Officials at local airports are sprucing up, adding new services and finishing projects before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
Although they're not sure how many visitors to expect, Blue Grass Airport, the Georgetown-Scott County Regional Airport and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport have added baggage carts, built terminals and refurbished runways in preparation for possible increased passenger traffic because of the Games.
About $8 million in construction projects out of approximately $66 million in improvements under way at Blue Grass Airport have been accelerated because of the Games, airport officials said. Those projects include a new airport entrance and a refurbished terminal that includes a $239,000, 31-foot by 35-foot section of terrazzo tile flooring depicting the bloodlines of prominent Thoroughbreds.
On Wednesday, Blue Grass will celebrate its new $27 million general aviation runway, which will open around the beginning of September.
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Other big changes include a new $1.3 million terminal the Georgetown-Scott County Regional Airport opened on June 30, several years earlier than expected.
"We've had enough business to warrant a bigger terminal than we've had, but it's been spurred on by WEG," said Keith Bynum, secretary-treasurer of that airport's board.
The Scott County airport's runway has also gotten a new asphalt overlay to strengthen it, and extra ramp space has been built, all in preparation for the Games, Bynum said.
At Blue Grass, which doesn't usually see a lot of international travelers, area residents fluent in foreign languages are being recruited, and there are plans for a telephone translation service that will cover 170 languages.
The local airport will also add currency-exchange services and a luggage-cart system in the baggage-claim area. And the airport is adding 650 new car-rental parking spots.
Bluegrass musicians will perform Fridays through Mondays, and a Games merchandise store will be added to the Lexington airport, as well.
Customer service hours will be extended, and no airport employees will be allowed to take vacation during WEG.
All 18 of the airport's public safety officers have received training in diplomatic protocol and dealing with foreign heads of state, according to airport officials.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport has had a team of volunteer ambassadors, which includes interpreters, in place at the airport since the mid-1990s and plans to use that team to deal with Games visitors, according to airport spokeswoman Barb Schempf. The airport expects some of the equestrian athletes to come through the airport, which will also be a quarantine airport for horses coming from abroad.
Bynum said the Scott County airport plans to add a few people to its six-person staff to help with increased business because of the Games.
FAA to help out
Extra traffic-management specialists will be in the control tower at Blue Grass to help out with coordination between Lexington and the Indianapolis air traffic control center, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen. They will also coordinate with the air traffic command center near Washington, D.C.
However, those specialists won't be talking to pilots, she said, because air traffic controllers have to be trained and certified for the particular airports at which they work.
"We are anticipating an increase in traffic, but we can't put numbers on it," Bergen said.
Delta Air Lines plans to add more than 3,500 seats to its Lexington market between Sept. 25 and Oct. 10, Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said. The airline plans to accommodate the additional travelers by replacing 50-seat regional jets with planes that hold more passengers and by increasing flight frequency.
Lots of private jets
The big increase in air traffic is expected to be in private flights.
Kip Simanek, general manager of TAC Air, which serves private and corporate planes and their passengers at Blue Grass, is just starting to hear from potential customers flying in for the Games.
"We're getting a lot of requests for information, but not a lot of confirmed reservations yet," he said. "We're expecting a lot of traffic."
Earlier this week, TAC Air unveiled a new multimillion terminal that it rushed to get completed in time for the games.
Blue Grass Airport should have plenty of space for private planes because of new ramp construction but, if necessary, will use its new general aviation runway for parking private planes, airport spokesman Brian Ellestad said.
The Scott County airport hired a consulting firm in 2007 after learning that WEG would be coming to Central Kentucky. The consulting firm estimated that 200 additional planes would be flying into area airports during the Games — about 60 percent into Lexington, 30 percent into the Scott County airport and the rest to other locations.
But, he said, those projections were made before the economy took a nosedive.