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NEWS Last modified on January 30, 2017

BLOG: The next big wave of US airport infrastructure projects

The United States may boast the world’s largest economy, but that’s not evident when travellers arrive at America’s front door, writes Mary Scott Nabers.

The country’s airports do not impress international travellers. Inded, not one American airport is listed in the top 25 in Skytrax’s 2016 survey of the world’s best airports.

In fact, US airports are so far down the list, it is shocking.

Operational inefficiencies, passenger congestion, limited retail, access in and out of terminals and the negative passenger experience found in almost every US airport is the result of outdated design, increasingly high demand, a lack of funding investment and a tendency to reject the concept of collaborating with private-sector experts. That, however, is changing.

Big changes are occurring in the US and more are expected soon. In fact, airport modernisation in America is expected to outpace all other countries in the next few years.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), for example, has launched a $14 billion modernisation project.

More gates are available to service the massive Airbus A380 jets, retail ranges from Armani and Porsche to KFC and passengers are treated to all types of new amenities at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

A 'people-mover' train will allow travellers to have quick access to terminals, car rental facilities, parking garages and automated kiosks for quick boarding.
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New York’s LaGuardia Airport has allocated $4 billion in funding to bring that facility up to first-world standards and the Big Apple's John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) will also be renovated. 

Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is also undergoing improvements through a $15 billion O’Hare Modernization Project. Major changes are coming to US airports - but none too soon.

The modernisation trend will reach other US cities as well. The city of Houston has announced a major modernization project at the George Bush International Airport. San Antonio city officials are hoping to do the same.

It will be interesting to see which cities follow a trend that has proved successful in other countries – the privatisation of airport terminals and overall operations.

Many cities have seen the success of collaborating with airport experts in other countries and many have engaged in public-private partnerships (P3/PPPs).

Most airports build a repayment revenue plan around the increased revenue that is generated inside the modernised terminals.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) plans to spend approximately $6 billion to modernise its facilities.
An 'industry day' will be held so that interested private-sector contractors can learn more about the city’s ATLNext plan for the airport.

Kansas City International Airport in Missouri will get at least a $1 billion upgrade. And, Ohio’s Port Columbus International Airport has announced an immediate $80 million modernisation plan as well as a $1.3 billion expansion that is still in the planning stages.

Elsewhere about $2.7 billion has already been allocated for upgrades to Hawaii’s airports. Honolulu International Airport has invested $750 million to modernise its facilities and other airports are still in the planning phases for large projects.

America’s airports are in catch-up mode and that process should move rapidly to all airports located in the US. Because of the activity, airport contractors and operators throughout the world have a laser focus on what is now happening at airports in US cities.

• Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the US.

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