Friday, April 18, 2008


As a writer in this and another blog about travel, it is amazing how little I travel lately. I suppose I had a good reason this winter. Now that it is spring, I have the opportunity to visit my former hometown of Atlanta this weekend.

I have had an ongoing discussion with people in Atlanta regarding the future of Hartsfield and air travel there. I am reminded of a documentary I once saw that explains how Atlanta will ultimately be moved offshore in an effort to boost tourism and become a bigger Delta hub. The city will then be overdeveloped and its excess weight caused it to sink to the bottom. Everyone that stays with the city evolved into merpeople, with the assistance of leaking caffeine from Atlanta's Coca-Cola plant. You can read about this amazing prediction here.

Seriously, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson-(dead mayor to be named later) Airport is the busiest in the world. This fact that makes travelers based at most other airports jealous, while making travelers in Atlanta frustrated.

Here is an interesting article on various proposals for a second airport in Atlanta. I also found this read from a couple years ago that still seems relevant.

My take is that Chattanooga will not be considered a reliever to Atlanta for decades to come. The prerequisite would have to be that a high speed rail link is built, an endeavor that is far more expensive than building a second airport.

More likely is that Dobbins Naval Air Station will become a reliever some day. It has both proximity to the metro area as well as excellent runways. Furthermore, I will go out on a limb and say that Atlanta is pretty safe from the threat of a Naval assault.

I would not bet on even Dobbins becoming a reality in the next 20 years. That is how long it will take for Hartsfield to build out the new international terminal and the south terminal complex. When Delta and Airtran start increasing the size of their aircraft due to runway capacity restraints, only then will they accept any effort to build a second airport for shorter regional trips.

Until then, Atlantans should thank god and Maynard Jackson for having a facility that:

1. Offers more non-stop flights to both domestic and international destinations than just about any city in the country. Seriously, I haven't even heard of some of these places.

2. Is very close to the city compared to most airports it's size; See Dallas-Ft. Worth, Washington Dulles, Denver, and JFK.

3. Has reasonable prices due to the presence of two competing airline hubs.

4. Is very well served by public transportation.

With the absorption of Northwest, formerly Northwest Orient, I will predict that Atlanta will see more service to Asia, and possibly this sight that hasn't been seen in over 30 years. A Delta 747.

The South Gate Complex is expected to add up to 70 new gates in the next decade to handle the growth. I predict that after it is finished, the airport will rebuild the original concourses A-D one by one. If I could redesign them, I would have departing passengers (and passengers connecting on the same concourse) on one large level and arriving passengers on a much smaller level with moving walkways leading straight to the trains.

While I expect future technological advances increasing the capacity of the existing runways, don't be surprised if the construction of a sixth runway becomes an issue in the next decade.

Finally, it is only natural to compare Hartsfield to my home airport of Denver. They are of similar designs, and are the only major new airports built in the United States in the last 30 years.

Denver currently lies 11th on the list of the world's busiest airports by traffic volume, just ahead of JFK. Atlanta's airport is maxed out in terms of runways, and will be maxed out in terms of passenger capacity within the next 20 years, merely 50 years after it opened. Denver, on the other hand, has built an airport for the next 100 years. It currently boasts 6 runways, with room for 6 more within it's current boundaries. I believe that Denver is presently underserved internationally. Recent expansion by German Carrier Lufthansa to include daily flights to both Frankfurt and Munich just hint at the business and leisure demand that is not being exploited by lazy and inefficient United Airlines. Even Frontier serves almost dozen destinations in Mexico and Costa Rica. I think it is only a mater of time until United as well as other Asian and European carriers begin serving Denver, just as Atlanta evolved as an international destination in the 80s and 90s.

While we Denverites don't yet enjoy the numerous international non-stop flights and the convenient location that Atlanta fliers do, we actually have hubs for three airlines, United, Frontier, and Southwest. Sure Frontier is operating in bankruptcy protection, but that is practically a rite of passage for airlines these days. Furthermore, I predict that some time in the next 30 years, Denver will overtake Atlanta as the busiest airport in the United States. The busiest airport in the world in 2038 is almost certainly under construction today somewhere in Asia or the Middle East.

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