Aviation Policy News: Airport and air traffic privatization and P3 trends
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Aviation Policy Newsletter

Aviation Policy News: Airport and air traffic privatization and P3 trends

Plus: NextGen's incredible shrinking benefits, reality check for eVTOL startups, and more.

In this issue:

Reason’s Annual Report on Aviation Infrastructure Privatization and P3s
By Marc Scribner

Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic continued in 2023, with the long-term global trend of private investment in airports—via outright purchase, long-term lease, or public-private partnerships (P3s) for select airport projects—proving to be durable in the face of the largest demand shock in aviation history. These activities are documented in Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2024: Aviation, which was published last week.

The airport section includes an updated table of reported 2022 revenue of the world’s 38 largest investor-owned airport companies, with the five largest being Aeroports de Paris, Aena Aeropuertos, Heathrow Airport Holdings, Fraport, and Vinci Airports. Combined revenue from these airport companies totaled $38.9 billion, representing 32.5% of 2022 world airport revenue of $119.8 billion.

Interestingly, despite the United States leading the aviation recovery and its lack of private commercial service airports, the private airport industry has proven to be more financially resilient than government-owned airports. As a result, privatized airports have increased their worldwide revenue share. For pre-pandemic comparison, investor-owned airport companies collected $48.3 billion—or 26.6%—of $181.7 billion of 2019 global airport revenue.

This resilience may be partially explained by the increasing importance of the airport group model, in which private companies manage multiple airports. A 2022 study commissioned by Airports Council International (ACI) identified 27 airport groups comprising 425 airports, which collectively handle 29% of global passenger traffic and 23% of cargo tonnage. The report found numerous ways in which the airport group model adds value, such as economies of scale, increased ability to finance capital improvements, and economic resilience.

This year’s Reason report also contains two new tables summarizing global airport P3 transactions compiled from Acuris’s Infralogic database. Both the number and value of projects reaching financial close in 2023 were down sharply from 2022, but last year’s $17.7 billion in airport P3 deal value is still well above the $11.2 billion low point in 2020. In 2023, the largest fraction of projects was “greenfield,” or newly constructed airport facilities, which accounted for 43% of total transaction value and 44% of projects.

The last year saw a number of major airport privatization developments across the world. In November, Brazil concluded its seventh round of airport concessions. The most recent round awarded P3 concessions for 15 airports. The three winning companies—Aena Brasil, Noa Airports, and Pax Airports—have agreed to invest $1.48 billion during the 30-year concessions. As a result of the seven rounds of airport concessions, there are now 11 operators managing 59 airports in Brazil, handling 93% of all passenger traffic and 99% of cargo traffic in the country.

After years of delay, the government of Greece netted an estimated €785 million from the Jan. 2024 initial public offering for a 30% stake in Athens International Airport, Europe’s 18th busiest airport. The sale was initially proposed in 2018, but the transaction was put on hold following the pandemic-induced collapse in air travel. German airport company AviAlliance, which already owned a 40% stake, exercised its right to buy an additional 10% stake at a 20% premium to the IPO price. This gives AviAlliance a controlling stake in Athens International.

In another example of false starts, the Philippine government had opted at the beginning of 2023 to not privatize Ninoy Aquino International after considering it for several years. It then reversed course after receiving an unsolicited proposal in April from U.S.-based Global Infrastructure Partners valuing the concession at $1.8 billion, attracting interest from investors around the world. In Feb. 2024, the Philippine government finally entered into a 15-year concession with a consortium led by San Miguel Corporation to modernize and operate Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. The project is estimated to cost $3 billion.

The United States is an outlier in the worldwide trend of private airport investment and management. While P3s for major projects such as passenger terminals, cargo facilities, and consolidated rental car centers are growing in popularity, whole-airport P3 leases remain rare.

