Airport congestion

One of the current challenges to aviation is reducing the congestion in major airports. The existing airport facilities, especially at hub airport, are much smaller to accommodate the huge number of passengers and cargo. While some counties have airport expansion plans, other counties are developing new airports to meet this demand. However, due to many factors, airport expansion is not feasible for many countries.

Limited Passenger Facilities

Demand for air travel, especially in the Asia Pacific region, is increasing rapidly. Growth rate of air traffic demand in China and India combined is 7 per cent, which is 2 per cent above the world’s average (Datamonitor, 2008 2). Thus, many major airlines have expanded and are expanding their services to such growing areas. Similarly, those airlines and other companies such as BAA Aviation that have not yet achieved their access to these regions (Datamonitor, 2008 2) are making strategic plans for entry. However, the existing airports in such regions are not as competent to meet the growing demand. Passenger facilities such as check-in counters and departure lounges can not accommodate a huge number of passengers at a given time. This causes long delay, particularly at peak hour, and result in passenger discomfort and even cancellation of flights. However, some significant larger airports, such as in Hong Kong, have reduced this problem.

Limited Airline Facilities

Airline facilities, such as runways and slots are insufficient to meet the huge number of aircraft fleet that uses airport at a given time. For example, the average number of flights using the London Heathrow Airport daily, in the year 2007, was recoded as nearly 1320 (Heathrowairport, 2008 5). According to this figure the number of flights landed at Heathrow per minute at peak times is nearly 3 to 4. Therefore with increasing demand, this figure can go up to 5, 6 or even up to 7. However, with limited facilities, an airport cannot service such number of flights at a given time. Additionally, with the increase in the adoption of Airbus A380 by many airlines over the world, airports need extra services like expanded departure lounges to accommodated 500 to 800 passengers in one place and double deck ramps in order to smoothen loading and unloading passengers.

Limited Cargo Facilities

Most of the airports operate both passenger and cargo services under one roof. Handling two different services simultaneously is creating problems for many airports as it leads to distraction of the focus and the objectives of the business. Since in parallel to the air travel demand, the rate of world’s air-freight growth is also increasing, even faster than the prediction of Airbus (5.5 per cent) and Boeing (6.4 per cent) up to 2021 (Gardiner, Humphreys & Ison, 2005 4), this issue of unfocused airport operations is becoming more significant particularly in developing counties. As the Asia Pacific region is recorded as the area of highest cargo growth, Datamonitor ( 2008 2) states that the major airlines are extending their freight services to this region. The air cargo industry is, consequently, facing a huge scarcity of capacity.

Expansion Issues

Although a possible solution one might think for the scarcity of capacity and facilities at airports is airport expansion, this solution is practically not feasible in many cases. Increasing the number of runways and slots, expanding the airports’ cargo and considering verity of services a today’s’ passenger expect in an airport, require vast areas of land. Not only that, in some cases, such as in London Biggin Hill Airport (Bigginhillairport, 2008 1), airport expansion will make airport facilities coming closer to public homes, schools and hospitals, thus, making noise problems worse. In some other situations, airports are surrounded by sea, or mountains and hilly areas, as in the case of Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport (Aerocali, 2008), which will require huge amount of funding for expansion.

Some short-term solutions

1. Slot-allocations

As in the case of London Heathrow International Airport, airport slots are rights allocated to an entity by an airport or government agency granting the slot owner the right to schedule a landing or departure during a specific time period. Slot allocation helps to utilise the existing facilities in an effective and productive way. However, slot systems can help to certain extent and is not a long-term solution (Forsyth, 2006 3).

2. Airport Price Structure

The existing airport price structure in most of the airport is based on the weight of the aircraft. Thus, this structure does not represent any cost justification. However, as in Business Aviation Association’s (BAA) airports, price structure should depend on the number of passengers. This is because demand dependent structure can meet the excess demand (Forsyth, 2006 3).

3. Cutting flights

To reduce congestion some airports, such as Newark Liberty International Airport are reducing the number of flights over the peak hours. However, this is not a strategic solution in terms of existing and forecasted traffic demands.

1. Bigginhillairport. (2008). Close to the heart of London. Retrieved 5 September, 2008, from
2. Datomonitor. (2008).Continental Airlines company prophile. Retrieved January 29, 2009, from Business Source Premier database.
3. Forsyth, P. (2006). The impact of emerging aviation trends on airport infrastructure. Journal of Air Transport Management, 13(1), 45-52
4. Gardiner, J., Humphreys, I. & Ison, S. (2005). Freighter operators’ choice of airport: A three stage process. Transport Review, 25, 1, 85-102.
5. Heathrowairport. (2008). Statistics – 2007. Retrieved 5 September 2008, from

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