An aerotropolis is an urban plan in which the layout, infrastructure, and economy is centered on an airport, existing as an airport city. It is similar in form and function to a traditional metropolis, which contains a central city core and its commuter-linked suburbs. The term was first proposed by New York commercial artist Nicholas DeSantis, whose drawing of a skyscraper rooftop airport in the city was presented in the November 1939 issue of Popular Science. The term was revived and substantially extended by academic and air commerce expert Dr. John D. Kasarda in 2000, based on his prior research on airport-driven economic development.
Airports offer connectivity to suppliers, customers, and enterprise partners worldwide. Some of the businesses around airports are even more dependent on distant suppliers or customers than those located nearby. The aerotropolis encompasses a range of commercial facilities supporting both aviation-linked businesses and the millions of air travelers who pass through the airport annually.
In and around airports, we generally find industries related to time-sensitive manufacturing, e-commerce fulfillment, telecommunications and logistics; hotels, retail outlets, entertainment complexes and exhibition centers; and offices for business people who travel frequently by air or engage in global commerce. Clusters of business parks, logistics parks, industrial parks, distribution centers, information technology complexes and wholesale merchandise marts locate around the airport and along the transportation corridors radiating from them.
As increasing numbers of businesses and commercial service providers cluster around airports, the aerotropolis is becoming a major urban destination where air travelers and locals alike can work, shop, meet, exchange knowledge, conduct business, eat, sleep, and be entertained without going more than 15 minutes from the airport.
According to Kasarda, airports have evolved as drivers of business location and urban development in the 21st century in the same way as did highways in the 20th century, railroads in the 19th century and seaports in the 18th century. As economies become increasingly globalized and dependent on electronic commerce, air commerce and the speed and agility it provides to the movement of people and goods has become its logistical backbone.
Some aerotropolises have arisen spontaneously due to demand, but a lack of planning and infrastructure development can create bottlenecks. Principles of urban planning and sustainability are essential to the creation of a successful aerotropolis. Governance bodies composed of airport management and city and regional government officials, together with local business and economic development leaders should lead planning and development efforts for the aerotropolis.
Criticism of the concept
One major criticism is the question of whether oil will stay relatively inexpensive and widely available in the future or whether a downturn in oil production will adversely affect aerotropolises. Others have criticized the aerotropolis model for overstating the number and types of goods that travel by air. While many types of high-value goods, like electronics, tend to travel by air, larger, bulkier items like cars and grain do not. Those who point this out suggest that the relationship between seaports, airports, and rail facilities should be studied in more depth.
List of aerotropolises
While no quantitative model exists to determine if an airport and its surrounding real estate can be seen as an aerotropolis, a qualitative list has been developed by researchers at the Center for Air Commerce at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This list is updated frequently as new projects are announced and economic development related to airports accelerates. They choose to define sites as "operational" or "under development," and criteria include:
- Demonstrated commitment to the aerotropolis or airport city model as seen in the establishment of aerotropolis steering committees, strategic planning, and development initiatives.
- Government/regulatory support of the aerotropolis or airport city through aerotropolis legislation, tax incentives or other mechanisms.
- Media announcements by proponents with substantiated evidence that an aerotropolis or airport city initiative is moving forward.
The African Aerotropolis
In September 2011, the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality in South Africa officially announced its intention to transform the municipality into a functioning Aerotropolis. Prof. John D. Kasarda was consulted to define roadmap for the preparation of the planning guidelines. Ekurhuleni also appointed METROPLAN Town and Regional Planners in order to prepare a Regional Spatial Development Framework - which is to be the primary planning document of the municipality in facilitating the transformation of Ekurhuleni into the first African Aerotropolis. Pieter Swanepoel, the manager of the Aerotropolis Project, insists that the South African Aerotropolis will be formed on the basis of the strength of the OR Tambo International Airport, and that it will be the long awaited restructuring tool that will put South Africa on the world map, and transform Ekurhuleni into the "gateway to Africa". Dr. Marinda Schoonraad, the consultant town planner and urban designer for the project stresses the importance that regardless of the positive examples in Europe, Asia and Americas, a strong accent should be put on effort to create a unique identity which will put the concept of the Aerotropolis into the African context.
- Kasarda, John D., "The Way Forward," Global Airport Cities, 2010. http://www.aerotropolis.com/files/GlobalAirportCities.pdf
- Kasarda, John D., 3-D Aerotropolis Schematic with Airport City Center. http://www.aerotropolis.com/files/AerotropolisSchematicWithCore.jpg
- "Skyscraper Airport for City of Tomorrow". Popular Science (November 1939): pp. 70-71. http://books.google.com/books?id=QywDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA70&dq=aerotropolis+popular+science&hl=en&ei=CqGYT8byCKei2wW4tYjzBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=book-thumbnail&resnum=1&ved=0CDEQ6wEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Kasarda, John D. "Logistics & the Rise of the Aerotropolis". Real Estate Issues, Vol. 25 (Winter 2000/2001): pp. 43–48.
- Nasser, Haya El (September 25, 2003). "New 'cities' springing up around many U.S. airports". USA Today.
- Freestone, R. (2009). Planning, Sustainability and Airport-Led Urban Development. International Planning Studies, 14(2), 161-176. doi:10.1080/13563470903021217
- "About the Aerotropolis," http://www.aerotropolis.com/airportCities/about-the-aerotropolis
- Charles, M. B., Barnes, P., Ryan, N., & Clayton, J. (2007). Airport Futures: Towards a Critique of the Aerotropolis Model. Futures, 39 (9), 1009-1028.
- Kasarda, John D., 2013 Aerotropolis Status List. Hosted by Aerotropolis.com at http://www.aerotropolis.com/files/2013_AerotropolisStatus.pdf
- Kasarda, John D., "Criteria for Aerotropolis Selection," Aerotropolis at Center for Air Commerce at Kenan-Flagler Business School, Website, University of North Carolina. Hosted at http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/KI/airCommerce/files/2011_CriteriaForAerotropolis.pdf
- "Aerotropolis facts". City of Ekurhuleni Website. September 2011
- "Aerotropolis concept at the heart of Ekurhuleni’s new development thrust" by Tracy Hancock. Engineering News. 14 October 2011. 
- "First aerotropolis in Africa is launched" by Annalie Reid. Kempton Express. 15 July 2011 
- "Status Quo Report". RSDF for Region A. Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality. February 2012. Page 2
- "Clean Take-off?" by Engela Petzer. Urban Green File. June 2012
- "PLANNING THE AFRICAN AEROTROPOLIS" by Dr. Marinda Schoonraad. METROPLAN NEWSLETTER. March 2012. Page 1-2