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Rethinking Mega-Region Air TravelA Surprising Use for High-Speed RailbyFred Messinamessina_alfred@bah.com
Rethinking Mega-Region Air TravelA Surprising Use for High-Speed RailWhat if there were a way to significantly reduce delays busiest airports. O’Hare already is so congested thatoccurring at our most congested airports—the kinds of one out of every five flights at O’Hare is now delayeddelays that cost air travelers nationwide more than $3 billion an average of an hour. Yet, there is pent-up demand annually and our economy more than $40 billion? What if we for even more flights. If they could, airlines would could meet the growing demand for air travel—and meet the add many more flights to various destinations. Butdemand with ease—while creating jobs and strengthening our they cannot because additional delays that wouldnation’s ability to compete globally? result from oversaturation would be cost prohibitive. Consequently, airlines voluntarily limit their numbers ofWe can. An ambitious task such as this can be flights in and out of O’Hare.accomplished using a completely fresh approach tointegrating the various modes of transportation in theUnited States—in particular, rethinking how we mightconnect air and rail in a new and surprising way. Seven airports account for 80 percent of all flight delays nationwideThis task can be achieved with some remarkablebenefits: • O’Hare International• Greater air passenger satisfaction, with more • John F. Kennedy International predictable air travel and fewer delays • Los Angeles International • Economic growth • San Francisco International• New revenue-generating opportunities for airlines • Newark Liberty International and others • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International• Increased environmentally friendly passenger travel • Philadelphia International• New permanent jobs. Source: International Air Transport Association 2010Reducing air traffic congestion is imperative. One ofthe few bright sides of the recession is that it hastamped down air travel, temporarily holding off a crisisin delays and congestion that could put a chokehold on A New Approachthe economies of our major cities and our nation. As Imagine if congested airports such as O’Hare were we recover from the recession, however, that future will connected directly by high-speed train to one or be upon us. Air traffic already is increasing, and the more regional airports. Such a train—for example,Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that the one connecting O’Hare with Milwaukee’s Mitchellnumber of passengers flying on U.S. carriers will break International Airport—would be accessed after the 1-billion mark in 10 years—a nearly 40-percent passengers passed through the security checkpoint.increase over numbers today. Think of this approach as the equivalent of today’sChicago’s O’Hare International Airport, currently tram systems that many airports use to connecthandling more than 800,000 flights annually, offers a various terminals. This “tram” would take passengersglimpse of what the future might hold for our nation’s to terminals in another city—usually in about the same 1
time as a jet flight or even less. Now, consider the 300—could be scheduled into Milwaukee, rather possibilities that would arise from this airport-to-airport than Chicago. In such a scenario, the 15,000 arriving high-speed connection. passengers would deplane, take a 35-minute high- speed train trip to O’Hare, and then proceed to their As with numerous other major airports, a majority connecting flights, all without having to pass through of travelers to O’Hare are actually on their way to security again. On the return trip, the reverse would somewhere else—its a major hub for connections occur. Airline connection schedules would be adjusted to final destinations. Of the more than 1,100 daily to accommodate this model (see Exhibit 1). arrivals at O’Hare, about half are small regional jets, each carrying roughly 50 passengers destined to In many cases, the high-speed train trip between change planes and head elsewhere. airports would take no longer than a typical flight, often less. In the Milwaukee-O’Hare example, the train If an airport-to-airport high-speed express train were in trip would take about 35 minutes compared with the place, the bulk of these small regional jet arrivals—say, average hour-long flight. Considering that one out of Exhibit 1 | Airport-To-Airport High-Speed Express Train Milwaukee Mitchell Chicago O’Hare Smaller jets currently flying to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport would land instead at Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport. Passengers would deplane and, still behind security, take the high-speed train to a gate at O’Hare, where they would proceed to their connecting flights. Source: Booz Allen Hamilton2
every five flights to O’Hare is delayed for an average The result: A happier customer.of an hour, the difference in times could be even more Similar scenarios could play out in the pairing of othersubstantial. congested major airports with airports in their mega-Perhaps even more important, there would be relatively region (e.g., Philadelphia with Allentown or Harrisburg,little chance of a train delay; therefore, passengers Miami with Ft. Lauderdale or West Palm Beach, or Sanwould be far more confident that they could make Francisco with San Jose).their connecting flights. For example, instead of the Customers are not the only winners. Airport-to-airport inconvenience of taking an excessively early regional high-speed rail would open up new revenue opportunities flight into O’Hare to cover the risk of a missed for airlines. In our O’Hare example (see Exhibit 2), connection, passengers from other cities could take a consider that we have now freed up 300 arrival and later flight to Mitchell and be confident that the train to departure spaces at the airport that small regional jets O’Hare would get them there on time. had used previously. Airlines could take advantage ofExhibit 2 | Additional Passengers Accommodated at Chicago OHare International Main Line Carriers Main Line 850 Flights Carriers 170,000 People 550 Flights 110,000 People 550 Flights 250 Flights 27,500 People 12,500 People Regional Jets Regional Jets Current Total Passengers: 137,500 Future Total Passengers: 182,500At a mega-region hub such as O’Hare, a one-for-one replacement of small regional jet operations with higher yield, larger aircraft would increasepassenger throughput with no new net operations.Source: Booz Allen Hamilton 3
