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Audit rates the S.L. airport as one of the top 3 in U.S.

A nine-month audit of the Salt Lake City International Airport is complete, and its findings place the airport as one of the best run in the country, say Utah aviation officials.

"The airport is generally considered one of the top three airports in the United States by airline users. . . . The management team ranks near the top of comparable domestic airports."The airport is the lowest-cost U.S. hub airport on a per enplanement basis and has consistently been a low-cost operation with respect to airport authority rates and charges," said the Salt Lake City Airport Management Audit.

The independent audit by Coopers & Lybrand, a consulting firm based in Boston, was requested by the Salt Lake City Council, said Barbara Gann, airport public relations director.

"I think the audit showed that we run an excellent organization and we grade out favorably when compared with other airports of comparable size," said Russ Widmar, the airport's executive director.

While its lean operation has made it one of the most cost-effective airports in America, cost containment and continued performance improvements will be needed if the airport expects to cope with cost factors beyond its control, said the audit.

Part of the airport's performance improvement effort is a $1.7 billion construction project.

"The reconstruction project involves removing all the terminals, concourses A through E. Construction of the new terminals will start west of the old concourses so there should only be minimal disruption to service and access to the existing customers.

"Construction is expected to start sometime next spring. It will take seven years to complete the first phase of the master plan," said Keith Christensen, chairman of the Utah Air Travel Commission.

Instead of being a system that runs in a straight line like the current airport setup, the new terminal will be designed in a T-shape.

"This will mean that any plane that comes in can arrive and then depart without waiting for other aircraft.

"The concourse will also be wider. Right now during our peak times, our concourses are overly crowded," said Christensen.

In addition to the changes in the terminal and concourses, the master plan will add additional retail services, expand the baggage facilities and add upper and lower access roads, the top road being used for departing traffic and the arriving traffic using the bottom road.

"The new terminal will be about twice the size of the one we have now, it will have more gate space, greater ease of movement among the areas, and it will have a completely new design, similar to Denver's airport," said Widmar.

The 20-year, $1.7 billion reconstruction project will be financed primarily through revenue bonds, passenger facility charges and airport improvement grants, notes the airport's business plan.