Airlines shouldn't back out of the deal

An airliner lands behind a United Parcel Service plane on the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, which city officials believe must have another runway to remain competitive.
An airliner lands behind a United Parcel Service plane on the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, which city officials believe must have another runway to remain competitive. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 15, 2012

Michael A. Nutter

is mayor of Philadelphia

Rina Cutler

is deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities

It's time for the city and airlines that serve Philadelphia International Airport to work together to end the chronic delays that cost our passengers too much money and time.

When passengers learn that their plane is 20th in line for take-off, they are annoyed and the airlines are rightly unhappy about the costly jet fuel wasted.

Since 1999, PHL has been among the top 10 most-delayed airports in the nation. For a decade, the Federal Aviation Administration studied PHL's chronic delay problem and concluded that the "delays at Philadelphia affect the national airspace system . . . [and] impose substantial costs in time and money for passengers and airlines, cargo shippers and for other users."

US Airways and other airlines are accurate when they say the congestion in the skies above Philadelphia is a cause of delays even on clear days. That's why we continue to work with the airline industry to have the FAA reorganize the airspace above Philadelphia. Today, we are ready to use every resource the city has to persuade the FAA to redouble its efforts.

But when the weather turns foul, a lack of runway capacity is the principal cause of delays. The FAA has noted that "even with the airspace efficiency gains, additional airfield capacity is needed at PHL to operate under all weather conditions."

Out of the top 10 airports in the country, Philadelphia and Las Vegas are the only two airports that are not capable of dual, simultaneous landings and take-offs in bad weather. Philadelphia is not Las Vegas. We can't roll the dice and assume the sun will shine most of the time. This is why a new runway is a critical improvement.

Runways don't get built overnight. It will take eight to 10 years to design, construct, and open for operation. Our financial plan for the new runway and associated airfield improvements divides the $1.8 billion cost almost evenly between the airlines and the airport. In 2020, which is the estimated date the new runway will be operational, the cost per passenger will be less than $4 more than it would be without the runway.

A dynamic and growing regional economy demands a strong and growing airport. In the last decade, PHL has worked with our airline partners to invest more than $1.5 billion in major capital improvements to terminal facilities and the airfield. Now is the right time to leverage these past improvements with new investment. Interest rates and construction costs are low, job creation is a priority, and the opportunity is real to prepare for the economic recovery of tomorrow by reducing job-killing delays at our airport.

Our FAA-approved expansion plan will create about 100,000 jobs over a 10- to 15-year period, and 2,880 permanent airport jobs. For each dollar spent on construction, another $1.27 will be spent throughout the region. Delaying progress on a new runway will leave our region behind as Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago upgrade their airports. We will also miss an opportunity to maintain a competitive edge over competitors in the New York region.

As mayor and the administration's senior transportation official, we have the responsibility to be concerned about the long-term interests of our stakeholders, including our airlines. A strong hub carrier like US Airways is good for the region's global connectivity. A dynamic, low-priced carrier like Southwest keeps fares low for customers. An international logistics hub like UPS's creates jobs and supports key regional industries like pharmaceuticals. The city is committed to working with these airlines so we can all benefit from a dynamic airport 15, 25, and 50 years from now.


E-mail the writers at rina.cutler@phila.gov.

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