Jackson Hole Airport Triples Its Capacity With Terminal Expansion & New Baggage Handling System

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

It's tough to beat the view from Raymond Bishop's office at Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) in Wyoming. It features mountain scenery that tourists travel across the world to see. As director of the only U.S. airport located inside a national park (Grand Teton National Park), Bishop also has a clear view of high expectations.

With about 300,000 annual enplanements, JAC is by far the busiest airport in a state that depends on tourism as its second-largest industry. Fully 74% of visitors who fly to Wyoming arrive at JAC.

A $30.6 million terminal expansion currently underway is helping JAC measure up to the state's expectations. When complete, the multi-phase project will almost double the size of the passenger terminal - from 59,400 square feet to 115,600 square feet.

Facts & Figures

Project: Terminal Expansion, with New Inline Baggage Handling System

Airport: Jackson Hole (WY) Airport

Airport Owner: Jackson Hole Airport Board

Land Owner: Grand Teton National Park

Cost: $30.6 million

Terminal Size: 115,600 sq. ft.

Improvements: Increased passenger & baggage handling efficiency; nearly double the space

Noteworthy Details: First in the nation to receive federal stimulus funds for baggage screening and first to install new scanning technology

Project Management:
Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson

Architecture/Interior Design/Branding:

Local Architect:
Carney Logan Burke Architects

Construction: Wadman Corporation

Landscape Architect: Herschberger Design

Baggage Handling System Design & Installation Management:
BNP Associates, Inc.

Baggage Screening: Reveal Imaging Technologies (now owned by Science Applications International Corp.)

Outbound Baggage Handling System Manufacturing & Installation: The Horsley Company

Ticket Lobby Tables: Magpie Furniture

Ticket Lobby Benches:
Ron J. Peterson Construction

Counter Materials: Centennial Woods

Counter Fabrication: Hurco Industries

Holdroom Painting: Richard Painter

Phase 1 concluded in May, with the grand opening of JAC's new ticketing hall. It was a significant event, because some areas of the previous terminal were well below FAA planning criteria for peak passenger capacity. Passenger flow was also inefficient, adds Bishop.

Before the new terminal was built, peak capacity of the airport was 331 passengers per hour; but sometimes the airport faced 800 passengers per hour, he recalls. Ticketing lines extended out the building, sometimes into sub-zero temperatures during the winter. Since the completion of Phase 1, passenger handling has increased to 1,100 passengers per hour and wait-times have been reduced from 50 minutes to an average of less than five, Bishop reports.

The first phase of the project also included a new in-line checked baggage screening system, purchased with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. When the system began operating in May, JAC became the first airport in the nation to use federal stimulus funding for baggage screening and the first to put the technology in place, says Bishop.

Subsequent phases of the expansion project will include a new gate area and restaurant as well as a renovated and expanded holding area. Before the end of 2010, security checkpoint and inbound baggage remodeling will complete the overall expansion project, and certification from the U.S. Green Building Council is expected.

Seasonal & Material Challenges

The contrast between JAC's slow and busy times is dramatic. In July and August, it handles about 50,000 enplanements per month. In January and February, there are about 30,000 per month. In the off-seasons, traffic drops to about 10,000 passengers per month.

The peaks and valleys in traffic are more than Mike Mahoney, PE, of project management firm Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, has seen at any other airport. In order to have the new ticket lobby and baggage screening system in place before the summer peak, construction couldn't wait for a valley. Mahoney established a phasing schedule to minimize impact to airport operations, and crews met completion goals despite a mid-project directive to expand the terminal lobby by another 2,500 square feet to provide more space in front of the rental car counters.

In most areas, the construction contractor was able to divert pedestrian traffic away from construction zones. In particularly high-traffic areas, portable structural steel tunnels were erected to ensure visitor safety and keep airport operations running smoothly, notes Keith Buswell, vice president of development for Wadman Corporation. The protected walkways allowed airport customers and workers to walk to and from the terminal while construction continued underneath, above and around them.

Wyoming's bitter winter weather also presented unique demands. Despite snow and wind-chill factors that dropped to -36 degrees F, construction ended on schedule.

Wadman and its subcontractor responded to material supply challenges presented by the airport's remote location by setting up an on-site ready-mix plant to provide concrete for construction of the new terminal lobby and baggage handling building.

"This solved the problem and helped to keep the project on schedule while maintaining the quality standards," Buswell says.

New Baggage System

At the core of the Phase 1 project is what Bishop describes as a "world-class baggage handling system."

Day lighting strategies greatly reduce the use of artificial light during the daytime.

The Department of Homeland Security awarded the airport board $6.2 million in stimulus funding to design, procure and install the Checked Baggage Inspection System. The project required terminal modifications to support the new screening equipment, including changes to the baggage conveyor components as well as the mechanical, plumbing, electrical, structural and telecommunications infrastructure. The system includes explosives detection machines with baggage screening matrices, an explosives trace detection resolution area and an on-screen resolution room. Hardware and software for use with an in-line baggage screening application was also installed. TSA provided six scanners with computed tomography technology from Reveal Imaging Technologies Inc., which was recently acquired by Science Applications International Corp. Four of the new scanners are intended to process regular bags; two are for processing larger items. At JAC, that includes plenty of ski bags.

