Runway length of the local airport remains an issue at social gatherings in many regions. Inflammatory articles in the local paper often take the debate to explosive levels. Local residents can’t fly to far away destinations due to physical limitations of the existing runway. Even more infuriating it’s the fact that residents of the nearby region – endowed with an airport with a longer runway – enjoy direct flights to overseas destinations. Something must be done.
Most runway extensions become a success story. But this is not always the case.
A runway extension means that bigger aircraft can carry more fuel. This provides the possibility of direct flights to further away destinations. For example, for a European airport, it could mean targeting cities such as Beijing, Bangkok, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Bogota or Johannesburg.
As usual, there are those who are against the project. They don’t lack arguments. This kind of projects is a waste of taxpayer’s money. Bigger aircraft also mean more noise. Economic benefits for the region are often grossly overrated.
For those in favor, the benefits go beyond the limits of the new concrete slab. The extension creates new jobs. It opens up new business opportunities. It brings in untapped faraway tourism.
Decision makers should be aware that available spare capacity does not necessarily translate into actual use. Longer runways do not always stimulate additional traffic. Overseas route development also requires the right market. Airport sales reps may attract a weekly 250-passenger flight to Phuket during the summer season. But one flight won’t ever be sufficient to pay a €40 million project back. The airport finances will require much more than that.
Most runway extensions become a success story. But this is not always the case. There are plenty of underused runways around the world built under the enthusiasm of some misguided fools. Don’t let yours be one of them.