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Thursday, Aug. 3, was just another day when Chris Curry, who runs Tallahassee International Airport, had to confront the harsh realities of the airport business.

Curry took part in a panel during an airport convention in Charlotte. Three other airport executives came from major hubs in Atlanta, Charlotte and Seattle; the fourth was from Oakland, Calif., a Southwest Airlines Inc. (LUV) - Get Southwest Airlines Co. Report focus city with a lot of growth by international carriers.

At one point, other airport executives discussed the difficulties of keeping up with passenger demand, even though Atlanta has an ongoing $6 billion improvement project, Charlotte has a $2.5 billion improvement project and Seattle has a $2 billion improvement project. "I wish I had some of the same problems," Curry said.

Since airline deregulation in 1978, airports have been clearly separated into a rigid caste system. At the top are big city airports and hub airports that provide far more air service than can be justified by their city's population. That is perhaps two dozen airports. The rest, if they are lucky, get service to hubs along with a smattering of flights to other destinations.

Tallahassee has flights to Atlanta, to three American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) - Get American Airlines Group, Inc. Report hubs including Miami, and to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa on Silver Airways. It has 20 daily departures and handled 713,986 passengers in 2016.

So Curry looks to the future.

He meets regularly with Southwest executives, hoping to lure service. "I meet with them four times a year," he said, following the panel discussion. He has met with executives of Canadian carriers WestJet and Enerjet. Given Tallahassee's location, he also eyes Latin America for passenger and cargo service.

Nothing to announce yet. But in 2015, the airport changed its name from Tallahassee Regional to Tallahassee International Airport. Curry is working to get a Customers and Border Protection designation for the airport -- another necessity for international service. Additionally, the road to the airport from Interstate 10, four miles away, is being widened.

"Build it and they will come," Curry said.

He offered a quick evaluation of Florida's other airports. Fort Lauderdale International Airport "is busting at the seams," he said, while airports in Miami, Orlando and Tampa have no more space to grow.

That leaves Tallahassee, a state capital as well as the home of a major university, as the logical place to build cargo and passenger infrastructure. Nearby Jacksonville International, also in North Florida, "is on equal footing" with Tallahassee, he said, but Jacksonville caters more to leisure traffic while Tallahassee draws a higher percentage of business travelers.

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Curry's hopefulness casts his panel mates' professed problems in a different light.

At Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International, the world's largest airport with 101 million passengers in 2016, Roosevelt Council, airport general manager, said, that over the next few years, "I will spend $1 billion on parking (and) I can't pay the debt service if I can't fill up my deck." Council worries that Uber and Lyft bring passengers who might otherwise park.

At Charlotte Douglas International, American's second-largest hub and the 10th-largest U.S. airport with 43 million passengers, aviation director Brent Cagle is overseeing a project to add a new runway, 10 new gates, a wider road to front the terminal, a new lobby and wider concourses. "The lobby was built for 8 million passengers {annually}," Cagle said. "We run 12 million through it."

At Seattle Tacoma International Airport, the ninth-largest U.S. airport with 45 million passengers, traffic grew 7% in 2016 and international traffic grew 11%. "We can't keep up," said Lance Lyttle, managing director for aviation.

At Oakland International Airport, 36th largest with 11 million passengers, international traffic grew 108% in June as British Airways, Level and Norwegian Airlines all offered new service. Southwest has about 120 daily departures to 30 cities, but aviation director Bryant Francis wants more domestic service, including on American, which flies only to Phoenix.

Dallas would make sense, but the patient Francis noted: "I want it to make sense for American; I want it to be the right time for American, with the appropriate aircraft and schedule, and I want to be set up for success."

Tallahassee has American flights to Charlotte, Dallas and Miami. It could use some of the other stuff.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.