The notable exception has been the P3 lease of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Luís Muñoz Marín International Airport in 2013. It may soon be joined by a couple of smaller whole-airport P3s. In December, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completed the required environmental assessment of a proposed 43-year P3 concession of Tweed New Haven Airport in Connecticut. If all mitigations are accepted, Tweed New Haven will become the first commercial airport on the U.S. mainland to operate under a long-term public-private partnership. In addition, general aviation airport Avon Park Executive Airport in south-central Florida applied to enter the Airport Investment Partnership Program in September to authorize a proposed 30-year whole-airport concession.

The Annual Privatization Report 2024: Aviation also covers recent private-sector activities in air traffic control, with particular attention to the past year’s developments in space-based ADS-B and remote/digital towers.

The space-based ADS-B industry remains dominated by pioneer Aireon, which began providing near-real-time global surveillance via satellite in 2019. By 2024, subscriptions to Aireon’s space-based ADS-B service cover more than three dozen countries and more than half the world’s airspace. Aireon may soon face two competitors in the space-based ADS-B market.

Canberra-based Skykraft has entered an agreement with Airservices Australia to launch and operate a 200-satellite constellation to improve ADS-B coverage in Australia and its oceanic airspace. The service will include VHF communications between pilots and controllers in addition to ADS-B surveillance. Subsequent launches to complete the initial satellite constellation are scheduled for later this year, with space-based ADS-B service to go live in 2025. In addition to Skykraft, Spain’s Startical plans to launch at least 240 satellites to provide space-based ADS-B and VHF communications. The company said in September 2023 that it plans to put its first demonstrator satellite into orbit “around 2025.”

With respect to remote/digital air traffic control towers, 2023 saw broadening interest in Europe. In July, Heathrow announced plans to develop a virtual contingency facility that will eventually be capable of operating 100% of airport air traffic control activity in the event of a major outage. In September, Germany’s DFS Aviation Services entered into a contract with Lithuania’s air navigation service provider Oro Navigacija to conduct a feasibility study of using remote/digital towers at four airports, including the capital city’s Vilnius Airport. This was followed by news in Feb. 2024 that Frequentis DFS Aerosense was awarded a contract to install a virtual tower validation system at Munich Airport to evaluate the viability of using remote/digital tower technology at larger hub airports.

As with private-sector involvement in airports, the United States lags behind much of the world on space-based ADS-B and remote/digital towers. In the latest FAA reauthorization, Congress included provisions aimed at encouraging the deployment of remote/digital air traffic control towers in the United States, emphasizing the positive role they could play at small rural airports that presently lack tower service. This could finally clear a path to U.S. remote tower deployments that have been stymied by FAA bureaucracy. Unfortunately, for space-based ADS-B, the most Congress could muster was a toothless “sense of Congress” declaration that FAA should continue to evaluate potential uses of space-based ADS-B.

In addition to the Annual Privatization Report 2024: Aviation, readers of this newsletter may also be interested in Reason’s Annual Privatization Report 2024: Transportation Finance. Robert Poole examines developments in the infrastructure investment fund world, provides updates on the largest companies and major P3 projects underway, and reviews pension funds’ increasing investment in revenue-generating infrastructure.

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NextGen’s Incredible Shrinking Benefits

Back in 2003, Congress authorized the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and several other agencies to create a Joint Planning & Development Office (JPDO) to plan a complete transformation of the National Airspace System (NAS). The revised system, to serve FAA, the Defense Department, NASA, and several other agencies, was called Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS). Along the way, as it evolved into a Department of Transportation/FAA-only program, it was renamed NextGen. One of the original premises was that demand for air travel would double or triple by 2025, which proved wildly over-optimistic.

Over the several decades of NextGen implementation, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General (OIG) have produced numerous reports on how the effort is doing. The latest OIG report (AV2024023) dated April 30, 2024, shines a great deal of light on NextGen. In the 2018 FAA reauthorization, Congress asked FAA to report on NextGen’s progress and also asked OIG to review FAA’s report once it was released.

