Wichita Airport Celebrates History, Prepares for Future With New Terminal

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

The winds of change are blowing in Kansas. In January, Wichita Mid-Continent Airport (ICT) announced its new name, Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport; and officials plan to unveil a new $160 million passenger terminal building and $40 million parking garage/rental car center in May. Together, the projects create a new front door for the city that highlights its heritage as "air capital of the world." 

Victor White, director of airports for the Wichita Airport Authority, explains that the city moniker has nothing to do with ICT or its airline service, but everything to do with airplane manufacturing. Since the 1920s, 300,000+ airplanes have been built in the city - more than any other place in the world. "We'll always be the air capital and wanted to capitalize on that and reclaim that title in the minds of our local community and the visitors to the airport as well," White elaborates.

Officials named the airport's recent terminal development project Air Capital Terminal 3 (ACT 3 for short) because the new facility is the city's third airline terminal. The first was built in the early 1930s and is now home to the Kansas Aviation Museum. The second terminal opened in 1954, when McConnell Air Force Base opened and forced the airport to relocate to its current site.

The need for a new terminal was outlined in a 2001 update of ICT's master plan. The existing terminal, designed and built in the 1950s, was "mechanically deficient and functionally obsolete" and did not meet current fire, electric and plumbing codes, White relates. 

A second "sub-area master plan" later presented two choices: rehabilitate the existing terminal or build a new facility. Supporting analysis showed that both options would cost roughly the same, but a remodel would take twice as long as starting from scratch. In 2004, the airport authority, which is also the city council, voted to move ahead with designing a new terminal. Given the similar cost estimates, efficiency and convenience for customers and airlines drove the decision, White explains. 

Convincing the Carriers


Project: Terminal Redevelopment
Location: Wichita (KS) Dwight D. Eisenhower Nat'l Airport 
Program Name: Air Capital Terminal 3 
Total Cost: $225 million 
Terminal Cost: $160 million
Cost of Parking Garage/Rental Car Center: $40 million
Enabling Projects: $25 million
Financial Consultant: Leigh Fisher Associates
Transition Consultant: Chrysalis Aviation Solutions
Program/Construction Manager: Aecom 
Master Architect/Engineer: HNTB Corporation
Associate Architect: GLMV Architecture
Civil & Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing: Professional Engineering Consultants; Dudley Williams Associates
Structural Engineer: Dudley Williams & Associates
Terminal General Contractor: Key Construction/Walbridge joint venture
Passenger Boarding Bridges: Jetway, by JBT Aerotech
Boarding Bridge & Walkway Installation/Maintenance: Airport Technical Support
Ground Support Equipment Installation Maintenance: Airport Technical Support 
Baggage System Design: Logplan
Fire Protection Engineer & Code Consultant: FSC
Information Technology Design: Ross & Barruzini
Historic Exhibits/Public Art Coordinator: Greteman Group
Landscape Design: Landworks Studio
Paging & Acoustics: AVANT Acoustics
Signage: Carol Naughton + Associates
Curtainwall Design: Heitmann & Associates
Parking Facility Engineer/Architect: Carl Walker
Rental Car Facility Consultant: Coover Clark
Parking General Contractor: Crossland Construction Co.

The airport hired Aecom as the ACT 3 program/construction manager in 2005; and HNTB was brought in as the master architect/engineer. The design process, however, lasted longer than anticipated, due to initial opposition from ICT's carriers.  

"There was a little bit of airline resistance to the concept of spending that much money for a brand new facility at a small hub airport," explains White. "It took a lot of persuasion to get the airlines on board. There was a time in the early design phase that I wasn't sure we would do the project."

To bring the airlines around, it was important not to increase fees beyond levels they could "reasonably and realistically afford," he relates. At the same time, airport officials reassured carriers that a new building would provide a "significantly improved" level of customer service and efficiencies that would translate to cost savings.

"We had to be creative in how we structured the business deal with the airlines, in terms of the use and lease agreement," White recalls.

In the end, the airport leveraged the "luxury" of its strong industrial park to create what White describes as a "palatable deal" for carriers. (ICT's park is home to the world headquarters of Bombardier Learjet; Textron Aviation, which includes Cessna and Beechcraft; and dozens of major aviation suppliers.)

"We were able to swallow hard and take some of the revenues from those non-airline sources to help produce a compensating source of revenue for the terminal project that will artificially lower the rates to the airlines," he explains.
The airport's "final sales pitch" to the airlines was engineered after years of intense negotiations with the help of financial consultant Leigh Fisher Associates, White notes. 

New Efficiencies

The new 273,000-square-foot building was designed and constructed to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design standards, and is therefore expected to provide multiple efficiencies over the previous facility. 

Glass walls and skylights help cut daytime lighting costs while providing a brighter environment for customers, notes Pat McCollom, associate vice president of program management with Aecom. The new terminal has four to five times more natural light than the previous facility, he notes. 

Water-conserving plumbing and high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are also expected to reduce the airport's operating costs.

The roof is designed to reflect heat from the sun, while high-efficiency insulation in the roof and non-glass wall areas will also help control heating and cooling costs. Materials made of recycled content and efficient water fixtures are other important parts of the terminal design, adds Phil Hannon, architecture project manager with HNTB.

In-pavement heating systems that pipe warm water and glycol through the concrete in front of the terminal were added to minimize slips and falls in colder temperatures and reduce the need for shoveling during snowstorms. Similar technology is also used in the parking garage and baggage makeup areas. Heated floors will help maintain a more even temperature in the baggage area as doors open and close for baggage carts, notes White.  

