Safety is, and will remain, the highest priority in all plans to increase capacity for the future. As demand for air travel continues to rise, it is clear that the NAS capacity must grow. Both the number of airport operations and en route capacity must increase simultaneously to accommodate the expanding needs. Neither can realistically be treated separately from the other, but for the sake of convenience, this chapter first discusses increasing the arrival/departure rate, then en route issues.

The number of aircraft operations is expected to increase by about 30 percent over the next decade. Although most parts of the NAS are able to handle current traffic, increasing operations will strain system capabilities unless capacity grows to match demand. The FAA has identified and corrected several existing “choke points” in the NAS. While relatively few airports and airways experience large numbers of delays, the effects snowball into disruptions throughout the rest of the system, especially in adverse weather. Capacity must be increased to manage future growth. The FAA is implementing a number of programs to increase the capacity and efficiency of the NAS. Industry itself is also taking specific actions to address some of the problems.


Relatively few routes and airports experience the majority of congestion and delays. In the case of airports, peak demand occurs for only a few, isolated hours each day, so even the busiest hubs are able to handle their traffic load most of the time. Adjusting the number of arrivals and departures to get rid of those peak demand times would ease congestion throughout the system.


At some major hubs, adding new runways or improving existing runways can increase capacity by as much as 50 percent, but the process is complex and time-consuming. During the planning phase, the appropriate FAA offices must review the new runway’s impact on airspace, air traffic control (ATC) procedures, navigational aids (NAVAIDs), and obstructions. New instrument procedures must be developed, and economic feasibility and risk analysis may be required.

The next phase includes land acquisition and environmental assessment. Often, the airports that most need new runways are “landlocked” by surrounding developed areas, so obtaining land can be difficult. On top of that, residents and businesses in the area sometimes resist the idea of building a new runway. Concerns range from increased noise to safety and environmental impact. While environmental assessments and impact statements are essential, they take time. The FAA is working with other federal authorities to streamline the process of obtaining permits. Good community relations are extremely important, and working with airport neighbors can often address many of the questions and concerns.

The next phase of development involves obtaining the funding. A new runway typically costs between 100 million and one billion dollars. Money comes from airport cash flow, revenue and general obligation bonds, airport improvement program grants, passenger facility charges, and state and local funding programs.

The last phase includes the actual construction of the new runway, which may take as many as three years to complete. In all, over 350 activities are necessary to commission one new runway. The FAA has created the Runway Template Action Plan to help airport authorities coordinate the process.