President Obama says U.S. has none of the world’s top 25 airports (…huh??)

The U.S. President is very busy. He has a lot on his plate, and frankly has to depend on his experts to provide precise summaries, data, etc. so that he can speak effectively, as a leader. He speaks, but if poorly briefed, what he says may be flat out wrong. It is possible (as certainly happened in the ‘W’ administration, related to weapons of mass destruction) that his advisors may fail to advise — that they may offer, well, bad advice. Apparently, this is what happened this week.

We all know by now that, earlier this week, President Obama signed a bill ending the ATC furlough by allowing FAA to transfer up to $253 Million from one account (used to fund discretionary projects at small U.S. airports) to another FAA account (used to pay ATC operations). In a press conference shortly after signing this,  President Obama referred to an airport popularity survey as if it indicated U.S. airports were fading fast and need lots of infrastructural spending. Here are the first few paragraphs, as blogged by ATW reporter Aaron Karp:

President Barack Obama said the US has none of the world’s top 25 airports and argued that the legislative fix to the air traffic controller furlough issue hinders long-term efforts to improve the nation’s lagging airport infrastructure.

“There was a recent [Skytrax] survey of the top airports in the world and there was not a single US airport that came in the top 25,”* Obama said during a Tuesday press conference. “Not one. Not one US airport was considered by the experts and consumers who use these airports to be in the top 25 in the world … What does that say about our long-term competitiveness and future?

Obama signed the bill passed by Congress in late April to end controller furloughs initiated by FAA to comply with budget sequestration, but he said the $253 million the legislation directs FAA to transfer from its Airport Improvement Program to pay controllers is money needed for airport projects.

The president said that if Congress is “seriously concerned about passenger convenience and safety, then they shouldn’t just be thinking about tomorrow or next week or the week after that; they should be thinking about what’s going to happen five years from now, 10 years from now, or 15 years from now … And so when folks say, well, there was some money in the FAA to deal with these furloughs—well, yeah, the money is this pool of funds that are supposed to try to upgrade our airports so we don’t rank in the bottom of industrialized countries when it comes to our infrastructure.”

– by Aaron Karp, at ATWOnlinecom

*One curious detail of the Skytrax Survey is that the highest ranking U.S. airport is CVG (Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky), voted #30 in the world. This is an airport with enormous capacity and federal investment, yet it is a ghost of its former existence. The airlines decided to abandon CVG as a major hub, nearly eight years ago. Before the collapse, nearly 80% of passengers were passing through CVG on connecting flights. Perhaps this Skytrax vote is out of sympathy, or out of appreciation for the airport’s unusual spaciousness? 
That’s a nice plug for spending billions in airline passenger taxes each year on more airport projects all around the country. But, beyond the plug, it is just false. Moreover, the re-directed AIP funds are generally going to small airports or for projects that would not even be contemplated, except for the availability of these funds, which are doled out at over $3 Billion annually. Some would call it pork. Like barbecue on a bun, these re-directed funds generally have no significant connection to the efficiency and safety of the U.S. aviation system.

Airports can be ranked in a number of ways. When it comes to assessing the adequacy of infrastructure, the proper ranking would be how many operations per year, and how many passengers flow through the airport per year. The Skytrax poll cited by President Obama is neither. It is a simple, online popularity contest. Who knows, in all likelihood most consumer votes were tallied by bored vacationers poking around on their devices while stuck in some airport and wishing they were at some other airport.

Here’s the REAL Data:

Looking at operations count (where one count equals a takeoff or a landing), the U.S. has seventeen of the top 25 (and 30 of the top 50) world airports. Looking at passenger count, the U.S. has ten of the top 25 world airports. And, what about Skytrax? The top five world airports, according to Skytrax are: Singapore, Incheon, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and Beijing. The 2010 World Rankings viewable online list only the top 30 airports. Of these, Beijing ranks #8, Amsterdam ranks #20; the other top-five Skytrax airports are NOT even ranked in the top 30. Why? Because Skytrax is a popularity ranking, not an infrastructure/efficiency/safety ranking.

