Path to the plane

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  • | 12:00 p.m. June 24, 2009
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by Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Staff Writer

With a record 6.3 million-plus passengers traveling through its gates in 2007, Jacksonville International Airport (JIA) has come a long way since its beginning as Jacksonville Municipal Airport Number One in the 1950’s.

The last remnants of the original JIA, which was completed in 1968, were scattered among an enclosed area on Thursday as Concourse B was demolished. Due to the current economy, the new Concourse B will be built in a less costly fashion than Concourses A and C.

“They were built in halves, so the site could be open while construction was taking place,” said Debbie Jones, community relations director for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA). “Because of that it had minimal impact on customers.”

Though the current economy may not present encouragement for expansion, it did help the airport save some money.

“The timing worked out well for us in that we can demolish B without having to build it at the same time,” said Michael Stewart, director of external affairs for JAA. “It took a lot of close coordination to keep operations running smoothly while they were being built. We can save some time and money by doing it this way with Concourse B.”

Plans for the new concourse are in the conceptual phase as JAA considers the economy and airline industry forecasts while developing a timeline for the completion of the third concourse. Runways would be the next area for improvement once concourse construction is completed, according to Stewart.

“We are always looking for opportunities to purchase land near the airport for future expansion,” he said. “A third and fourth runway are part of the plans for 20-30 years from now as we try to keep up with the growth of Jacksonville.”

The recent growth at JIA started in 2000 with the “We’re Spreading Our Wings For the Future” terminal expansion project. The three phases of the project included parking expansion in phase one, landside/ticketing and baggage areas expansion in phase two and airside/concessions and gates expansion in phase three, which included A and C Concourse construction. The new concourses were open in Nov. 2008 and phase three should be complete in the next 30 days, said Stewart.

The improvements include Wi-Fi availability in the concourse, new seat clusters that provide additional electrical and computer outlets at three points in each cluster, new retail stores including Brooks Brothers and Brighton Collectibles and restaurants including the Budweiser Stadium Club, Chili’s Too and Quiznos.

The airport isn’t all business, though. It does contribute a fair amount of space to the arts. From beginning artists in high school to nationally acclaimed artists from around the word, there is space for a variety of work. Currently art from Providence High School is displayed on the walls of Concourse A and “The River” by Houston artist Peter Hite was chosen as one of the top 40 public art projects in 2006 by Americans for Art. His work depicted six major rivers, the Amazon, Ganges, St. Johns, Mississippi, Yangtze and the Nile, using postage stamps from around the world. Local artist Jim Draper has also contributed “Healing Palms on Etched Glass” to JIA’s collection.

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