Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport - Airport Technology
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Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

The 3,000ac Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) underwent an extensive upgrade programme between 2005 and 2009.

Start Year


Project Type

Terminal redevelopment, expansion and infrastructure improvements


Phoenix, Arizona, US




The 3,000ac Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) underwent an extensive upgrade programme between 2005 and 2009. The airport is the fifth busiest in the world, the eighth largest in the US, 14th largest airport in the world in terms of passengers. It is located in one of the fastest-growing cities in the US. Sky Harbor has grown so rapidly that Phoenix is currently using Williams Gateway Airport in Mesa as a secondary airport.

These construction projects cost more than $700m during 2005 and in excess of $200m was spent each year on construction until 2009 (total projected cost was approximately $2bn). The airport’s passenger count for 2015 was 44 million. The airport is currently implementing the $590m Terminal 3 modernisation programme to cater the growing passenger traffic.

The three runways have a capacity of 60 million passengers a year, but the current facilities are being remodelled to meet that potential. More than 100,000 passengers and more than 1,500 aircraft arrive and depart daily from Sky Harbor, which also handles 1,000t of cargo a day. Sky Harbor’s private airplane area also serves as one of eight service centres for the Medevac airline Air Evac.

More than 31,000 people work at the airport (mostly for private companies) and a study by Arizona State University has shown that the economic impact of the airport is in excess of $26bn a year. Sky Harbor is critical to the economy of the area.

Terminal 4 remodelling

The 2.3 million square foot Terminal 4, which was first opened in 1990 at a cost of $248m, has also been the site of major construction. A new $50m concourse with eight Southwest Airlines gates and retail outlets was opened in March 2005, and another $27m in retail improvements were completed in mid-2006 with new shops and restaurants / fast food establishments.

The new retail construction phase increased the retail space from 16,842ft² to 37,908ft². Cosmetic and aesthetic improvements are already evident around Terminal 4; tiling replaced carpeting, the ceilings are higher and the lighting has been much improved. The airport authority believes that the public image of Terminal 4 is an important aspect of the airport, since 75% of passengers pass through it.

The Terminal 4 redevelopment general contractor is Weitz Company. The architects for the project are Minnesota Architectural Alliance (concept) and TranSystems (development of the concept into construction blueprints).

Terminal 4 renovation project

The Terminal 4 renovation project received approval from Phoenix City Council in November 2013. The project is expected to cost $27m and will allow the terminal to handle 800 passengers an hour.

The new terminal is being refurbished in two phases. The contractors for the first phase of Terminal 4 will include Lagardere TR and Partners, Avila Retail Development and Management, HG Phoenix Retailers JV, Paradies PHX, and XpresSpa Phoenix Airport.

The improvements for the project will include the installation of 12 automated passport control kiosks, new secondary screening services, additional stairs and large elevators, as well as the expansion of baggage and passenger queue areas. The project is expected to complete by the end of 2017.

Other projects around the airport

Other projects which have been completed include: $80m in improvements to taxiway bridges, which opened in mid-2006; $41m for a new economy parking garage on the east side of the airport, which opened at Christmas 2005; S-2 concourse (D) with an additional eight gates for South West Airlines, which cost $50m and opened in March 2005; and two new fire stations, which became operational in 2005 and cost $8.5m.

The ongoing Terminal 3 modernisation programme will create new security checkpoint, ticket counters, baggage processing facilities, gates, retail areas, as well as drop-off and pick-up zone. Construction is being carried out in phases for scheduled completion by 2020.

Car rental centre

"Sky Harbor International Airport is critical to the economy of the Phoenix area."

One of the biggest projects completed to date at the airport is the $175m rental car centre just west of the airport near 16th Street and Buckeye Road and Interstates 10 and 17 (the original budget was $160m but cost of materials increased the final amount to $175m). Construction work on the facility was completed in December 2005 and it opened on 19 January 2006. The facility accommodates 13 airport rental car companies and their vehicles.

The new car rental centre is the largest facility of its kind in Arizona under one roof, with a 120,000ft² customer service building on top of a three-level parking garage that can hold 5,600 cars. A fleet of 55 natural gas-fuelled buses take passengers on the five-minute journey between the facility and specific pick-up and drop-off spots at the terminals, significantly reducing congestion and localised pollution.

