Taking Flight: Overcoming Challenges in Airport Development
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Hopper, Anna Karin
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CitationHopper, Anna Karin. 2021. Taking Flight: Overcoming Challenges in Airport Development. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractHow is it possible to overcome the challenges of providing public goods that create significant negative local externalities? Sometimes called ‘public bads,’ these goods are characterized by the combination of dispersed benefits and concentrated costs, which often lead to high levels of civil society resistance. Deciding where to locate them and how to expand them can therefore be a difficult political issue.
I investigate this theoretical problem through the specific case of airport development. Airports provide crucial transit connections and economic opportunities for cities while also creating additional noise pollution and traffic for nearby residents. They are notoriously difficult to build or expand, often plagued with indecision, delays, and cost overruns. Throughout three papers, this dissertation asks: what explains the differences in airport development project outcomes? I explore several potential explanations, including variation in demand or other technical factors, institutional frameworks, levels of civil society resistance, and the political issue space.
The first paper, “A Risk Assessment Framework of Airport Development Projects,” provides insight into the context surrounding airport expansion. Through 10 short case studies, I identify and analyze six main areas of development risk that impact the success or failure of projects, as well as five types of relative risk determinants that influence the likelihood of different risks. The paper highlights the need for careful evaluation of risks prior to development projects, including—particularly relevant for this dissertation—political and environmental risk.
The second paper, “The (Non)-Impact of Institutions on Airport Development,” examines one possible explanation for difficulty in airport expansion: that institutional variation in airport administration and ownership affects the ease with which development can occur. It focuses on two theoretically-motivated institutional variables: an airport’s level of privatization (e.g. privatized, corporatized, state-run), and level of government regulation (e.g. city, state, national). Using an original dataset of expansion outcomes at the busiest airports in the world in 2012, the paper employs multilevel modeling along with logistic and linear regression techniques to test for a relationship between the aforementioned institutional factors and airports’ runway capacity expansion. In contrast with theoretical expectations, the paper finds no discernible connection between these characteristics. The paper’s conclusions also highlight the need for more nuanced case study analysis of airport development projects.
In the third paper, “London’s Airport Capacity Problems,” I use case study analysis
to investigate three additional potential explanations for airport expansion approval. In contrast to existing hypotheses related to demand and civil society resistance, the paper argues that the national configuration of the issue space can allow politicians in advanced democracies to overcome the usual barriers that prevent approval of these sorts of infrastructure projects. I examine this under-appreciated factor in the process by looking at two cases of airport expansion in London between 2008 and 2018, one where party and legislative approval occurred and one where it did not, showing that the reorganization of the issue space caused by the surprise Brexit vote offered a new strategic opportunity to over- come entrenched gridlock by reframing the issue of expansion.
Taken together, these papers offer new insights on a rarely-studied topic in political science—airport development—in the context of a well-known political science problem—the fundamental challenges of public bads.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368351
- FAS Theses and Dissertations