In 2004, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Richard Anderson, CEO of Northwest Airlines, unveiled an ambitious expansion plan to serve 55 million passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by 2020. “Those [counts] didn’t come to fruition,” says Dan Boivin, chairman of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC). About 38 million passengers used the airport in 2017. It will be many years before MSP reaches 55 million.
Nonetheless, the MAC is in the midst of a $1 billion renovation of Terminal 1, to be completed in 2022. Construction is spread over seven years. Substantial work is underway in the ticketing and baggage areas, so the airport will have the capacity to handle 50 million passengers a year. Boivin says that level of traffic is likely to occur around 2030.
When Boivin joined the MAC in 2002, he recalls he was skeptical of projections because, he says, he didn’t want to “build things for the sake of building things.” After 16 years in the role, he cautions there are a number of factors that drive the need for the MAC to “be flexible” in making construction commitments.
Boivin watched Northwest Airlines go bankrupt and be merged into Delta. He saw passenger numbers fall during the Great Recession. And he notes that takeoffs and landings have dropped—from 453,000 in 2007 to 416,000 in 2017—because network carriers like Delta reduced the number of flights operated with small regional aircraft and “upgauged” to bigger planes while keeping capacity stable.
“You don’t want empty gates where airlines aren’t paying rent,” Boivin says, emphasizing that a considerable portion of airport renovations are funded through fees. “Money comes from parking, concessions, airlines, rent, and user fees,” he says, so the MAC develops improvement projects that meet anticipated demand and what it can afford.
After multiple projects are completed by 2022, MAC vice president Bridget Rief anticipates a pause in hard-hat work. The airport will continue to upgrade restrooms and make improvements to Concourse G, which was last under construction a few years ago when its concessions and seating were renovated.