WEST BAY — Following a tour of the terminal building Friday, officials at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) narrowed down a list of terminal expansion concepts, positioning baggage area and security checkpoint expansion at the top of the priority list.


WEST BAY — Following a tour of the terminal building Friday, officials at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) narrowed down a list of terminal expansion concepts, positioning baggage area and security checkpoint expansion at the top of the priority list.



The tour and subsequent workshop was a continuation of the airport’s master planning process, which will provide staff with five-, 10- and 20-year planning horizons for ECP once completed.



A master plan is needed for airports to be eligible to receive state and federal funding for improvement projects.



During the workshop, board members scrapped three out of the six concepts presented by airport planners that they said did not complement growth plans far enough into the future. 



“Short-term is kind of an oxymoron for what we’re trying to accomplish here,” said board chairman John Pilcher. “Anything you do now should complement what you do in the future.”



In addition to providing additional space for baggage handling and security, the plans selected would address other critical deficiencies in public and concession space.  



The concepts also map out two new terminal gates and reconfigure the seven existing gates, focusing on accommodations for large, narrow-body jets that hold roughly 130 passengers.



“Most all of these concepts are focused on narrow-body gates,” said architect Robert Fuller, who noted that 2,000 square feet would be an ideal gate size to comfortably accommodate passengers.



A majority of future terminal expansion will need to be to the north of the existing building, with minimal expansion to the east.



 



International plans



Board members also wrestled with the best way to utilize a large, empty space officials plan to use to someday process international passengers.



Pilcher and board member Till Bruett both contested international flights are still a long way off for ECP.



“That space is going to sit there like that at least for five years, maybe 10,” said Bruett, who suggested the space be used for retailers until it is needed.



Executive Director Parker McClellan said he doesn’t anticipate any scheduled international traffic at ECP for a long time, but international charters may be a possibility. 



“The TDCs (tourist development councils) are actively marketing this as a destination internationally in Europe, so we have to have that in mind,” he said.



Airport planners also advised officials to preserve the area if possible.



“It’s a tantalizing space because it’s here, but it’s also an international facility,” Fuller said. “If you erode your international space, you’re eroding your capacity to handle these passengers.”



Airport planners will re-examine the three concepts and come back with a plan for the board to discuss at its February meeting.



“I think those three probably make the most sense with the vision in mind of moving north and also preserving that customs and border patrol area,” said airport planner Paul Puckli. “There’s no reason why in the future you couldn’t go back and change this.”