A study financed mainly by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has found that Lawrenceville’s Briscoe Field is not currently a feasible site for a second commercial service airport in the metro Atlanta area.
The just released Atlanta Metropolitan Aviation Capacity Study Phase II began with a list of 29 sites that were screened as potential locations for an origin and destination airport to supplement the service provided at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
In the initial screening, the potential sites were evaluated in terms of accessibility, site development issues and existing air traffic. Nineteen sites were eliminated due to accessibility issues from the Atlanta central business district. Two other sites were ruled out based upon air traffic control and air traffic management considerations.
The remaining eight sites, including Briscoe Field, were subjected to a detailed site analysis.
The analysis focused on determining whether the eight remaining sites were aeronautically suitable for development in terms of airspace, airfield layout, wind and other factors. Briscoe Field was categorized as the second most challenging site just behind Dobbins Air Reserve Base. According to the analysis, “The airport’s location in the northeast arrival corridor for ATL will require a careful airspace redesign to work out the potential conflicts.”
Each site was also assessed for environmental feasibility. Though categorizing Briscoe as moderately feasible from an environmental standpoint, the analysis included the warning that “some residences and commercial properties would need to be purchased” and “multiple local roads and a railroad track would be impacted as well as two places of worship.”
In terms of market feasibility, two sites -- Dobbins Air Reserve Base and Cobb County -- were deemed to have the greatest market potential. Under the best-case scenario, the study estimated as many as 5 million passengers might utilize the two airports on an annual basis by 2030. The best-case scenario for Briscoe predicted a total of 2.8 million passengers per year by 2030.
According to the analysis, even well-located secondary airports may take decades to develop a market: “The only secondary airports that have been successfully developed in the U.S. are international gateway airports that were developed 50 or more years ago to supplement existing, capacity constrained airports located near the business centers. No supplemental airports developed to primarily serve origination and destination passengers have been a success.”
The study included a comparison chart of the eight potential sites. On the chart, Briscoe Field is shown as potentially requiring the relocation of 130 residences and 50 commercial buildings in order to be utilized as a relief airport for Hartsfield-Jackson. The chart also showed that while it would be possible to expand the existing facilities, the airport cannot accommodate the addition of a second runway.
Lastly, each site was assessed to determine if the project could be financed “with acceptable terms” by the airport sponsor, airlines and other users.
The point of the economic analysis was to determine “if there are sufficient projected operating revenues and other funding sources to pay the projected capital and operating costs associated with the development and operation of a new supplemental commercial air service airport.”
In order to finance the initial capital development, the study found each site would need to be supported through taxation or other revenues.
“Without an alternate source of funding for the capital development required for the supplemental airport, the ‘break-even’ airline rates and charges per enplanement that the supplemental airport would have to charge in order to recover the total annual airport operating cost and debt service costs far exceed the rates charged at US commercial air service airports,” according to the study.
Several risks are noted in the study including passenger demand, uncertainty in operating costs, uncertainty of non-airline revenues and changes in the development schedule.
“Any of these risks individually or combined could significantly increase the required upfront or annual contribution by the airport sponsor,” the report stated.
Based on development cost and market potential, none of the eight sites were deemed feasible at this time.
The study is the result of a partnership with the City of Atlanta’s Department of Aviation, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and other entities. The FAA provided funding to cover 75 percent of the cost. The study resulted from a string of studies designed to determine ways in which the metro area’s aviation capacity could be improved.