Atlanta Needs a Second Airport

Houston recently approved a major airport expansion for Hobby Airport that will give travelers more choices. Meanwhile Gwinnett County just rejected a plan that would’ve given the Atlanta area a second airport. My column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution examines why Gwinnett madea mistake and why Atlanta needs another airport:

Atlanta residents, by contrast, remain stuck with a monopoly airport, situated on the far south side of a sprawling metro area of 4.5 million people that is plagued by some of the nation’s worst traffic congestion.

Many metro Atlanta air travelers, especially those in the northern suburbs, would welcome the opportunity to have a second airport, even one that serves mostly short- and medium-haul routes to cities in the region.

This prospect was recently available in Gwinnett County. New York-based Propeller Investments offered to buy Briscoe Field and upgrade it to attract scheduled airline service in planes as large as 737s.

As usually happens when airport expansion is proposed, some airport neighbors organized to lobby the county Board of Commissioners to turn down the proposal. Unfortunately for Atlanta’s travelers, that’s exactly what county commissioners did.

Just as happened in Houston, the area’s dominant airline — in this case, Delta — opposed the proposal. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on May 23, “Delta, which is reluctant to split its operations between Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Briscoe, has quietly lobbied against the plan.”

Had the airport expansion been approved, Propeller Investments would have added a 10-gate terminal and improved the main runway to handle 737s. With Hartsfield-Jackson served by nearly all major U.S. airlines (and many non-U.S. carriers), would any airlines have sought to provide flights at Briscoe?

Yes. Three aggressive low-cost carriers do not yet offer service in Atlanta: Allegiant, JetBlue and Virgin America. In addition, Delta basically admitted that if the Briscoe plan had gone forward, it would have “reluctantly” added service there, too.

Kinton Aviation Consulting has pointed out that when secondary airports near Boston offered viable alternatives to capacity-constrained Logan Airport, “economic development increase[d] across the whole region.” And, “… the greater Boston area saw more destinations served with direct flights, competitive pricing, and an ease in congestion. We believe the same thing would happen in Atlanta.”

Eleven large U.S. metro areas have populations in excess of 4 million; only two of them lack competing airports today: Atlanta (4.5 million) and Philadelphia (5.4 million). Cities similar in size to Atlanta that have two or more airports include: Boston (4.2 million residents), Houston (4.9 million), and Washington, D.C. (4.6 million).

The failure to expand Briscoe Field is a major setback to the region’s growth.

Full column here.