For some context, the original JPDO analysis justifying NGATS estimated that FAA plus airline costs would total $29-42 billion by 2025, but would yield benefits of $213 billion by that time. Alas, as the Office of Inspector General report notes, in part because many elements of NextGen have experienced long delays and cost overruns, the latest estimate from FAA is that benefits as of May 2023 totaled only $9.5 billion, less than 5% of the original estimate, but that’s partly because the system is still a long way from being completed.

The Office of Inspector General’s report provides a critical assessment of the report Congress requested from FAA. The agency submitted it to Congress in Dec. 2021, and OIG reviewed it in detail for two-plus years. Its conclusions are highly critical of what FAA delivered. Basically, FAA’s report “does not capture the full extent of program delays, cost [overruns], and benefit reductions.” One highlighted example is TFDM—Terminal Flight Data Manager. This is the new system that will finally include electronic flight strips. OIG reports that TFDM will not be fully deployed until 2030 and will be installed in only 49 instead of 89 towers. But even that is now out of date, since the 49-tower goal will not be met until 2032. FAA’s report also said that the more-advanced Dynamic Trajectory Based Operations capability will be operational by 2030, but OIG says a senior NextGen official told them it will not be operational by then because many of the systems it depends (such as DataComm) are also behind schedule.

FAA’s report to Congress also claims that, “The NextGen vision has remained constant over time.” Not so, replies OIG, because delays and program changes have resulted in a less-transformational NextGen than was originally intended. Many legacy systems that NextGen intended to replace remain in service, requiring ongoing sustainment spending that reduces what can be spent on newer technology. OIG also reports industry comments that what FAA is actually pursuing in recent years is not the original NextGen vision but that of RTCA’s Task Force 5’s 2009 vision, which “focused on what could be implemented in the near term with technologies already available on aircraft and already deployed in the NAS.”

Parenthetically, I can’t resist a comment about the OIG report’s Figure 1, provided by the FAA NextGen office in May 2023. It lists major programs in the original plan, notes two that were removed, and then adds four that were “added to the plan over time.” One of those is Metroplex, which predates NextGen (and which unfortunately eliminated by far the biggest originally included airspace: New York/Philadelphia). Another is Remote Towers, which I’m sure will be news to airports and remote tower developers worldwide which have seen no such program.

OIG also calls out FAA’s report to Congress for not including all NextGen costs or the challenges presented by increased sustainment and operating costs. For example, FAA’s reported costs include only programs funded by the agency’s Facilities & Equipment account, but not its Operations or Research accounts. Even worse, for some reason, it omitted all NextGen expenditures for 2004 through 2006 (perhaps due to the program still being called NGATS then?) and also omitted expenditures between 2019 and April 2021. OIG provides a more complete cost estimate of $13 billion for NextGen thus far. But that still excludes directly related spending of $3.5 billion by NASA and other spending by DoD, Commerce, and DHS.

Finally, the OIG report’s Figure 2 documents the incredible shrinking benefit projections. In July 2016, FAA was still claiming $160 billion in benefits by 2030. That decreased to $100 billion by 2030 as of 2018, and was revised further downward in March 2021 to $100 billion by 2035. But at last, in June 2023, FAA revised its benefits estimate again, this time to $19 to $25 billion by the early 2030s.

Although the Office of Inspector General did not conclude with an assessment of benefits versus costs, on page 13, it cites FAA’s estimate that implementing all of NextGen will cost FAA and airlines $36 billion. Hence, FAA itself now admits that the costs of NextGen will significantly exceed its benefits.

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Help for Airports Without Surface Surveillance Systems

In much of the coverage of last year’s alarming increase in near-collisions at U.S. airports, this newsletter pointed out that out of 61 large and medium hub airports, only 44 had a surface surveillance system such as ASDE-X or a slightly different follow-on system called ASSC. Those systems use radar, multilateration, and ADS-B information from aircraft and (if equipped) ground vehicles to see their position and movement in real time, enabling corrective instructions to be issued. The site of the worst near-collision—Austin (AUS)—was one of the airports not equipped.

