Every morning, between 5:45 and 8:30, thousands take off into the clear blue sky from Iowa’s Des Moines International Airport (DSM), ultimately making up more than half of the hub’s two million annual passengers. The city, home to the likes of Allied Insurance, Principal Financial Group, and Meredith Corporation, has long held a reputation as one of the Midwest’s economic and publishing centers, and recent accolades—it was named the best place for business and careers by Forbes and the best place to live and work by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance—now have a.m. business travelers flocking in and out in droves. The airport, a mere three miles from Des Moines’s central business district, handles nearly all the migration, and recent updates managed by Bryan Belt, the airport authority’s director of engineering and planning, have better prepared it for an influx of visitors.
When ground broke in 1932 on the airport’s initial 160-acre site, it may have been difficult for Iowans mired in the Depression to foresee the heights the Midwestern transportation hub would eventually reach. Today, its 9,003-foot and 9,001-foot runways dwarf its original two 1,800-foot runways, and the airport’s property lines have stretched to surround 2,760 acres. It supports itself financially with an operating budget of more than $31 million and a capital-improvement budget that varies from $8 million to $16 million annually, and Belt uses these funds to build and maintain the airport’s upgrades.
Taxiway D Reconstruction: $32.6 M
Terminal Area Concept Plan: $730 K
Runway 13/31 Analysis/Design: $916 K
East GA Apron Reconstruction: $872 K
Economy 4 Parking Lot: $2.6 M
Economy 2 Parking Lot Rehabilitation: $1.4 M
Concourse Remodel: $2.3 M
Terminal Remodel: $2.5 M
Baggage-Handling System: $6 M
Common Use: $2.5 M
Total: $52.4 M
One such upgrade was a recent effort to reduce the airport’s carbon footprint. Belt helped oversee the installation of high-efficiency boilers and the building of a LEED Silver-certified rental-car facility, and the airport now works with MidAmerican Energy to reduce its energy consumption and receive rebates for green projects. “Better buildings lead to more engaged employees, which translates to happier passengers,” Belt says.
Another of the airport’s capital-improvement projects is the Taxiway Delta rebuild. A taxiway is a path connecting an airport’s runways with its ramps, hangars, terminals, and other facilities, and the one at DSM is 9,001 feet long. Belt and his team are fully reconstructing it, replacing its asphalt with concrete, correcting its elevations and alignments, and making profile changes to allow for the appropriate environmental benefits. Additionally, they are upgrading all the lights along the taxiway’s shoulder, hold-short, and center lines, changing them over to LED fixtures to reduce electricity use and maintenance costs.
For the taxiway revamp, Belt helped select the engineering firm that designed the project, and he also oversaw the public-bidding process to find the project’s general contractor. Also, to make sure everything comes in on time and within budget, Belt is working in conjunction with the FAA to develop the project’s scope of work and to obtain funding. The project will cost $32.6 million over the course of two fiscal years—$13.83 million of which is discretionary funding from the FAA. Discretionary funding is approved by the US Congress, and DSM competes against other airports for those funds. Belt and the airport authority staff helped build a project that would garner a high enough rating to earn those necessary funds.
DSM also recently implemented a common computer platform that can house and operate all commercial airline software at every location in every terminal. This means any of the airport’s seven airlines can operate at any ticket counter at any gate, and diverted flights can access any gate, increasing the facility’s flexibility and efficiency.
Further improving efficiency is the airport’s new, fully automated baggage-handling system. Its installation consisted of two parts: 1) the designing of a system that could actually handle the luggage, and 2) the remodeling of the ticket counter and the room where bags are screened. DSM brought in LogPlan USA, a national consulting and engineering firm, to design, oversee construction of, and test the system to ensure it meets the Transportation Safety Administration’s (TSA) stringent specifications.
Previously, each of the airport’s airlines had its own conveyor that would transfer luggage to the rear of the building, and all that luggage had to be manually transferred to the TSA for screening. Now, the luggage is placed on a single conveyor that transports it through screening equipment and automatically diverts it to its next destination. Only the moving of luggage from the conveyor to the airlines’ luggage carts is still manually done.
“DSM Airport is always passenger-focused,” Belt says. “From the close proximity of parking to the ease and short time frame to be processed through ticketing and security—all are focused to help the passenger through the process.”
Moving forward, DSM continues to seek improvement. The year ahead includes plans to improve runway 13/31 and the completion of an updated master plan. Because these projects are so large in scale and budget, they require methodical planning and fund allocation, but their eventual completion will better position Des Moines as its business sector continues to grow.