Inside the Manhattan Regional Airport Expansion

The Manhattan Regional Airport is in its Phase One construction of the passenger terminal expansion project on Sept. 30 2014. (Rodney Dimick | The Collegian)

The Manhattan metropolitan area is growing at rapid rates. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Manhattan had a population of 44,831 in 2000. Today, the population is 56,143, an increase of 20 percent. Comparatively, in the spring of 2000, K-State had an enrollment of 19,494 while today’s enrollment stands at 24,766. With an increase in population comes a higher demand for transportation, especially through the use of Manhattan Regional Airport.

In order to keep with current airport standards and create a better traveling experience, the city of Manhattan and the Federal Aviation Administration worked out a plan to expand the airport.

Lyle Butler, president of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, said he believes the airport expansion is great for the city.

“Having a nice facility sets the tone for a good first impression which will be indicative of the quality of the rest of the community,” Butler said. “We wanted a nice facility that will be comfortable and something that the community will be proud of.”

The renovation was planned in 2011 and made possible by subsidized grants through the FAA. According to the airport’s webpage, more than 125,000 passengers traveled through the airport in 2012 between two daily flights, each to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport via American Eagle. Manhattan Regional Airport is the second busiest airport in the state of Kansas, behind Wichita Mid-Continent National Airport.

According to Shane Wright, assistant airport director for Manhattan Regional Airport, the airport expansion project started with phase one on May 8 with plans to expand the area of the building from 12,500 square feet to 42,000 square feet.

Phase one is essentially the construction on the east side of the airport. Renovations include a new ticket counter, management offices and electrical rooms, Wright said. A new convenience that phase one offers is the addition of two jet bridges, which will eliminate the need for passengers to walk outside to board the plane.

Wright said he believes passengers will prefer the use of jet bridges to the current, traditional way of walking outside to board.

“With jet bridges, passengers no longer have to walk through inclement weather to board their flight,” Wright said. “It’s one of the ways the expansion is keeping up with industry standards.”

However, that’s just half of the project.

Wright explained that phase two is simply an extension of the new building being constructed in phase one. Phase two will feature new rental car counters, restroom updates, a new baggage claim system, an area reserved for a food vendor and a gift shop.

Butler put the project into perspective.

“There was no need to build a Taj Mahal, but rather a nice facility that makes the passengers feel comfortable,” Butler said.

According to Butler, there was once a little restaurant in the airport. However, the idea didn’t pan out and the restaurant left after a short period of time.

“Obviously, businesses want to make money,” Butler said. “With the number of passengers that travel through Manhattan Regional Airport and our kind of market, there is a fine line to what we can implement.”

Wright said the airport has not received any bids from any companies yet, but are always looking for bidders.

While this expansion will be a big addition for the town of Manhattan, it didn’t come without a price tag. The airport administration was offered four different bids. Before the airport accepted any of the bids, they had engineers give an estimate that the cost of the expansion would be about $13 million. After receiving all four bids, The Weitz Company wanted the least amount of money at about $15.8 million. A breakdown of the project’s expense report shows that phase one will cost $9.2 million and phase two will cost $6.6 million. The project is going to be funded by a combination of grants from the FAA and the city of Manhattan. According to the Little Apple Post, the city of Manhattan will only pay $2 million for phase one.

The grant was given, in part, from the FAA because the airport is on the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. According to the airport administration, this list is composed of about 3,400 airports that the FAA deems to be “significant to national air transportation.”

The federal grants that the Manhattan Regional Airport received were through the Airport Improvement Program. The Airport Improvement Program is a funding program through the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems that funds infrastructure projects in airports around the country that are too small or outdated. The FAA updates the list every two years.

For the duration of the expansion, parking at the airport is going to change. The first temporary change is that there will be no difference in short- and long-term parking. Second, all parking will be in one lot. Along with the combination of parking, travelers can only park at the airport for two weeks unless an extended parking application is submitted to and approved by the airport administration.

Wright said after the expansion, passengers would most likely have to pay to park.

“The parking will remain free for now. However, plans for paid parking are being put into place to pay for the infrastructure,” Wright said. “At this time, I don’t have info on the rates or when they will be put into place.”

Another way in which travelers may be affected is if Manhattan Regional Airport decides to increase landing fees, the cost for airlines to land at the airport. Higher landing fees generally results in higher ticket fares.

For some students, a substantial increase in ticket cost could make or break their travel through Manhattan Regional Airport. For students like D’Mar Moore, freshman in biology, this could make traveling home to Las Vegas less convenient and more costly.

“If ticket fares go up too much, it might be worth it to drive home during breaks,” Moore said.