Airports Becoming Cities

MEMPHIS — Officials representing some 40 countries met here in April for the Airport Cities conference, further building momentum for the concept of the airport as “aerotropolis”, a term coined by Dr. John Kasarda, Ph.D., a director at the...

During the conference, U.S. Representative Steve Cohen, who represents the Memphis region, told attendees he is introducing two pieces of legislation to forward the aerotropolis cause. “It’s the first-ever aerotropolis legislation,” says Cohen. That said, Airports Council International-North America president Greg Principato opened the conference with a warning that the U.S., long the leader globally for things aviation, is quickly falling behind when it comes to airport funding and development.

Comments Principato, “Governments all over the world are working to create conditions for meaningful investment in infrastructure. Airlines in many parts of the world engage in this process as partners, working with airport officials because they know that investment in airport infrastructure is critical to their being able to profitably perform their function in this global economic puzzle.

“But there is one glaring exception to this trend, right here, in the United States. Rather than understand the need to invest in infrastructure the U.S. government actually stands in the way of airports and local communities who want and need to finance infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, besides Memphis, cities that are investing in the aerotropolis concept include Detroit, Indianapolis, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Denver.

John Clark, director of the Indianapolis airport system, relates that officials there were introduced to the aerotropolis concept following a study on the future best use of land at IND, following the opening of a new passenger terminal. “We discovered along the way that what an aerotropolis will really do is organize your development efforts,” says Clark.

At Denver, which is currently constructing a rail line from downtown to the airport, manager Kim Day calls the 53-square mile footprint of the airport “an unbelievable asset.” And, the airport recently completed its first-ever strategic plan and Day expects the introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to bring non-stop connectivity to Asian markets, central to the aerotropolis concept moving forward.

The FedEx perspective

Back at Memphis International, Doug Cook, VP of International Planning and Engineering for FedEx Express, says that the “three-hub strategy” of MEM, Guanzhou, and Paris de Gaulle ties in well with the aerotropolis idea. “The aerotropolis concept can leverage what those facilities bring to those airport cities,” he says.

“A foundational element of an aerotropolis is it allows you to bring together those components of planning for an airport city. Those various components include urban planning; airport planning; and the business strategy that’s wrapped around it.

“And there’s a direct economic benefit of having an express hub at Charles DeGaulle as well as Memphis and Guangzhou, but there’s also that indirect economic benefit. And it really kind of acts as a catalyst to allow you to pull those together.

“When we’re talking about urban planning we’re talking about free trade zones; skilled labor development. That’s an economic investment that the local area and the region benefit from as part of the airport city.”

Looking at long-term airport planning, Cook says FedEx wants to be up to speed on what the facility will be developing and how FedEx over the long term can utilize the services and capabilities of that airport to meet the needs of its customers.

He adds, “What an airport city is looking at is, how do the stakeholders work together to make sure that the economic benefits are the greatest that can be obtained — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

“Think how airport cities are going to compete on a global basis.”

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