More visible customer service improvements were made airside, with the addition of new glass jetways from JBT Aerotech. In the old terminal, only about half of the gates were equipped with loading bridges. When the new terminal is complete, it will have 12 gates - each with its own bridge. As a benefit for its airlines, the airport purchased and will maintain the bridges. It also provides preconditioned air and power for the bridges, as well as ground power units on the ramps. "That turned out to be a huge selling point to the airlines," White relates. "It's less equipment they have to maintain, provide and operate; and we will roll the cost of doing that into the rental rates for the building."

The glass-walled boarding bridges provide passengers with great views of the apron, airport and sky, Hannon comments. Ample glass, along with high ceilings and open spaces, also helped create a lighter, less congested ticketing area, he notes. 

Improved concessions will further elevate service for customers, White adds. New food and beverage options from MSE Branded Foods and retail outlets from Paradies are concentrated on the secure side of the terminal, as opposed to the pre-checkpoint layout of the old terminal.  

Design Opportunities & Challenges

Given the rapid and significant evolution in ticketing and check-in strategies over the last decade, Hannon notes that it was important for ICT to have a flexible design. Its new ticketing area consequently includes an access floor, so kiosk locations and queuing arrangements can be changed as needed. "We think that's a pretty innovative way of handling an on-grade ticketing area to allow flexibility long into the future for operations we can't even speculate on at this point," says Hannon. 

Sightline issues for ICT's air traffic control tower proved to be a tougher challenge to resolve, ultimately affecting the layout of the new terminal building and the shape of its concourse. Because the control tower is located on the far side of the existing terminal from the new terminal, there were strict limits on how high the new terminal could be. It also significantly impacted the slopes and maximum heights of the roof, Hannon relates. 

"We were fairly restricted in the footprint of the building, because the farther away you got from the control tower, the lower the roof would have needed to be," he explains, noting that the design team managed to take advantage of the available area and provide an efficient and visually appealing structure.

While the new terminal is only slightly larger than the old, increased flexibility and more efficient use of space will allow the airport to handle 2 million passengers - 2.4 million when expanded. Current passenger traffic is about 1.5 million per year. 

The new terminal's last three gates will be put into service after the old terminal is demolished and more ramp space is available. Nine will be available at the grand opening. 

Celebrating History

Throughout the extended design process, city officials were clear about wanting a modern facility that represents Wichita's rich aviation history. Design elements that acknowledge and celebrate the city's important role in the industry can be seen in big and small ways throughout the new facility, Hannon says.

The swooping, curvilinear shape of the roof at the front of the airport is reminiscent of an aircraft wing and evokes the element of flight, he explains. The main level arrivals/departures curb features a translucent canopy, designed to shield passengers from the elements yet maintain overhead views. Inside, the building "really looks to the sky" with lots of natural light streaming through glass walls and skylights, he continues.

The shape of the ceiling and diffusers on the back wall of the ticketing area are meant to reflect or recall aviation manufacturing, McCollom adds. Additionally, various shaped elements and finish materials such as metal and glass were selected to remind passengers of aircraft interiors. 

Together, various design features not only add the historic nods the city wanted, they also create a "sense of place" for the new terminal, notes Hannon.

Wichita's aviation history is detailed more literally in a display on the second floor mezzanine, immediately before the security checkpoint. Fourteen two-sided panels celebrate local aviation pioneers, including the early barnstormers; Wichita-born aircraft manufacturers such as Cessna, Beechcraft and Bombardier; and local makers of aircraft parts. Airplanes built in Wichita are highlighted on a separate three-panel display.  

An in-terminal public art program includes a 330-foot long sculpture for the ceiling of the great hall. The work's light-reflecting dichroic glass will appear to change colors as passengers move through the area. Terrazzo flooring throughout the building features zinc inserts that are reminiscent of airplane contrails. 

Setting the Stage

With the new terminal squeezed in as close as possible to the old terminal, construction was able to proceed without suspending operations at the existing terminal. Although it wasn't a pure greenfield site, construction had almost zero impact on the airlines, tenants and customers coming in and out of the airport, reports White.

The same was not true across the street during construction of ICT's new $40 million parking garage. Located in the middle of the long- and short-term and rental car parking lots, that project had a "huge impact" on passengers for the two years it was under construction, he acknowledges.

The reward, however, is the airport's first covered parking facility, plus a "hybrid consolidated rental car facility," as White describes it. The first floor of the garage houses ready and return staging areas for the nine rental car companies that operate at ICT; and an attached customer service center contains transaction counters for each agency in a two-story, glass-walled lobby. Vehicle fueling and servicing occur at a separate facility. 

In addition to building the new $40 million parking garage and $160 million passenger terminal, ICT invested about $25 million in enabling projects. Initiatives ranged from roadway improvements, utility work and a new Customs facility, to relocating and rebuilding the airport's main cargo facility and remote park-and-ride economy shuttle lot.

Phasing of the enabling projects allowed the airport to maximize Airport Improvement Program grants and set the stage for its terminal project, notes McCollom.

The Evolution Continues

Although the new terminal will enable ICT to accommodate more passengers and airlines in the future, increasing traffic was not the expressed purpose of the project. "The intent was to replace a 60+-year-old building that was functionally obsolete - replace it and give us a modern and high-tech future," White clarifies. 

The new facility will also evolve as industry trends change - something the previous building could no longer do, he adds. Currently, ICT has service from United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and Allegiant Air.

As a literal representation of Wichita's aviation future outside the manufacturing sector, the new terminal provides a rally point for the local community. And a psychological boost is particularly welcome, given the overall economic recession and dip that general aviation aircraft production has taken in recent years, White explains. "The community and economic development leaders are trying to recruit new companies to come here to balance things out, but we don't want to throw away this tie to aviation the city has," he relates. "(Wichita) always has been and always will be the air capital of the world."  



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