SALT LAKE CITY — A new milestone in the multibillion-dollar redevelopment of Salt Lake City International Airport is expected to help make it one of the safest and most efficient airports in the United States, officials said Tuesday.
From the outside, the average traveler who goes to any airport has little knowledge — or desire to know — of what goes on behind the scenes to allow the airport to operate in a manner that provides the necessary service levels required to meet customer demand.
On Tuesday morning the airport showed off its Central Receiving and Distribution Center, a 22,000-square-foot stand-alone building that acts as the central delivery facility for food, beverage, retail and other goods sold at the airport.
The center accepts all goods for delivery to terminals and concourses throughout the airport. Staff members perform regulatory inspections and X-ray screening prior to consolidating those goods for distribution to their designated terminals and concourses, then to customers. While most travelers never see this part of the airport’s operation, the distribution center is critical to the facility’s daily operation, officials said.
“The screening aspect of (the center) is very important because with the volume of material going through, it’d be so easy for something to slip by. And obviously, we don’t want that,” said Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. “The other thing that most people wouldn’t recognize is that driving on the airfield (which has been the case previously) is actually a very dangerous thing because it’s made for airplanes, not for trucks and so forth. Just reducing the number of people who will be driving on the airfield on a regular basis is a safety consideration and something that makes me feel more comfortable as an airport director.”
In explaining the new center’s operation, Wyatt used the analogy of the airport being similar to a small city.
“So everything that’s going into the city, now it’s going to be received, scanned, screened and delivered by the same people every day,” he said. “We think that’s going to make our airport more efficient and safer.”
The $5.66 million state-of-the-art distribution center is part of the massive $4.1 billion redevelopment of Salt Lake City International Airport. The price has risen this year, up from $3.6 billion, due primarily to the project’s expanded scale that will include several additions made at the request of airlines, mainly Delta, to accommodate larger than previously anticipated growth. The redevelopment project is being funded by a consortium of airlines at the airport.
The new center will be managed by Bradford Airport Logistics, a Houston-based company that contracts with 21 central distribution centers in 20 U.S. cities and London’s Heathrow Airport.
Benjamin Richter, Bradford founder and CEO, said the new center will help ensure care and protection for travelers and workers at the airport in a streamlined, effective manner.
“We’re working on a number of health advances. We’re screening and sanitizing all the goods that come in here. We have the infrastructure now in a central location to either spray or bombard all goods with UVC light that would kill anything on its exteriors,” he said. “But more importantly, the (distribution facility) is also the central recycling center for many airports. So all of the recycling from coffee grounds to paper goods to (the) food recycling program, serving the entire Salt Lake City community at-large.”
He said one of the goals of the new center is to safeguard the well-being of anyone who comes through the airport.
“Feel a lot safer, feel more secure, and hopefully we represent something that’s invisible to the traveling public, but you get to feel us,” Richter said. “We’re highly visible to operations and law enforcement and we’re doing vital work for the improvement of this great Salt Lake City airport.”
One of the sustainability elements of the redevelopment project will be a food recycling program in partnership with the Salt Lake City Mission. Bradford will coordinate regularly scheduled donations of unused food to be redistributed to individuals and families battling hunger.
“It’s just a tremendous story to tell where food that would otherwise be thrown away and just disposed of gets repurposed while it’s still good quality food and it ends up in the hands of people that need it,” said Salt Lake City Mission Executive Director Joe Vazquez.
He said his organization typically feeds more than 50,000 people annually, and this new partnership will boost its ability to serve the community even more.
“We were participating in the past with the airport. Now with what we’ve seen can be done, (it) will be done on steroids,” he said. “It’s going to be on a much higher level where all the food purveyors in the airport will be working with this. It’s just going to be way bigger and better than what it used to be in the past.”
Meanwhile, despite the dramatic impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on air travel in the U.S. and worldwide, officials noted that the outbreak is expected to produce a “silver lining” regarding the airport redevelopment.
“So this phase one (and) we’re opening on Sept. 15. Originally, pre-COVID, the game plan was to slowly take down concourses and gates in the old building as we built new ones in the new airport, which was very time consuming and very expensive,” Wyatt said. “As a result of COVID and the low state of passenger volumes, today we’re able to get rid of that part and as soon as we open (on Sept. 15) we’ll actually begin tearing down all of the old airport — every stick of it, then we will build much more rapidly the remaining parts of the new airport. It saves us a couple of years and in the construction business, time is money, so we can save up to $300 million by doing this.”