Aviation Policy News: A big step forward in air traffic controller training
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Aviation Policy Newsletter

Aviation Policy News: A big step forward in air traffic controller training

Plus: U.S. airports get $1 billion in discretionary grants, how FAA reauthorization could jump-start remote towers, and more.

In this issue:

A Big Step Forward in FAA Controller Training

Responding to the serious shortage of air traffic controllers and the limited capacity of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) training academy in Oklahoma City, new FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker announced a major change this month. Graduates of the colleges and universities that participate in the Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI), and which amend their controller training curriculum to cover what is taught at the FAA academy, will no longer have to attend the academy but, upon passing the usual aptitude test, will be assigned to an FAA operational facility for on-the-job training. This could conceivably double the annual introduction of air traffic controller trainees to on-the-job training.

One of the causes of the current controller shortage is the FAA’s own making. In early 2014, as I reported in the Feb. 2014 issue of this newsletter, FAA’s new plan to increase ethnic and gender diversity of the controller workforce went into operation. The program focused on large-scale recruiting from the general public (“off the street”) that would require all applicants to complete a detailed biographical questionnaire (BQ) in addition to the normal aptitude test. The large backlog of Collegiate Training Initiative graduates who had been waiting several years to apply (due in part to shutdowns of the training academy thanks to federal budget problems) were not given priority and had to pass the same tests as off-the-street applicants.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) went to battle for the CTI graduates. In a 2014 hearing, she asked then-Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx why only a small fraction of those graduates were ‘passing’ the biographical questionnaire (whose scoring method was never revealed). Foxx said he would ask FAA Administrator Michael Huerta about this, but no explanation was forthcoming. A class-action lawsuit was launched on behalf of CTI graduates, and I learned in researching this article that it is still under way, taking depositions.

As I noted in 2014, The Wall Street Journal obtained results from the first round of FAA’s off-the-street hiring process (which the CTI graduates also had to endure). Of those who passed the biographical questionnaire and aptitude test, 65% were CTI graduates, former military controllers, and others with aviation work history. The pass rate for CTI grads was 12.6% compared with only 3.7% for all the others. Since that 3.7% included former military controllers, it’s impossible to know how few truly off-the-street applicants actually passed. None of this deterred FAA from continuing to this process. The FAA Managers Association put a brief dissent on their website (but nothing in their magazine) criticizing the new program and calling for transparency in hiring.

So in June 2016, the House Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing on air traffic control (ATC) staffing, with bipartisan support for at least exempting CTI graduates and former military and contract-tower controllers from the BQ, as House Resolution 5292 proposed doing. A version of those ideas made it into the FAA reauthorization bill that year, requiring that 50% of would-be controllers come from CTI or military/contract towers and only 50% from off-the-street recruitment, only the latter of whom would need to pass the BQ. This small win did not stop the ongoing class action lawsuit by Michael Pearson of Curry, Pearson & Wooten and co-counsel Mountain States Legal Foundation. There was a bit more progress in late 2019. In the 2020 defense authorization bill, Congress included the Air Traffic Controller Hiring Reform Act. It required FAA to prioritize hiring veterans and CTI graduates, abolishing the previous limit of 50%.

All the previous reforms still required all those who passed the entry tests to attend the training academy in Oklahoma City, which has become a bottleneck in producing new air traffic controllers. FAA Administrator Whitaker has eliminated or greatly reduced that training academy bottleneck, for which we should all be grateful.

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FAA Awards $1 Billion Discretionary Airport Grants: Why?

On Feb. 15, FAA proudly announced $1 billion worth of discretionary grants to airports large and small. Most were multiples of $1 million, and of the handful less than that sum, the smallest was $261,250 awarded to Bemidji Regional Airport in Minnesota.

After crunching the numbers of all 105 grants, I was surprised to learn that 64% of the total went to airports designated by FAA as large or medium hubs. The seven largest grants were to the following airports at this cost to taxpayers:

Fort Lauderdale (FLL)$50 million
Chicago O’Hare (ORD)$40 million
Austin (AUS)$39.5 million
Washington Dulles (IAD)$35 million
Los Angeles International (LAX)$31 million
San Francisco International (SFO)$31 million

Looking at these numbers, I have to ask, why is sending funds that are borrowed from our grandchildren to large and medium hub airports a priority of our federal government? Of course, some will respond: ‘This is basic infrastructure, and we all know that infrastructure is important to a robust, productive economy.’

