Despite the economic downturn, several airports around the country have wagered that air traffic will continue to increase and have opened pricey new runways to handle the load.
Chicago O’Hare airport, Washington Dulles and Seattle-Tacoma International airport all unveiled new runways Thursday which cost a combined $1.9 billion to build.
Though the new runways may not dramatically alter congestion nationwide, they will almost certainly reduce flight delays at each individual airport.
Still, these openings represent the largest one-day increase in runway capacity in more than a decade.
Seattle will likely see the greatest benefit, as the new runway will allow 20 more planes to land in bad weather, and will reduce overall delays by 50 percent.
The new runway at O’Hare is most likely to improve air traffic across the country, and is expected to reduce delays in Chicago to between 16 and 24 minutes.
Washington DC’s Dulles, however, will not fully benefit from its new runway until new taxiways are built that will make it fully functional.
Though air travel is predicted to fall 10 percent this winter, the new runways are expected to play a critical role in the future when air traffic picks up again.
Approximately 700 million people traveled by air in 2007, while over a billion are expected to travel each year over the next decade. O’Hare alone is expected to see an additional 300,000 flights per year in 2018.
However, more substantial progress in alleviating air traffic delays won’t be made until efforts are made to reduce bottlenecks at New York City’s chronically congested airports. Delays at these three airports have a ripple effect that slows air traffic nationwide.
Though the huge price tags that accompany these runways may seem inappropriate in tough economic times such as these, it is worth noting that they were all planned and conceived well before the current recession.
It typically takes more than a decade to plan, approve and build a runway at major American airports.
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.
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