Keeping up with growth

Posted: 13 August 2013 | Bill Shea, Aviation Expert | No comments yet

Airports need to be creative, flexible and innovative if they are to keep up with expected growth, says aviation expert Bill Shea…

Explosive growth in demand for air travel can be expected around the world.

The aviation industry is turning the corner for the better. Large global airlines are placing increased orders for commercial aircraft. Boeing has revised its 20-year forecast for commercial jet demand and the value now is $4.8 trillion for 35,280 new jets.

The USA’s future population growth will require more air transportation service. By 2050 the U.S. population will hover between 380 and 400 million people. California, for example, has a 38 million population and that figure will grow to 60 million by 2036. With this kind of growth ahead, it is my opinion that by 2016, the U.S. can expect around one billion enplaned (departing) passengers from U.S. airports.

Growth is absolute. In the U.S. the FAA’s Terminal Area Forecast Summary (TAF 2011-2040) reported 701.9 million passengers were enplaned at U.S. airports in 2010. The FAA’s Southern Region led with 162.7 million enplaned passengers and expects to reach 357.8 million by 2040. The FAA Western Pacific Region core airports enplanements are forecast to nearly double over the next 30 years from 143.1 million (2011) to 288.8 million enplaned passengers by 2040.

Once final approval for the American-US Airways is complete, the U.S. will have four large/legacy carriers. The merged carriers will then be able to increase their focus on the international route structure. Low-cost carriers will continue to grow and the best managed will exceed all expectations. Contrary to some critics’ demands for 90 to 115 passenger aircraft will increase. New designed airliners are economically more efficient.

Airports have to be able to meet the demand as well. Fortunately most nations are ensuring upgrading and modernisation of their airports. Some nations are building new airports.

New airport business plans are underway. A new look at relationships, agreements and contracts with airport community tenants are being considered. The old days are gone. Airports have to be more creative, flexible and innovative in attracting and keeping airlines. New airport marketing tools are being developed for the public as well as airport tenants.

At this point, it is interesting to note that the true value of an airport is measured by ‘total’ passengers i.e. ‘arriving’ (deplaned) and departing passengers (enplanements). Airport planners are very conscious of total passenger figures. Usually airport outbound passengers and arriving passengers invariably are equal in number.

In the U.S. ‘enplanements’ are used. However in Winnipeg, Canada, for example, ‘total’ passengers are used and in Mexico, ‘total’ airline terminal passengers flying in 2011 was 77,976,884 passengers.

Five of the busiest U.S. carrier airports are in the top 10 world airport categories. America’s top three airports are Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, followed by Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles International Airports.

However, in the U.S. Northeast corridor and the West Coaste Mega population regions continue to have congestion and gridlock problems. Past system planning for both these regions has not done the job. The FAA, airlines and airports will come up with innovative solutions to resolve the problem. Present safe fixes like airport-airline slots, high steep approaches, variable approach-departure corridors are a great help. These ‘artificial’ constraints help, however new airports will be key to success. Even the new satellite NEXT GEN air traffic system will need new airports to achieve complete success.

The USA needs six new international airports even if high-speed rail comes to fruition in some parts of the country. New large air carrier airports will be needed in California, the north east, the greater Chicago area, the south west and the south.

For example, California needs two new international airports – one for the Bay Area and one for Los Angeles – San Diego area. Travis Air Force Base in the East Bay area would be a suitable military-civil joint use aerodrome because of its excellent environmental location. It is adjacent to an excellent rail and highway system that would provide great service to San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco and to California’s rapidly growing Central Valley. Travis has the facilities to handle future supersonic and hypersonic aircraft.

Airports will benefit from the new quieter, greener, efficient, less emission engines and lighter aircraft structures. The new Boeing 787 and Airbus 350-900 are good examples of new environmentally-friendly aircraft.

And so, yes good times are ahead. The world aviation industry is well on its way to recovery and is off and running with a great future ahead. Fasten your seatbelts. One thing is for certain – that those nations which expand and build new airports will continue to prosper and remain competitive. And those with a bold vision for the future will be the winners!


Bill Shea is a national and international aviation expert. His former positions include Associate Administrator for Airports at the FAA as well as advocate for the National System of Airports. He has published numerous aviation articles, two books and a memoir.

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