If we all sit down together, we can make Phila. airport plans fly

Posted: January 24, 2012

EVERYBODY loses - the airlines, the airport and the city - if we do not come to a compromise.

I was disappointed and confused when I saw that US Airways had balked at the planned multibillion-dollar expansion of Philadelphia International Airport, which calls for a new runway.

After all, this is my district. I am new to City Council and I want to be the best that I can be for the people who elected me. Why would US Airways oppose a project so vital to my constituents and to the economic development of the city of Philadelphia?

Furthermore, this was 10 years in the making. Not to mention that approximately $400 million has been authorized to fund the expansion.

With this airport we can possibly move more cargo and attract companies that would otherwise not have come here, which ultimately translates to jobs.

Initially, I thought that the airline was focusing on the short-term ledger and fuel costs, rather than looking forward at what Philadelphia will need 20 or 30 years from now. But, in fairness, I'm aware of the fragile nature of the economy and the airline industry. No one wants to spend money when they're having financial difficulties, but, overall, I believe that the city and the airlines have similar aspirations.

Fortunately, it's my job to look at what this will do not for the 2nd Councilmanic District, but also for the city as a whole. It is important for all of us to envision what this project will mean for the city of Philadelphia.

According to the airport's capacity-enhancement program, the airport expansion is expected to create roughly 44,700 construction jobs (3,700 jobs per year) over 12 years and another 52,000 ancillary jobs throughout the region. We're talking about more suppliers, vendors, customer-service representatives, and baggage and cargo handlers. The airport estimates that it alone will hire an additional 2,880 permanent workers. Furthermore, the CEP says that reduction in delays will be valued at $468 million by 2025.

Wouldn't it be great if we worked together to create an airport with some of the finest facilities in the world? Where we had simultaneous landings and takeoffs, and the customer service was first-class? Where it didn't take you forever to retrieve your bags? Where we created smart infrastructure? Where we created an airport that becomes a destination for people? Where we stop being consistently known for delays?

Despite everything, US Airways and the other airlines support expansion, just not the addition of a new runway. But I would not like to see happen here what happened in Chicago, where United Airlines sued the city to stop a $15 billion modernization of O'Hare International Airport.

We have to move ahead, figure out what everyone agrees on and negotiate the differences.

So, as the councilman from the 2nd District, I'm calling for the mayor and representatives from the airport and the airlines to sit down with me and come up with a solution, because if this doesn't happen, the people of Philadelphia are the ones who lose. We have to find a middle ground.

Right now this doesn't look good for any of us. Philadelphia is a world-class city ... we deserve a world-class airport.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents South and Southwest Philadelphia in the 2nd Councilmanic District, is chairman of Council's Transportation and Utilities Committee.

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