Two new studies find that within the next 10 years, 24 of the country's busiest 30 airports, including Newark Liberty International Airport, will be facing Thanksgiving-like congestion year-round.

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The companion studies, by the U.S. Travel Association and the Eno Center for Transportation, found that infrastructure is already struggling to keep up with current air travel demand. Passenger volume is expected to grow which could overwhelm the system completely and hurt the economy as a result.

"Travel has been one of the leading sectors of the economic recovery, but that success won't be sustainable unless our infrastructure keeps pace," said Roger Dow, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO. "Every projection holds that the demand for travel will continue to dramatically rise, which portends terrific things for the growth of jobs and tax revenues. But that rising demand will be stifled without a significant effort to modernize infrastructure and unfortunately the moment of greatest need has already arrived."

"Air travel is going to continue to grow and as it does, congestion will increase and it will resemble the day of travel before Thanksgiving and that's a real problem because the reliability of air travel will go down, business travelers will not be able to get to their meetings on time and families won't be able to visit their loved ones as easily," said Erik Hansen, director of domestic policy at U.S. Travel Association.

"That will have a real cost to the economy as well because as travel grows, jobs grow and the economy grows. If air travel slows down, that means the rest of the country slows down and that's a real problem."

According to U.S Travel's study Thanksgiving in the Skies:

  • 24 of the top 30 U.S. airports will experience passenger levels equal to the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at least one day during the average week within five years.
  • One in five of our major airports are already experiencing Thanksgiving-like congestion levels at least one day every week, including John F. Kennedy International in New York, McCarran International in Las Vegas, Orlando International, and Chicago Midway International.
  • Within the next decade, 25 of the nation's top 30 airports will experience the same congestion as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving two days each week.
  • For six of these airports, this will happen by 2016.
  • Within the next 15 years, every other day will feel like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at over half of America's largest airports.
  • From 2004 to 2012, delayed arrivals on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving were 2.22 percent higher than the national average. While a 2.22 percent increase may seem small, adding it to the number of total arrivals in 2012 would translate to an additional 119,000 arrival delays each year, or 329 arrival delays each day.

The Eno Center's Study, entitled Addressing Future Capacity Needs in the U.S. Aviation System discovered the following:

  • The U.S. aviation system is responsible for 4.9-5.2 percent of nation's GDP (about 10 million jobs).
  • The U.S. economy could lose out on more than $6 billion in travel spending by 2016 due to unmet demand at Newark and JFK Airports alone. That estimate could balloon to a $48 billion-per-year loss by 2034.

The Eno Study also recommended the following changes:

  • Restructure the federal Airport Improvement Program to target investment to the greatest national benefits.
  • Create a new federal discretionary grant program to address improvements and innovation in airport operations.
  • Explore the idea of separating the air traffic control and safety functions of the Federal Aviation Administration to accelerate the delivery of the NextGen air traffic control modernization program.
  • Relax the current federal restrictions on the airport Passenger Facility Charge to allow airports to raise additional revenues for investment.

"Next week, huge numbers of Americans are going to experience first-hand that the U.S. transportation system is no longer the envy of the world-in fact, we've fallen way behind our global competitors," said Dow. "It has become clear that the federal government can no longer care for our infrastructure on its own. In releasing these studies, the message we are sending is that every option needs to be on the table."

"First of all, we need to modernize our air traffic control system. When you get in a car, you have GPS to get where you need to go. Airplanes use radar which is technology from World War II. We need to switch it to GPS to become more efficient. We also need to invest more in our airports which means airports and Washington will have to pay a little more. Congress is standing in the way. It'll cost much less in the long run," said Hansen.