Juneau airport preps for Delta's debut

Residents are already reaping the benefits of Delta Air Lines’ plans to begin flying in and out of the capital city. Lower fares and double miles from Alaska Airlines? Yes, please.

For its part, the airport has a lot of work to do before the first Delta 757 touches down. Not the least of its work is a new-to-Juneau jet bridge that will connect the airport terminal to the Delta planes parked outside.

Delta will be flying Boeing 757s in and out of Juneau International Airport. The airport is equipped for smaller 737s used by Alaska Airlines.

Delta’s aircraft have doors five feet higher than those on Alaska Airlines’ 737s, requiring the airport to buy an updated jet bridge. The one being replaced was used by Western Airlines in the 1980s, airport manager Patricia deLaBruere said. It doesn’t get used often — only when all other jet bridges are spoken for — and it’s so rusty and decrepit it can’t move, she said.

“The current jet bridge is 40-plus years old,” she said. “It’s old, it’s antiquated, it’s not updateable.”

The replacement jet bridge is on the road from Indiana, airport engineer Ken Nichols said. It’ll be placed on a barge from Seattle and arrive in Juneau on May 12. The jet bridge cost the airport $177,000, including installation. It’s used, Nichols said, which is saving the airport money. A new jet bridge and installation would have cost over $1 million, he said.

The airport is able to save time and money on the last-minute project by wrapping it into an existing contract with Secon Inc., the local branch of a nationwide construction company. Secon was contracted in 2012 to do the second phase of the airport’s Federal Aviation Administration-mandated runway safety improvements. Those cleared space at the end of the airport’s runways in case of an accident.

The project was mostly completed in December 2013, but Secon is working on a few final things, Nichols said. So far, Secon’s contract total with the airport is $15.4 million, according to airport documents.

“In a way, we were kind of fortunate Secon was still here,” Nichols said.

The company will pour a new concrete foundation for the fixed end of the jet bridge — the end that connects to the plane is able to move up and down and side to side — and new electrical service to the bridge, among other work. Secon will also use a crane to remove the old boarding bridge and install the refurbished one, according to a proposed agreement presented to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Monday. Nichols said the airport is still negotiating its contract with the construction company, but work should be done by the time Delta comes to town.

JIA is hoping to be reimbursed by the FAA for the jet bridge project. The airport is city-owned, but because it operates with an enterprise fund like Bartlett Regional Hospital and Docks and Harbors, it is supposed to pay for itself. It operates on a $6 million budget, funded mostly with rent paid by airlines and rental car companies. Rent consistently makes up about $2.5 million of the airport’s revenues.

Another $1.7 million comes from landing fees. Most commercial planes weighing more than 12,500 pounds are charged $2.38 per thousand pounds to land at the airport, according to airport documents. The heavier the plane, the higher the fee. Fees can fluctuate based on budget changes. According to airport numbers, Delta’s seasonal service will bring in an additional $37,100 in landing fees in fiscal year 2015 and 2016.

Year after year, the airport breaks even. It’s not set up to turn a profit, deLaBruere said. If that were to happen, fees and rent would have to be given back to the airlines and others who use the facility.

“We truly are and have to be self-sustaining,” deLaBruere said. “Our users are paying the bills for this airport.”

An additional baggage scanning machine will arrive at the airport May 12 to prepare for Delta’s arrival. The Transportation Security Administration-funded machine is coming from an airport where it was being underused, airport deputy manager Marc Cheatham said in a previous Empire report. Juneau airport administrators, the airport board of directors and the airlines reached out to Alaska legislators and the TSA to ask for an additional machine, he said.

The Legislature “passed it very quickly,” deLaBruere said, and the machine will arrive soon. The airport was already struggling to keep up with baggage for just one airline, especially during busy morning flights, she said.

“With the entrance of Delta and knowing how short we were on being able to process bags,” the second machine will be a welcome addition, she said.

JIA is also working to expand the ticket counter — all the work is going on behind the black curtain, if you’ve been to the airport lately — and create more office space for Delta, Nichols said.

Delta is the first new airline JIA has seen in almost 20 years. Alaska Airlines has serviced Juneau since the 1930s. Delta flew in and out of Juneau in the past but pulled out in 1997. Before that, Anchorage-based MarkAir spent about a year at the airport in the late 1980s, deLaBruere said. Western served Juneau in the mid-1980s before being bought out by Delta.

Delta announced in December that it would reinstate seasonal service to Juneau, and in March that it would be using 757s. DeLaBruere said there’s a lot to get done in a short time to prepare for the new arrival. “We’re all rushing, but we’ve got too much (to do) to be stressed about (it),” she said with a laugh.

05/01/2014 - 5:55am