Mike Williams pointed toward a set of windows where about a dozen construction workers were busy Tuesday morning fitting pipes just below the roof of what will soon be an extended concourse at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

This space, he said, will be the next four gates of the airport when they are opened in May 2023, ahead of the rest of the 22-gate Concourse A-East project.

“That’s because we need gates. The passenger traffic continues to increase,” said Williams, the program director for the Salt Lake Airport Redevelopment Program, trying to speak over the sound of a welder working behind him.

By November 2023, work on this large building will be completed and Concourse A-East will add 22 new gates and over a dozen new concessions to help meet the rapidly growing demand of the airport. Another nine gates are planned out through the end of 2025.

The sudden need for a second phase

Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions that began in March 2020, airport executive director Bill Wyatt said passenger volumes have been on a “steady, high-paced climb” ever since the construction of the new airport began in 2014.

The growth of the airport is faster than originally anticipated.

About 22.4 million passengers came through the airport in 2021, making it the 21st busiest North American airport and the world’s 70th busiest airport. Those numbers are still about 17% below its 2019 figures; almost 27 million passengers came through at the airport before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted travel.

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As passengers came back faster than expected, parking has become an issue. It started last fall and has continued periodically since, especially during busy travel holidays. Nancy Volmer, the airport’s spokeswoman, added that this month is “big” for the airport, as nonstop service to London and Toronto return, while Eurowings and Spirit join the airline option fold for the first time — tacking onto the resurgence.

Airport officials hope one minor fix will help passengers find places to park. This week, they stopped allowing airline employees to park in the same stalls used by passengers, according to Volmer.

Construction crews carry plywood through Concourse A-East at the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. The concourse is projected to have four gates open in the spring of 2023 and 18 gates open in the fall of 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

But Wyatt expects the airport to come close to 30 million passengers this year.

“That is driven by demand; that is remarkable. We’re one of the highest-performing airports in the country right now,” Wyatt said, adding that he believes it’s related to the region’s economic growth and outdoor opportunities.

Thus, the need for the Concourse A-East.

What the second phase will look like

The concourse extension will add 22 vital gates by the end of 2023, to help meet the new demand. Airport officials on Tuesday unveiled new details about the next phase of construction, including the names of the 19 concession vendors that will set up shop once the extension is completely open.

The 19 restaurant and retail spaces, totaling nearly 24,000 square feet of space, are expected to open with the rest of the terminal in November 2023.

Food and beverage:

  • Auntie Anne’s.
  • Blue Iguana (Local).
  • Burger King.
  • Hugo Coffee (Local).
  • Jimmy John’s.
  • Millcreek Coffee Roasters (Local, 2 locations).
  • P.F. Chang’s.
  • Protein Bar and Kitchen.
  • Red Rock Brewery (Local).
  • Rockwell’s Ice Cream (Local).
  • Vessel Kitchen (Local).
  • Wow Bao.

Specialty retail, news/gift and service:

  • Atrium.
  • Hudson Nonstop (2 locations).
  • Minute Suites.
  • SLC Public Market (Local, 2 locations).
  • Utah Jazz Pro Shop (Local).

The new concessions will add to the 58 vendors currently operating at the airport.

Wyatt said the airport will continue using “street pricing” for the new concessions, meaning that the cost of food inside the airport should match the market value outside of it. It’s a process they adopted with the launch of the new airport in 2020.

Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, speaks to member of the media about the second phase of construction of Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

It’s still on track to be completed by 2023 despite the woes plaguing construction everywhere in the country right now, such as labor shortages, supply chain issues and inflation, Williams adds. He said there are close to 800 crews assigned to the project right now.

More on the way

Airport officials know that Concourse A-East won’t be enough, which is why the third phase of the airport construction is also underway.

The next phase adds a new tunnel from the main terminal to an extension of Concourse B, which will better connect the two concourses and add nine more gates to the second concourse. The first part of the third phase is expected to be complete in the fall of 2024, and the entire project will be completed by the end of 2025.

The entire price of the first three phases is about $4.5 billion, according to Volmer.

There’s also a discussion with airlines on a fourth phase that would add 16 new gates to Concourse B, making it the same length as Concourse A. Volmer said the potential project is still going through a design process before it’s approved as an official fourth phase. If that’s approved, it’s likely to be completed by 2030.

“When we had the old airport, we were very limited in adding new airlines and new air service,” she said. “Because of this new airport, we’re able to add new air service.”