Moderated by Tom Sabulis
The Wall Street Journal published a story today about why Delta Air Lines is so nervous over the development of a tiny second airport for metro Atlanta in Paulding County. The Journal reporters quoted statements penned by a Delta executive in a Nov. 26 Atlanta Journal-Constitution opinion column. Here is that column in full:
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.