The new system provides the optimal detection, reliability and performance, says Reveal vice president Jim Buckley. Each machine can scan 227 bags per hour - 147 more than the old system, he adds.

David Mecartney, president of BNP Associates, Inc., notes the system was designed to handle JAC's increased traffic in the winter and summer tourist seasons.

Terminal flooring is polished concrete, which utilizes the structural slab as the finished floor and eliminates the need for additional surface materials.

It also automates some of the previous manual handling and moves it behind-the-scenes. Instead of workers looking at individual bags on a computer screen, a computer scans for illicit material and flags bags that might require further inspection. TSA officers use a picture sent from the computer to decide if a manual search is required.

"The improvements will significantly improve the automated aspects of the screening and provide a much better flow of baggage and much higher level of customer service in the airline operation," Buckley says.

The Horsley Company removed the former outbound baggage handling system and replaced it with a new integrated system. "It's a big upgrade," says Garry Griffin, Horsley project manager. Previously, JAC had stand-alone machines that required bags to be loaded manually; now, loading and unloading are automated.

The new system passed all required tests and was certified by the TSA after the first attempt - an unusual accomplishment in an industry that typically requires two to three sessions before certification, notes Griffin.

Improved Traffic Flow

Increasing square footage was only part of the strategy to improve passenger handling. Space configuration was also addressed.

JAC's new ticketing lobby was built along the eastern front of the exiting terminal, increasing the area from about 7,800 square feet to almost 14,000 square feet. Instead of 21 ticket counters, there's room for 36.

Part of the problem with the previous layout, Mahoney explains, was the space between the ticket counter and the front wall of the terminal. It spanned just 24 to 30 feet and was interrupted with support columns and baggage screening machines. The cramped, narrow space was not only the queuing area for passengers, it was also the traffic lane to the security checkpoint, rental car counters and restaurant.

Now, the ticketing lobby is much larger, with a 48-foot open span in front of the ticket counter.

Rental car counters have a new location at the south end of the new ticketing hall, between the baggage claim and the rental car ready lots. The restaurant is now located in the secure area, contiguous to the expanded holding area.

Outside Inspiration

Gensler faced two tall orders when designing the new terminal: In addition to being more efficient at moving people and baggage, it needed to reside peacefully amid the landscape and sheer scale of the Tetons.

"I don't think anything will ever overshadow the mountains," says Jennifer Johnson, Gensler's director of aviation and transportation, "but you need a building that can stand up to the beauty around it."

With that in mind, designers opted for a simple, understated exterior to replace the former closed-in building. A few design elements were preordained by the airport's lease with Grand Teton National Park. Structures, for instance, couldn't be higher than 18 feet above ground to ensure unobstructed views of the mountains.

A canted overhang was used to increase the building's presence, notes Johnson. "We wanted the gesture to be large and welcoming," she explains.

From an operations standpoint, the height restrictions require JAC to load and unload passengers at ground level, because jet bridges would be too tall.

A glass curtain wall system provides expansive views of the mountains to the east and west - the designers' way of "bringing the outside in."

Lots of Pots

Team members and airport officials describe funding for the Jackson Hole Airport terminal expansion as "challenging" and "relatively complex." Here's how it breaks down.

FAA Entitlement Grants:


Wyoming Aeronautics:

Wyoming Business Council:

PFC Pay-as-You-Go:

Airport Cash:


Total Project Cost...

Carney Logan Burke Architects, a local firm, helped Gensler select materials native to the area. Entry portals are clad in weathered steel panels. Ceiling materials - shiplap and open plank stained ash - are reminiscent of frontier boomtowns. Steel and wood queen post trusses share design elements with modern ski gondolas and other tension structures in Jackson Hole.

Local artisans created coffee and end tables for the ticketing lobby; custom benches were crafted from glued laminated timber in nearby Utah. Counters made of steel and reclaimed snow fence were produced by a regional fabricator.

In the hold room, designers replaced the slipcovers on existing Arconas Flyaway seating and added Edelman ROUNDABOUT chairs, Ted Boerner sofas, Coalesse Thoughtful chairs, BERNHARDT Union chairs, tables by Magpie Furniture and a natural teak root table by Chista.

The end of the hold room displays "Final View," a 30-foot-by-5-foot painting of a bald eagle created with medium density fiberboard and a torch.

Outside, a 300-foot textured stone wall with rock ledges and rusted metal panels hides the less adorned baggage handling building. Some consider the wall a work of art in its own right.

In front of the wall, landscape architecture by Herschberger Design represents the microclimates found in Grand Teton National Park.

Gensler also created a new brand for the airport - both literally and figuratively. A western brand, similar to the marks used on cattle, is used on wood columns and furniture throughout the airport. It can even be found on coffee mugs and other promotional merchandise.

The combination of small design details and the building's overall impression make Bishop and the airport board pleased with the results of Phase 1.

"The architecture fits the beauty of the Tetons and showcases the wonder of the most beautiful place on Earth," says Bishop, a Wyoming native.


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