ASDE-X has been out of production for years, and it’s not clear what spare parts are even available. And I’ve not seen any cost estimates for re-opening a production line and producing large new batches. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long argued that all large and medium hub airports should have this technology, but FAA has made no moves to do that.

But in a welcome development on April 15, FAA announced that it has selected three companies as qualified to begin deploying a system that will perform some of the ASDE-X/ASSC functions, and at a much lower cost. Called Surface Awareness Initiative (SAI), it uses ADS-B signals from airliners, private planes, and ground vehicles (if equipped) to enable controllers to see where these air and surface vehicles are in essentially real time, regardless of weather. The three providers are Indra, Saab, and uAvionics. FAA has published a list of 45 airports that will get the new SAI equipment, with the first five being Austin, Dallas Love, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Tampa. With three vendors qualified and ready to produce, I hope all 45 of these additional airports will be equipped with SAI within the next year or two (though no schedule has been released).

This is a big step forward for runway safety. Though lacking the surface radar and multilateration capability of the more-expensive systems, SAI should significantly increase controller awareness of potential collisions at the airport. At least one of the qualified vendors, Saab, can offer an added feature: automated safety alerts, in which an identified incident generates an audio alert to the relevant controller position.

This is also an innovative approach for FAA technology procurement. Instead of selecting one tech company to design and develop a new system, it defined the functions that need to be provided and what a potential supplier had to do to become qualified. This is far quicker and less-costly than traditional FAA procurement of new technology systems. Thumbs up to FAA for this innovative approach, and its unusually quick response to last year’s epidemic of runway incursions.

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Reality Check for eVTOL Startups

The dynamic duo of Aviation Week’s Ben Goldstein and Sergio Cecutta of SMG Consulting proved somewhat prophetic in their latest assessment of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) startups in the magazine’s April 22-May 5 edition, “Narrowing Runways” by Goldstein, drawing on SMG’s ongoing research and analysis.

The article included a new table titled “Estimated Financial Runway for eVTOL Startups.” To get right to the point, the text and tables continued to assess Joby and Archer as the highest-capitalized and hence front-runners in the U.S. air taxi market. That was no surprise, since those two show up in the table with a “financial runway” extending into spring 2025 (Archer) and spring 2026 (Joby). But the text notes that since Joby also plans to operate the eVTOLs it produces rather than selling them to operators as Archer plans, “Joby needs to maintain a larger cash position” since it will not have aircraft sales revenue.

Eve Air Mobility, though spun off from Embraer, still benefits from a working relationship with the latter and is estimated to have a financial runway extending into fourth-quarter 2025. Another rated as being funded through third quarter 2025 was Volocopter, but with a caution in the text that this company, unlike the others in the table, is not publicly traded,” which limits visibility into its financial status. That caution was borne out via an April 26 article in Aviation Daily, “Volocopter May Have to Consider Insolvency in Foreseeable Future.” A German government guarantee for a loan “fell through at the last minute on April 23,” Jens Flottau reported. Volocopter CEO Dirk Hoke told Flottau that because the finance market has turned, “We may have to consider filing for insolvency in the foreseeable future.”

One week later, the Daily Memo in Aviation Daily was headlined, “We Would Not Be Better Off on the Moon—Lilium.” The previously noted table in Goldstein’s article projected Lilium’s financial runway as extending only to third-quarter 2024, but it now appears to be shorter. As with Volocopter, a €100 million government loan guarantee had made no headway over a six-month period, CEO Klaus Roewe told reporter Flottau, also noting that “the capital market is not buzzing at the moment.” And with no support coming through, Flottau wrote, “Lilium is now weighing its options.”

