The Geography of Transport Systems
THIRD EDITION
Jean-Paul Rodrigue (2013), New York: Routledge, 416 pages.
ISBN 978-0-415-82254-1
Mega Airport Projects
Author: Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue
1. Mega Airports in a Global World
The substantial growth of air travel has been associated with the demand for new airport terminal facilities, particularly in the context where an existing airport terminal is no longer able to handle existing or forecasted traffic. Expectations about future passenger volumes are inciting the consideration of large airports consuming a significant amount of land that has to be found, secured and developed. This has led to the siting and setting of mega airport complexes including large terminals, hangars, parking facilities, runways and space for adding new runways as well as space for ancillary activities such as hotels, offices and distribution centers. The airport has become a miniature city while in several cases, large airport complexes have been dubbed as 'aerotropolises'.
The drivers of mega airport projects fall into two major categories. First, regional economic development will incite organic traffic growth, both for passengers and freight. Second, major airlines can decide to use airport as their main hubs, implying a growth in transit traffic. In a high growth context, this places acute pressures to expand airport infrastructure to cope with significant expected future traffic levels. Both these drivers can be subject to contention since on one side economic growth expectations may not materialize to their full extent while on the other side airlines can change their network strategies and elect for other hubs. The most successful mega airport projects are thus those who jointly gain from regional economic development as well as the additional traffic that hubbing generates.
1. Dallas / Fort Worth
The Dallas / Fort Worth (DFW) airport is the seventh largest airport in the world in terms of passenger traffic, but the largest in terms of surface (about 4360 hectares). It opened in 1974 and it represents one of the first examples of a mega airport terminal project located in a new site; it is located halfway between two important urban agglomerations, about 28 km of the respective city centers of Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. The DFW airport therefore benefits from the air traffic generated by these two major cities.
The airport was built in an era of high traffic growth an high expectation about future growth prospects. The Texan economy was booming, in part through the petrochemical sector as well as new industries such as electronics. Air cargo transportation has also become an increasingly important facet of DFW with nearby Mexico and Latin America an important factor for this strong growth in cargo traffic. [Figures]
DFW, like many mega airports, has substantial economic impacts on the local economy, with some estimates stating an income of over $10 billion annually and a contribution to 185,000 jobs in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. Texas benefits from its intermediary location between the eastern and western coasts of the United States and of its proximity to Latin America. It thus competes with Miami for this market. Every major city within the United States, Canada and Latin America is within four hours of the DFW International Airport. In fact, more than 60% of all the traffic at the airport is related to connecting flights going elsewhere.
DFW International Airport has an innovative airport layout that is capable of considerable expansion. A series of connected terminals in the form of half circles sets this airport apart from other large airports. An automatic train network links each terminal (2W, 2E, 3E, 4E) and the airport hotel. Each terminal functions independently from each other and offers similar services to its passengers. The current four terminals can accommodate up to 115 planes at one time.
Although DFW is a strong consumer of space, the airport design allows for future expansion with much larger traffic level. Many new airports designed in the 1970s had this expectation of very strong growth levels and secured land and developed infrastructure accordingly. There is in fact the possibility of adding five new terminals to the existing four, therefore increasing the total capacity to accommodate more than 120 million passengers annually. It was estimated that by 2010, 100 million passengers would transit through the airport. However, current traffic levels indicate that figures for 2010 are just over half of what was expected. There was thus a large overestimation of the market potential of the airport.
2. Chek Lap Kok (Hong Kong)
 
3. Osaka