Sunday, February 08, 2009

Airports are Infrastructure too

Patrick Smith writes in Salon:

"Americans haven't figured out how to build a proper terminal. We fail at aesthetics, we fail at amenities, and we fail at the relatively simple task of moving people efficiently from A to B. The newest terminals across Europe and Asia are attractive, spacious, quiet and efficient, abounding with passenger-friendly touches. Ours, by comparison, often seem engineered for inconvenience and stress. In Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, passengers step from commuter trains directly into the check-in hall. At Kennedy, getting to or from Manhattan, or just getting from one (brand-new) terminal to another, is like mounting an expedition."

Airports and the air traffic control system are important to economic growth. And yet among the discussions of the stimulus and infrastructure spending, I have heard little about the air traffic control system (or for that matter, the freight rail system and the water ports, all of which have insufficient capacity--and all of which should have higher priority than passenger rail, aside from the Northeast Corridor and perhaps the Great Lakes and Southern California).

Two of our most important international airports, LAX and JFK, are embarrassing. SFO's runway configuration slows traffic dramatically in the face of mild degradations in weather. Atlanta and Dallas are just unpleasant. We have a few good large airports (MSP, IAH and the new DTW come to mind), but most of them are far behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia. The best I can say for us is the French and (remarkably) the Japanese can be just as bad as we are: Charles De Gaulle and Narita are also astonishingly unpleasant.


Anonymous said...

In America, we work hard to have everyone arrive at the airport in a car and park in a deck.

Of course things are inefficient.

xtra said...

I don't think aesthetics should rank highly on our priorities for airports. Terminal design and runway configuration yes. But if you start spending money on making the airport pretty that ultimately shows up in the ticket prices. And we have to remember what an airport's function is: to get people and things somewhere else.

Chola Mukanga said...

I wonder to what extent to that is to do with the timeline of the infrastructure. I thought the stimulus was about stuff that is on the shelf?

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