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Passenger growth at Salt Lake City International Airport up over 5%

Commuters make their way through a TSA Security checkpoint in Terminal 1 at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 15, 2019.
Commuters make their way through a TSA Security checkpoint in Terminal 1 at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 15, 2019.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's largest airport is already exceeding passenger capacity and the number of travelers continues to grow, a new report shows.

Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated that Salt Lake City International Airport saw a 5.27 percent increase in passenger travel in 2018 over the previous year — with more than 24.4 million people moving through the facility. The Preliminary Commercial Service Airports report for 2018 ranked the airport at No. 23 nationwide.

Officials said the airport has experienced record traveler volume with 64 straight months of passenger growth.

"People are traveling. That's the good news," said Nancy Volmer, communications and marketing director for Salt Lake City International Airport, following a news conference last week. "But this airport was built for 10 million passengers. So there's a lot of congestion."

She noted that to mitigate the strain, the facility is currently undergoing the first phase of a $3.6 billion airport redevelopment project scheduled to be completed in fall 2020. The upgrades will include a new central terminal, the west end of two concourses and a parking garage. Phase two is scheduled for completion in late 2024.

The airport has also installed a new queue management system to help travelers monitor the time it will take to pass through the security checkpoints. The system uses cameras and Bluetooth technology to track wait times, then posts them to monitors throughout the airport.

Volmer said the new technology should aid passengers in managing their time and also increase the accuracy of traveler movement and wait-time data for the airport, along with helping Transportation Security Administration personnel as they handle peak screening periods.

According to the airport website, the facility handles 378 average daily departures, including 98 nonstop destinations through nine commercial carriers with Delta Airlines as the major presence.

Volmer said new flights are added from time to time, but service is also discontinued occasionally if an airline decides a route is no longer viable. She said the facility is constantly working to manage its flight schedule and is also planning to make adjustments that will be necessary during the second phase of construction, which is expected to start in 2021 with the demolition of some of the older buildings.

"The more complicated portion of (the project) is in the second phase," she said. "We'll be using existing gates and new gates."

Because of the nature of the construction during that phase, there will also be times when passengers will have to venture out onto the tarmac to board and exit flights — similar to what occurs at other airports around the world.

"You don't load and unload at a gate, you actually take a shuttle out to the aircraft where you load and unload," she explained. "We've been working on that to make it as painless as possible," she said, particularly during inclement weather.