News from the MAC Chair

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Fall is upon us, and with it came the unique Minnesota tradition of family travel when schools adjourn for the Minnesota Educator Academy (MEA) Conference in October.

MEA travel often creates some of the busiest days at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), and this year was no exception. Thursday, Oct. 21 saw nearly 36,700 people screened at MSP’s security checkpoints, the biggest single day of travel since the pandemic took hold in March 2020 and more than double the peak day of MEA last year. Wednesday the 20th, ranked as fifth busiest, with nearly 34,000 individuals screened. While still well below the peak MEA travel day in 2019, when more than 47,000 people were screened, it was great to the see the airport teeming with excited travelers.

Air Service Recovery Continues

Overall, passenger growth has plateaued in recent months at about 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels as a highly transmissible COVID-19 variant has led to new spikes in infections around the nation and beyond. However, the overall outlook is positive. MSP remains Delta Air Lines’ second-busiest hub, behind only Atlanta. Sun Country has added 14 new routes this year and will fly to 43 destinations this winter – 10 more than in the winter of 2019. Moreover, a new carrier, Allegiant, launched service from MSP this month to four cities, with a fifth, Phoenix-Mesa, being added in late November. The big question is when business travel will return in large numbers, which likely won’t happen until the current COVID-19 surge passes, remote workers return to the office and a “new normal” for conducting business amidst a lingering pandemic is established in 2022 or 2023.

The federal government is making it easier for fully vaccinated foreign national travelers to visit the United States, a move that is expected to significantly increase international travel demand. Beginning November 8, fully vaccinated individuals who provide proof of their vaccination status and a negative COVID-19 test within three days prior to departure can again travel to the United States. By spring 2022 we hope to see resumption of MSP service on most remaining international routes paused due to the pandemic, including key destinations such as London, Seoul, Tokyo and destinations in Canada.

Airport Improvements

We continue to make improvements at the front end of Terminal 1, expanding and modernizing ticketing, bag claim and security checkpoints in the 59-year-old facility. New Delta ticket counters near the South Security Checkpoint are operational, speeding passengers’ check-in process. The South Security Checkpoint itself has been expanded to nine lanes, from six. For the next few months, we’ll take lanes in that checkpoint out of service one at a time to complete installation of the colorful terrazzo flooring. Terrazzo work also continues at the north end of the ticketing lobby. The lighter-colored flooring, together with a narrowed mezzanine and improved overhead lighting, significantly brightens the space. Earlier in the project, we pushed out the front, glass wall of the terminal 15 feet toward the roadway, providing more room for queueing and check-in.

In Bag Claim, we have installed four large new carousels and will complete two more over the next two months, with the remaining five to be finished next year. Expanded square footage, improved lighting, new-generation restrooms and modern finishes provide a welcoming atmosphere for people arriving in the Twin Cities through Terminal 1.

We are also making good progress expanding the east end of Concourse G. The new sky-lit rotunda near the skyway to Concourse C as well as new restrooms will open in mid-November, followed by the rest of the expanded concourse in December. New moving walkways will become operational in January, with new concessions to follow in 2022. Delta will begin interior construction of its new Sky Club soon, with completion possible in early 2023.

Finally, crews have finished replacing an old section of asphalt pavement on the Terminal 1 outbound roadway with longer-lasting concrete. With that development, all asphalt sections of Glumack Drive have been replaced with concrete pavement expected to last 20 to 25 years. We moved up timing of the inbound and outbound roadway projects to make the improvements when vehicular traffic was lessened due to COVID-19’s impacts on air travel, reducing inconvenience for travelers.

Preparing for Winter Weather

Snow removal crews are busy preparing for winter weather. They are stocking inventories of deicing materials and completing preventative maintenance on equipment. Staff is training temporary snow-removal staff hired to augment permanent employees and meeting with airline and air traffic control partners to discuss the year’s snow removal strategies. In addition to a COVID-19 vaccination and testing regimen, extra air filtration in employee bunk rooms and other preventive activities, staff is being separated into smaller work units so that, in the unfortunate event someone contracts the virus, we can hopefully limit its spread and potential impact on snow removal operations.

Taking Aim at Discrimination

This month, the MAC board voted unanimously to nullify discriminatory covenants buried in deeds of property now owned by the organization. The covenants date back many decades, prior to the MAC’s ownership of the properties, and were never enforced by the MAC. Such covenants are in no way representative of the MAC’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, so it is important to take a stand and remove them.

The University of Minnesota’s Mapping Prejudice Project identified 24,131 properties in Hennepin County with discriminatory covenants based on race, religion or ethnicity. The MAC was informed by Just Deeds, a public-private coalition aimed at helping homeowners remove such covenants, that more than 400 properties now owned by our organization contained such covenants. The vast majority of those properties are related to the Rich Acres and New Ford Town residential developments the MAC acquired and razed in the 1990s to make way for a new fourth runway, 17/35.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a law in 2019 permitting property owners to legally discharge discriminatory covenants. The resolution passed by the MAC board authorizes and directs MAC staff to file the appropriate paperwork discharging discriminatory covenants on MAC-owned property.

The MAC is promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in other ways as well.

We are developing a new Airport Equity Advisory Committee with representatives from a variety of businesses throughout the MSP community. The committee will advise the MAC’s senior staff on ways to promote equity in the organization’s programs, policies, regulations and activities. The committee will also work with other governmental agencies to enhance opportunities for airport workers and will provide another meaningful forum in which airport community members can have a voice in diversity, equity and inclusion issues. In addition, the committee will work with MAC officials to help ensure airport community compliance with nondiscrimination programs, policies and regulations.

Many businesses operating at MSP Airport employ large numbers of people from different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. It’s important that the airport provide an inclusive and equitable environment that champions and builds on that diverse employee base and strives to reflect and elevate the communities surrounding MSP.

Saluting an Important MSP Partner

For the past several months an exhibit on Terminal 1’s Concourse C has celebrated a key MSP neighbor and partner: the Minnesota Air National Guard.

The 109th Airlift Squadron, now part of the 133rd Airlift Wing, is the oldest Air National Guard unit in the nation, celebrating its 100th year of service. The guard has operated at what is now MSP Airport since its earliest days as an airfield, more than two decades before the Minnesota Legislature created the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

During the airfield’s early years, military operations significantly outpaced civilian use of the facility. The Guard remains an important partner and airport user, providing protection for the Twin Cities and beyond. I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to all the service members of the 133rd Airlift Wing, present and past, who over the past century have done and continue to do so much for our state and our nation. It’s an honor to serve the guard with our airport facilities and services.

Whether you fly with the Guard, fly commercially or pilot your own aircraft, MSP is a crucial first step on your journey to new experiences.

Safe Travels,

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Rick King
Metropolitan Airports Commission