Fair enough, but large and medium hub airports are not exactly infant industries. Like the rest of commercial aviation, they have recovered from the brief but painful COVID-19 pandemic-related recession, so that is not a good reason for this new federal spending.

Moreover, large and medium hub airports are self-supporting businesses in a growing industry. They have access to the tax-exempt bond markets for revenue bonds and general obligation bonds. And since Congress two decades ago legalized passenger facility charges (PFCs), commercial airports have had an additional revenue stream which is also bondable and whose proceeds are mostly used to improve airport infrastructure.

A public-choice economist would assess the program as a bipartisan re-election effort, enabling many House and Senate members to announce the airport grants in a ‘See what I’ve done for you’ press release, regardless of whether or not they actually voted for the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA) under which these grants were authorized.

My longer-term worry about grants like these is that—despite being the product of what’s billed as one-time ‘recover from the pandemic’ legislation—airport grant recipients may, in future years, view this federal funding as part of baseline funding expectations. The massive increases in federal funding under both the Trump and Biden administrations were almost entirely funded via borrowed money, which has increased the national debt to more than 100% of the Gross Domestic Product and which the Congressional Budget Office projects will lead to interest payments on said debt eating up increasing shares of the federal budget over the next decade. Such programs should not be repeated.

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New York TRACON, Part 2

In last month’s article about the political obstacles to implementing FAA’s plan to reduce airspace congestion in the New York/Philadelphia region, my informant “X” noted that the number of air traffic controllers at the New York TRACON (N90) has remained static for some time now—and is the farthest below FAA minimum staff requirements of any TRACON—only 54% of the minimum. When I asked why, X replied, “It’s an indication of the N90 culture issue that is discussed internally but never externally. Reportedly, union senior controllers are reluctant to certify new controllers for that particular facility.”

That paragraph led to a lengthy email exchange with another long-time reader of this newsletter, a former engineer at Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) headquarters, who has provided a plausible explanation of this ‘culture problem’ unique to the N90 facility.

The key document is an internal FAA investigation dated June 2, 2005, “New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) Operational Assessment.” To the best of my informant’s knowledge, this document has never been released and claims it reports a nightmarish “culture” at N90, which I will briefly summarize here. The assessment took place from March 2, 2005, to May 6, 2005. It had eight principal findings, three of which are too minor to recount. Here are the other five, according to information provided by the informant.

Finding #4: New York TRACON has the highest overtime cost per operation of any large TRACON.

N90’s cost for overtime was more than 2.5 times that of the next-most-costly TRACON. Its overtime cost was more than the combined overtime cost for the TRACONs of Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Southern California, though it handles fewer operations per controller than they do.

Finding #5: Current scheduling practices require unnecessary overtime to meet operational needs.

N90 uses a three-team scheduling system with negotiated staffing numbers that are divorced from actual traffic demands. This schedule “triggers overtime expenditures as a matter of course.” This schedule puts far more controllers on duty than needed on weekdays, leading to lots of overtime on weekends. No other large TRACON uses this schedule.  

Finding #6: Schedule manipulation, low time-on-position, inappropriate use of sick leave, and high rates of [workers comp programs] contribute to N90’s high cost per air traffic operation.

Over the course of a year, N90 controllers manage to always use 100% of the sick leave earned. In the previous year, sick leave absences and annual leave accounted for 56% of its overtime costs. “In addition, the team found that union control of the schedule facilitates manipulation that results in unnecessary overtime and habitual overstaffing of the facility.” The team also learned that, unlike most TRACONS that have an automated “sign in/sign out” tracking system, N90’s is manual. Misuse of sick leave was also identified as a way to generate additional overtime for co-workers. And workers’ compensation claims, mainly for stress, “are clearly excessive.”

Finding #7: Despite a sharp decrease in traffic counts in the Islip area, staffing levels [for this sector] have remained constant.

