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Hector Airport terminal addition will add 4 gates, greatly expand departure lounge area

Airport officials hope to start construction on the terminal addition in the spring of 2024, with three or four years of construction to follow.

Hector terminal addition.JPG
This conceptual sketch shows a planned addition to Hector International Airport, shown to the left in lighter shading, that will be added to the east side of the terminal. Officials expect to start construction on the $123 million project in 2024.
Contributed / Mead and Hunt
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FARGO — Members of the public are getting their first glimpse of conceptual drawings for a 75,000-square-foot, $123-million terminal addition at Hector International Airport.

The unveiling, during an open house on Tuesday, Sept. 27, follows planning that began in January for a project that still requires schematic designs. Construction is planned to begin in the spring of 2024.

The addition, to be built east of the existing 115,000-square-foot terminal, will add four gates, for a total of nine, as well as more departure lounge space and accommodations for travelers who have cleared security, among other features.

“It’s time to expand the airport, hopefully get some more airlines,” airport executive director Shawn Dobberstein said. “Some of our spaces in our departure lounge are extremely limited.”

Although boardings have dropped during the pandemic, planners expect boardings will resume their growth, with annual increases of 2.1% projected over the next 20 years.

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Annual boardings at Hector exceeded 339,000 in 2021, then fell because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but are projected to climb to almost 750,000 by 2041, according to Mead & Hunt, consultants hired to conduct the airport’s terminal area study.

“The forecasting right now with COVID is almost impossible, but we have to do it,” said Justin Anderson, a senior terminal planner for Mead & Hunt.

Historically, airport travel has dropped for periods but always has recovered, he said.

The boarding projections have been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. “We’ve been coordinating with the FAA throughout this entire process,” he said.

The layout presented Tuesday was the favored alternative among three options studied. The new gates will have more space to accommodate the larger planes airlines are flying as they phase out smaller, older aircraft to increase efficiency, Anderson said. Airplanes with 140 to 190 seats are becoming standard, he said.

Although the total number of passengers is the same, airports must handle larger aircraft, meaning that the departure lounge must accommodate larger numbers of passengers at a time. The planned addition will allow the airport to handle 550 boarding passengers at peak times, Anderson said.

Along with the addition, more space will be available in the ticketing area to better handle lines of passengers checking in, as well as an expanded baggage area. The new design also will have space for self-serve kiosks allowing passengers to check in.

The departure lounge for passengers waiting to board their flights will expand significantly, including two concession areas for passengers who have cleared security, a mothers’ nursing station and family restrooms, Anderson said.

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Additional space also will allow a fourth security checkpoint. Airport officials are looking into the possibility of adding a customs area so passengers on international flights can clear customs. That would be helpful for passengers taking charter flights to sunny winter destinations, for example, Dobberstein said.

“That’s something we’ve been looking at for a number of years,” he said.

Drawings presented Tuesday are only conceptual and do not include the appearance of the facade, which will emerge in schematic drawings from architects yet to be hired, he said.

“That will be hashed out during the actual design,” Anderson said. Besides an architectural and engineering firm, the Fargo Airport Authority also will hire a construction manager.

Construction is expected to take three or four years and will be done in phases, Anderson said.

Surface parking available at the airport should be sufficient through 2027-2028, Dobberstein said. The additional passenger traffic the expanded terminal will accommodate might help to build a parking ramp sometime in the future, when passenger volumes are sufficient, he said.

“A parking garage has been on our master plan for a number of years,” Dobberstein said. Airport parking ramps are a financial challenge. “Parking garages don’t make money,” until the debt service is retired and an adequate maintenance reserve is attained to support the annual operating cost of the structure, he said.

Airport officials once were considering an enclosed passenger walkway from the parking lots to the terminal, but that project was sidelined by the UPS terminal, he said.

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Financing for the terminal expansion will come from a variety of sources, including federal grants and passenger fees, Anderson said.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
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