This situation is not really that surprising. Around turn of this century, venture capitalists seemed to be throwing money at just about any kind of online startup, and soon enough that bubble burst. The period before and during the pandemic, with interest rates near zero, led to startups in many fields going public via Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs). Rosy financial projections for what are turning out to be eVTOL projects that are technically more difficult than many “investors” realized, still looked good at near-zero interest rates. But not so much when more-usual interest rates returned. Secondly, as pointed out many times in this newsletter, realistic business plans for carrying large numbers of paying passengers in very small vehicles have yet to be tested against reality. The most-realistic of these startups may find niche markets that are willing to provide enough passenger volume to yield an actual return on investment. Even that remains to be seen.

As I was writing this piece, a small news article shined a ray of hope on Lilium. A U.S. startup eVTOL operator called UrbanLink announced that it has committed to buy 20 of Lilium’s eVTOL aircraft, with an option to buy 20 more. UrbanLink says it plans to build a regional network connecting cities in South Florida, primarily via vertiports at existing airports in the region. It will be the operator of the Lilium aircraft, using those yet-to-be-built vertiports. I’ve lived in South Florida for 21 years and I follow aviation very closely. I am not aware of any airport in this region that plans to add a vertiport—though there may be plans that have not been announced. I’ll confess to having written some time ago that Lilium might have a wiser business model than very short-haul air taxi service, due to its eVTOL’s announced longer range and suitability for longer-than-air-taxi routes. But that, of course, does not itself constitute a viable business plan.

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Replacing Old Contract Towers with Old-Fashioned Towers

The FAA’s Contract Tower program has been a success since it was launched by the Reagan administration as part of rebuilding the air traffic control work force following the 1981 PATCO strike. That beginning was followed by large-scale expansion of contract towers as part of the Clinton administration’s “reinventing government” agenda. Today there are 250 contract towers across the United States.

Unfortunately, as many of these brick-and-mortar air traffic control towers reach the end of their useful lives, FAA is allocating funds to replace them, not with digital/remote towers (which cost less to build and operate and deliver improved performance) but with brick-and-mortar towers.

On March 21, 2024, FAA released a list of 20 contract tower airports to which a total of $20 million is being awarded. Half of these are for either rehabilitation or equipment replacement or additions at aging towers. Six of these grants are to start the design or construction of a replacement conventional tower and another is to add such a tower to a new-entrant airport in the Contract Tower program. Here are those unfortunate seven airports that would be far better served by a digital/remote tower.

StateRegionAirport NameIDAmount
FLOrlandoKissimmee Gateway AirportISM$1,000,000
MNMankatoMankato Regional AirportMKT$1,050,000
MOJefferson CityJefferson City Memorial AirportJEF$1,300,000
OKNormanMac Westheimer AirportOUN$2,000,000
ORBendBend Municipal AirportBDN$1,290,000
TXHarlingenValley International AirportHRL$2,000,000
IDCaldwellCaldwell Executive Airport*EUL$   360,000

*New entrant airport

Despite having invented the concept in 2007 (well-documented in an article in the Journal of Air Traffic Control), FAA has done nothing with it, and has imposed onerous new requirements on the only two U.S. remote tower projects—both state-funded, not FAA-funded—that killed the one in Leesburg, Virginia, and imperiled the other one in Loveland, Colorado.

Yet, as demonstrated by dozens of certified, operational digital/remote towers across Europe, the idea makes very good sense for smaller airports (the focus of this article). First, a remote tower (RT) costs less to build. You don’t need a fancy architect; all you need is a modest (secured) office with all the needed equipment, plus one or more masts to mount an array of cameras and other sensors. Second, the RT costs less to maintain: no elevator to service or repair or very high windows to keep clean. Third, for small airports like those that barely meet the requirements for the Federal Contract Tower program, ANSPs in Germany, Norway, and Sweden are controlling multiple small airports from a single remote/digital tower center. Talk about economies of scale!

