These Are the Best of Times

Paul Bowers

A string of year-over-year passenger gains has created a new norm. Whether you attribute record increases to one of the longest economic expansions in memory or to ultra-low-cost carriers serving more markets and bringing in a new traveler demographic, we’re benefiting as an industry. 

Whoever said it was going to be easy?

Huge gains in passenger traffic are creating challenges for airports. How should facility operators respond? Will the future be just as robust? Those are billion-dollar (or so) questions. History has shown air traffic continually pushing positive. However, the growth rate is not as certain. When is the ideal time to build a new runway, terminal or parking garage? Surely our current economic expansion will not continue unabated.

Talking with many airport executives this fall, I heard a common refrain: If they could do it all over again, they would have started their expansion work sooner, rather than later. So, how can space-constrained airports get relief quickly?

We cover this question on Page 8. Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA) is the fastest growing U.S. airport over the past five years. It has several projects in the work to prepare for future growth. However, in the meantime, it is bursting at the seams and needs gates now. One of SEA’s solutions is hardstands. But rather than simply move people through an exit to waiting buses, the airport built a million-dollar standalone hardstand terminal with all the amenities of a new concourse. Bravo SEA!

Readying for growth is about more than hiring consultants and drawing up plans. It also takes money. The newly passed five-year FAA Reauthorization Bill missed a golden opportunity by failing to increase the cap on PFCs. Airlines have increased baggage fees with record ancillary revenues without dampening consumer demand. Yet they still argue that raising PFCs would be toxic. B.S.

With new members of Congress moving to Washington in January, now’s the time to educate these folks about what is required to keep pace with passenger growth. We need to improve our outreach efforts.

Cheers to continued passenger gains in 2019!

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