Despite a national financial crisis and continued high fuel prices, American airport officials don't expect capacity issues to go away. President Bush is expected to sign a six-month extension to the Airport Improvement Program construction grants program but officials are closely appraising privatization models such as that expected at Chicago's Midway Airport.

The annual Airports Council International-North America conference, held in Boston Sept. 21-24, also hosted members of ACI World. Some 2,000 delegates representing 49 countries attended but the financial collapse gave an extra edge to discussion about privatization. “The rest of the world is pretty much a private model,” said Randall Walker, outgoing ACI-NA chairman and director of Clark County (Nev.) Dept. of Aviation.

The pending selection of a team to operate Chicago’s Midway Airport in a 50-year lease, while delayed by the economic crisis, inspired much discussion (ENR 2/25 p. 9). “Privatization is a reality,” said James Cherry, ACI World chairman and president of Aeroports de Montreal. “We need to recognize and act—or react—to it.”

The public model still has champions. Ben DeCosta, aviation manager for city-owned Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, said the airport is “extremely profitable” and a “point of pride. To sell it into hands you don't know is an issue of trust.”

Airports will likely continue to evolve in accordance with increasingly tech-savvy and environmentally conscious travelers, affecting terminal designs as customers use check-in counters, kiosks and other terminal infrastructure less and less. “Self-claiming of baggage and self-reporting of lost baggage are in the works,” predicted Bruce Methner, consultant on transportation issues for IBM. “Radio Frequency Identification will require significant new infrastructure. Kiosks will ultimately give way to mobile [devices].”