Consequently, the cost per operation in this sector soared to $54.79, compared with $17.49 for John F. Kennedy International Airport and $14.70 for Newark Liberty International Airport. Some 38 controllers remained in place to handle 33% less traffic.

Finding #8: A culture of insubordination and intimidation exists at the New York TRACON that requires management attention to prevent derogation of safety.

The team reported, “The union refused to allow controllers to speak to members of the assessment team unless a union representative was present.” They discovered “evidence of local union officials engaging in physical intimidation and harassment of non-bargaining unit employees.” There’s more detail along these lines, but you can get the picture.

In its conclusion, the team recommended some management reforms and that “all relevant information be turned over to the DOT Inspector General for further review.”

This is a devastating report about a safety-related facility that was (or is) out of control. So I queried my informant: What ever happened as a result of this assessment? Here is what he and I know, as of now.

The same day the assessment was released, the Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General office released a one-page statement, saying, “We have received FAA’s report and are reviewing the findings and recommendations.” Near the bottom of the page it says, “we are establishing an on-site presence at the TRACON, for an indeterminate period.”

The next day, June 3, FAA released a two-page statement that said, “As a result of the investigation’s findings, FAA is immediately acting to curb scheduling abuses that drive excessive overtime spending, address reports of intimidation and insubordination, and ensure controllers’ adherence to existing high safety standards.”

But to the best of my knowledge (and my informant’s), there have been no follow-up reports on this out-of-control TRACON by the Inspector General, Government Accountability Office, or FAA. It is now 2024, 19 years after this assessment, that N90 was being used by a portion of its employees for personal gain at the potential expense of aviation safety. We still hear about an N90 culture problem, but nobody will speak or write about its current status.

I reported last month that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) intervened to block a negotiated deal to transfer the Newark portion of N90’s duties to the Philadelphia TRACON, which may have been a part of the original (later abandoned) Metroplex plan to reduce the severe congestion and delays in the New York airspace. If conditions similar to those documented in FAA’s 2005 assessment are still extant at N90, one can see why the union would want to retain the status quo, with its benefits of loads of overtime, sick leave, and workers’ compensation for stress. The question someone in Congress should address to FAA Administrator Whitaker is, how much of those abuses are still common practice at N90, and how and when is this going to be fixed?

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FAA Reauthorization Could Jump-Start Remote Towers
By Marc Scribner

Earlier this month, the Senate passed its FAA reauthorization bill out of committee, seven months after the House had passed its version. Both bills largely perpetuate the status quo and decline to make major changes in aviation policy that would generate the greatest benefits, such as badly needed air traffic control governance reform.

While not as ambitious, both bills do attempt to encourage the adoption of remote and digital air traffic control towers, another area where the U.S. continues to lag peer countries. The House bill’s attempt mostly fails in this regard. But if minor tweaks to the Senate bill are made and adopted by both chambers, Congress could finally clear a path to remote tower deployment in the U.S.

Last year, the House quickly moved and passed its FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 3935) on July 20 in a bipartisan vote of 351-61. After seven months of behind-the-scenes partisan negotiations, the Senate Commerce Committee was finally able to meet and approve its FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023 (S. 1939) by voice vote on Feb. 8. As of this writing, it is unclear when it will reach the Senate floor.

Readers of this newsletter are likely familiar with the bureaucratic problems facing remote tower deployments in the United States. FAA has imposed ad hoc, expensive requirements on remote tower technology vendors that look nothing like international best practices. Due to FAA’s Kafkaesque certification process, Saab and Searidge withdrew as technology providers from the two most promising remote tower projects in the U.S. These related debacles are discussed in detail in the May and Nov. 2023 editions of this newsletter.

The solution to FAA’s regulatory dithering is for Congress to mandate that FAA establish a formal, transparent remote tower certification process. This would allow airport sponsors and vendors to clearly understand their obligations throughout the process, as well as allow Congress to conduct better oversight of FAA.

Unfortunately, Section 529 of the House bill misses the mark. Rather than breaking the bureaucratic logjam, it orders another study to examine “the viability and feasibility of remote tower technology” before FAA can begin establishing a certification process. This is bizarre because it ignores that Congress already ordered essentially the same study in the 2018 FAA reauthorization (Section 161) when it created the remote tower pilot program.

