Airports and seaports are the lifeblood of commerce, both domestic and international. Vitally important to trade, the efficiency and effectiveness of port services have a direct impact on the competitiveness of industrial sectors, industries, and entire nations.
This policy brief provides an overview and analysis of the status of, and challenges facing, America’s ports, and recommendations to improve port infrastructure.
Adequate infrastructure is essential to airport and airline operations.
The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, an inventory of US aviation infrastructure assets developed and maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, has categorized more than 3,300 public-use airports in the USA, including 520 commercial service airports.
And while Covid-19 had an enormous, negative impact on air passenger traffic, cargo volumes have not only held their own but have increased substantially to date, thanks to the expansion of e-commerce.
Nevertheless, the aviation industry continues to be plagued by an increase in flights with poor time performance, attributed to late aircraft arrivals, national aviation system delays, air carrier delays, and weather-related issues.
Even before the onset of the pandemic, the nation’s airports were confronting serious capacity problems.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, over a two-year period passenger travel jumped from 964.7 million to 1.2 billion per year; however, flight service increased by less than 5%, resulting in huge delays.
The burgeoning customer base was outpacing the availability of terminal, gate, and ramp space. Customers have not been happy. J.D. Power surveys of airport satisfaction among travels continue to register stagnant traveler satisfaction rates.
America’s seaports are vitally important to the national economy and inter-modal transportation system. US ports are gateways for domestic and international trade with more than 99% of the cargo entering the United States arriving by ship.
More than 360 commercial seaports nationwide help to move these goods to their destinations in communities across the nation. US ports also serve as a significant resource for national defense and emergency preparedness.
In dollar terms, over $6 billion in goods are handled each weekday by ports with $378 billion in tax revenue generated by port activity. The value of economic activity related to ports equals $5.4 trillion annually.
Ports and port tenants plan to spend $163 billion from now until 2025. Investments are focused on capacity and efficiency enhancements as maximum vessel size has doubled over the last 15 years.
When it comes to the national economy in 2021, the country’s nine largest ports handled a record of more than 50 million shipping containers, a 16 percent increase from 2020. But this huge volume of traffic caused problems at several US ports.
Dozens of container ships with cargo to unload were forced to queue outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach due to space constraints.
Ports constitute an especially important portion of economic activity in coastal areas, generating many direct and indirect jobs, and are an important source of tax revenue for communities.
The more goods and passengers travel through seaports year-on-year, the more infrastructure, provisions, and associated services are required. These will bring varying degrees of benefits to the economy, and to the country.
For example, the Port of Miami Tunnel, a 4,200-foot bored, undersea tunnel, improves access to the Port helping to keep it competitive and efficient, making sure that traffic does not get snarled to the point of slowing down cargo unloading.
he capacity and condition of port infrastructure (docks, piers, channel harbors) varies across the nation. However, all ports are challenged to maintain their infrastructure in harsh marine environments.
Corrosion from saltwater and deicing salts, constant wet and dry cycles, temperature variations, and more accelerate the rate of decline of everything from cranes to wharf’s.
Wilson Center / ABC Flash Point News 2023.