Capacity Concerns: Future demand addressed at conference

May 8, 2004

Inside The Industry

Capacity Concerns

Future demand addressed at conference

By Jodi Richards

May 2004

Catherine Lang

In her presentation at the 29th Annual FAA Forecast Conference in March, FAA associate administrator of airports Woodie Woodward offered attendees a look at future capacity at the nation's airports out to 2020. Her associate, FAA deputy associate administrator of airports Catherine Lang, expands on Woodward's comments during a phone interview with AIRPORT BUSINESS. Following is an edited transcript.

AIRPORT BUSINESS : What data was used for this study?

Catherine Lang : We used the conventional tools thatthe agency always does and the typical way we do it is to look at thebusiest airports, and see where they are in terms of their abilityto meet future demand and at what expense of delay. So that's kindof a bottoms-up approach.

This study also did a top-down approach in which we looked at a variety of socioeconomic factors and ran some different market-based models. The typical FAA way of doing things is to look at the existing airports and ask whether or not they have sufficient capacity. This study looked at the market and where the people will be, where the industries will be and then we said, and do we have sufficient aviation access in those locations.

This is the first time our office has used that method for this purpose.

AB : Why use a different approach?

Lang : Well, for one, the Administrator asked usto. When she first came into the FAA as the Administrator, especiallywith her experience in DOT, one of the questions was, As we think aboutthe demands the country will be facing over the next 20-30 years, dowe have airports in the right places? She really wanted us to, on one level, put the airports aside to begin with. They took a pretty wide cut at looking at metropolitan areas [300] and it's pretty fascinating looking at the results because a lot of the growth coming on in the country and a lot of the aviation infrastructure requirements are in the South and Southwest.

AB : What does the data tell us?

Lang : I think the most important message of thewhole study is that it is critical that we stay the course on plannedimprovements. And that means that for us to prevent an enormous amountof delay and capacity constraints in 2013 and 2020, a lot of the plansthat are on the books today have to happen.

And those are not just airport plans. It's investments that the FAA is planning to make in terms of airway facilities and air traffic equipment and procedures. This gives us a glimpse of the future, which clearly says the demand is coming and it's coming in some places that, from a national perspective, we probably weren't focused on. And to avoid congestion in the future, we need to stay the course on investments today and, in some locations, we need to make sure that plans are in fact developed and implemented or we won't be able to forestall that delay in the future.

AB : What did the study tell you about metropolitan areas that need capacity?

Lang : Atlanta 's a good example. Today the FAA wouldsay there are five airports that need additional capacity. But there'sone metropolitan area that needs additional capacity. Atlanta is theonly airport in the metropolitan area serving commercial traffic.

While O'Hare is congested, it has Midway, Gary , Rockford , Milwaukee — so the metropolitan area is rich in aviation assets.

Now, Atlanta is interesting because by the time you get to 2013, if the planned improvements happen, Atlanta is fine and the metro area as a consequence is fine.

In 2013, we show the Chicago metropolitan area in trouble because the total assets of the airports in that metro area will not be sufficient to meet the demand, unless the planned improvements in the pipeline actually occur. If they occur, then you get to 2020 and the metro area is fine again; Midway airport though, as an individual airport becomes constrained.

Chicago in 2020 shows Midway tapped, and clearly a new airport probably is going to have the potential to offer some relief to congestion at Midway. And also in the long term, benefit the metropolitan area. I think it's fair to say that there are really only a couple places in the country, for purposes of this study, that new airports are contemplated as a potential capacity solution; Chicago and Las Vegas are probably the two prominent ones.

Las Vegas is another interesting one to look at. That's a metro area that has insufficient capacity, but they're also planning a new airport. If they implement that supplemental air carrier airport, the metropolitan area of Las Vegas will be fine. So in some cases, just because a metro area has an airport that is constrained, it doesn't mean that the needs of the region won't be met. It's our judgment that once you look at the total aviation demand against the total aviation asset, you've got a problem.

AB : What about congestion at commerical airports because of the growth in general aviation?

Lang : I wouldn't say it's widespread, but thereare some, particularly leisure markets like West Palm Beach and Tucson. It's interesting — those are a couple of locations that if you werelooking at the large airports today, we wouldn't necessarily focusingon. This study tells us Tucson and West Palm Beach are going to have a fair amount of growth.

AB : Overall, is the forecast good?

Lang : I would say that it is a dose of reality. By that I mean we have an awful lot of work to do to ensure that we're able to meet future demand. We have a pretty good idea of the locations that we need to be ready for — but we also are aware that there's a lot of work that needs to be done to meet that future need. The outlook at 2020 at least gives you plenty of lead time, so shame on us if we don't do something about it with this much advance warning.