. In the ensuing time of doing all this work, we learned from the FAA that the distance between runways for independent approaches had been adjusted so we then moved the new runway to 4,300 feet separation, which is what the separation is between the new runway and the westerly parallel runway. That is why it is so close to the interstate and it leaves us room to come back and build that additional parallel runway so that we can separate landings and departures.

Runway 18R/36L beside I-485 is used almost exclusively for landings. The idea would be to build an additional runway for use for takeoffs, those taking some of the traffic off the other two parallel runways (18C/36C and 18L/36R), thus lessening noise complaints by people in the southern part of the county like eight miles from the airport complaining about 300 planes a taking off directly over their house because the navigation procedures (RNAV) now in place.

What is new is which runway would be 12,000 feet long. The previous plan was to extend the current center runway. Now it sounds as if the proposed fourth parallel would be built as a 12,000 footer.

• And the terminal upgrades. From the Observer article:

The airport has long planned to build a new international concourse on the surface parking lots for rental cars, just north of Concourse A. Orr said that project will be built when there is demand.

But he said Monday he plans to build a small portion of that new international concourse, which would be initially used for domestic flights by Delta, United and Southwest. The four new satellite gates would be connected to the main terminal by a new walkway.

“Delta wants another gate. United wants another gate. Southwest wants at least two gates,” Orr said. “There is a clear need.”

Analysis: A new international terminal has been on the airport’s to-do list since the late 1990s. The problem is there isn’t enough demand to justify it. Concourse A, which houses pretty much all the airlines besides US Airways, has 12 gates and can’t be expanded any more. Thus the need for a small amount of additional space for the non-US Airways opertors. The airport could probably move JetBlue, which is on Concourse D, over there as well, giving US Airways a little more room.

• And lastly from the UPoR article:

Depending on need, Orr said he will soon build either a 15-gate expansion of Concourse E or a new 11-gate “dog-leg” expansion of Concourse B.

If US Airways needs room for larger, mainline aircraft, Orr said he would expand Concourse B. If the airline needs space for smaller, regional jets, he would expand Concourse E.

“We could build that tomorrow,” Orr said, referring to the new gates for regional jets.

: Concourses C and D, like Concourse A, can’t be expanded anymore. So if US Airways needs more domestic gates, it has to happen on Concourse B or Concourse E. The B expansion has been talked about since the late 90s. In either case, the proposed extensions would complete the concourse. The fundamental problem though, which Orr fails to realize and/or admit, is that US Airways is not expanding. The airline is not adding planes and just got done realigning its route system during its transformation into a four-hub carrier. If US Airways had a pressing need for more gates, they’d have already asked Orr to build them some more. Which they actually did, requesting the city add a couple more gates on Concourse E (these gates are now complete — Orr’s proposal goes beyond that).