Hartsfield-Jackson lays out Concourse D pre-fab plan for city panel

City council committee okays $200 M funding to get the 18-module project underway; completion expected in 2029

Hartsfield-Jackson is about to undertake one of its most complex projects yet, to widen an active concourse.

An Atlanta city council committee voted to clear funding for another phase of work in Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s $1.4 billion project to widen Concourse D.

The project is one of the most complex the Atlanta airport has undertaken, expanding a working facility while passengers and planes continue to use it. It will mean detours and disruptions for travelers for years, and is expected to take until summer 2029 to complete.

In an attempt to minimize upheaval on site, the airport plans to use a pre-fabrication construction approach. Huge segments of the concourse addition will be constructed on a site on the south side of the airfield.

Then, each section will be slowly transported to Concourse D on self-propelled modular transport vehicles — motorized platforms on wheels — and then attached to the existing building. A total of 18 modules will be built and transported. The sections will be about 40 feet tall, roughly 30 feet deep and up to 192 feet long.

After each rectangular hunk of steel is built, it will traverse the airport’s taxiways during the overnight hours. The transport vehicles move about 1 mile per hour, and the trip to Concourse D is expected to take an hour or two.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport used a similar system of pre-fab construction to build a new concourse.

The Atlanta airport’s widening of Concourse D is aimed at accommodating larger jets that airlines are shifting to, replacing small, 50-seat regional jets.

Delta Air Lines, the largest carrier across the airport and on Concourse D, is retiring its 50-seat regional jets by this summer.

Delta’s ATL vice president Joe Miller said during the council committee meeting that Delta at the end of this month will no longer have 50-seat airplanes flying from Atlanta. Instead, it will fly larger jets that have the option of first class and other premium cabins.

The ongoing shift in recent years to larger planes means Concourse D, the narrowest concourse at Hartsfield-Jackson, gets congested and crowded with passengers filling the corridors and overflowing from gate areas.

Laurie Garrow, an aviation expert and professor at Georgia Tech, said the expanded concourse will address “one of the key bottlenecks of the passenger experience.”

By widening the concourse, the airport is “anticipating expansion needs, sometimes before other airports,” she said.

The decision to widen the existing concourse rather than demolish and rebuild it marks a balance between expanding and minimizing disruptions, she said.

“It’s difficult to do construction in environments that are operating continuously or even operating at peak capacity,” Garrow said. “We don’t have a lot of slack in the system.”

On Wednesday, the city council transportation committee voted unanimously in favor of a $200 million tranche of funding for a key phase of major construction work to begin.

Atlanta city council member Amir Farokhi, who chairs the transportation committee said the airport’s plan “seems like a fascinating engineering feat.”

“I look forward to seeing how it progresses. Hopefully it progresses on time and on and under budget,” he said.