Here are the latest airport world rankings by operations count (for 2010):

1. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, KATL: 950,119 operations
2. O’Hare International Airport, KORD: 882,617 operations
3. Los Angeles International Airport, KLAX: 666,938 operations
4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, KDFW: 652,261 operations
5. Denver International Airport, KDEN: 630,063 operations
6. George Bush Intercontinental Airport, KIAH: 531,347 operations
7. Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, KCLT: 529,101 operations
8. Beijing Capital International Airport, China, ZBAA: 517,584 operations
9. McCarran International Airport, KLAS: 505,591 operations
10. Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, France, LFPG: 499,997 operations
11. Frankfurt Airport, Germany, EDDF: 464,432 operations
12. Philadelphia International Airport, KPHL: 460,779 operations
13. London Heathrow Airport, United Kingdom, EGLL: 454,883 operations
14. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, KDTW: 452,616 operations
15. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, KPHX: 449,351 operations
16. Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, KMSP: 436,625 operations
17. Madrid Barajas Airport, Spain, LEMD: 433,683 operations
18. Toronto Pearson International Airport, Canada, CYYZ: 418,298 operations
19. Newark Liberty International Airport, KEWR: 403,880 operations
20. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Netherlands, EHAM: 402,372 operations
21. John F. Kennedy International Airport, KJFK: 399,626 operations
22. Munich Airport, Germany, EDDM: 389,939 operations
23. San Francisco International Airport, KSFO: 387,248 operations
24. Miami International Airport, KMIA: 376,208 operations
25. Phoenix Deer Valley Airport, KDVT: 368,747 operations

Here are the latest airport world rankings by passenger count (preliminary for 2012):

1. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, KATL: 95,462,867 passengers
2. Beijing Capital International Airport, China, ZBAA: 81,929,359 passengers
3. London Heathrow Airport, United Kingdom, EGLL: 70,037,417 passengers
4. Tokyo International Airport, Japan RJTT: 66,795,178 passengers
5. O’Hare International Airport Chicago, KORD: 66,633,503 passengers
6. Los Angeles International Airport, KLAX: 63,688,121 passengers
7. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, France, LFPG: 61,611,934 passengers
8. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, KDFW: 58,591,842 passengers
9. Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Indonesia, WIII: 57,772,762 passengers
10. Dubai International Airport, UAE, OMDB: 57,684,550 passengers
11. Frankfurt Airport Frankfurt, Germany, EDDF: 57,520,001 passengers
12. Hong Kong International Airport, China VHHH: 56,057,751 passengers
13. Denver International Airport, KDEN: 53,156,278 passengers
14. Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand, VTBS: 53,002,328 passengers
15. Singapore Changi Airport, WSSS: 51,181,804 passengers
16. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, Netherlands, EHAM: 51,035,590 passengers
17. John F. Kennedy International Airport, KJFK: 49,291,765 passengers
18. Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, China, ZGGG: 48,548,430 passengers
19. Madrid Barajas Airport, Spain, LEMD: 45,176,978 passengers
20. Atatürk International Airport, Turkey, LTBA: 45,124,831 passengers
21. Shanghai Pudong International Airport, China, ZSPD: 44,880,164 passengers
22. San Francisco International Airport, KSFO: 44,399,885 passengers
23. Charlotte Douglas International Airport, KCLT: 41,228,372 passengers
24. McCarran International Airport, KLAS: 40,799,830 passengers
25. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, KPHX: 40,421,611 passengers

So, shame on President Obama’s advisors, for giving him a very poor briefing.

Give him the facts. Help him do his job. Help President Obama lead this nation toward a smarter, more sustainable future, a future with less waste, an end to hyperconsumption, and where citizen rights are no longer trampled by moneyed aviation interests.

A Small Clarification…
Just to be clear, I like President Obama. I voted for him twice, and I still want to believe he is working for the best, for our future (and he would score points toward that, with me, if he began to lead the fight against the very real climate change that BigOil wants us all to ignore). But, I know as a former federal employee, and as one who has studied the politics around aviation, that there are many who will try to manipulate him. As was done this time.
I trust President Obama is strong enough and smart enough to accept his own errors. I hope he will direct his advisors to clean up their act. We all need to be careful with the PR coming from  FAA, DoT, and others within the Av-Gov Complex. And, we need smart leaders, working with facts…

…some links…

5-2-2013An interesting read, exploring the current Congressional dysfunction. Timothy Egan attributes it to the latest round of gerrymandered congressional districts, which has enabled a sizable obstructionist element. He offers the example of Representative Louie Gohmert, from northeast Texas, as a leading Crazy Caucus voice.