Which are the world’s best airports?

I heard that President Obama’s speech today cited this study of the world’s top airports.   Singapore and Incheon (South Korea) take numbers one and two respectively, and the U.S. does not show up until Cincinnati [sic] appears at #30.  I can vouch that Singapore indeed has an awesome airport.

Nonetheless, might I submit that the entire method here is fallacious, at least for purposes of public policy?  An economist would rank airports on the basis of combined consumer plus producer surplus.  In that approach, busy airports which attract a lot of customers will tend to fare much better, even if those airports experience more glitches.  Because America is a large country, with a paucity of passenger rail service, we should expect its airports bear a relatively high burden and indeed they do.

Of course busyness of airport does not map directly into surplus, because price and service quality matter too.  Still, you can take volume as a very rough proxy for benefits experienced, noting that a truly terrible airport actually will lose some business.  Here is a list of the world’s busiest airports, the U.S. does quite well, and indeed #1 is Atlanta.  Singapore is suddenly #15 and Incheon falls to #29.

You still might think that American airports require lots of upgrades, and maybe so.  But also keep in mind that air travel in this country has declined since 9/11, some regional airports are being shuttered or are losing flights, so it is not obvious that quality or size of airport is the relevant binding constraint in every instance.

What should you make of the method of a study which ranks Cincinnati as the best airport in the United States?

The survey methodology for the study is here, consumer surplus is not mentioned.


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