February 2018 — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is spending $265 million on curbside canopies (construction began in the fall of 2017) and other airport improvements, including upgrading taxiways, expanding gates and increasing cargo operations. It is also using innovative technology to improve customers’ experience.
“We are trying to develop better orientation around the airport,” Roosevelt Council Jr., general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson, told Focus:. “My dream is that when a person comes to the curb side, all of their processes will be automated. The airport has advanced signage and a mobile app that tells a passenger where a flight is, when it is and also how to get there. Technology is part and parcel of the airport, so that naturally drives growth. We’re also intensifying our customer service aspect by strengthening our wifi service.”
Recently, Hartsfield-Jackson was named the world’s busiest airport for the 20th year in a row. It serves 275,000 passengers with 2,500 flights per day.
In December 2017, the airport experienced an 11-hour blackout that had a huge economic impact stretching far beyond the Atlanta area. It began with the terminal lights flickering and then going out, soon followed by monitors and other appliances. Thousands of passengers were stranded and literally left in the dark. A fire that started in the underground electrical system damaged two substations, including the “redundant” system, which should have provided backup power. The aviation hub was paralyzed, and the effects spread internationally. More than 1,000 flights in and out of the airport were cancelled, and American, Delta and United suspended operations.
This incident raised questions about the overall health of U.S. infrastructure and airports in particular. President Trump promised a $1 trillion plan within the first 100 days of his presidency to improve what he referred to as America’s “crumbling infrastructure,” but the country has yet to see a proposal.
Congestion continues to plague the aviation industry. According to the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, 24 of the top 30 airports in the U.S. are expected to experience “Thanksgiving peak-traffic volume” at least one day a week in 2018. With federal caps on how much expense airports can pass along to passengers for facility expansion and renovation, we could be looking at a $42 billion funding gap between 2016 and 2025.
Hartsfield-Jackson isn’t the only Atlanta-area airport that is aware of these issues and taking steps toward addressing them. At nearby Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field, “more than $50 million of public funds have been spent over the past 20 years on improving the airport, including a new air traffic control tower, runway expansions, parallel taxiways, improved apron areas and an instrument landing system,” Airport Manager Karl Von Hagel told Focus:. “Cobb County International Airport now has the longest general aviation runway in the Metro Atlanta area at 6,295 feet.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that the “worldwide leadership role” that Hartsfield-Jackson holds enables it to “maintain its status as the economic engine of the Southeast.” For that reason, keeping the airport’s infrastructure healthy is a high priority for today and in years to come.