Experts are predicting significant problems for U.S. airports in the coming years, with the demand from growth exceeding the capacity of available facilities and services. Contributing to this phenomenon will be the rising number of airline passengers and the decrease in the average size of planes. This latter fact is a function of the popularity of single aisle versus double-aisle aircraft and the increasing demand for regional jets. This fact facilitates market flexibility by providing air service where it is wanted. However, this overall decrease in the average size of airliners increases the number of planes. This increase will affect both the National Airspace System (NAS) and the airport systems, testing both of their abilities to handle the increase volume.

Virtually all commercial airports in the United States are owned by state or local governments. Yet, the elsewhere around the world, airports are becoming viewed more as a business enterprise opportunity and less as monopolistic public service. Governments in both developed and developing countries are turning to the private sector for airport development and management. Yet, it appears that the United States resists these types of airport reforms. One potential reason is that these state and local airports have received federal aid for development and construction for decades. Another important factor is that state and local governments can issue tax-exempt bonds to finance airports because they are government-owned facilities. Thus, borrowing can be done at a lower cost than borrowing by private airport owners issuing taxable debt.

All too many U.S. airports are still run in an old-fashioned bureaucratic manner, typical of the pre-deregulation era. Their management style is more passive and risk-averse than that of the world's privatized airports. The U.S. aviation sector could embrace the types of reforms being implemented around the world by privatizing airports and commercializing air traffic control (ATC) services supporting the NAS. Investor-owned airports and commercialized ATC companies can better respond to changing market conditions, and they can freely tap debt and equity markets for capital expansion to meet rising demand. Such enterprises also have greater management flexibility to deal with workforce issues and complex technology implementation. This concept was supported through detailed research by Oxford University scholars, showing that the management approach of privatized airports is significantly more "passenger friendly" than that of traditional airports. Simply put, passenger friendly is good business.

As previously mentioned, with the growing number of airplanes, the congestion of the NAS may threaten the decaying stability of airspace safety. Though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has toiled for years to successfully implement NextGen, the price tag to the taxpayer and the aircraft operator potentially threatens its success. NextGen will also be yet another issue for the stated-owned airport; NextGen will require a major redesign of airports and the ATC support infrastructure. As described by the Congressional Budget Office: “The new system is designed to accommodate up to three times the volume of current air traffic by making more efficient use of both the national airspace and airport facilities.” Pushing the bill for NextGen and airport modifications to the air traveler and the taxpayer could ultimately be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Inflexible government funding sources tends to be static and subject to political considerations. Changes in aviation over the past decade have hurt the FAA's funding base, as a large part of the FAA funding comes from aviation excise taxes, especially the tax on airline tickets. As average ticket prices have fallen over time, airport funding has been squeezed.

Again, the solution appears too simple to gloss over, again. Privatizing the airport system, and possibly the NAS, would allow investors to take advantage of the changing conditions of the market, access private capital for investment, and act in a manor more expeditious and productive than the cumbersome bureaucracy of the Federal, State, or Local governments. However, the challenge ahead for the airports and the ATC system is more complex than just financial. NextGen will be a major paradigm shift, from 20th-century technology of manual air traffic control to the 21st-century technology of automated (but monitored) air traffic management. This quantum leap for the NAS will be more complex and riskier than any other challenge the FAA previously attempted.

Yet, like most of the world, antiquated infrastructure is a costly burden that will not go away, no matter how hard we wish for it to disappear. As with many other critical facets of our complex world, just asking the government to fix the problem and pay for it is not viable. Business is not necessarily always the cure-all for everything, but this unique problem of modernizing the NAS and the airports is a critical component of our national infrastructure which privatization just might be the answer. Regardless, the modernization is coming; embracing a palatable paradigm is far less painful and certainly will prove more productive.

In summary, much of the world is moving to the new paradigm of the airport as a for-profit enterprise; this is more consistent with a dynamic and competitive airline market. Viewing the national airport structure and the NAS as enterprise ventures would benefit from being self-funded, more efficient, and more innovative than the traditional, old-fashioned bureaucratic approach. The market would bear the brunt of progress, not the taxpayer. It is a viable solution whose time is upon us.