FedEx Founder Makes the Case for Air Traffic and Highway Improvements

FedEx Founder Fred Smith, a former Reason trustee, testified before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Wednesday. He advocated, among other things, three improvements that Reason has studied and called for at length: the NextGen air traffic control system, improved aviation infrastructure and extending the national standard for twin trailers from 28 feet to 33 feet.

BizJournals reports:

The founder, president, chairman and CEO of Memphis-based FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) focused mainly on runway and road infrastructure, but also talked about the importance of more sustainable energy sources.

Smith said FedEx Express is excited about the possibilities of the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen air traffic control system which is being developed. The GPS-based system could enhance safety, reduce delays and save fuel. For FedEx, it could save money by shaving minutes off flight times and reducing fuel costs.

Smith also singled out aviation infrastructure as key, saying it takes an average of 20 years to build a runway from planning to completion.

“However, within 10 years, the top 20 airports in the U.S. will become overly congested,” he said. “While control of traffic in the air will help, new runways and facilities will still be needed and existing ones will need maintenance.”

Reason’s recent study on air traffic control consolidation flagged the FAA’s ongoing modernization struggles:

Without consolidating airspace and ATC facilities, NextGen is at risk of becoming merely a very costly upgrade of hardware and software, without the large productivity gains that should constitute a major portion of the business case for this transition. And without a timely commitment to large-scale facility consolidation, the Air Traffic Organization will be forced to spend billions in coming decades refurbishing and rehabilitating aging and unneeded facilities. Consequently, the time for action on these issues is now.

And in a recent edition of his Air Traffic Control Newsletter, Reason’s Robert Poole added:

This succession of ever-lower annual forecasts of aviation growth makes it ever-harder to justify spending $20 billion or so on NextGen based on the argument from capacity. On an aggregate basis, that case is simply not there, due to significantly reduced growth expected in all but the airline category. To be sure, there are still major problems with capacity in large metro areas served by major hub airports (sites of FAA’s Metroplex efforts). But it seems to me the primary case for NextGen now rests on efficiency and productivity gains attainable by replacing the old paradigm of detailed control of every aspect of a flight with the new paradigm of air traffic management of aircraft trajectories. New tools and procedures will make it possible for far more direct routes, optimal altitudes most of the time, and time-based flow management. All of this will reduce fuel consumption and reduce delays, especially for airlines and business jets. That is definitely worth doing.

For ground shipping, Smith wants the national standard for twin trailers extended:

On the road side, FedEx supports increasing the national standard for twin trailers from 28 feet to 33 feet as a way of increasing shipping volumes in a less expensive way than widening or building roads.

“Longer trailers will mean fewer truck trips to move the same volume,” he said. “This can result in a reduction in congestion. At a time when adding more lanes may be problematic given budget cuts, this is a way to help alleviate an acute problem without spending more federal dollars.”

The move could also save fuel and reduce emissions. In the less-than-truckload industry, 1.1 million to 3.2 million pounds of carbon could be saved and 102 million to 305 million gallons on concomitant fuel could be saved.

In their trucks-only toll lanes paper, Robert Poole, Peter Samuel and José Holguin-Veras wrote about the use of Longer-Combination Vehicles (LCVs):

This study suggests that, rather than rebuilding all lanes, federal and state governments should authorize only specialized truck lanes which would be designed for exclusive use by large trucks. This approach would significantly reduce the amount of money it would take to improve the nation’s highways in order to accommodate greater use of LCVs. Moreover, if large trucks were separated from automobiles and smaller vehicles as this study.

Poole and Samuel identified the most promising urban Interstate corridors for truck-only toll lanes here.