Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Build those runways!

I don't like to say I told you so (oh, who am I kidding, I do enjoy it at least a little bit), especially when not all of the story is played out, but air travel is down. O'Hare is at the lowest level since 1994, and Midway dropped about 12% last year (story here).

At the same time, Chicago is going to pay United Airlines $163 million to move a cargo building that sits where the city wants to build the next runway. Keep in mind that any new runways would benefit United enormously; the O'Hare expansion already represents a major public subsidy for this hilariously-operated major company.

I said back in July that:
Someone's on the hook for a project that now looks like a massive waste, and we have to assume that the airlines, previously reluctant to bear any part of the expense, now have even more leverage to avoid writing a check (fine, we'll just take our planes and go home, or to Dallas, or to Denver).
I underestimated, assuming that we were just going to allow the major airlines to avoid paying their fair share. I didn't anticipate that Mayor Daley, in his mania to tear down large tracts of other towns, was going to actually pay the airlines.

Eventually, the non-wired generation is going to realize that there are more channels of communication than ever, that in a world of videoconferencing, IM'ing, Twittering, and so on, actual face-to-face business travel is going to decline. The hassle of flying and security lines and the longer flights necessitated by globalization is going to catch up with the industry, and these airport expansion projects are going to be seen as the boondoggle they are. Well, at least they're "shovel-ready."

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