Aero-News.Net reported today that the go-ahead has been given to begin construction on the new Panama City-Bay County International Airport, scheduled to open in 2010. The current airport’s longest runway is only 6,300 feet long, and there is no room for growth nearby. The airport has been located in its current place, very close to where people live in Panama City, Florida, in the Panhandle. The new airport will be much larger, but also much farther away, annoying some residents who would prefer not to travel so far.*
This could be read as an attempt to spend a lot of public money unnecessarily to attract unprofitable flights on larger jets. After all, Panama City is 100 miles away on either side from Pensacola and Tallahassee, both of which have larger populations, more service, and more choices.
The new airport may just be a white elephant, much like the utterly unnecessary MidAmerica St. Louis Airport. Then again, it might be a necessary development in a growing economy. As the article points out, the last new commercial passenger service airport built in the United States was Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. The “new” airport–opened in 1998–serves the growing region and sits squarely between Bentonville (Wal-Mart), Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville (University of Arkansas). The older, much smaller Drake Field was located at the southern end of this metro area and could not accommodate the growth happening then and now.
So when do we know when to build a new airport? Why are so few built? Were more built, on average, in the past? Is it better to build a new airport or expand an existing one with terminal space and runways? Would private ownership–more common in Europe than here, where cities or local authorities tend to own airports–make building new airports easier? I plan to explore these questions in coming days and weeks, so stay tuned.
Gov’t Clears Construction Of New Commercial Airport [Aero-News.Net]
*I should talk. I’m lucky enough to use the most convenient center-city airport in the country, and perhaps anywhere: Washington National!