The long-discussed and controversial project is expected to take 12 to 15 years and be financed through bonds, passenger-facility charges and FAA grants. One runway will be extended 2,000 feet and another by 1,500 feet; a fifth, 9,100-foot runway will be built along the Delaware River, which separates Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Construction is scheduled to start in 2013, after land acquisition is completed, permits and approvals are received and engineering and design are done. The project is scheduled for completion in 2025.
Supporters expect the expansion will alleviate congestion, especially during bad weather, at an airport that is the nation's ninth-busiest, based on takeoffs and landings, and the 18th-busiest based on passenger volume. In 2009, it was the fourth-most-delayed airport in the country, accounting for upward of 8 percent of the nation's delays.
The airport saw 30.7 million passengers in 2009, a figure that's expected to nearly double by 2030, said Mark Gale, CEO of the city-owned airport. Calling the facility "chronically congested and delayed," Gale said it is drastically in need of the expansion.
"That's necessary in order for Philadelphia to attract and retain both passenger and air cargo service," Gale told The Associated Press in an interview. "This airport is the largest economic engine for all of southeastern Pennsylvania."
The average delay at the airport is about 10 minutes right now, and projections show that would climb to 19.3 minutes if left unchecked. Under the expansion, Gale said, the average delay would be decreased to 5.2 minutes in 2025 and 8.4 minutes in 2030.
The overhaul also will involve upgrades and reconfigurations to the terminal complex - reconstructing two terminals, expanding two others and constructing a new Terminal G and a commuter terminal.
The project, however, faces significant hurdles and objections.
Expansion will require that a UPS facility be moved to another location, and a new air traffic control tower will have to be built. But Gale said the airport will try to keep disruptions to a minimum once construction is under way.
Seventy-two homes in Tinicum Township, just outside Philadelphia, will have to be acquired to make way for the relocation of the UPS facility. And neighbors in the community have fought the project for years, forming a group opposing the project.
US Airways and Southwest Airlines, two of the airport's dominant carriers, also have expressed objections, saying the project would dramatically increase their costs.
In a July letter to Gale, a US Airways executive also said he didn't think the new runway would alleviate delays until there was a solution to airspace congestion in the busy region, just south of New York City.
A US Airways spokesman said Tuesday that the airline would not be commenting on the FAA decision, referring back to the July letter.