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Airports 3.0: How City Governments Fail Their Citizens

A380_2Now that the Airbus A380 has had its first test flight, Americans need to decide what role - if any - they want their airports to play in the global economy. Adding fine dining options will dress up airports in the short term - long term, there are bigger issues that need a steady hand.

Today, there are three times more general aviation flights than commercial flights. In the U.S. there are 400 scheduled air service airports and 5,000 general aviation airports. However, primarily due to a lack of funding, general aviation airports are closing at an alarming rate of one per week, while general aviation is steadily increasing.

This gap is the fault of city officials who cave in to the demands of some 655 rather selfish airport groups. These groups attempt to curtail the use of airports with curfews, weight limitations and so forth. This is coming primarily from a small group of unknowledgeable people who, very candidly, are selfishly concerned about their own interests, and not at all mindful of the enormous impact that airports have on their local communities. As a result of failing to take a principled stand, municipalities are fighting over table scraps while ignoring the big picture.

Most American airport directors, like their counterparts around the world, believe the future is smart growth: larger aircraft, and to primarily longer-haul international markets. Unfortunately, changing direction at airports is painfully slow. The typical change can take 10 years of unglamorous work like getting permission to reinforce taxiways, improve the retail experience and retrofit gates (registration required). Rather than cater to vocal lobbyists, European governments instead provided $15 billion in upfront loans to manufacturer Airbus SAS. Today, the European company has expanded its share of the world passenger aircraft market to over 50 percent, at Boeing's expense.

Airlines like Virgin Air are looking to the A380 to reinvent the air passenger experience. Frequent international flyer Alicia Plumley told me of entire Starbucks kiosks residing within these environmentally-friendly behemoths. To be a part of this noveaux world order that connects Old World economies like Paris and Frankfurt with emerging powerhouses like Dubai and China, American airports need stronger city support to continue to act as a credible gateway.

To the mayors of cities with second- and third-tier connecting hubs - c'est votre tour. Don't let your citizens and local businesses down.

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