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The Charlotte airport’s makeover means more space, more power cords and local beer

First glimpse of the airport's Concourse A expansion

Construction continues at Charlotte Douglas International Airport with work on the Concourse A expansion. This nine gate expansion is scheduled to be completed this summer.
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Construction continues at Charlotte Douglas International Airport with work on the Concourse A expansion. This nine gate expansion is scheduled to be completed this summer.

When Charlotte Douglas International’s newest concourse opens this summer, travelers will see a different kind of airport, one with more technology – and space – than they’ve been used to at the airport.

Out: Low ceilings, small windows, narrow walkways and fighting for outlets. In: A wider building, soaring glass windows and chargers at every single seat to keep travelers’ phones, tablets and computers fueled.

“That’s our number one challenge” at existing concourses, said Jack Christine, the airport’s chief operating officer, who led the first tour of the new Concourse A North on Tuesday. The $200-million project is expected to open in late June or early July with nine new gates.

Most carriers other than American Airlines – the dominant airline at Charlotte Douglas – will move their operations to the new gates, including United, Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier and Air Canada. When Concourse A North opens, Charlotte Douglas will have a total of 111 gates.

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Christine said the additional gates will largely handle local travelers, people who start or end their trips at Charlotte. The large majority of Charlotte Douglas’ 44.4 million annual travelers are people changing planes to make a connection at American’s hub.

Through October 2017, the most recent figures available, 38.4 million passengers traveled through Charlotte Douglas, a 3 percent increase from the previous year.

In addition to the chargers at every seat, each of the 370 panes of glass in the new concourse will be connected to the Internet, and a computer will adjust the tint in each one throughout the day to help make climate control and lighting more energy efficient. A 139-foot wide media wall, made up of LED lights, will display changing artwork in the terminal, with lights and colors determined by running the airport’s data (such as flight arrivals) through an algorithm.

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A rendering of Concourse A North interior. Courtesy Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

In addition to the gee-whiz elements in the building, Christine said one of the most important is a more simple change: More space. The new concourse is about 30 feet wider than most of the existing concourses, allowing passengers more room to sit and walk while they wait for flights (If you’ve ever taken a flight from Concourse B at peak travel times, you know how cramped that can get).

“The building is being built to accommodate demand we already have,” said Christine. “This project is really being driven by local growth in our markets.”

Retail tenants include a bar from NoDa Brewing Company, Smashburger, Panera, The Body Shop, Jamba Juice and Starbucks.

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The airport is funding the concourse expansion with revenue bonds and the proceeds of a $3-per-passenger charge the airport imposes on travelers at Charlotte Douglas International.

Future plans call for adding 16 more gates to Concourse A, for a total of 25. That project could start in 2021.

Charlotte’s airport has been a hive of construction in recent years, with another major project underway to expand and replace the roadway in front of the terminal lobby. The eight-lane road is scheduled to open this summer, a $50 million project that’s expected to improve traffic flow.

Once the new lanes open, the airport will be able to tear down the old road and start construction to expand the terminal lobby by bumping it out about 90 feet, into space where the old road once stood. The $247 million lobby expansion will add space to the terminal, which opened in 1982, and become the new home for the Queen Charlotte statue.

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A rendering of Concourse A North. Courtesy Charlotte Douglas International Airport

The Federal Aviation Administration is also building a control tower, more than twice as tall as the current tower, scheduled for completion in 2020.

Other future plans include more gates at Concourses B and C, as well as fourth parallel runway.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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