NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Expedite Permitting Process For Airport Runways

April 16, 2001

One of the major factors behind near gridlock at airline terminals is the scarcity of runways. Planes circle in the air awaiting clearance, while other flights idle on runways awaiting permission for takeoff. The delays generate frustration among passengers and airline personnel alike.

Experts say congestion can only be relieved by swift construction of additional runways. But approvals require a host of reviews by numerous federal and state agencies and local bodies. Small wonder that runways take an average of 10 years to build -- even without local fights.

Experts have some suggestions on how to cut through the red tape and expedite the review process:

  • Environmental reviews require the participation of such agencies as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department -- not to mention state and local authorities -- a time-consuming process that needs to be streamlined.
  • With each agency involved having its own pace and priorities, timetables need to be developed which would limit how long officials can spend before making decisions.
  • There are 40 federal laws and executive orders governing runway approval -- and these need to be integrated into an overall approval process.
  • Even though the environmental workload of the FAA has quadrupled since 1990, the staff has increased by less than 50 percent -- a situation which demands that the agency be brought up to speed.

Clearly, experts say, other factors beyond additional runways are involved in the tangle -- such as modernizing air traffic control and managing rush-hour demand. But rationalizing the runway approval process would be as good a place as any to start.

Source: Editorial, "Why Airport Traffic Snarls," USA Today, April 16, 2001.


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