By Sarah Binder

CEDAR RAPIDS—Recent record passenger months have highlighted the need for expansion and improvement at the Eastern Iowa Airport.

“In March, we filled our parking lot; filled it,” said Heather Wilson, the airport’s marketing and communication director. “As we continue growing, we are reaching capacity.”

Both February and March were record-setting months for passenger travel at the airport. In March, a total of 99,664 passengers used the airport, compared to the previous same-month record of 98,435 passengers in March 2000. March is traditionally one of the busiest months for the airport due to spring break travel. February saw a total of 79,359 passengers, compared to the previous same month record of 78,738 passengers in February 2006.

Meanwhile, a master-planning process calls for more than $8 million in improvements to the airport, to be financed mainly by Federal Aviation Administration ticket taxes. The plan is expected to go before the Cedar Rapids Airport Commission for approval by July.

The airport, at 2121 Arthur Collins Parkway SW, is predicting continued growth of 2.5 percent per year over the next five, 10 and 20 years.

Airport Director Tim Bradshaw said the “air side” of the airport, including runways and taxiways, is in good shape to deal with the projected growth, but the “land side,” including the terminal, roads and parking lots, is becoming constrained.

The plans for the next five years focus on those customer areas of the airport, including the terminal lobby, security checkpoints, a rental car lot and concourse. Some improvements have already been completed, including new ticket counters, TSA office spaces, baggage areas and bathrooms. Within 10 years, the airport plans to add two additional gates.

“We want to dress it up,” Mr. Bradshaw said, adding that the lobby was built 25 years ago and looks somewhat dated compared to the updated seating area near the gates.

The lobby includes a security checkpoint, which is also in need of an update. Because FAA guidelines have changed so much since 9/11, the checkpoint is roughly a third of the current recommended size.

“Unlike other technology, the technology with security has gotten larger instead of smaller over time,” Mr. Bradshaw said, citing full-body scanners as an example.

While the growth forecast is based on recommendations from the FAA and socioeconomic data, Mr. Bradshaw noted it is difficult to predict air travel when unforeseen events, such as security threats or outbreaks of disease, impact passenger behavior.

“Those unforeseen things that happen on the national and international scene affect us here,” he said.

During this period of growth, however, the airport is working with carriers to increase the number of available flights. Mr. Bradshaw said the airport is in talks for a new Florida destination and is working with carriers for the top two business destinations, New York City and Washington, D.C. metros.

While carriers have been “more strategic” about reducing the number of flights offered since the economic downturn of 2008, Mr. Bradshaw said many are slowly beginning to add more flights again. While typical flight capacity once was between 60-70 percent, now it is nearly 90 percent, he said.

“The flights are full; anywhere you go, they’re full,” Mr. Bradshaw said.

The increasing traffic, both at the Eastern Iowa Airport and from the carriers, can be seen as a positive reflection on the economy, Mr. Bradshaw said.

“I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand,” he said. “People are anxious to keep taking trips.”