Williams spoke at the annual conference of Airports Council International-North America, held in Toronto Sept. 18-21. He offered lessons for other airports in being flexible during a crisis, and underscored the urgency officials have in developing new ideas for funding U.S. airports.
ACI-NA officials already are looking forward to October 2007, when the Airport Improvement Program is due to be reauthorized. Capital improvement needs will total $71.5 billion between 2005 and 2009, said Greg Principato, president of ACI-NA. That amounts to $14 billion a year, well over the average of $3.6 billion a year allotted in the current program.
New Orleans contractor Boh Brothers was on track to finish $83-million of airfield repaving three months ahead of schedule when Katrina struck. Raising a levee barrier by 6 ft to about 10 ft above sea level proved crucial in keeping the runways dry, said Williams. He suggested that airports, in general, could prepare for hurricanes by installing emergency generators, designing some facilities with no glass windows and realizing that wireless communications may become impossible.
Patrick Graham, executive director of the Savannah Airport Commission, noted that three 1,000-kV backup generators "were a lifesaver" for Gulfports airport. Graham and other officials formed a 30-airport coalition, providing supplies ranging from personnel to roofing nails for their stricken counterparts.
New Orleans Airports $55 million in damages occurred mostly to hangars and the steel-paneled roof of the main terminal, said Williams. A 100-ft x 40-ft hole in the roof will take a couple of months to replace, he said. The true costs come from daily lost revenue of 170 flights, estimated at $170,000 a day. As of Sept. 19, four daily flights had resumed service, he said. Ironically, in the week after Katrina, the airport handled 3,800 daily flight operations a day, mostly helicopters. The airport had been on track for a record year in passenger travel. He was optimistic that the traffic would return. "We will need a new runway someday," he said.
New runways and revamped terminals across the U. S. may rely on efforts to liberalize current bonding structures for airports. Principato said ACI-NA will push Congress to let airports expand tax-exempt bond offerings and define them as "public purpose." U.S. officials also noted with envy that Canadian airport authorities can set their airport user fees arbitrarily. In the U.S. the passenger fee is set at $4.50.he director of New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport experienced "great frustration" in trying to notify federal and state agencies that the airport needed more planes to carry out swelling numbers of evacuees in the days after Hurricane Katrina. Roy Williams also told a gathering of hundreds of airport officials and consultants, "We had not been meant to be a shelter. There was no playbook for this."