Just got back from attending the dedication of the new runway at Washington Dulles International Airport. Presiding at the dedication were Jim Bennett, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA); Virginia Governor Tim Kaine; U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters; FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell; and MWAA Vice Chair Charles Snelling.
After the dedication was over, Secretary Peters, Administrator Sturgell and other DOT and FAA officials got on the FAA plane and flew to Chicago to dedicate a new runway there. Once they are finished in Chicago, they will get back on the plane and dedicate a new runway in Seattle.
Three runways in one day. This is the largest addition of airport capacity in one day in a long time. And it is good news for the air traveler.
Investment in airport and air traffic control infrastructure is our #1 priority for the new administration and, more importantly, for the traveling public. There are a lot of reasons for the delays and congestion so many travelers must endure, including weather and airline over-scheduling. There is nothing we can do about the weather, and the current financial situation in the airline industry might actually force some rationality into airline schedules (I once testified at a hearing and the House Aviation Subcommittee chair asked a representative of the airline industry how it is that one airline can schedule 56 departures from the same airport in one 15-minute period — no amount of air traffic control reform can solve that equation!).
But what is absolutely true, and has been the conclusion of every blue ribbon commission ever to study aviation in this country, is that we must do all we can to make needed investments in air traffic control modernization and in the runways, taxiways, terminals and other ground infrastructure. We need to keep the system in good working order to make sure we are ready for growth.
Some say that investment in infrastructure should wait till the airlines make profits or until we reach a certain enplanement number, or for some other occurrence (The Lions winning the Super Bowl maybe??). But if we wait until the day when we can’t live without critical infrastructure to start planning and building it, then we’ve waited way too long.
We know where the breaking point is. In 2000 we enplaned nearly 750 million people in this country and the system broke down. We got back to that number in 2007, and the system broke down. We are in a lull, dealing with the after-effects of the summer’s high fuel prices and the current effects of the slumping economy. We are bumping along just below that breaking point. We must not allow ourselves to be convinced that the time has come to pass on needed investments in aviation infrastructure.
Three new runways in one day is something that will not happen often, if ever again. But it is a needed reminder that we have work to do, that the benefits of that work are great, and that we must not heed those who counsel inaction in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
My next post will be from Panama; I will be attending the ACI-Latin America/Caribbean annual conference and speaking on a panel next Tuesday. I look forward to sharing impressions of the region and of its impressive aviation initiatives.