The national airspace system will face serious congestion in the near future unless the Federal Aviation Administration does more to utilize regional airport planning to help address system delays, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Commenting on the report, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said Next Gen “is not a silver bullet to our airspace capacity problems.” Mica is Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican leader. He and subcommittee ranking member Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) requested the study. “We face major challenges when it comes to building air capacity to meet anticipated demands in the future,” he said. “Given our budgetary and other restraints, we are going to have to consider innovative approaches in order to improve efficiency and make the most of what we have and what we can afford.”
There are multiple types of airport and system planning, from the national level and down to the individual airport level. Some regions elect to develop airport system plans to identify issues of those systems and help to integrate aviation with other modes of transportation. Although GAO found this type of regional airport system planning can improve capacity, FAA’s guidance on regional airport issues is only advisory and competing interests often crowd out the potential benefits of these plans.
The GAO report found that nine out of 14 airports forecast to be congested are in regions with more than one large or medium hub airport. Because significant expansion of existing airport infrastructure is unlikely, better planning and use of existing facilities hold the potential to unlock new capacity within the airport system.
GAO recommends that the FAA use statutory authority to give priority to funding airport projects that are consistent with regional airport planning, as well as develop a review process for regional airport system plans to be sure they meet FAA standards. Other recommendations include offering airport system planning guidance, as well as providing technical support for regional planners.