Federal Airport Act of 1946

In 1946, Congress authorized the expenditure of federal funds for use by the political subdi­visions of state, county, and city governments in building or improving the airport infrastruc­ture. Under the provisions of the Federal Airport

Act of 1946, the government would contribute 50 percent of the cost of these improvements, and the local government would fund the rest. Small communities found it difficult to come up with even 50 percent of such large expenditures. The program worked better in large cities that could float bond issues to finance their portion of the cost. A series of amendments to the Act extended the duration and funding of the pro­gram and added provisions designed to guarantee proper standards of construction and operation, open and nondiscriminatory access by the public, and appropriate zoning of lands adjacent to the airport.

New York utilized the program to construct a third major airport, named Idlewild (now JFK), and then expanded the original construction with $60 million of terminal buildings and parking areas. Los Angeles raised a bond issue in the amount of $60 million for its international air­port. St. Louis expanded its airport and built a new terminal. The busiest airport in the coun­try was Midway, in Chicago, with an arrival or departure every 80 seconds. The activity at Mid­way led to the building of O’Hare, which opened in 1955. Dulles airport, conceived to serve Wash­ington, D. C., finally found a home in Chantilly, Virginia, in 1958. Still, it was generally realized and noted at the time that United States airports were not ready for jets, and that they were not keeping up with the growth of commercial air travel. The number of passengers enplaning on domestic flights would almost double between 1954 and 1959, from 32 million to 55 million. And it was reckoned that less than 10 percent of the American population had ever set foot on a commercial airplane.

Airports faced new problems as a direct result of the larger piston airplanes, and these problems were compounded by the arrival of jets. Fuel storage facilities were inadequate, both in size and in type, since jets burned a form of kerosene, not the gasoline of piston engines. Taxiways had to be redesigned, relocated, and widened, due both to the size of the aircraft and to allow for the new, low positioning of jet engines on the pylons hanging below the wing. FOD, the new acronym for foreign object damage, was a major concern to the health and integrity of jet engines because they could not tolerate ingesting small rocks, gravel, and debris of any kind lying about the taxi way. Runways were too short for jet aircraft, particularly those needing a full load of fuel for transatlantic or transcontinental routes. These requirements were exceedingly costly to the airport owners, usually a governmental entity, whether city, county, or regional political subdivision.

Not only was it costly and time-consuming to enlarge and upgrade existing airports, new con­struction was becoming a contentious issue in the communities in which they were located. Noise associated with jet operations was becoming a serious environmental issue, an issue that had con­stitutional and legal ramifications that extended far beyond the boundaries of the airports. And if improvement of existing airport facilities was a problem, then the building of new airports was next to impossible to pull off. In 1952 when authorities began looking for a site near Washington, D. C., to relieve the already overcrowded National Airport, an exercised public in Fairfax County, Virginia, rose in protest. It would require six years of effort spent in negotiation, in cajoling, in conducting studies, and in spending lots of money before the eventual site for Dulles International Airport was selected and approved. It was worse in the met­ropolitan New York area. Attempts to locate an agreeable site anywhere in northern New Jersey were defeated; 22 other proposed sites in New York and New Jersey went down in flames. A group composed of the New York Port Author­ity, the FAA, and some airlines finally settled on a site 48 miles from the city, but opposition can­celled that one too. Plans to expand and upgrade the ancient White Plains Airport were defeated by local opposition. To this day, New York has the same three airports that it had in 1950.

The resistance was not limited to the North­east. Attempts in Dade County, Florida, to build a new airport to serve Miami failed. Miami Inter­national Airport, like most metropolitan airports, has been situated in the same place since bi­wing, open cockpit airplanes first began using it. One exception is the DallasFort Worth Airport, in Texas, which only came about because of the cooperation of the citizens and local governments of the two cities that it serves. Located midway between Dallas and Fort Worth, DFW was com­pleted in 1974. It became a symbol of pride and progress for the area, and it was appreciated by its business and leisure travel communities. One motivating factor for success was the appall­ingly inadequate Love Field in Dallas, which it replaced, as well as the fact that Fort Worth had no commercial airport at all. After completion of DFW, no new airport would be built in the United States for another 20 years.3

The launch of the Airbus 380, the world’s largest airplane, in December 2000 created another challenge for U. S. airports, as well as airports all over the world. The size of the A380 requires that modifications be made at airports that will serve the new gigantic aircraft. Although the A380 can land on runways that will accept the Boeing 747, modifications to taxiways, terminal gates, and aprons will have to be made. Airports will also have to fund the purchase of new servicing vehicles for the A3 80.

By 2011, six airports in the United States had been equipped to handle the A380, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, JFK, Dulles, and Houston. The Houston Airport Authority reported that it spent $8 million to widen run­ways (with an additional $30 million to $40 million planned to upgrade runways to FAA requirements), $7.5 million for gate bridges to allow loading and unloading, and $15 million to $20 million for interior gate hold areas and improvements.

As of 2012, although not one United States airline had ordered the A3 80, it was being flown by seven world airlines, including Air France, Korean, China Southern, Lufthansa, Singapore, Qantas, and Emirates.