Thursday, September 27, 2012

Washington Reagan National Airport – Another Example of How Government Cannot Solve a Problem

Well, Actually No, It’s An Example of How Not Enough Government Creates a Problem

Like almost everyone else The Dismal Political Economist has used Washington National Airport extensively in his life.  And he never thought about how it came into existence, but now thanks to an extensive article in the Washington Post he knows why it is what it is.

Before there was National, the nation’s capital was served by Hoover Field, judged to be one of the worst airports anywhere. Pilots had to dodge radio towers in Arlington and an amusement park next door, deal with smoke from burning rubbish at a landfill on the other side, and be on the lookout for children who crossed the landing strip on their way to a public swimming pool. There also was a road that ran across the airport. In 1928, a plane crashed into a car left parked on the runway.

The solution, well in those days there was a President and a national consensus that  believed that government was part of the solution, and it was.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt got fed up with it all and said a new airfield should be built on the Potomac River mud flats known as Gravelly Point. A few years later, the Pentagon would open where Hoover Field once sat.

Other than the fact that most of it was under water, Gravelly Point was an excellent location for an airport to serve Washington, providing easy access and a splendid view of the capital city. A dike was built to keep out the Potomac, and almost 20 million cubic tons of sand and gravel were pumped in behind it.

In 1942, its first full year of operation, National Airport handled 77,348 flights and 459,396 passengers. Last year, commercial flights numbered 275,512 and the passenger count was 18,823,094.

As for today, well the airport, which is vital to commerce in the region has a few problems.

In July, there were 75,465 more passengers passing through than in the same month in 2011. Last year, before many of the new flights were added, the passenger load increased by 704,381 over 2010. That has put the squeeze on baggage handling, parking, security and simply managing passenger flow.

But the problems, not just at Reagan National but at all the airports can be solved, with enough money of course.

The Federal Aviation Administration projects that passenger traffic at commercial airports will more than double in two decades. Moving along all those additional planes and passengers on the ground poses a $19 billion problem, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

That is how much additional investment is needed in airport expansion if already congested airports are going to be able to meet demand by 2020, the ASCE said in a report this month. Extrapolating from FAA data, the report said the already hefty cost of airport delays could rise to $34 billion a year by 2020.

And where will that money come from?  From the private sector of course, the federal government doesn’t build anything, it is only private citizens and private companies that have successfully built the air transportation system in the U. S.  So say all those Conservatives who pass through Reagan National and happily ignore this monument to modern transportation built and operated by government.

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