9. Avoid Capacity Restrictions

With the congestion created by the Airline Deregulation Act, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been forced to deal with crowding at airports by imposing greater controls over take-offs and landings. While not as severe as the problems at Washington-National, New York-LaGuardia, Atlanta-Hartsfield or others, delays and capacity problems are becoming more acute at Metro as well. The FAA has reacted in the these cities by imposing controls on the number of movements during peak hours.

In 1987, the FAA urged the major carriers at the busiest airports to meet and resolve scheduling problems to avoid lengthy delays in these airports. While the airlines were able to resolve many of these scheduling problems on a "voluntary" basis, it was feared that if they had been unsuccessful, the FAA would have had to impose mandatory restrictions on movements to reduce delays.

In a study published in May, 1988 by the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport Capacity Enhancement Task Force ofthe Federal Aviation Administration, capacity problems and delays were analyzed in great detail. One of the recommendations of the task force included a suggestion for uniform scheduling of arrivals and departures during peak hours. This suggestion is not a mandate but a recognition that scheduling problems are already contributing to delays at Metro. [35]

The effect of such involuntary controls would be to undermine the Airline Deregulation Act and the benefits the public has received. The airline industry has shown the benefits of deregulation through more competitive and lower prices, resulting in more people being able to afford to fly. The negative results have been the capacity problems at the airports.

In the future, insufficient infrastructure capacity and FAA controls could have the effect of reducing the supply of available seats. With lower supply (potentially insufficient to meet demand at current prices), the airlines will be able to charge higher prices for seats which are available (see Figure 3).

Therefore, insufficient capacity has the potential of making air travel more expensive and less available to people who have been able to travel by air as a result of airline deregulation.

While Metro doesn't currently have capacity problems of the magnitude of Washington-National or New York-LaGuardia, some problems already exist. As described earlier, there are insufficient gates to meet the demand of airlines operating at Metro.

The Airport Capacity Enhancement Plan in large part concluded that additional runways are needed as the majority of airfield delays are runway related. [36] The study acknowledges that over 50% of the total delay is caused due to weather conditions forcing the use of the East/West runway instead of tile airport's more efficient three parallel runways. The study recommends the construction of a new east/west runway to parallel the existing one. The study suggested that a new runway would save $85.3 million per year in the cost of delays at the current level of airport usage. [37] These delay costs are paid by the airlines and their passengers.

The Airport Capacity Enhancement Plan further projects the effect of some of the deficiencies at Metro Airport assuming growth in the demand for air travel. Population growth, economic expansion and increases in disposable income can further lead to increased demand for airport capacity.

Figure 3 illustrates the effect of capacity constraints on supply and demand where demand did not vary over time. If the growth in quantity of demand as a result of factors other than price and capacity are measured, the effect of capacity controls might be drive up costs even further (see Figure 4).