Officials at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport hope to attract new airlines and provide a smoother passenger transition by 2011 with the opening of the new international terminal.

The Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal is to house 12 new gates and, linked by a new stop on the airport’s automated rail system with the existing 28 gates at Concourse E, is designed to handle all international passengers coming through Atlanta.

Jeff Pearse, Hartsfield’s director of marketing and business development, said that airport officials expect international passenger numbers through Atlanta to rise from 8.8 million to 11.4 million by 2013.

He also said that attracting new airlines is the equivalent of diversifying Hartsfield’s investment portfolio.

Airport officials said they have not been in talks with specific airlines but added that there is an “if you build it, they will come,” approach to the new terminal.

“With the new international terminal, once that’s in place, that will be attractive to a number of new carriers to come to Atlanta,” said Ben Snedeker, public relations manager for the airport’s Capital Improvement Program.

Though the airport has been the world’s busiest in terms of passenger movement since 1998, Mike Williams, the airport’s project manager on the international terminal, said that Hartsfield could still handle more flights.

“The airport is always looking for new entrants. Over the last few years they have had some new carriers come in here and there’s room for some others,” he said.

Delta Air Lines Inc. leases about 70 percent of the Atlanta airport’s gates, by far the most of any carrier. Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran Airways occupies the second most at 19 percent, but currently offers no international flights. The remaining 11 percent is distributed between the 16 other carriers operating at Hartsfield.

Mr. Pearse said that the number of cities outside the U.S. connected to Atlanta has risen from 30 to 85 over the last three years, adding that Delta’s focus on global routes since coming out of bankruptcy in early 2007 has played a major role in expanding Hartsfield’s international connectivity.

Mr. Williams said that planners hope to alleviate car traffic in the airport area by opening new airport access from I-75 at Aviation Boulevard, southeast of the airport, and a consolidated rental car facility south of Camp Creek Parkway on the west side.

Nine new security gates and luggage handling services in the new terminal will eliminate the current baggage re-screening process, requiring international passengers at Hartsfield to have their bags checked at customs and again at baggage claim, causing delays.

“It will be much smoother for the Atlanta passengers,” Mr. Williams said. “The taking of all the international passengers and their baggage out of the existing facilities will have an impact … all of those people will be taken out of the security loop as well.”

Airport officials including Benjamin DeCosta, Hartsfield’s general manager, are trying to sell Atlanta’s international community on the project by presenting the terminal plans at a meeting of the Atlanta Committee on International Relations May 21.
The committee, chaired by Atlanta Councilman Jim Maddox, is made up of members of the Atlanta Conventions and Visitors Bureau, Georgia Council for International Visitors, the state’s Consular Corps, several bi-national chambers and other Georgia organizations concerned with international affairs.

The committee’s vice-chair Eric de Groot said that Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was also present at the meeting and Beverly Scott, MARTA’s general manager, spoke on the importance of expanding Georgia’s public transportation system to accommodate international travelers.

Atlanta’s City Council approved $1.1 billion to fund the terminal in March, which is to be built in stages beginning with construction of the foundation in late June.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...