Since then, MITRE Corporation’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development worked with FAA to develop the remote tower camera visibility toolkit and siting analysis. An Aug. 2023 presentation from FAA provides an updated look at FAA’s work on remote tower certification since 2018, none of which is reflected in the House bill. If enacted, Section 529 of the House bill would likely add years of further delay rather than make up for lost time.

Unlike the House’s misguided approach, Section 619 of the Senate’s bill orders FAA to “create a structured program and publish milestones to achieve system design approval for a remote tower system” within 180 days of enactment. This directly addresses a central problem that has plagued FAA’s approach to remote tower certification.

Even better, the Senate’s bill would partially reverse a 2022 FAA decision to force vendors to install their systems at the FAA Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for evaluation rather than allow those systems to be evaluated at the airports at which they would be operated, a costly deviation from international best practices. Specifically, the Senate bill would require that FAA expand system design approval to three locations outside the Tech Center by the end of Sept 2024.

While Section 619 of the Senate bill is vastly superior to the House bill’s remote tower provisions, it could be improved in four ways.

First, in mandating the publication of certification milestones, Congress could be more specific on the technical requirements and benefit/cost analysis to better ensure FAA’s evaluations will be fair and reasonable.

Second, the provision requiring system design approval evaluation outside the Tech Center should be expanded by requiring that all evaluation is undertaken at the airports at which the tower will be operated, rather than limited to three sites. This would realign FAA with international best practices and fully reverse its ill-advised 2022 decision.

Third, while Saab and Searidge have exited the remote tower projects at Leesburg, VA, and Loveland, CO, respectively, the Colorado Department of Transportation is attempting to salvage its project with vendors Frequentis and RTX. Their certification progress to date should be preserved, so the FAA bill should be clear that nothing in the legislation should be interpreted to invalidate any system design approval activity up to the date of enactment.

Fourth and finally, as the House bill’s remote tower 2018 rerun shows, FAA needs to keep Congress in the loop on remote tower progress. As such, Congress should mandate that FAA make regular reports to the committees of jurisdiction that detail the status of individual remote tower projects in the U.S.

To this end, Reason Foundation has produced model amended legislative text that incorporates these improvements, which is available here.

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European Air Traffic Management Reforms, Part 1
By David Hughes

What if every state in America had its own air navigation service provider? Then we would call it Europe, and Rhode Island could play the role of Luxembourg, California could be France, Michigan with motor city could be Germany, and Hawaii could be Britain. Then, all we would have to do is create something called the FAA to consolidate all of those ANSPs into one. Been there, done that. That’s not to say the FAA doesn’t harbor some of the same inefficiencies found in Europe, such as the slow adoption of innovative technology. So, how does Europe consolidate its fragmented airspace and disparate ANSPs?

A new book, Air Traffic ManagementPrinciples, Performance, Markets, edited by Marina Efthymiou, delves into what has been accomplished so far to create the Single European Sky and what might happen next. The European air traffic management experts who contributed articles for this book know the European Union is trying to deal with fragmented airspace and 37 different ANSPs, but the hurdles to making significant progress are enormous.

The 253-page book, published in 2023 by Routledge, is written by 14 ATM experts. It covers everything from air navigation service and legal issues to safety, training, capacity and delay, regulation, business, unbundling the services of ANSPs and how they are organized in varying constructs. This is not light reading, but it is an excellent summary of air traffic management issues from A to Z in Europe. 

For American readers intimately familiar with how the FAA does business, this is a good primer on what happens on the other side of the Atlantic. For European readers up-to-speed on some of these topics, it is a good summary of past and present practices and forecasts of what may come next. The book’s stated aim is to be “a unique repository of current knowledge and critical debate on the ANSP business with an international scope.” Efthymiou said the response to the book’s debut has been much better than expected, with praise especially coming from air traffic management (ATM) professionals outside of Europe and outside academia. 

“The ATM/Air Navigation Services (ANS) sector is still functioning on the same principles as 70 years ago,” wrote Patrick Ky, director general of EASA, the European aviation safety agency. After he wrote this in 2023, he left EASA after 10 years there. “The exception is a few remarkable but limited developments in Europe, led by European institutions,” Ky wrote. These include the Central Flow Management Unit at Eurocontrol headquarters in Brussels, the Network Manager for Air Traffic Flow Management at Eurocontrol, and SESAR in research, regulation reform and performance reviews.