those open spaces with 300 higher revenue-generating of Railways, the carbon footprint of high-speed rail can flights, such as wide-body jets carrying 200 or more be up to 14 times less intensive, per passenger, than passengers headed to high-demand destinations. car travel. Therefore, instead of moving 15,000 passengers in and out of O’Hare on those 300 regional jets, airlines could Integrated Transportation = Regaining Our now move 60,000 passengers on the same number of Nation’s Competitive Edge larger planes—an increase of 45,000 passengers per Limiting congestion and delays is one of the great day. This effort would be achieved without using a single aviation challenges of our time. The FAA has responded additional arrival and departure space—no new net with a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar transformation flight operations at O’Hare. of the nation’s air transportation system, known as NextGen. NextGen shifts air travel from radar Economic Growth and Environmental Gains to satellite-based navigation, from voice to data Following along with our scenario, the increased communications, and from traditional airways to far passenger flow through O’Hare would mean additional more efficient routes. High-speed rail between airports revenue and jobs at shops, restaurants, and other works hand-in-hand with NextGen by supporting the concessionaires filling the massive complex. Similarly, gains in air-traffic capacity and efficiency, which are a large influx of passengers would occur at Mitchell central goals of the program. International when people would fly into that airport Airport-to-airport high-speed rail also is an example on regional jets from other cities before taking the of how we might revitalize our entire transportation high-speed train to O’Hare. Mitchell would likely system, an imperative if our nation is to maintain its expand its infrastructure, creating new, permanent prosperity and remain globally competitive. A recent jobs for workers in the terminals and on the tarmac report by the Building America’s Future Educational servicing aircraft. Fund, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials—led Auto emissions also would be cut. Rather than by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, driving, passengers would take the high-speed train former Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, and to the major hub airport. Today, many people from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg—declared that the Milwaukee area drive directly to O’Hare instead America’s transportation system is “environmentally, of flying there from Mitchell, choosing to drive to politically, and economically unsustainable.” avoid the risk of missing a connecting flight. Private “In the last decade,” states the report, “our global long-term parking companies near O’Hare estimate economic competitors have led the way in planning that at least 20 to 40 percent of their customers are and building the transportation networks of the 21st from Wisconsin. century.” Meanwhile, America has failed to move Such figures are not surprising; the Milwaukee forward, leaving “every mode of transportation in the area alone has 1.75 million people. If an airport- United States—highways and railroads, airports and to-airport high-speed rail connection were available, seaports—stuck in the last century and ill equipped for many Milwaukee-area passengers would find it more the demands of a churning global economy.” The report convenient to take the train from Mitchell. They could also states, “Unless we make significant changes in avoid a lengthy, possibly congested drive, and would our course and direction, the foreign competition will have the added incentive of going through potentially pass us by, and a real opportunity to restore America’s shorter lines at airport security at Mitchell rather than economic strength will be lost.” at O’Hare. The large number of cars taken off the road A major reason that America’s transportation system would have a positive environmental impact. According is falling so far behind is that our various modes of to a recent study conducted for the International Union 4
transportation are only loosely connected. Although With a megacommunity approach, airport-to-airport that might not have been an issue through much high-speed rail can become a reality. A megacommunity of the last century, it is now putting our nation at a brings together entities that often do not collaborateserious disadvantage. To compete globally, a nation’s and sometimes are even competitive—for example,transportation system must function as an organic aviation and rail communities, airlines, major and whole, greater than the sum of its parts. The key is to regional airports, civic groups from various cities, andidentify new and powerful ways to integrate the various disparate government agencies.modes of transportation. Countries in Europe and In the United States, even the notion of high-speed elsewhere are far ahead of us in this regard. However, rail between cities has yet to gain traction, partlywe can catch up…and even move ahead. because of the belief that rail cannot pay for itselfAirport-to-airport high-speed rail does more than through ridership revenues; however, high-speed revolutionize mega-region air travel; it provides a express rail between airports lends itself to a moretemplate for the kind of innovative thinking that must robust business case. It brings in non-traditional rail be applied to our entire transportation system. stakeholders, from airline passengers to airlines to airport authorities—all of whom would benefit from theUsing the Megacommunity to Make It rail line.All Work Traditional stakeholders would also benefit. The airport-Integrating our transportation system through initiatives to-airport high speed track could serve a dual use for such as the one presented here requires a