Expanding the Atlantic City International Airport

Year-round, hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to Atlantic City for the sights, the shows, and the chance to win it big at the gaming tables. Almost invariably, they travel by way of the Atlantic City Expressway or the Atlantic City International Airport (ACY), both of which are overseen by the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA). The more people come to play, the more the organization works to accommodate them, so when ACY found itself in need of more room in 2008 to take on new passenger loads, the SJTA took action with a 75,000-square-foot, $30 million expansion. Sam Donelson, SJTA's acting executive director, shares with American Builders Quarterly how the project progressed from its inception to the November 2012 ribbon-cutting.

The 75,000-square-foot expansion of ACY was done in phases to keep as many gates open as possible.

1. Develop a master plan

The airport operates under a plan approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The administration defines certain facility trigger points pertaining to passenger load, and once an airport hits those points, it needs to expand. “In 2008, our terminal-area forecast showed us we’d reach 1.5 million passengers [per year] by 2012, so we began this process then,” Donelson says. By 2011, the airport was already at 1.4 million per year.

2. Get funding

Because the SJTA operates both the expressway and ACY, it can use revenue from one to pay for improvements at the other. In this case, with approval from its board of commissioners, the organization used funds generated from roadway tolls to sell bonds, which paid for the airport expansion. After the 2008 prediction of increased airport traffic, it took a year to secure the money for the airport expansion.

3. Request design services

After funding was approved, the SJTA put out requests for proposals from architecture and engineering firms. “We had to hire designers who understood airport design,” Donelson says. “We also needed designers that had demonstrated the ability to design a project in a phased approach, which you need when working in an operational airport.” AECOM was the winning architect; Arora Engineers landed the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing-engineering work; Faith Group Company took charge of special systems; and BNP accepted the design contract for the baggage-handling and -pickup systems.

4. Consider facility needs

The FAA has design guidelines that specify what an airport needs based on the anticipated number of passengers: how many ticket counters, how many linear feet of baggage-claim belts, etc. But, the SJTA had to think about both ACY’s immediate needs and its future needs because the airport was looking into eventual international expansion as well. The SJTA thus made two of its new gates convertible for international arrivals, and it cooperated with US Customs and Border Protection to plan a customs inspection station near those gates.

“We [took] two of [ACY’s] existing seven gates out at a time, which was tough when we were growing.”

sam donelson, acting executive director

5. Obtain approvals to ensure compliance

Once the basic footprint was laid out, the SJTA and its designers worked with various third parties to obtain necessary approvals to build. In addition to approvals from the FAA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the SJTA needed the blessing of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission because ACY stands in the middle of a federally recognized and state-regulated environmentally sensitive area. The authority also had to get building permits from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.

6. Begin construction

Led by Hunter Roberts Construction Group and O’Donnel & Naccarato Structural Engineers, building began under a phased plan. The SJTA started by constructing a new building, then built an enclosed walkway from the original structure to the new building, and finally it demolished and rebuilt a structure in between the buildings. “We had to take two of our existing seven gates out at a time, which was tough when we were growing,” Donelson says. “It required a lot of flexibility from our operations staff, concessionaires, airlines, and passengers.”

The resulting expansion added three new gates (making 10 gates total), three new inbound baggage-claim belts, and numerous concessions, restrooms, and other supporting facilities. It also made the airport one of the few in the country with a new, cutting-edge security portal between secure and nonsecure areas.

7. Keep looking forward

The expansion is designed to serve ACY as its traffic grows to three million passengers per year. Currently the airport operates with only one carrier, Spirit Airlines, but if it gets another, it will reach capacity quickly; so, Donelson is already planning for the inevitable.

“Our next choke point will be our ticketing counters, which are tight now, but we already have a plan for that,” he says. “We’ll build over the existing roadway, which passes in front of the terminal facility, and put a ticketing area on the second level with a connection bridge to our parking garage. We’ll also build another garage adjacent to our existing garage, which will add another 1,000 spaces.” ABQ

The expansion now completed, ACY has three new gates, new baggage-claim belts, and more space for retail and concessions.