Moderated by Tom Sabulis
The fight over a second airport for metro Atlanta continues. A Paulding County official says limited commercial service at Silver Comet Field will stoke the local economy. But a Delta executive writes that once a second airport develops — no matter how small — it damages prospects at the primary airport, in this case Hartsfield-Jackson.
Commenting is open.
By David Austin
Atlanta’s economic success has always been tied to transportation. Originally founded as a railroad hub, one of the primary reasons for the city’s success has been its aggressive pursuit of new transportation opportunities to keep our region open for business.
However, Delta Air Lines’ recent comments on the development of commercial service at Paulding County’s airport show the company is intent on shutting down new opportunities for growth. Last week’s letter from a Delta senior vice president claimed that bringing more airline competition to metro Atlanta would hurt the region’s economy.
That’s a tough sell in a city that has thrived by developing a healthy, competitive business environment. Promoting an anti-competitive agenda and then claiming it is in the best interests of the region, and not your own company, isn’t going to hold water with people in this town.
Furthermore, this debate over competition is overblown and distracting from the reality of the situation. Nobody is talking about building another Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Paulding County. What we are talking about is bringing limited commercial service, along with other developments related to the aerospace industry, to a small airport. That means two or three flights a week to start, with the possibility of growing to a few flights a day.
Delta’s statement that the Paulding airport will hurt Hartsfield-Jackson is like the New York Yankees saying a new Little League field will hurt Yankee Stadium and, in turn, the economy of New York City. In fact, Louis Miller, Hartsfield-Jackson’s own general manager, said that the Paulding airport, and any future commercial traffic there, will have minimal impact to Hartsfield-Jackson. No doubt Delta wishes he wasn’t on record saying that in this very paper.
Delta is also claiming the airport would have a negative impact on Paulding taxpayers. Would that be the impact of 2,000 to 3,000 new jobs or the additional $350 million a year added to our economy? We already have a $50 million commodity in this airport; why not maximize it with development that will be 90 percent paid for the by the FAA?
I am a Paulding County taxpayer, and the only negative impact I’m concerned about are the legal fees associated with the underhanded stall tactics Delta is throwing in front of this project. When one of the local plaintiffs who filed a recent suit was asked who is paying for the expensive attorneys handling the case, the response was, “I’ve been instructed not to tell.” If Delta is really concerned about our taxpayers, perhaps they should refrain from placing these unnecessary burdens in our path.
The ironic part about Delta proudly proclaiming the benefits of the “world’s busiest airport” is that, to regular folks, that sounds like an airport they want to avoid. Right now, they don’t have that choice. In a region with more than 6 million people, surely there is room for a small airport offering affordable, direct flights for people who don’t like the thought of dealing with the “world’s busiest” anything.
David Austin is chairman of the Paulding County Commission.
By Holden Shannon
For more than seven decades, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been metro Atlanta’s most powerful economic engine. Since its beginnings in 1925 as a small airfield constructed on an abandoned racetrack, it has evolved into the world’s busiest airport. It has more flights and destinations than any other major U.S. airport, bringing an estimated $58 billion annually in total economic benefits to the region and supporting tens of thousands of jobs statewide.
The airport is home to Delta Air Lines’ largest international hub, where we connect passengers from around the world with nonstop flights to cities like London, Paris, São Paulo and Tokyo. Southwest Airlines also has a major presence at Hartsfield, as do international carriers from around the globe.
That kind of service is very attractive for businesses and entrepreneurs who increasingly compete in a global arena. In recent years, major companies including Newell Rubbermaid, First Data and NCR have relocated to Georgia thanks in part to Atlanta’s extensive international and domestic service.
Hartsfield-Jackson is larger than airports in cities that have much bigger populations, like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas. The reason Hartsfield-Jackson has achieved this position is in large part because of its status as the region’s sole commercial airport.
Airline hubs work only if they can connect a large volume of traffic, combined with a strong local base of travelers. On every arriving flight, some passengers connect to other flights, providing support for an expansive network of nonstop destinations.
In cities where secondary airports operate, these smaller airports siphon traffic flow from hubs at the primary airports and ultimately reduce the number of flights and destinations that can be successfully operated. They also reduce airport revenues in the form of landing fees, concession revenues and parking charges, which are needed to support development of the primary airport.
That’s why Atlanta’s travelers and businesses should be concerned about plans to open a second passenger airport in Paulding County.
Hartsfield-Jackson has capacity for more service. Delta has said we will work with the airport and new entrant airlines to ensure they have access to gates and facilities at Hartsfield-Jackson. And a 2011 study conducted by the airport for the FAA concluded that a second airport in metro Atlanta was not economically viable.
While stated plans for the Paulding County airport are for a small, limited service, once the region begins a second-airport model, there’s no going back. A second airport can quickly expand, and the impact on Hartsfield-Jackson would be significant, with the potential of many international and domestic flights no longer being viable as traffic is siphoned away.
That’s a threat to Atlanta’s economy, its jobs and its status as an international city. Leaders across metro Atlanta should think long and hard about the long-term impact — and consider what we see in other cities — before going down this road.
Holden Shannon is senior vice president for corporate strategy and real estate for Delta Air Lines.