NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Even as Air Travel Slows, Airports Expand

October 9, 2002

Airports across America are putting in new runways and expanding even though airlines are struggling to survive. The projects have a life of their own since Sept. 11 because plans in the pipeline can't easily be cancelled, given their complexity and lengthy permitting processes. How long? Seattle, for example, is in its fifteenth year of planning a controversial third runway.

And despite the airlines industry's current woes, long-term forecasts still project an increase in air travel.

  • Eighteen major hub airports have proposed or begun building new runways at a cost of about $10 billion, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • Many of the projects require lengthy reviews by numerous city, state and federal regulatory agencies.
  • San Francisco airport officials, for example, have spent $70 million over the past three years on research, planning and environmental studies just to see if they can start work on separating the facility's four runways.

Airport enlargement projects are often mammoth in scope, costly and exceedingly complex. To obtain approvals, an airport project in Louisville, Ky., had to move a community of 540 homes away from the noise of its runways and build a new city for the uprooted families.

In Atlanta, just moving dirt for the building of new runways at Hartsfield International Airport required the construction of a 5.5-mile-long electric conveyor belt at a cost of $350 million.

Source: Nicole Harris, "Why Airports Keep Growing," Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2002.


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