U.S. Airports Must Continue to Expand to Meet Continued Air Travel Demand, Study Shows

ATLANTA, GA. -- U. S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters today said many of the nation’s busiest airports and metropolitan areas — such as Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, FL — will require additional capacity, which may include the building of new airports, in the next two decades if they are to address the flood of flyers headed their way.

Secretary Peters announced the findings as part of the new Future Airport Capacity Task report following a tour of new improvements at the nation’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.  The new report found that 14 airports and eight metropolitan areas nationwide will require new capacity to accommodate the anticipated growth in air traffic over the next 18 years.

By 2025, cities like Atlanta, Las Vegas, Chicago, and San Diego are going to have to risk the lost revenue, lost business, and lost appeal that comes with chronic airport delays or they’re going to have to consider building new airports,” Secretary Peters said.

The Secretary said Atlanta has invested aggressively to keep pace with air travel, with the opening of a new runway, new tower and new taxiway and construction of a new international terminal.  And while that expansion has put Atlanta in good stead in the short term, in the longer term, “air service will suffer if this region doesn’t find new ways to handle growing demand and begin looking at building a new airport.”

To study future solutions, the Department is making nearly $1 million available for the city’s leaders to look at new solutions for getting more flights in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson in the near future.  The new money will also fund a review of longer-term options like converting existing general aviation and military air fields for commercial use or even building a new airport.

Building a handful of new airports won’t be enough though, Secretary Peters said.   The new report also shows that by 2025, fifteen metropolitan areas won’t have the ability to handle demand for flights unless they move forward with planned improvements.    

And in places like the San Francisco Bay area, New York, Boston and Los Angeles, where existing airports are hemmed in by urban development, the report concludes these metropolitan areas will have to find better ways to use existing, smaller or underused air fields.    

“This study makes it clear that we need to develop solutions that match travelers with the best way to get to their destinations,” Secretary Peters said.  “We must find a way to turn this challenge into an opportunity to keep our families free to travel and our businesses free to succeed.” 

Secretary Peters noted in the last 15 years, the Department has spent nearly $6 billion to help open 27 new runways at the nation’s largest airports, helped convert five former military airfields to commercial service airports, and currently committed an additional $.2 billion for three runways, two airfield reconfigurations, a runway extension, and a major taxiway.

The Department is also working intensively to ease congestion in the skies over these busy airports through advances in technology and is also seeking additional, market-based tools to fight congestion in the aviation reauthorization bill now before Congress.

Building new airports, expanding existing fields, and taking better advantage of smaller regional airports are all solutions that must be considered to meet the demand for air travel that continues to grow, Peters said.

The FACT study is available on the Internet at http://www.faa.gov/airports_airtraffic/airports/resources/publications/reports/.

For pdf version click here.

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