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Taking Stock of the Situation 71 Benchmarking One of the most effective ways to gauge an airport's relative strengths and deficiencies in air service development is to benchmark its catchment area demographics and air service with com- parable peer airports and their respective service areas. Benchmarking is a widely accepted busi- ness practice used to analyze progress against objectives and to compare the productivity and performance of one organization against others. Airports worldwide have adopted financial and quality of service benchmarking as a management tool to enhance efficiency, improve service, and drive down costs. Depending on a facility's number of staff, and their skills and experience, this type of project may be best conducted by an ASD consultant, who can create a quality sam- ple size from his/her airport client and contact lists. Airports Council International (ACI) has issued some reports on benchmarking that may be useful in informing an ASD team's approach and effort (10). ACI listed several categories of air- port performance that can be benchmarked: Traffic activity [e.g., total passengers (originating and connecting), total operations] Physical facilities (e.g., land area, runways, taxiways, apron; terminals, concourses, gates, park- ing spaces) Aeronautical charges--airfield (e.g., landing and take-off fees, gates fees, environmental fees) Airfield, terminal, landside processing efficiency (e.g., runways, taxiway, aircraft processing efficiency; terminal passenger flows and processing efficiency) Aeronautical-related charges--terminal (e.g., ticket counter space, loading bridges, baggage processing/handling, passenger lounges) Quality of community airline service (e.g., number of airlines, routes, and frequencies, aircraft types and fleet mix, competition and airfares) ACI also lists several other performance variables that may be useful to examine as well. Part of the challenge of an effective benchmarking exercise is determining which airports should be selected as peers. In many ways, that selection may depend on the particular interest of the ASD team. At a minimum, the ASD team should understand how its airline service met- rics rate against other airports in its immediate vicinity. Should a more in-depth benchmarking be needed, the ASD team may need to engage outside help either to analyze its own metrics or to get data on and analyze its airport's performance against other facilities. Summary Before an airport's air service can be improved, the ASD team needs a complete picture of the air service currently being provided and how well it is meeting the needs of the traveling public. Obtaining this complete picture involves assessing destinations, load factors, and how convenient and affordable flights are. After understanding the current situation at the airport, the ASD team's next step is to exam- ine demand--who the major travel groups are in the community and where they travel. Assessing the facility is an important step. The airport's physical plant characteristics--on both the airside and the groundside--can also be critical determinants of whether carriers serve there, and whether passengers come. To obtain a realistic perspective on the service at the airport being evaluated, its demograph- ics, traffic, and operations are best compared with similar airports.