EU’s white elephant airports are a good reminder why the “painful” US process is worth the Effort

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The below article tells a tale of the European Union’s distribution of millions of Euro’s to build airports throughout the continent. The author relates how the funds have resulted in empty structures. The countries, which received these funds, follow the model that airports are national assets and the decision where to locate them should be made from a centralized view. The results appear to be very poor; maybe these empty terminals have been impacted by the poor European economy, but the flaw may also be the decision process.

Here’s the EU scorecard:

· Poland-

o $125 million (€100 million) to help build and upgrade 12 airports,

o €615.7 million to support these financial black holes between 2007 and 2013,

o Lublin and Rzeszow Airports, new facilities in the east part of the country and haven’t yet opened.

o Lodz Airport (top right) was redeveloped, but passengers, who live just 50 minutes from Warsaw, are not responding well.

o The “build it and they will come” postulate has not worked here; no new airline service has been attracted.

· Spain-

o Ciudad Real Airport (top left) in central Spain cost, €1.1 billion to construct. It was opened in 2008 and closed four years later. You can now buy this White Elephant for a mere € 0.11 billion.

o €150 million was spent on Castellon-Costa Airport in Valencia. Since completion in 2011 no airplane has landed. The reason? The runway does not meet the standards for commercial flights.

· Germany—

o A total of € 8.6 will have to be spent to make Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport operational.

o The Brandenburg facility is near the Schonefeld Airport, already operating.

Central decision-making may not be the sole reason for this dismal performance. While the procedure to locate and build these new aviation assets may be much easier, the web of buy-in has not established. Once launched, the network of supporters likely will not be available to work for success.

Anyone, who has lived through the process of adding a new airport or to lengthen a runway, knows that the review of that decision is long and difficult. The players:

· Local communities’ complaints and concerns are fully vetted. Typically their views, usually in opposition, impact the location and boundaries of the proposed plot.

· Airlines contribute their views on the economic need of added capacity; is the demand sufficient to support this capital investment.

· Neighboring businesses have their inputs; some favoring the economic stimulus and a few oppose the perceived disruption.

· Politicians both make and destroy their careers by backing or opposing this huge public works project or major disruption of the local environment.

· State and regional government express their positions with a mixture of economic development gospel and of environmental protectionism.

· Nearby governments, local business and national investment firms opine on whether the capital is available and on whether the bonds can be paid based on the resulting revenue streams.

· The FAA has the job of assessing the merits of the proposal and to examine its role within the national air transportation system—BASED ON THE LOCAL INITIATIVE.

The end of this thorough, prolonged procedure, there is usually a decision which all of the participants grudgingly agree is the best (maybe least worst) option.

Veterans of the US airport development wars can show you their scars and can lament at length the public hearings at which opponents unleashed a torrent of criticism. The responsible elected government officials and the FAA officers, who sit on the EIS reviews, can attest to the tough decisions to increase capacity at local expense or to abate noise with displaced thresholds for future flights. Those anxieties ultimately result in reasoned, balanced decisions. That painful process does nothing for the participants’ popularity, but ultimately all that work results in a generally supported decision which leads to the addition of needed aviation capacity. There may not be universal agreement, but there is likely to be a consensus which reflects the midpoint of the range of opinions.

This contrast is something everyone, who starts a US airport development project, should keep in mind as you take your Excedrin.

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