The operator of Ronald Reagan Washington National airport considered a cheaper expansion of terminal A before selecting the under way north commuter concourse project, documents obtained by FlightGlobal show.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) presented a plan to American Airlines to rebuild the South Finger, which was demolished in the late 1990s, with 14 regional jet gates in November 2015, according to the documents acquired through an open records request.
The South Finger would be connected inside of security to terminal B/C, which included reactivating the disused historic lobby in terminal A. The project included moving American to gates currently occupied by Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways and United Airlines on the south side of terminal B/C, and relocating the affected carriers to American's gates on the north side of the facility.
Airline locations at Washington National under the South Finger plan
Cost projections for the South Finger proposal put it at $367 million compared to $489 million for the comparable north concourse option at the time, the documents show.
MWAA, as well as American and other carriers serving Washington National, have since selected and moved forward with the north commuter concourse. The project, now forecast to cost $408 million, officially kicked off on 22 March with construction activities beginning in April.
The under construction north commuter concourse
American's priority in the process was speed, rather than simply price, FlightGlobal understands. The Fort Worth-based carrier has long sought to consolidate its hub operations into a single space inside security and eliminate the busing operation connecting 14 regional aircraft remote parking positions to the terminal at Washington National.
MWAA's timeline for the South Finger proposal was only "within a few months" of that for the north commuter concourse due to the necessary airline relocations and associated works, for example building new airline clubs, sources indicate.
This complexity was a significant deciding factor for American in favour of supporting the north concourse plan, which does not require any airline relocations, they say.
American, as the primary user of either new concourse, had a significant say in the project, the documents indicate.
The South Finger proposal was estimated to take 1,705 days, or just over four and a half years, to complete, the documents show. This puts the potential opening date in November 2021 based on the 22 March project launch date.
In late 2015, the north commuter concourse was scheduled to open in December 2022, according to the documents.
MWAA has since accelerated the concourse project, which is now scheduled to open in 2021.
"It was determined that the construction impacts to passengers would be minimised if contained within the regional jet operation’s existing footprint," says a MWAA spokeswoman. "The site where the new commuter concourse is being built reduces the need to disrupt the operations of several airlines, negatively impacting the customer experience."
American is the largest carrier at Washington National, operating nearly half of the airport's seats in 2016, FlightGlobal schedules show.
The north commuter concourse is part of a larger $1 billion capital programme dubbed "Project Journey" at Washington National. The works also include new terminal B/C security checkpoints that will allow the three existing piers, as well as the new pier, to be connected by moving National Hall inside security.
Jack Potter, president and chief executive of MWAA, said at the March project launch that the works would address overcrowding in the terminal and improve the passenger experience.
MWAA must demolish historic hangars 11 and 12, as well as its headquarters building, in order to make space for the commuter concourse.
Updated with comment from MWAA