DALLAS — New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has called on the board overseeing Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport for a "robust analysis" on whether to build a new terminal or expand the existing facilities.
In a letter sent to the New Orleans Aviation Board late last week, Landrieu said a new or expanded airport is vital to boosting the area's economy and tourism.
"The [airport] serves as a gateway to millions of tourists and business travelers each year and is a critical driver for the creation of jobs and economic development," Landrieu said.
City officials estimated the cost of the modernization effort at up to $1 billion.
Landrieu said he favored building a new terminal north of the current site. He said the board also should look at an expansion of the airport west of the existing facility.
Options in the current long-term plan include expanding the airport by adding new terminals on the west side or building a new passenger terminal on a city-owned site closer to Interstate 10.
The airport is currently involved in a $200 million upgrade to modernize the facility for the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans. The projects under construction include a new rental car facility, financed with $97 million of tax-exempt Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds, and concourse improvements.
The mayor said he wanted the analysis to begin immediately. He said the board's analysis should consider the financial feasibility of the expansion and the costs and benefits of the 52-year-old airport's current capital improvement plan, including the terminal and ground transportation.
City aviation director Iftikhar Ahmad said an analysis of both options, environmental reviews, and developing architectural drafts could take up to 18 months.
In 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the Aviation Board's preliminary application to participate in an airport privatization program. However, the city dropped the plan in October 2010, citing "conditions required to effectively privatize public infrastructure and the current state of capital markets."
New Orleans had hoped to realize up to $1 billion from a long-term lease of the airport to a private operator.
Andy Kopplin, Landrieu's chief administrative assistant, said the current terminal facilities are expensive to operate and present an environment that is unappealing to tourists and business travelers.
"The dated airport infrastructure is one of the major dissatisfiers to our becoming the type of tourism destination that we'd like to become," Kopplin said at a news conference on the plan. "It also inhibits our ability for business expansion."
The New Orleans Aviation Board's $134.9 million of outstanding passenger facility charge revenue bonds are rated A3 by Moody's Investors Service and A-minus by Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings.
The airport served 8.2 million passengers in 2010, a post-Hurricane Katrina high and 5.1% more than in 2009.