Siting all rental car activity in one building away from the terminals has freed up the space currently used for the rental company customer-service counters and rental car parking in the terminals, allowing extensive remodelling of facilities. Sky Harbor is the third-largest airport rental car market in the US behind Orlando and Los Angeles. Rentals in the new facility are expected to provide $31.5m in annual revenue to the airport.

The car rental centre programme manager was Abacus Project Management. Construction was overseen by Austin Industries and Layton Southwest as the Austin-Layton JV. The architect of the facility was TranSystems in conjunction with Dick and Fritsche Design Group, HKS and Blunk DeMattei Associates.

ATC Tower

A $54m air traffic control tower east of Terminal 3 was complete in 2006. The 320ft-tall tower (300ft plus a 20ft antenna) replaced the 181ft structure built in the 1970s.

As part of that project, the FAA built a new Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility to monitor and control aircraft up to 40 miles away from Sky Harbor. The tower provides controllers with a full 360° view of the airfield, allowing both visual and electronic monitoring of aircraft movements.

The new tower and TRACON facilities were operational in early 2007. Jacobs Construction Services was responsible for the construction and Jacobs Facilities was responsible for the design.

Centre runway reconstruction

The City of Phoenix (Aviation Department) replaced the bituminous concrete pavement on Runway 8-26 with Portland Cement Concrete (PCC) pavement.

"Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is the busiest three-runway airport in the world."

As PHX is the busiest three-runway airport in the world, the runway needed to remain operational during reconstruction. The City chose Michael Baker Jr to provide design services for the project.

The project involved reconstructing the 11,000ft-long concrete runway and its exit taxiways with PCC pavement, the extension of the runway and its parallel taxiways, and the replacement of the drainage, electrical and NAVAID systems.

Construction services were provided by Parsons Brinckerhoff Construction Services and Ames Construction. The $70m runway reconstruction project was completed in early 2006.

Automated people mover (APM)

The airport received FAA approval of an environmental impact statement for the PHX Sky Train® automated people mover (APM) construction.

The APM light rail system is being constructed to connect the new east parking area to all terminals with two new stations in Terminals 3 and 4. A connection to the new car rental facility is part of phase two.

The first phase of the APM project is worth $380m. The overall cost of the project will be valued up to $800m. Stage one of the APM was previously approved. The new approval obtained in March 2006 allows for connection to light rail and a continuation from Terminal 3 to the rental car facility.

Stage 1 connects the Phoenix’s METRO light rail station with the economy parking structure and the Terminal 4, and was opened in April 2013. The Stage 1A between Terminal 3 and Terminal 2 was opened in December 2014.

There are other small infrastructure improvement projects underway in 2006 and there will be much construction activity around the airport until at least 2009. DMJM Aviation is providing project management services, and Holder Construction is supplying cabling and infrastructure redevelopment services.

In-line baggage system

The airport has an in-line baggage screening system, which allows checked luggage to be security screened behind the scenes as it travels through the luggage conveyor system. This makes the screening of luggage more efficient and convenient for passengers.

The construction of this new system was started in November 2005 and was complete in 2007. The general contractor for the project is Turner Construction and the architect is DWL while the designer for the baggage conveyor is Cage.

Wi-Fi and paging

The airport introduced a free wireless internet service in 2005. The Wi-Fi service is available on both sides of the security barrier near shops and restaurants and in the gate areas.

"One of the biggest projects completed to date at Phoenix Sky Harbor is the $175m rental car centre."

In addition, a new paging system was introduced in 2005, which displays the names of the individuals being paged on monitors throughout all the terminals. The names are also announced through a speaker system, which makes the system user-friendly and suitable for all visitorst. Messages can be retrieved at discrete terminals near the monitors.

Phoenix Sky Harbor enterprise GIS

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has awarded a $10m contract for developing an enterprise geographic information system (GIS) based on ESRI GIS technology to Woolpert. The enterprise GIS will support the improvement project.

Sky Harbor information technology project manager Dennis Murphy said: "We will use the enterprise GIS to ensure that, as we go through this large development project, we establish standards and capture that information so we can maintain it into the future. We will also use it to establish efficient management of our existing assets and airport operations."

Woolpert equipped Sky Harbor with a web portal-based information management system that uses GIS technology (ESRI ArcGIS Server software) to incorporate basemaps and data with more than a dozen key support applications. The finished system integrated the airport’s SAP business solutions software with custom, GIS-based lease, document, noise control, master planning, environmental, and facilities management applications.

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