Remote/digital towers also increase safety, which is FAA’s stated number one priority. As far back as the original FAA project at the Tech Center in Atlantic City, controllers were delighted to be able to see what was going on at the airport in rain, fog, and after dark, thanks to some of the cameras being infrared. And today’s RT displays attach aircraft ID tags to their moving images, to ensure that controllers correctly see what is moving on the ground and in the air.

FAA has also ignored the provision in the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill calling for a five-airport pilot program for remote/digital towers. Instead, as I reported in the Jan. 2023 issue of this newsletter, it had an architectural firm design a “sustainable” brick-and-mortar tower concept to replace aging towers at 31 smaller airports and got $500 million from Congress to begin implementing them. This is an example of how ‘the world’s most advanced ATC system’ has lost the right to make such a claim.

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Good News and Bad News for CLEAR

CLEAR, the company that provides Transportation Security Administration-approved identity verification for passengers who subscribe, and then escorts them to the head of the screening lines, has fully implemented its new contract with TSA to be an official enrollment provider for TSA PreCheck applicants. This makes CLEAR the third such provider, after Idemia and Telos (and, of course, TSA itself). That’s the good news.

The bad news is that two egalitarian California state senators are pushing legislation to ban CLEAR’s operations at airports in what used to be called the Golden State. Well, it’s not quite that draconian, despite the ‘haves vs. have-nots; rhetoric from some politicians and reporters. What the bill actually calls for is to only allow CLEAR to operate if it negotiates with the airport and TSA to have its own separate screening lanes. CLEAR already pays airports for the right to operate there, and last year it paid California airports $13 million for the spaces it uses.

Most major airlines are happy with CLEAR, with the exception of American (which at some airports has its own “premium passenger security check-in queues” per a photo in Gary Leff’s April 22 View from the Wing blog). Leff points out that CLEAR members travel more than most travelers and stand in more lines than most, so most are happy to pay $189 per year for membership. Airports with CLEAR seem glad to have it, making their airport more attractive to frequent flyers. Two groups that support the egalitarian California bill are the flight attendants’ union, AFA-CWA, and the TSA screeners’ union for Northern California.

I’ve encountered similar ‘line-cutter’ and ‘Lexus Lane’ rhetoric in my work on toll lanes and surface transportation policy. This class rhetoric is ugly and silly. Markets offer all kinds of choices for those willing to pay more. Airlines offer first- and business-class seats. Even government-owned Amtrak offers first-class cars on the same train that others ride. 

For me, PreCheck is time-saving enough. I don’t see enough value to pay an additional $189 per year for CLEAR. On the other hand, I still get enough value from American Airline’s Admirals Clubs to pay the recently increased annual membership fee. Different strokes for different folks.

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News Notes

American and United Support $2.2 Billion Terminal at Chicago O’Hare
Chicago O’Hare’s two largest airlines on May 3 announced an agreement with the city of Chicago in support of the $2.2 billion Terminal 2 expansion. The project will more than double the terminal’s capacity, handling both domestic and international flights. It will increase O’Hare’s gate capacity by 25%. The Terminal 2 expansion is the last major component of O’Hare’s $8.5 billion expansion, which has included both runway and terminal additions.

Vinci Airport Buying Majority Stake in Edinburgh Airport
Vinci Airports, the world’s fifth-largest airport company by revenue, has announced the acquisition of a majority stake in Edinburgh Airport, the UK’s sixth-largest. Vinci is paying $1.58 billion for the 50.01% stake, with the balance owned by Global Infrastructure Partners, a global infrastructure investment fund. Vinci also owns large stakes in London Gatwick Airport and Belfast International Airport. The Edinburgh purchase equates to 14.3 times the airport’s recent EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.