“Apart from the Maastricht (Upper Area Control) Center, the core ANS services: communications, navigation, and surveillance (CNS),  and air traffic services (ATS), we have not seen much progress towards enhanced organizational set-up at the European level,” Ky added.

Maastricht UACC handles traffic for Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In addition, the COOPANS Eurocat air traffic control system provided by Thales involves a long-term partnership among the IAA of Ireland, LFV2 of Sweden, Naviair of Denmark, Austro Control of Austria, and Croatia Control of Croatia using the same system supplier. COOPANS started in 2006. The Eurocat ATC system is operational in the five national airspaces and controls more than 1.3 million flights per year. That’s but a small portion of European air traffic. Eurocontrol helped manage 11 million flights in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Traffic peaked at 37,000 flights per day. This was four times more than 35 years earlier when Eurocontrol was founded.

In 2019, there were also record traffic delays. Reducing these delays is one of the main goals of European reform efforts to make ANSPs more responsive to airline customer needs. Eurocontrol estimated in 2018 that delay costs totaled €1.9 billion. Europe has 37 ANSPs and 1,000 air traffic control sectors. This structure contributes mightily to inefficiency with large-scale duplication of air traffic management services. 

Inefficiency increases fuel burned by airlines by 8.6 to 11.2%, Efthymiou said in an interview, “It is very difficult to have ANSPs cooperate in different ways than they want to, and while SES transformation plans look great on paper, and there has been significant progress, it hasn’t been the progress that was expected.”

Efthymiou edited the book and wrote or contributed to four of the chapters. She is an associate professor of aviation management at Dublin City University in Ireland. She holds a Ph.D. in sustainable aviation policy and ATM, a master’s degree in tourism strategy and a bachelor’s in business.

A lot of this book focuses on making European ANSPs more business-like to deliver improved customer service, safety that is equal or better to what is achieved now, and lower costs. In the past five years, Efthymiou has written more than 40 papers, many of which are footnoted in the articles written by other authors for this book. She is an expert evaluator for the European Commission and has been involved in projects such as the International Civil Aviation Organization Action Plan. She is also an award-winning teacher of aviation sustainability, leadership and innovation.

Francois Huet, policy and regulatory director for the Borealis Alliance with experience in the European Commission, Eurocontrol and the SESAR JU, writes that ATM in Europe is at a turning point following an economic downturn, the pandemic, and the coming of new entrants. “In such a challenging context, European institutions and all stakeholders have agreed to embark on an ambitious transformation aiming at delivering by 2035 a digital European Sky.”

Digital ATM is considered by many experts as a prerequisite for handling uncrewed aircraft systems and eVTOLs in the same airspace as manned aircraft.

The Borealis Alliance organizes three functional airspace blocks in north-west Europe involving nine ANSPs for Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The alliance leads an initiative to deliver a seamless area of Free Route Airspace (FRA) across all the airspace managed by its members in Northern Europe. FRA allows aircraft operators to choose routes with few limitations, unlike the use of standard airways. 

Huet also writes about the ways air navigation service providers are organized in Europe. These range from a government department or authority to a government entity allowed to manage airspace using revenues it collects for services, to a corporatized entity, a company established as a public-private partnership, and finally, to a private-sector company providing services on behalf of the government.

Efthymiou and Keith McEvoy, a deputy operations manager at Dublin, wrote in one essay that most ANSPs feel functional airspace blocks envisioned to create airspace unfettered by national boundaries have not worked and have little environmental benefit. Privatization is still very rare among ANSPs, and the focus on commercial revenue in Europe has occurred mostly with airports and airlines. The two wrote that Europe seems to be lagging in privatization compared to other parts of the world.

Anna Tamova, who wrote the chapter on structural reform in the air navigation service provider industry, asserted in 2016 that Europe needs to adopt more radical changes towards liberalizing ANSPs. In an interview, Efthymiou said ANSPs that are privatized should be judged as successful or not based on as many as 20 parameters. For example, she said, NATS has high-quality service and a good safety record but has one of the highest unit costs of any ANSP in Europe. 

