Environmental Regulations Contributing to Air Traffic Congestion

Nation’s Airport Authorities Cannot Build Runways Fast Enough to Keep Up With Demand Due to Federal and State Environmental Laws

Overly restrictive environmental regulations are significantly contributing to airline delays and cancellations by inhibiting the timely construction of much-needed runways, according to a new National Policy Analysis paper by the National Center For Public Policy Research.

According to National Policy Analysis paper #331, "Mad About the Quality of Air Travel These Days? Blame Environmentalists," environmental regulations are a major reason why, since 1978, only two new major metropolitan airports have been constructed although the number of passengers flying annually rose from 250 million in 1978 to 600 million in 1999. Airline departures increased 25 percent during the 1990s but only six new runways were added at large hub airports during the same period.

Runways are as important to relieving air travel congestion as highways are to reducing auto traffic. But it often takes 10 years or more to plan and build a new runway, primarily because of cumbersome environmental permitting requirements. Although it only takes two years to actually construct a major runway, before commencing construction airport authorities must first meet time-consuming environmental regulations mandated by often duplicative federal and state laws governing air and water quality, endangered species, historical preservation, noise abatement, solid waste impacts, coastal zone management and other environmental concerns.

The efficiency and comfort that customers rightly expect from air travel is seriously eroding as a result of so many jets competing for a limited amount of runway space and gates. Between 1995 and 2000, airline cancellations jumped 104 percent while departure and arrival delays increased 33 percent. Customer complaints are on the rise. Last year, the number of complaints, mainly about cancellations, delays and missed connections, increased 14 percent compared with 1999. If the environmental permitting process is not streamlined soon to expedite new airport and runway construction, consumer dissatisfaction with airline travel will only get worse. The number of airline passengers is projected to increase 60 percent to 1 billion in 2010.

"Building airports and runways is not just a matter of passenger convenience," says John Carlisle, director of the Environmental Policy Task Force and the author of the paper. "It is a matter of passenger safety. Clearly, if air space continues to get more crowded, that creates the conditions for serious accidents to occur. Fortunately, the Bush Administration recognizes this. New Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta favors streamlining the environmental permitting process to expedite runway construction."

The Environmental Policy Task Force is a project of The National Center For Public Policy Research, a non-partisan, non-profit education foundation. For more information, contact John Carlisle at The National Center For Public Policy Research at 202-507-6398 or [email protected] or download the paper at the National Center’s website at https://nationalcenter.org/NPA331.html.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.