We were glad to see unanimity in the City Commission’s approval Tuesday of the first phase of what’s envisioned as a $16 million expansion of Manhattan Regional Airport.
The first phase is to cost $9.8 million, but if all goes as planned, the city’s share would be just $1.9 million. Most of the expense, $7.9 million, would come from a Federal Aviation Administration grant.
That grant isn’t guaranteed, however, and if the city doesn’t get the grant, the project would be sidelined. City officials expect to learn by the end of the month whether their application has been approved.
Happily, the city’s share of the first phase wouldn’t be particularly burdensome for taxpayers. Much of the $1.9 million will come from passengers’ facility fees. These are fees that are part of ticket prices nationwide for airport maintenance and upgrades. The city also will use economic development funds, generated from the half-cent sales tax.
Though we have been skeptical about how the city would spend money from the half-cent sales tax, committing revenue from the fund for airport expansion, which is an asset in attracting new businesses to town, is appropriate.
The airport’s expansion plans are impressive. Phase 1 will deal almost entirely with the terminal, expanding and modernizing virtually every element in it, including creature comforts like concessions, waiting areas and restrooms. Also, the ticket counter and baggage handling areas will be new, and there will be an expanded area for passenger screening by Transportation Safety Administration personnel as well as a separate waiting room for passengers who have been screened and are waiting to board planes.
Phase 1 also will include a more convenient way to passengers to board planes. The airport will add “sleeves” — covered ramps common at large airports that protect passengers from the elements when walking to or from their planes.
The first phase is expected to be completed in a year, at which time — if a second FAA grant is approved — Phase 2 will get under way. It will improve baggage claim, car rental facilities and the airport’s main lobby. When both phases are complete, the airport will be able to handle about 300 passengers an hour.
And although an airport terminal’s utility is more important than its appearance, Manhattan’s larger and more modern terminal also will be beautiful. It will be one of the community’s gems.
If the service matches the aesthetics, our city’s first impression on newcomers who fly in will be a good one.