Airlines underwriting $3 billion of Hartsfield-Jackson's $6 billion expansion

As the Atlanta airport reaches a deal for a new 20-year lease with Delta Air Lines, Hartsfield-Jackson International's head says the airlines are underwriting $3 billion of the airport's $6 billion capital program.

The airport plans to rebuild its parking decks, modernize the terminal, construct new cargo facilities and other facilities in a master plan to cover the airport's growth through 2035.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell said during remarks at the Georgia Logistics Summit on Wednesday that the airlines have "signed up for the next 20 years" and underwriting half of the cost of the $6 billion master plan. That means the airlines have agreed to support the funding of $3 billion worth of projects through their landing fees and rent payments.

And on the issue of security, as shown in the terrorist attacks in Belgium, Southwell said the issue of airports as soft targets with "large numbers of people gathering in the terminal that are not yet screened" is an evolving security threat.

Addressing that issue "is going to cost time and money," Southwell said. He said Transportation Security Administration head Peter Neffenger sent 30 officials to Atlanta two weeks ago, as they look to technology to improve security.

Meanwhile, Southwell said the rapid growth of passenger counts at Hartsfield-Jackson -- with a 14 percent increase in passengers traveling to and from Atlanta -- is driving the longer wait times many passengers have experienced at TSA checkpoints.

"It's been a major concern," Southwell said. "This is something that should have been fixed two years ago." He said additional employees are being trained, the number of canine units is doubling and the airport will be testing new technology.