Cracks in Air Travel May Widen
December 11, 2013
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  • Two new studies have found that rough days may be ahead for air travel congestion.
    Air travel infrastructure in the United States is in such bad shape that the average day at the nation’s airports might resemble the busiest travel days of the year at nearly all of the top 50 American airports within the decade, according to the studies.

    The studies, recently released by the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group, and the Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank, arrived at a similar conclusion: Many United States airports are already operating at or near capacity, and current air travel growth trajectories threaten to overwhelm the nation’s aviation infrastructure and harm the United States economy.

    “Long lines, hassle, congestion — that’s what inadequate infrastructure means to travelers,” Erik Hansen, the director of domestic policy at U.S. Travel, said in a telephone interview. One way to improve efficiency at airports would be to raise the airport passenger facility charge to $8.50 from the current $4.50 to provide airports with additional revenue for investment to be consistent with inflation, he said.

    U.S. Travel’s study focused on the top 30 airports, which accounted for 70 percent of total passenger “enplanements” in 2012. The Eno Center study, which was funded in part by U.S. Travel, examined the current infrastructure at six major airports and the economic impact of inadequate investment.

    “There is a recognition that if we don’t invest in modernizing airport infrastructure and air traffic control systems, we are likely to return to congestion that plagued travel five years ago,” said Deborah C. McElroy, the interim president for Airports Council International-North America, an airport industry trade group that represents the nation’s commercial airports. Not addressing the issue “is going to have significant impact not just on passengers, but on the entire travel industry,” she said. The council is a member of U.S. Travel, but was not involved in its study.

    Roger Dow, the president and chief executive of U.S. Travel, said that frequent global travelers were aware of how streamlined airports are in many places in the world and worried that serious delays at American airports and failing to keep pace would inhibit domestic and international travel in the United States. “Right now, my car has better technology than what air traffic controllers are using,” he said.