- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004


More than three dozen U.S. commercial airports will be unable to handle their air traffic by 2020 unless they are expanded, the Federal Aviation Administration says.

The FAA studied population growth, travel and income trends to determine airports’ future needs. At least 43 airports will need to add capacity — some more than once — in the next 15 years.

Some will need it even sooner, the agency found. San Antonio; Palm Beach, Fla.; and Tucson, Ariz., are among the cities that will reach maximum capacity by 2013, when the number of air travelers is projected to have grown by about 50 percent, to 982 million.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport will need more capacity by 2013 if planned improvements aren’t made. It also joined Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport on the list of airports that will need more capacity by 2020 if planned improvements aren’t made.

Expanding airports isn’t easy, especially in cities where they are located near dense neighborhoods.

Boston’s Logan International Airport spent more than 30 years trying to overcome community opposition to a new runway. The airport authority has surmounted most legal obstacles, but it hasn’t started pouring concrete yet.

Similarly, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport proposed a new runway in 1987. Opposition led to delay in the project’s scheduled completion to 2008 from 2001.

The study by FAA and its research center, run by the Mitre Corp., reviewed 300 airports in 300 metropolitan areas. Projections of air traffic growth were based on where people are likely to live, work and vacation.

The report took into account such factors as the increasing popularity of leisure travel and the growth of low-cost carriers.

It found five airports already are too crowded: Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York.

“If you think we have problems with delay today, wait till you get to 2013,” said Catherine Lang, the FAA’s deputy associate administrator for airports. “Wait till 2020 and you’ve got 42 choices for headaches.”

Miss Lang, who worked on the study, said officials concluded that 23 airports in 2020 won’t have enough capacity if they don’t carry out their current plans to expand. If every airport with expansion plans follows through, 18 airports still won’t have enough capacity.

Similarly, 11 airports could have too little capacity in 2013 if they don’t complete planned expansions. Another 16 airports will need more capacity.

The FAA helps pay to expand airports. The agency also is responsible for modernizing and maintaining the air traffic control system. The report is expected to help the agency set priorities, Miss Lang said.

“San Antonio was not on our radar screen as having a tsunami coming their way,” Miss Lang said. “This tells us we need to work with San Antonio.”

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