PANAMA CIY BEACH — Overall construction of the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport is now 93 percent complete as workers rush to meet a May 23 grand opening date, officials said last week. “Everything is on schedule and looking good,” said Jeff Dealy of KBR, program manager for the $318 million airport relocation project. “It’s all coming together in April.”
Dealy said officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will be at the construction site the first week of April to begin extensive testing of a new $4 million state-of-the-art baggage-handling system.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has scheduled a final pre-inspection of the 10,000-foot runway for mid-April and a concluding inspection for mid-May, he said. FAA officials already conducted a successful flight inspection of the runway earlier this month.
In addition, all of the outlying structures of the $63 million seven-building terminal complex — minus the terminal building, which is about 92 percent complete — is expected to be turned over to the Airport Authority by mid-April, Dealy said.
The TSA is expected to spend three to four weeks running a series of tests on the 16,000-square-foot automated baggage system, where hundreds of bags can be ferried through a sequence of conveyor belts and X-rayed for security problems, such as explosives. If an individual bag is targeted as a potential threat, it is rerouted automatically to another checkpoint for further evaluation, Dealy said.
“There are a lot of conveyor belts, a lot of gates and a sophisticated computer tracking system,” Dealy said. He said the system allows large numbers of passengers to move through the airport more quickly than the system now in place at the current Panama City-Bay County International Airport. During the TSA testing, upward of 200 bags will be moved through the system, some with fake explosives, to check for bugs, Dealy said.
Technicians from Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and rental car companies are expected to soon begin installing equipment into their individual spaces, with computer systems in two weeks and furniture in four weeks, Dealy said. In addition, Southwest is expected to begin training as many as 34 new workers by the first week of May, he said.
“Right now, I don’t see any show-stoppers” to meeting the May 23 opening date, Dealy told Airport Authority board members.
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