Part 2 of this review will appear in the next issue of this newsletter. A version of this review is also being published in The Journal of Air Traffic Control.

David Hughes is a freelance aerospace journalist who was the managing editor of Aviation Week magazine. He also wrote about avionics and later about NextGen as an FAA employee/writer. A USAF Reserve Lt Col retired, he piloted the C-5, C-141, and T-38 in the 1970s and ’80s.

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News Notes

Senate FAA Bill Includes Funding for ASDE-X
In response to last year’s dismaying increase in runway incursions (near collisions), the Senate’ ‘s FAA reauthorization bill includes $18.2 billion over five years “to upgrade all large and mid-size airports with Airport Surface Detection Equipment” (ASDE), as reported by the Eno Center for Transportation. Currently, only 35 out of 61 large and medium hubs have this critically important technology.

NTSB Recommends 25-Hour Cockpit Voice Recorder Retrofits
There’s broad consensus that airliners should be equipped with cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) that do not record over previous recordings after two hours’ worth. FAA has announced a new requirement for 25-hour CVRs in all new airliners. But FAA and airlines object to the National Transportation Safety Board’s recommendation that such recorders be retrofitted into existing airliners. NTSB listed 14 aircraft safety incidents from 2019 through Jan. 2024, in which its investigations were hampered due to cockpit voice recorders having recorded over the recordings of the incident.

San Miguel Group Wins Philippines Airport Modernization
The consortium led by San Miguel Corp. (SMC) submitted the winning bid for a 15-year public-private partnership concession to finance, develop, and operate expanded terminals at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. Its winning bid offered 82% of airport revenue to the government over the life of the agreement (and a possible 10-year extension), along with an up-front payment of $537 million. The plan is to expand the airport’s capacity from the current 31 million annual passengers to 62 million.

Honduras Gets Seven Proposals for Roatan Airport Expansion
Roatan is an island off the coast of Honduras that is a growing tourist destination. To enable the Juan Manuel Galvez Airport to accommodate this growth, the National Airport Service sought bids from qualified companies to expand its terminal capacity, add a new taxiway, and reconstruct the runway. Seven companies responded. The previous concession expired in 2020, and a previous three-airport tender that included Roatan was put on hold in 2021. The current competition involves only the Roatan airport. In 2023, the airport handled more than 500,000 passengers, according to Infralogic

U.S. Space Force Likes SpaceX’s Starship
At this month’s Space Mobility Conference held in Orlando, Gregory Spanjers, the chief scientist for the Air Force Research Lab, discussed the Space Force’s interest in the huge SpaceX Starship and its super-heavy booster, both reusable. Spanjers said their teams have made mockups of Starship cargo bays, figuring out how to best take advantage of the craft’s potential for point-to-point cargo delivery. The Starship system could deliver cargo and personnel anywhere in the world in about an hour. SpaceX’s Gary Henry said the company is increasingly looking into this as a secondary use of the Starship. Its payload of up to 250,000 pounds dwarfs that of any other space vehicle. Point-to-point suborbital flights will pose yet another challenge to U.S. air traffic control.

Successful Initial Public Offering of Athens Airport
Greece’s privatization agency, the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, carried out a highly successful IPO on Feb. 2, selling its entire 30% stake in the country’s largest airport, getting €785 million from the sale. German airport company AviAlliance, which already owned a 40% stake, exercised its right to buy an additional 10% stake. Athens International Airport is Europe’s 18th busiest, with 28 million passengers in 2023.

Management Changes for Poland’s Proposed New Airport
Plans for a major new airport and multi-modal complex 25 miles south of Warsaw will be rethought by the new Polish government headed by Donald Tusk. In January, the entire board of the proposed Centralny Port Komunikacyjny (CPK) Airport project was dismissed, along with CEO Mikolaj Wild. The previous government had planned an initial opening date in 2028, with an initial capacity for 40 million annual passengers and two runways. The government has nominated Filip Czernicki, former head of Polish Airports State Enterprise until 2017, to chair a new CPK supervisory board.

