Airports in many American cities today are much more than just a place to get on and off an airplane.
According to John Kasarda, airport economics expert and director of management at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says air travelers increasingly have high expectations for amenities and convenience surrounding airports.
Kasarda calls the concept of development around an airport “aerotropolis.” That term stems from the idea that the traditional uses for airports are giving way to a new more broad concept that includes non-aeronautical facilities and services, beyond traditional airline-related operations.
“Despite the high prices of jet fuel, the airports continue to be a key driver of economic development in any city,” said Kasarda. “If it is an efficiently run airport that is expanding, it can be a tremendous asset, and its broader scope of services can be an extreme benefit to a community.”
Most major airports already have begun to encompass retail mall concepts in their terminals. However, for those cities developing an aerotropolis, the concept has spread to the properties surrounding the airport.
“The areas around the airports are being developed with hotels, entertainment complexes, shopping malls, office buildings that house travel intensive professionals, logistics and free trade zones and increasingly medical wellness centers,” Kasarda said.
According to Kasarda, the areas around larger airports especially are taking on the features of a central city business district. However, some mid-size airports similar to Mitchell International in Milwaukee have been able to attract significant development nearby.
“Larger airports like Dallas/FortWorth, Memphis, Las Vegas, and even Detroit is working diligently, have succeeded in developing their own aerotropolis areas,” he said. “Midsize airports, around the size of Milwaukee are doing this as well. LA/Ontario International Airport in California; Huntsville, Alabama as well as Fort Worth Alliance airport near Dallas have developed successful aerotropolis concepts at mid size airports like Milwaukee.”
In order to accomplish the task of creating a successful airport economic area, there needs to be an assessment of the surrounding developable area, said Kasarda.
“A city like Milwaukee needs to put in place a set of programs, a long term strategic plan, that upgrades the property and develops it commercially with added activities and functions,” he said.