No Current Plan for Space Launch User Fees: FAA
Despite several recent articles about the idea of charging commercial space launch companies fees for using airspace adjoining launch and recovery sites, Space News (April 10) quoted an FAA official saying that the Biden administration “has no plans for the time being to levy taxes on commercial launches.” Among those stating the opposite was The New York Times, whose April 4 story said the administration was proposing such a user tax or fee, given the increasing use of airspace in the vicinity of Florida’s Cape Canaveral launch sites.

Consortium Wins Concession for Paris-Beauvais Airport
A consortium including construction firm Bouygues, Nice airport operator Aeroports de la Cote d’Azur, and infrastructure funds Serena and TIIC last month agreed to pay €4 billion for a 30-year concession. Located 80 kilometers north of Paris, the airport is France’s tenth largest in passenger traffic, with 4.6 million in 2022. The winning consortium plans a considerable expansion of the airport.

GMR Plans Expansion of Goa Airport
Indian airport company GMR plans a major expansion of its airport in Goa, according to Infralogic (April 23). It has applied for permission to increase the airport’s capacity from 4.4 million annual passengers to 7.7 million. The airport, Manohar International, opened in Jan. 2023 and handled 6.8 million passengers in its first year. GMR Airports has a 60-year P3 concession for the airport.

Aena Plans Expansion of Sao Paulo’s Congonhas Airport
Aviation Daily reported (April 11) that Spanish airport company Aena (world’s second-largest in revenue) will invest $401 million to expand the capacity of Sao Paulo’s second-largest airport. The four-year project will replace the existing terminal with one more than twice its size, increasing the airport’s capacity from 17 million annual passengers to 29.5 million. The project will also upgrade the airport’s runways.

UK Plans to Integrate UAVs into Airports
After a series of simulations run by NATS, the country’s ANSP, an industry coalition now plans demonstration flights later this year in which un-crewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) will fly into and out of busy airports. UAV operators will have to file flight plans for each such flight. The project is organized by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Lithuania to Implement Wide Area Multilateration
Air Traffic Management (April 18) reports that ERA has been awarded a contract by Oro Navigacija, the ANSP of Lithuania. The WAM system will cover all Lithuanian airspace, including the Vilnius FIR and 50 miles beyond the country’s borders. This secondary surveillance system relies on both ADS-B and wide-area multilateration. ERA last year completed the installation of a comparable system in Latvia.

Digital Tower Test Center Under Way in Belgium
Skeyes, the ANSP of Belgium (formerly known as BelgoControl), unveiled its Digital Tower Test Center in Steenokkerzeel. It is a prototype for the digital control center being set up in Namur by Skeyes and the Walloon airport operator in Namur. By 2026, air traffic at both Charleroi and Liege airports will be managed by the new center in Namur. The digital tower center will be responsible for air and ground traffic at both airports, reported Air Traffic Management (April 26).

Potential Sale of UK Airport Group AGS
Macquarie Asset Management and Ferrovial are both exploring the sale of their ownership interests in the AGS group (Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Southampton). The two companies acquired the airports from Heathrow Airport Holdings in 2014. The United Kingdom’s air traffic is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. However, Infralogic reported (April 23) that Glasgow’s 2023 passenger count was up 12.9% from the previous year, but still short of nearly 9 million in 2019.

Iridium Introduces Satellite Time and Location Service
Iridium Communications, which operates a constellation of low earth orbit communications satellites, on April 2, announced the completion of its acquisition of Satelles, Inc. That company, now Iridium Satellite Time and Location (STL) offers space-based time and location service as a backup for GPS/GNSS, which is vulnerable to jamming and spoofing.

Saab Unveils Deployable Digital Tower
Swedish aerospace company Saab now offers a “deployable” version of its remote/digital tower aimed primarily at military and counter-drone applications. Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions says the deployable version can be up to 25 meters high, can be transported by truck or aircraft, and set up in as little as 30 minutes. The deployable tower has been certified to NATO standards.

