Moderated by Tom Sabulis
The businessmen and local officials supporting commercial air service at Paulding County’s small airport continue to make their case for limited flights that will benefit local travelers, especially those who live on the north side. Their nemesis is Delta Air Lines which, they say, refuses to allow any competition whatsoever to Hartsfield-Jackson. Today we hear from tthe chairman of the company trying to establish service at Silver Comet Field, along with a Delta pilot who cites the advantages of keeping Hartsfield-Jackson as the only commercial Atlanta airport.
Commenting is open.
By Robert J. Aaronson
Recently, there has been a war of words – not to mention lawsuits, letters, grass roots campaigning, etc. – regarding the proposed commercialization of Silver Comet Field in Paulding County. To borrow a headline from The Wall Street Journal, “Why is Delta afraid of this tiny airport?”
The answer? Competition at any level.
Claims of increased costs, decreased revenue and reduced operational efficiency – for both Delta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport – are not based in fact. They are a self-serving effort to discourage healthy competition in the airline industry.
I am a great admirer of Hartsfield-Jackson and have had a personal involvement with its growth. At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), I was responsible for approving the functioning design of the airport that we know today, including allocating as many federal dollars as possible for the initial construction of the facility. I can assure you that after having invested a vast amount of money and resources into Hartsfield-Jackson, the FAA would never act to reduce the value of that public investment.
The FAA approved and funded the airport (Silver Comet) after it concluded that its mission (operating the national air traffic control system which Hartsfield is a part of) would not be comprised in terms of safety or efficiency.
It also determined metro Atlanta would benefit from an additional reliever to the world’s busiest airport.
Thus, Delta’s claims that a second commercial airport would divert important resources from Hartsfield-Jackson cannot be supported. That facility has, and will continue to have, all of the resources that can be usefully invested for its continued growth and improvement. A limited number of commercial flights at Silver Comet Field will not diminish the value of Hartsfield-Jackson, but would offer some convenient travel options to metro residents.
Moreover, planes fly in and out of Silver Comet Field every day, and any commercial service will constitute a very small percentage of aircraft operations the airport currently handles. Four more take-offs and landings per day will not compromise efficiency or business at Hartsfield-Jackson. Even Hartsfield-Jackson’s former aviation director Louis Miller confirmed this multiple times in this very newspaper.
However, having limited, low-fare commercial service will stimulate competition, as has been demonstrated in numerous domestic and foreign cities with multiple airports, and that is where Delta’s issue lies. While it’s natural for a company to try to protect its business from competition, how it does it and for what purpose should be scrutinized by all.
Competition is the American way. And in the air transportation industry, it is national policy.
Competition provides consumers with options, and options typically have pricing differences. At the time of this writing, a round trip weekend ticket on Delta from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale is approximately $558. With the low-cost vacation carrier proposed for Silver Comet Field, that route is approximately $118.
Developing Silver Comet Field, to include aviation maintenance, repair and operations companies and limited commercial service, is good for all. It provides Paulding residents access to high paying, local jobs. And it provides metro Atlanta with options for their next vacation. We know this. The FAA knows this. Delta just won’t accept it.
Robert J. Aaronson is chairman of Propeller Airports.
By Mike Donatelli
At a pilots union of 12,000, no one who flies for Delta Air Lines has any difficulty appreciating the value of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It isn’t just because our headquarters has been here since 1941, or because thousands of our pilots make their homes in Georgia. Our understanding comes from being part of the machinery that is driven by the mighty Hartsfield engine.
The view from the cockpit reveals an efficiency that is far beyond anything we experience in flying to any other city. The arrival process into Hartsfield begins hundreds of miles out, and more than four miles up, as traffic from every direction is sorted into routes built to maximize efficiency and reduce costs. Even our vertical paths are carefully designed, taking advantage of the latest technology to maximize safety and fuel economy. Our strict adherence to these procedures is essential to the operation’s safety and efficiency.
This efficiency is possible for two reasons. The city of Atlanta has always made Hartsfield a priority, expanding and improving our airport, rising to meet the opportunities offered by a global marketplace with a million places to go, but only a few places to land. The less obvious factor in our airport’s success is the absence of conflicting airspace. Atlanta is the ninth-largest U.S. metropolitan area, but is the only city among the top ten with airspace that is uncontested by a secondary commercial airport.
These advantages have added up. Last year Hartsfield-Jackson retained its title of “World’s Busiest Airport,” serving more than 94 million passengers, despite a 1.1 percent reduction from 2012 levels. While that drop might serve worries about a flat market, international passenger traffic increased over 4 percent. The world is coming to Hartsfield-Jackson, the airport that delivered $32 billion to Atlanta, and $60 billion to Georgia in 2013.
These achievements are not possible if we change the equation by expanding Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport to commercial service.
The proposed development would bring Atlanta in line with many of the other places we see from the cockpit. Kennedy, with the twists and turns required to avoid LaGuardia and Newark. Chicago O’Hare, with Midway like a thorn in its side. Or maybe Los Angeles International, which is surrounded by four airports offering commercial service, and serves 27 million fewer passengers than Hartsfield. Paulding’s close proximity and runway alignment would require significant alteration of arrival and departure routes. To maintain the safe separation of aircraft, the number of flights serving Hartsfield must be reduced to accommodate the flights serving any new airport.
We are opposed to the development of a secondary airport that would dilute and reduce the flow of passengers through Atlanta. Other cities have gone down this path, but none have been able to reverse the inevitable reduction in passenger traffic. This proposal is the result of backroom deals, misapplication of federal regulations in environmental assessment, and myopic predictions about the actual outcomes for all Georgians if this expansion proceeds.
We must instead retain every bit of the value we share in Hartsfield, lead the world by example, and bring ever more opportunities to Atlanta.
Capt. Mike Donatelli is a Detroit-based Boeing 777 pilot with Delta Air Lines, active in the Air Line Pilots Association.