Chicago South Suburban Airport P3 Gains New Support
Last summer, the Illinois legislature passed House Bill 2531, requiring the Illinois Department of Transportation to launch a prequalification process for a public-private partnership (P3) to develop the long-planned South Suburban Airport. In mid-February, reports Infralogic, the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce told legislators that the airport is its “top infrastructure priority” for 2024. The focus of the planned airport has changed from the original idea as a supplement to O’Hare and Midway to a primarily air cargo airport. Illinois DOT told Infralogic that it is working on a request for proposals for the project, with a July 1 target date.

Archer Hires Two New Executives
Archer, one of the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) companies predicted to be among the winners in this emerging market, has hired two experienced aviation executives, one from Delta Air Lines and the other from Wheels Up. Archer is one of several eVTOL startups that plans to operate as well manufacture and sell eVTOLs. Miles Rogers was chief strategy officer at on-demand aviation company Wheels Up, while Sterling Gerdes headed AAM strategy at Delta.

Virgin Islands Selects Airports P3 Advisor
Public Works Financing reports that the Virgin Islands Port Authority has hired Stantec as its technical advisor for the upcoming procurement of a public-private partnership agreement for the territory’s two airports, on St. Croix and St. Thomas. The P3 concession will call for a company or team to add capacity and upgrade facilities at both airports, which is expected to cost $100 million at each of the airports. Four teams were short-listed for the project last summer: daa International, Vantage Airport Group, Vinci Airports, and VIports Partners.

Bond Downgrade for LAX People Mover
Fitch Ratings downgraded $1.2 million in senior lien revenue bonds in January, going from BBB- to BB+, with a negative outlook. The rating change reflects construction delays and a strained relationship between the P3 developer LINXS and Los Angeles World Airports. The project is 96% complete, with a target date to begin passenger operations by June 30, 2024.

SpaceX’s 300th Falcon 9 Success
On Feb. 20, SpaceX achieved its 300th successful Falcon 9 orbital launch, sending an Indonesian telecom satellite into orbit. The booster routinely returned to Cape Canaveral for a landing, making the 200th such landing in a row. The booster on this flight made its 17th successful orbital launch flight. Congratulations are in order to Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. She has turned Elon Musk’s innovative ideas into a very viable business.

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Quotable Quotes

“The aviation industry faces challenges from the launch and re-entry of rocket bodies and satellites. Airspace use and airspace sharing have become contentious due to increased airspace closures for launch. . . . And yet, the aviation industry benefits immensely from the new satellite capabilities. In addition to enhanced tracking via Aireon’s ADS-B sensors on Iridium satellites, to satellite-based Wi-Fi and enhancements for positioning, navigation, and timing to minimize fuel consumption and maximize airspace and airport capacity. . . . Work is also under way to dynamically re-route aircraft to avoid areas likely to cause a build-up of contrails. The European Satellite Services Provider (ESSP), a group founded by European ANSPs, is leading an effort to commercialize IRIS [controller-pilot data link], part of SESAR’s master plan to improve aviation safety via EGNOS, by enhancing GPS and Galileo signals data.”
—Andrew Charlton, “In Space, No One Can Hear Your Industry Maturing,” Aviation Intelligence Reporter, Feb. 2024

“What a crash, then, as voters start noticing what net zero might cost them personally. Knowing that they can’t or won’t bear the costs themselves, but also unable or unwilling to drop the moral crusade, voters instead demand ever more creative expenditures of someone else’s money to achieve climate goals. This explains the reluctance of even moderately sensible politicians to admit what they’re so obviously doing: abandoning the climate project. Rollbacks of the most expensive, least-popular climate measures, such as electric-vehicle mandates or agricultural vehicle taxes, invariably are accompanied by pledges to keep doing something for the climate at someone else’s expense.”
—Joseph C. Stromberg, “Net Zero Becomes All Dissonance and No Cognition,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9, 2024

“The choice in the U.S. is not between a JetBlue-Spirit merger and a healthy Spirit giving JetBlue a run for its money. The choice is between a merged carrier or Spirit being, at best, a weak player in the U.S., if it can survive.”
—Aaron Karp, “False Choices Lead Governments to Block Airline Mergers,” Aviation Daily, Jan. 30, 2024

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