In 1938, TIME Magazine called LaGuardia Airport “the most pretentious land and seaplane base in the world.” Built during a period of significant investment in American infrastructure, LaGuardia was a national and international model for air travel. Today, like many other American airports, it lags behind. In fact, Airport Council International estimates that US airports alone will require almost $76 billion in investment by 2019 to ensure they remain globally competitive and meet projected growth in passengers and cargo.
As the traditional way of funding airports – government grants and passenger fees – will fail to meet that requirement, public-private partnerships are increasingly becoming a preferred model for redevelopment projects. In 2016, LaGuardia Gateway Partners (LGP), partnered with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to rebuild LaGuardia Central Terminal B. Not a moment too soon – recent years have seen passenger flow creep to almost than 15 million passengers annually in the terminal, seven million more than it was built for.
While LGP constructs a new state of the art facility, operations at the current terminal for those 15 million will stay the same. “That doesn’t mean the building won’t change,” explained Ed Baklor, chief commercial officer, LaGuardia Gateway Partners. New Yorkers and domestic travellers to New York will be familiar with the terminal’s “idiosyncrasies” that have developed over time, noted Baklor – “quirks” like leaky ceilings or corridors without much lighting.
LGP is taking aim at these with a $5 million dollar investment in the existing terminal that will improve passenger experience while we wait for the new terminal to come online. “Since day one, we’ve been fixing those leaking ceilings, upgrading our HVAC system, painting the walls, installing new lights in the bathrooms and adding more charging stations. We know that, though they may not be revolutionary, these pieces matter to passengers as they can make their journey more comfortable,” said Baklor.
Importantly, this period also enables LGP to test new concepts and see what works best before it finalises plans for the new terminal. “Since signing the lease in June, we have been conducting trials on different elements that impact passenger experience – from experimenting with various types of chairs in the food court to refining new innovations like beacon technology that allows us to track and share wait times for TSA and taxis,” said Baklor. “We are getting to know the tastes of customers so that, by the time the new building opens, we have incorporated their needs into the new facility,” he added.
A lot has changed in air travel since TIME was writing articles praising LaGuardia Airport. People used to find flying glamorous, but more and more now dread the airport. Baklor hopes to use his background at Disney and WestJet to make traveling through Central Terminal B enjoyable, maybe even fun.
“In the past months we have brought on a squad of entertainers to amuse folks as they get from the curb to their gate. They are helping us to usher in a new era for LaGuardia Central Terminal – not a pretentious one, per se – but an exciting one!” he added.
Vantage Airport Group is part of the team leading the redevelopment and construction of Central Terminal B. It also has a management services agreement with LGP for operation of the terminal to 2050.
While New York’s John F Kennedy International and Newark’s Liberty International airports grab the headlines about international connectivity into the city, the downtown LaGuardia Airport plays a critical role in supporting strong domestic flows in and out of the Big Apple.
LaGuardia Airport is the largest domestic gateway into New York and despite its infrastructure constraints for the past two years has provided more than 38 million scheduled seats in and out of the city after continuous growth during the 2010s. In fact last year it offered its largest inventory for the past ten years. Its largest operator was Delta Air Lines with a 39.7 per cent capacity share, ahead of American Airlines (28.6 per cent), Southwest Airlines (8.4 per cent), United Airlines (7.4 per cent) and JetBlue Airways (4.9 per cent).