Airports as a Brake on Global City Growth

Anthony Townsend's picture

It seems that global cities across the world are running up against an unforeseen brake on their future growth - airport and airspace congestion.

Last Thursday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - a quasi-governmental body that operates, among other things, the three urban disasters we call Newark, LaGuardia and JFK Airports - announced a number of measures to relieve congestion. Read the full report) Alone, these three airports account for one-third of the nation's flight delays. According to the New York Times, which quotes the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M, the economic hit to the region is on the order of $7.4 billion annually.

Heathrow officially launched its bid to add a third runway last month. Here's what The Economist has to say about flying through Heathrow:

The experience is so miserable it even has its own name: the "Heathrow hassle". The world's busiest international airport is overcrowded, prone to delays and infuriatingly likely to lose your luggage. On November 14th City bigwigs told the chancellor, Alistair Darling, that subjecting travellers to such awfulness is bad for business. A poll for Intelligent Life, our sister quarterly, puts Heathrow wheels and undercarriage below all other airports for sheer misery.

Finally, O'Hare seems to be moving ahead with its long-overdue expansion, but it hasn't been easy. Los Angeles seems to be the only global city that's managing air congestion - but they've solved it the same way they solve everything in the Southland, through massive decentralization.

Technorati Tags: aviation, economic development, global cities

Anthony Townsend is a research director at the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in Palo Alto, California.



Josh Stephens's picture

LA's Unsolution

I'm glad that LA's nascent efforts to regionalize air travel have garnered some attention, but I'm afraid that calling efforts thus far a "solution" is an overstatement.

I do, however, think that LA's efforts to regionalize air travel -- though they are far from "massive" (and don't officially include SNA and LGB) -- make a great deal of sense. Obviously LAX demands careful management, and we can't shirk everything off on to Ontario. But regionalization in LA acknowledges that LA is simply too big for people to drive two and three hours just to get to LAX. Therefore, increasing regional air traffic while also spreading it out makes sense both on the ground and in the air. It works better in LA than in New York, for instance, where LGA and JFK are too close together and where both JFK and EWR are a pain to get to no matter what.

As long as no one unwittingly flies into Ontario, Palmdale, or Long Beach expecting to be on the Sunset Strip by dinnertime, LA's network shows some promise.

Old Thinking

These congestion problems seem like a direct outgrowth of the outdated hub-model that most airlines use. Many of these cities that have huge delays are both final destinations AND flight transfer locations. That might have worked when flying was a luxury, but no longer. Although you'll never get rid of congestion resulting from people flying to a city without increasing the size of the airport, there are plenty of smaller airports that can take on many of the transfer flights.

Pittsburgh is a great example of such an airport. Since USAir largely abandoned it, the airport is at half or less capacity. Reroute some of the flights that transfer in NYC or Chicago to Pittsburgh, and it'll help the entire system run more smoothly.

The Blurgh

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