Airport Expansion Is Big for Philly Economy

It's full speed ahead for the airport: Larger planes, more international visitors, and (hopefully) shorter lines.



Now that a long-awaited settlement between the Philadelphia International Airport and neighboring Tinicum Township is a done deal, it’s an interesting time to examine the potential economic impact of the airport’s expansion plan.

It features an extended runway to accommodate larger planes; a new “automated people mover system;” a consolidated rental car area to cut down on traffic; and a redesign to Terminals B and C (which I know from personal experience can get very busy).

Airport officials have been saying for quite some time that the economic impact of PHL would grow from $14.4 billion annually to $26.4 billion in 2025. CEO Mark Gale says he plans to release updated figures in the future.

Perhaps the most important piece of the expansion is the extension of runway 27L to 12,000 feet, which will make room for larger aircraft and more international routes.

“The importance of an extended runway would attract to Philadelphia more long-haul jets like the 747s, 767s and 777s, and increase our international attractiveness and our appeal to be a destination of choice,” said Elizabeth Barber, associate dean at Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management. “Having more planes landing from international hubs as nonstop will increase our international visitor numbers.”

The top three countries bringing international tourists to the Philadelphia are the U.K., Germany and France, said Barber. But a longer runway could mean more visitors from China, India and countries throughout Asia. That could make Philadelphia competitive with other international aviation hubs like Newark Liberty International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

The expanded capacity of PHL could even mean more multinational corporations setting up shop in Philadelphia.

“Corporations want to house themselves in places where their employees and customers can get in and out easily,” said Barber. “You’ll find that more corporations go to airports with more routes. Extended runways at PHL would help the airport expand its already good reputation and attract new visitors.”

“Easy to deal with” has not been a phrase associated with PHL over the years. Travelers have long complained about lengthy lines and flight delays. In fact, it was named the sixth-worst airport in the United States by last year. The site claims that the amenities “are not so bad” but “what really irritates travellers at PHL is the long security queues. Couple that with some not-so-pleasant staff, and you’re sure to have enough unhappy people fly away from this airport.”

But the new automated people mover system — which can apparently move people between terminals quickly — could help solve logistical problems. Getting to a gate quicker means more time to spend money on food, magazines or gift shop stuff. Also, leaving people with a good experience can entice them to come back.

“I don’t know the downside of expanding the airport to be honest,” said Barber.