Delta Airlines last week granted a sneak peak behind the ongoing $1.2 billion construction project aimed at turning John F. Kennedy International Airport into its hub for overseas travel.
Company officials from corporate headquarters in Atlanta as well as leaders of the design and construction effort took media on a guided tour on Oct. 18 to see just how one renovates and expands a modern terminal while the old one still must function to serve millions of passengers a year.
Work on Terminal 4 is scheduled to be completed in 2013. It follows on the heels of a difficult merger with Northwest Airlines that began in 2008.
Ned Walker, senior vice president and chief communications officer for Delta headquarters in Atlanta, said the merger led the company to the next logical step.
“After the merger, Delta said we want to be New York’s airline,” Walker said. And he said Delta brass hand-picked Senior Vice President Gail Grimmett to come to the city and take charge of the effort.
As part of the plan, Delta is simultaneously spending $160 million to renovate and connect Terminals C and D at LaGuardia Airport following a gate and route swap with US Airways that was completed earlier this year.
LaGuardia is slated to be the airline’s domestic and business travel hub, though JFK’s Terminal 4 will be catering to the international business traveler.
“We were going after business passengers,” Grimmett said. “We wanted the business passengers flying to Heathrow,” an airport in London. And she said, following the US Airways deal that traded gate slots in Washington, DC and cash for gates in New York, Delta now serves 47 of the 50 largest business markets in the United States.
While the terminal is fully functioning, passengers can see and walk past barricades, and construction fences and hear saws, drills and heavy machinery.
Behind those barricades, concrete is being poured, miles of electrical wires are being strung and machinery from moving sidewalks to security scanners await installation or sit wrapped in plastic to protect them from dust and debris.
The finished terminal will have shops and more check-in, security, baggage claim and customs areas for travelers’ convenience, as well as amenities like waiting room seating with chargers for personal electronic devices.
Harry Olsen, the program director for the JFK redevelopment project, oversaw construction of the new Yankee Stadium before joining the airline. He said Delta eventually wants to serve 13 to 15 million passengers per year out of Terminal 4, allowing the airline to tear down the much-maligned Terminal 3, a circular structure that was built for Pan Am in 1960.
But Olsen also said the community already is benefiting from the $26 million per month going into the terminal and supporting work.
“We have approximately 1,000 construction jobs here right now,” Olsen said, a number that will keep up until construction gradually is completed.
Delta officials expect about 1,000 “on-airport jobs” to be created by 2013.