General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee will relocate United Airlines and Air Canada to gates in a different concourse to make room for a future international terminal.
United and Air Canada currently fly out of Concourse E, the airport’s southern-most terminal. They will move to Concourse C, the northern-most terminal, the airport announced Friday.
Air Canada is expected to relocate in mid-August and United Airlines will make the move in early September.
Moving the airlines is the first step in what airport officials called a “multi-layered process leading to construction of a new International Terminal on the site of the current Concourse E.”
The current international arrivals terminal is detached from the rest of the terminal complex in a separate building.
“I’m sure our passengers and airlines will appreciate that we are taking the initial steps necessary to eventually improve the international arrival experience here at MKE,” said Mitchell International airport director Izzy Bonilla. “Any traveler who has recently used our existing international facilities will tell you that we need significant improvements.”
Bonilla said airport traffic is growing at a year-over-year clip of between 3 and 4 percent and the current international arrivals building will be unable to accommodate increased passenger traffic.
“We’re also looking at and being courted by other international carriers that would require better facilities than the ones that we have today,” Bonilla said. “So we’re looking at a long-range planning process. These things don’t spring up overnight. It takes about two years to get everything up and running. So we’re trying to get the ball rolling at this time to see if we can get this building done in 2018 — the end of 2018 or so — to meet what we call standards in international travel. They’re barely being met with the building we have today.”
A budget for the construction project has not been established. Bonilla said several factors will influence the overall cost of the project, including the size and specifications of the terminal — which will have to be approved by airlines operating flights out of Mitchell International — and whether it will be built into existing facilities or from scratch.
Part of the planning process, which Bonilla said will begin after United and Air Canada switch terminals this fall, will be to establish a cost estimate.
“What we forecast for 2017: we’re looking at a year or so of looking at designs for what the future international terminal is going to look like,” Bonilla said. “Part of the planning of the design is also also finding the feasibility as to how much is this going to cost, what’s it going to take, etc. We’ve done some preliminary planning for that. Next year we have to take that to the airlines and work with them because they are our partners here at the airport.”
Earlier this week, Norwegian Air announced that it had signed charter contracts with Apple Vacations and Funjet Vacations to operate routes from the U.S. to the Caribbean and Mexico. Norwegian will station three Boeing 737-800 aircraft in Milwaukee and Chicago and operate routes to Mexico and the Caribbean from December 2016 to April 2017.
“Funjet Vacations has been operating charter aircraft from Milwaukee and Chicago for many years,” said Jacqueline Marks, vice president of price, product and groups for Funjet Vacations. “We’re extremely excited about the possibilities Norweigan Air brings to the table. This is just the start of a new, successful relationship that has the potential to expand to many other U.S. markets.”
Bonilla estimated around 800,000 passengers a year pass through the current international building.