collective other applications--other high speed trains could be vision and commitment. Stakeholder communities are interspersed with the aiport-to-airport express trains. wired to pursue their own self-interests, and while this For example if spur rail lines exist, or were built,is perhaps as it should be, it has made it difficult for connecting the airport with the downtown area, thenus to think about how we might achieve consensus one could envision a dual use of the high speed trackregarding such a common purpose. that would benefit city-to-city travelers as well. A new type of engagement, known as a Such a dual-use airport-to-airport line brings in “megacommunity,” recognizes that limited groups of additional motivated stakeholders and enlarges thestakeholders can neither solve complex problems megacommunity even further. Each stakeholder group nor build transformational projects. As detailed in the might have its own self-serving reasons for supporting book, Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, an airport-to-airport line, but that would not matter. Business and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today’s Global Their collective vision and commitment would turn aChallenges, all sectors must participate: business, powerful idea into reality. In essence, the airport-to-government, and civil society. airport connection is an added dimension, with addedThe idea of a mega- or larger community is critical; stakeholders, that can make the business case forit is an expansive and a self-sustaining network that high-speed rail.links people with the right resources in the right placeat the right time. Perhaps the most powerful aspect It Can Be Doneof the megacommunity is that it does not discourage There is no doubt that building airport-to-airport self-interest—it actually promotes it. Stakeholders high-speed rail—and any integrated transportation are brought together based on their overlapping vital infrastructure—is a complex undertaking, requiringinterests, and they can pursue those interests, to their stable financing, new business models, policybenefit, without worrying about giving up their identities frameworks, legislation and a host of other elements.or betraying their core constituencies. But it is well within our nation’s ability to achieve. As 5
noted in the 2011 The American Interest magazine Our next challenge is to build new transportation article, “Re-Imagining Infrastructure,” the United States projects as fully integrated systems, in which the has the talent, engineering capacity, construction know- various modes work in concert to achieve a new level how, and processes and experience to complete major of mobility—and competitiveness—for the United new intermodal projects of all types. Indeed, the irony States for decades to come. As with the example is that much of the best transportation infrastructure of airport-to-airport high-speed rail, we need an now being developed around the world is based on approach that essentially sees two or more types of American invention and technology. transportation as a single mode. We also have the money to build major transportation This wider vision must inform the planning, design, projects, even in these difficult economic times. The and implementation of America’s transportation surprising new revenue sources that would arise projects. And it must be made a national priority, through intermodal projects could help unleash one that is actively promoted at the highest levels private capital, and take advantage of a wide range of of government. Now is the time to bring together all financing mechanisms. the stakeholders—from business, government and civil society—in a special commission or similar America has a history of doing big transportation body that will drive the vision, develop objectives and infrastructure projects, and doing them well—for approaches, and define the measures of success. example, the Erie Canal in the 1800s, which opened up the Midwest to development; the vast interstate Only then will we realize the full benefits for each highway system in the 1950s, and the modern stakeholder group, while simultaneously achieving Washington-area Metro rapid-transit system, which the national benefit. We can integrate our nation’s continues to expand today. transportation system. And we must do this, without delay, if our nation is to remain prosperous. The first step is to reimagine what is possible.6
About the Author Fred Messina is a from across civil aviation. He co-authored the resulting Vice President in the publication, Assuring the Transition to the Next Transportation business, Generation Air Transportation System, which received with a focus on aviation high acclaim nationwide and in the international infrastructure. He aviation communities. He has appeared as a guest is responsible for speaker or panel moderator at numerous national driving the creation conferences and technical symposia. He also has and application been interviewed on WTOP’s Federal News Radio. of critical service Mr. Messina has more than 26 years of experience offerings for clients in corporate leadership and growth, mission-critical in the Department program management, and technology leadership of Transportation for complex systems of national importance. Before and especially the Federal Aviation Administration. joining Booz Allen Hamilton, he held numerous officer Mr. Messina is currently working with government and and leadership positions in large and small aerospace industry stakeholders on the transformation of the concerns. Mr. Messina holds bachelor’s and master’s US national air transportation system, NextGen. degrees in Mathematics, as well as an M.B.A. In 2009, Mr. Messina received recognition for his leadership on a government task force representing more than 100 stakeholder organizations and 300 Contact Information: aviation professionals. This nearly year-long task force resulted in the redefinition of the future of aviation Fred Messina in the United States. Mr. Messina also orchestrated Vice President the Harvard Executive Session “Assuring NextGen firstname.lastname@example.org Success,” which brought together senior executives 703-377-57818
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