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Airport 2050 - Part 3: How to Build an Airport, without Building an Airport

Meeting Details:

Next meeting: Feb 14th: 8:00pm, Zoom:


Question of the Week:

1) Can high speed rail increase capacity at existing airports?

2) Will high speed rail make small town airports redundant?



  • Blue Skies Competition/White Paper

  • Faster Headlines

  • Airport 2050: Why is air and ground separate?


Faster Headlines

Wheels on Steel:

Railway Age

Youtube | Scott Dailey

The Hill

Roads & Bridges

Miami Herald


ABC News 7 Chicago

In the Tube:

Open PR

Ted (Video)

Up in the Air:

Youtube | B1M

Youtube | Wendover Productions


Infrastructure Update:

There has been no change since the last issue. The Build Back Better plan continues to be negotiated, and it is looking less likely that the existing bill will make it to a vote.


What Happened to Old Airports?

By WiHST member: Noah Sobczak

The thoughts behind this article mostly revolve around airports in towns of less than 60,000 inhabitants. While the ideas remain the same, they become less of a possibility in larger towns.

Thinking far into the future, as rail is built through cities once “disconnected” from their closest metropolis and the need for short-haul flights is greatly reduced, if not eliminated, the thought arises, what do you do with the airport? Now yes, in most cases the airport will remain for a variety of reasons (hobbyists, extra city connection, private companies, etc.) but what about completely redundant places? Airports are often located not far from the city if not directly in them so developing them into something attractive isn’t a monumental task. After all the land the airport sits on is already connected to city utilities, almost perfectly flat, and mostly empty. It’s a blank canvas waiting to be painted into a masterpiece.

Fortunately, some metropolises in the United States have already converted old airstrips to new developments. Austin converted their old airport into apartment complexes and parks. New York took an airstrip and turned it into a practice facility for the NYPD and storage for garbage disposal vehicles. And Denver turned a former airport terminal into an entertainment facility. (Source: USAToday) The sky is quite literally the limit on what you can do with abandoned airports. But for smaller towns, some of those ideas don’t make much sense. I have a few proposals for such small-town airports.

If a brand new HSR line runs through the city’s airport it would be the perfect location for new mixed zoning areas. Create walkable living places that centralize around the rail station. Much like the cities of Europe and abroad the rail station becomes something larger than a place that trains stop at. Using West Bend, WI as an example, you could work in Milwaukee and every day walk to the train station from your condo/apartment/house while still enjoying small city living. Connecting towns where people have trouble finding work to the metropolis that posts Now Hiring signs everywhere would benefit both ends of the line.

Assuming the airport is farther away from the city a park would be the perfect use of the airport. Planting trees and reintegrating nature into a once paved field would offer animals a new place to live. Wisconsin especially has destroyed its forests and bringing back nature could make a nature preserve the town's selling point for new people moving in.

Finally, if the airport is somewhere between near and far, a new industrial park would be feasible, if not the best possible idea for the city. A place for a new business to set up shop, offices for downtown companies that can’t afford the price tag of the largest office towers of the megacity. Apartments and new housing development would also make sense in this area providing housing for the new residents of small-town USA.

All things considered; airports are still very useful assets to a city. But a HSR line could change the city forever bringing new possibilities for development and growth. Could all these ideas be wrong? Yes, but they might just be what a small-town needs.


The Airport of 2050:

Part 3, How to Build a New Airport without actually building one

This whole semester, the group will be studying the airport of the future and what role high speed ground transportation will play. This is the 3rd of a ten week project looking at all aspects of the airport from airline profitability, to sustainability, to national defense. So check back every week!

For nearly 100 years Chicago has been in a search for a new airport. Back in 1927 a 1 square mile plot of land on the outskirts of the city became Chicago’s very first airport. Named Midway in 1949, this airport became the nation’s busiest airport by the 1940s. However, then the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 arrived.

These jetliners were too big for Midway’s short 6,000 ft runway. So, the City of Chicago then decided to repurpose an WWII Air Force Base way out in the suburbs called Orchard Field. This field originally built aircraft for the military during World War II, and with the airports 10,000 ft runways would be able to easily handle the new arriving commercial jetliners. So thus, Orchard Field was renamed O’Hare, in honor of World War II flying ace Butch O’Hare, and the O’Hare International Airport we know today was born.

However, by the 1980s O’Hare field was now overcrowded as United and American built their mega hubs there. Even Midway, which was nearly abandoned with the opening of O’Hare, was back to peak capacity once Southwest Airlines built a focus city in 1980s. So, in the late 80’s, Chicago Mayor Richard Daily Jr proposed building a new 3rd airport for Chicago on the south side in what is today Lake Calumet, but lack of funding from the State of Illinois killed that project. The State of Illinois then proposed a 3rd airport 40 miles from downtown Chicago in a small village called Peotone. The idea was rail would link the airport to downtown Chicago. While the Peotone Airport project is technically still active, eminent domain lawsuits and lack of support from the airlines have stalled the project.

Of course, then there were the renovation of airports and Gary, IN (25 miles southwest of Chicago) and Rockford, Il (85 miles west of Chicago); both cities having been former industrial towns. In the early 2000’s new passenger terminals were built at each airport and some airline service was begun, but ultimately the airlines pulled out of Gary, while Rockford still maintains a handful of flights by Allegiant Airline, but no major airline. But both airports remain underutilized today for passenger service.

Why did all these attempts at building new airports fail?

There was a misconception hat if you build it, the airlines will come... but that is not true. Rather, it is about connectivity.

Airlines are transportation networks. The power of a global airline such as American or Southwest is to connect cities across the nation. By bringing everyone together and the sending passengers, luggage, and cargo onto their destination; these airports become portals to the world. However, you need to be close to a large population to base to not only provide passengers, but also workers. Therefore O’Hare, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Dallas with their long runways, ample space, and large populations have always been the location of major hub airports.

The airlines have huge investments in the existing hubs. Not only in infrastructure, but also in people. So United and American don’t want to give up O’Hare when it is not to their advantage (In fact, United would only move to Denver International Airport if Denver Stapleton was closed). So, the major airlines are not going to come if an airport is built. The airlines want more out of existing airports!

Therefore, the major airlines would support high speed rail because it increases capacity at existing hub airports. With replacing short flights with high-speed rail trains that the airline can sell tickets on, United would free up 2-3 gates in the C concourse, and half of its gates in the F concourse as passengers could be moved to high-speed trains.This would have a chain effect throughout the schedule meaning United could operate more mid-day flights to New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and would result in opening gates for new international services to possibly Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, Singapore, or even Sydney. The result is a net increase in utilization for everyone.


Wisconsin Valley Video:

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