By: Elliott Smith
2013 was a busy year at Bellingham International Airport (BLI), with 600,000 passengers boarding airplanes. Terminal expansion work recently concluded by the Port of Bellingham has boosted the airport’s capacity to about 800,000 enplanements per year. An enplanment is defined as a person boarding a flight; total annual passenger volume (arrivals and departures) is double that, or 1.2 million in 2013. With a new capacity of 800,000 annual enplanments, Port officials estimate BLI is now prepared to accommodate up to 10 years of growth.
Keeping Costs Low
One thing that was not included in recent expansion work: jet bridges. Larger airports like Seattle-Tacoma International (SeaTac) and Vancouver International (YVR) use elevated terminal buildings and have passengers board aircraft via mobile jet bridges. Those were not included in renovations at BLI and there is no plan to include them in the near future. The reason is cost. Daniel Zenk with the Port of Bellingham explained that jet bridges cost $1 Million dollars to build, and nearly $250,000 per year to maintain.
“We are a low-cost airport for low-cost airlines” Zenk said. For the foreseeable future, passengers will continue to board airplanes at Bellingham International Airport by walking out on the airfield at ground level, and entering the aircraft via mobile ramps. The mobile ramps can accommodate wheelchair passengers, or those needing assistance.
Airport management at BLI is committed to controlling costs, to keep airlines bringing passengers to the area. “Airlines bring in your customers” Zenk explained, so the airport is dedicated to keeping operating costs low to ensure airlines can continue to operate profitably from Bellingham. One example of this: no overnight aircraft parking fees. Unlike many larger airports, airlines do not pay a fee to park their aircraft overnight at the terminal. Zenk explained that management’s goal is to support the airport by using non-aviation revenue, such as vehicle parking fees.
Baggage & Terminal Expansion
Highlights of recent expansion work include the addition of a modern baggage carousel, addition of an extra boarding gate, and the expansion of the Scotty Brown’s restaurant in the gate area. The expanded boarding area can now accommodate 850 people. The modern baggage system can handle luggage from a Boeing 757, a Boeing 737 and a Bombardier Q-400 all at the same time.
Allegiant Air flies the 757s to Las Vegas and Hawaiian destinations. Alaska Airlines utilizes the 737 to serve Las Vegas and Hawaii as well. The Bombardier Q-400, made in Canada, is popular on shorter routes for its fuel efficiency, and is used by Alaska to connect Bellingham with SeaTac and Portland. The old baggage system, essentially a slide, was built when smaller planes served the airport with low frequency. With the addition of more flights by larger aircraft, the baggage upgrade was necessary to keep the airport’s capacity in line with demand.
The Digital Airport
Before the recent expansion work, there was minimal information available on departures and arrivals. Now, there are 96 flatscreen televisions displaying flight information and other news. Digital technology allows airlines to share workstations. The fully digitized gates and ticketing counters allow any airline to use any boarding gate or check-in desk. Airline staff simply log in to access their company’s computer network, and the airline’s logo and flight information is displayed on the screens above.
Complimentary WiFi is also available for passengers throughout the terminal.
A 2013 survey of 1000 passengers boarding airplanes at Bellingham International Airport found that 52% of those surveyed were Canadian residents. The Port of Bellingham’s Zenk added that there are 3.2 million people living within a 90 mile radius of BLI, many of them are Canadian. “We are more than happy to accommodate them” says the Port’s Emily Tuma, of British Columbia residents traveling out of BLI.
Canadian currency is not accepted for parking fees. The airport accepts US cash and major credit cards. Information about Canadian debit cards was not available as of press time; this post will be updated when more information is available.
Although international airline service is not currently available at BLI, there are about 1,200 international general aviation (private) flights to the airport each year. The majority of these are private aircraft coming from Canada.
The Port of Bellingham hired local contractors to complete the recent expansion work. Dawson Construction of Bellingham was the lead contractor. The Port’s Zenk noted that construction activity was held to about $1 Million dollars per month of work during the renovation, because that was the maximum scope that local contractors could accommodate. The Port was committed to hiring Whatcom County firms.
The public is invited to tour the newly renovated Bellingham International Airport terminal. Free tours will be offered on July 19, 2014 from 12:00 noon to 4:00 PM.
For more information about the tours, visit Bellingham International Airport’s website.
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By: Elliott Smith