Conrac Solutions Finances Reno Airport Rental Car P3
The Conrac Solutions (CS) division of Meridiam reached financial close on May 2 for a new ground transportation center at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. It includes a consolidated rental car center and other facilities. This project will bring CS’s consolidated rental car centers to 18, reports Infralogic (May 7). Meridiam acquired CS in May 2023.

Atlanta Airport Announces 24/7 Access Restrictions
Thanks to a new regulation from the Atlanta City Council, access to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) will be restricted 24 hours a day to ticketed passengers, airport staff, those meeting/greeting passengers, maintenance staff, and others having “legitimate business” at the airport. The restriction includes the SkyTrain, Rental Car Center, and parking structures. Violators are subject to arrest and prosecution.

FAA OKs Boom XB-1 for Supersonic Test Flights
In mid-April, FAA granted permission to Boom Supersonic to operate supersonic flight tests using its XB-1 demonstrator aircraft. Its first (non-supersonic) flight took place at Mojave Air and Space Port on March 22. The supersonic flights will take place in restricted airspace associated with Edwards Air Force Base. It is limited to 20 flights of the XB-1 and a T-38 chase plane between now and April 2025.

Correction to Last Month’s Issue
In the April issue article “Europe’s New Plan for a Single Sky—Not,” a statement by Andrew Charlton was incorrectly attributed. His excellent newsletter is Aviation Intelligence Reporter, not Aviation International Reporter. We apologize for the error.

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Quotable Quotes

“The cost savings from consolidating ATC centers are undoubtedly large, but it is unlikely to happen soon, for three reasons: politics, politics, and politics. I was closely involved in the partial privatization of the UK ANSP (NATS) in 2001. I remember at the time discussion of perhaps combining UK and Irish airspace, which includes large parts of the North Atlantic. Both countries have two ATC centers each. The second UK center at Prestwick is there solely because the support of the Scottish Members of Parliament was needed to get the NATS legislation passed. But, we were told, the work of the two Irish centers could be undertaken by the addition of just 3 or 4 additional desks at the main UK center, with large cost savings. The problem was, and is, why would the Irish agree to handing over well-paid jobs to the UK (or vice-versa) in a state-owned company that at the very least didn’t cost the government anything? And that problem is multiplied throughout Europe. I think the European Commission has realized that this is a problem too difficult to solve, so instead has turned its attention to economic regulation of the monopoly ANSPs. Unfortunately, this has failed as well, for similar reasons to why it took so long to liberalize intra-European air services, namely the very close association between ANSPs and governments. Repeatedly, attempts to increase ANSP efficiency and reduce costs and charges have been undermined by protectionist EU member states. Airlines were forced to change following a legal case which concluded that aviation and shipping were subject to the competition provisions of the Treaty of Rome. I haven’t seen any sign, even from Michael O’Leary, of a similar development with respect to ANSPs.”
—Barry Humphreys, aviation consultant and author of The Regulation of Air Transport: From Protection to Liberalization and Back Again, online aviation discussion group, April 18, 2024 (used with the author’s permission)

“Growth is still front and center in the most mature markets. United Airlines’ current strategy is to become the largest airline in the world, and its efforts are being held back more by Boeing’s inability to deliver or certify aircraft on time . . . . The idea [for a cap on Available Seat Miles] does not sufficiently consider the consequences on the manufacturing side. Airbus’ target to raise single-aisle production to 75 aircraft per month and its intent to follow through with steep increases in widebody output are no coincidence. The OEM needs huge amounts of free cash flow to finance the two next-generation developments it has announced. . . . The same is true on the Boeing side. . . .  Serving only the replacement market—as in the ASM cap scenario—would be a devastating outlook for OEMs and would hold back investment. Airbus’ global forecast sees a market for 40,850 new aircraft in 2024-42, only 17,170 are for replacement. . . . Like it or not, if the industry is to self-finance its transition to being much more sustainable, it must be allowed to grow.”
—Jens Flottau, “The Growth Conundrum,” Aviation Week, April 22-May 5, 2024

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