What's RIGHT with CLE?
Much has been written recently about the state of affairs at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, largely focused on customer service shortcomings of the aging and outdated roadway and terminal complex and infrastructure, old-fashioned and narrow concourses and inefficient international arrivals facilities, and questionable moves by former and current airport leadership regarding parking and ground transportation. Polls and comments by passengers at Cleveland.com reveal much negativity about CLE and some have even called for a new airport.
We at Vision CLE have reported on and will continue to chronicle these challenges in a spirit of constructive criticism and concern for our hometown airport with the hope that the current airport leadership team and the City of Cleveland will adopt a transformative vision for a new, efficient, state-of-the-art, customer-friendly terminal and associated facilities with the new airport master plan contracted to RS&H and due out in 2021.
The former master plan, drafted in 2008 and updated in 2012 by Landrum & Brown, is vastly outdated due to the merger of former hub airline, Continental Airlines, with another former hub carrier, United Airlines in 2010, and the latter’s decision to de-hub CLE (again, it did so post-deregulation in 1980-81 and finally in 1986), a process completed very quickly by July 2014.
This article will focus, for a change, on some of what is right with CLE, in order to keep things in perspective and offer some examples of what can be accomplished with firm determination and clear objectives.
Is Hopkins a very attractive, modern facility with stunning architecture and a clear sense of place? Of course, not! But it is a relatively compact facility that gets passengers in and out with a minimum of hassle (other than the ground transportation situation).
The $36 million renovation of the main terminal and Red and Blue parking lots, completed in 2016 before the Republican National Convention, made some positive aesthetic changes, particularly to the ticketing level. As noted in this article, it also “completely renovated the facade of the terminal, built canopies over exposed parking lots and performed a lot of visible and behind-the-scenes work on energy-efficiency improvements such as an updated HVAC system, LED lighting and revolving exterior doors.”
Prior to the arrival of the Icelanders, WOW and Icelandair, in summer 2018, CLE also made some minor improvements to the international arrivals area. Having flown Icelandair personally in June 2018, the only noticeable difference for me was the new Cleveland-centric artwork, which is an improvement over the drab, sterile previous look. This slight sprucing up did not outweigh the “improvement” once passengers cleared customs and were forced to clear TSA (with no Precheck) and walk through Concourse A to pick up checked bags in the baggage claim area. This was not a customer-friendly approach and replaced a system in place for over 10 years of passengers not making connections being bussed to the north end of baggage claim to get their re-checked luggage. Let’s hope this can be reintroduced before Icelandair resumes service in May 2019 or another long-hoped-for second carrier begins transatlantic service to CLE.
These modest improvements seem to have made travelers to CLE a bit more positive, as noted in the most recent J.D. Power airport survey where the airport moved up to only second-worst from worst of similarly sized medium hub airports. This certainly is nothing to boast about, however.
In the previous decade, Hopkins was able to plan and complete a $1.4 billion expansion program that greatly enhanced capacity and safety of the airfield. The main goal was building a new runway with sufficient separation to allow for simultaneous takeoffs and landings in good weather. This ended Hopkins’ dubious distinction of being one of the nation’s largest, in effect, single runway hub airports.
The cornerstone of the expansion project was the completion of the second phase of a new 9,000-foot runway 6L/24R, separated by1,241 feet from the main runway, 6R/24L. The first 7,000-foot section was dedicated on December 12, 2002. In addition to the newly completed runway 6L/24R, there are two active runways (parallel runway 6R/24L-9,955 ft. extended and opened in November 2008 and decoupled from the crosswind runway 10/28-6,018 ft.). The runway extensions and reconfiguration not only allowed for bigger and heavier aircraft to take off, but runway intersections have been reduced from five to zero, thereby improving safety by lessening the chances for runway incursions.
The effect was to create two streams of traffic allowing simultaneous operations about 80% of the time, depending on visibility. This should increase airport capacity from the current 368,000 annual aircraft operations to 525,000 operations. This more than covers any projected demand for the foreseeable future, as CLE had only 123,392 operations in 2017. The completed project served to decrease delays, improve the upper Midwest’s congested airspace, put Cleveland on an even footing with other airports for international air service, as well as meet modern FAA airport design standards.
Another safety improvement at Hopkins was the installation of an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) on runway 10/28 in 2011 (along with a similar system at Burke Lakefront Airport in 2013). This system is designed with crushable soft concrete to slow or stop a plane from overrunning a runway at approximately 80 miles per hour. It is clearly visible at both ends of the runway in this FAA diagram of CLE.
After 2015, Cleveland hoped to add a third runway through the site of the I-X Center, the former bomber and tank plant. In good weather conditions, all three runways could be used at the same time. Even in poor visibility, simultaneous operations could take place on the two outer runways. This plan was never seriously pursued and is likely not even necessary given the decrease in overall flights at CLE as well as the use of larger aircraft.
In addition to these much-needed airfield improvements, Cleveland Hopkins has completed the following projects:
A 3,800-space Smart parking garage with technology to direct drivers to available spots
A consolidated off-airport rental car facility
Additions to the baggage claim areas at the south and north end of terminal
New and enhanced signage and flight information displays throughout the terminal
Construction of a west cargo ramp for United Parcel Service (UPS)
Installation of new terrazzo flooring throughout the terminal and concourses, some with Cleveland-themes
The addition of more name-brand as well as local shops and restaurants for passenger convenience under the management of BAA Cleveland, now Fraport USA
Opening of a centralized deicing facility
A new 300-foot control tower opened in 2015
A new storage facility for airport snow removal equipment and additional new equipment purchased
Construction and reconfiguration of taxiway connectors A, B, C and R using a $15 million grant from the FAA to improve airfield safety
These costly major improvements show that significant change is possible if there is a political and business will to make them happen. Let’s hope that the next focus of CLE’s master plan will be on replacing or substantially changing the face of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, especially its roadway, ground transportation layout, and terminal complex, to a customer-friendly gateway to our revitalized region.