Aviation Policy News #166
© Dreamstime.com

Aviation Policy Newsletter

Aviation Policy News #166

Air traffic controller shortage, runway slots, Global Entry vulnerabilities, and Berlin delays.

In this issue:

The Real Cause of the New Berlin Airport Fiasco

Last month BBC News published an article tracing the more than two-decades (and counting) effort to convert the former East Berlin airport (Schoenefeld) into a world-class Berlin Brandenberg Airport.

The story noted that the new terminal has been sitting there, unoccupied, since the announced grand opening in 2012. That event was cancelled at the last minute, due to a local official’s decision that the fire suppression system did not work. Since then, all sorts of fixes have had to be made: the punch list totaled 550,000 items, one of which was replacing hundreds of kilometers of cabling. The report noted that in the seven years since 2012, the new airport rail station has sat unused, as has the new airport hotel and the airport’s baggage carousels. All are in maintenance modes, awaiting the now-planned opening date of October 2020.

BBC research uncovered a number of the problems that have led to the cost ballooning to $8.25 billion:

  • The original architect hated airport shopping so his design included minimal shops; this was corrected well into construction, adding new floors of retail space.
  • The design included no facilities to serve low-cost carriers, but made special provisions for the giant A-380, whose production is now being terminated; meanwhile, low-cost carriers have become major players in Europe.
  • The capacity (in terms of annual passengers) was doubled after construction began.

Those are all major reasons for delays and cost escalation, but the BBC story starts around 2006, omitting the earlier history that would likely have led to a far better outcome. The actual history goes back to 1997, with the initial plan being that the airport would be Germany’s first privately financed airport, under a 50-year concession. (This was before the privatization of German airports Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Düsseldorf). A Request for Qualifications went out in 1997, and four teams were short-listed. Companies would have to make an up-front payment to acquire the existing facilities and then finance the construction of the new terminal and related infrastructure at Schoenefeld. Only two of them submitted proposals, and in September of 1998 the Hochtief consortium was announced as the winner. The losing bidder filed a protest, and a court ordered the competition to be re-done.

By November 2000, the two teams (Hochtief and IVG) had agreed to work together, and this agreement was blessed by the procurement agency and by the European Commission early in 2001. But the procurement agency demanded a much larger up-front payment than the companies had expected, leading to further delays. By September 2002, it appeared that a deal structure had been agreed. McGraw-Hill’s Airports newsletter reported an agreement that the consortium would make an up-front payment of $290 million and finance $1.7 billion of construction costs, while the Berlin-Brandenberg government would cover $600 million in related infrastructure costs ($2.6 billion total). The concession term would be 99 years.

Alas, it was not to be. In June 2003 the same newsletter reported that negotiations to finalize the long-term agreement had collapsed, quoting a government spokesman as saying, “We took a very important decision to stop the privatization process because the offer we received was not good enough.” And that began the lengthy process of a government-procured airport. That same 2003 article said the opening date under the new process would be 2009 instead of 2007.

Yet, as the BBC story makes clear, the bureaucrats of Berlin Brandenberg took several years to get their act together, and then ran head-long into the collapse of the financial markets in 2007-08. BBC quotes Prof. Genia Kostka of the Free University of Berlin: “The supervisory board was full of politicians who had no idea how to supervise the project.” And instead of competitively selecting a design-build contractor with airport experience, they decided “to give 30 to 40 contracts to smaller companies which they thought they could pressure into giving them lower prices.” That comment comes from Martin Delius, who headed a detailed inquiry into what went wrong. So here we are in 2019 with an expected cost of $8.25 billion (vs. $2.6 billion) and a hoped-for opening date of 2020 (vs. 2007 or 2009).

Political hubris led to cancelling a nearly-finalized agreement under which private investors with airport experience would have made sensible decisions about terminal size, changing trends in airline service, and the importance of revenue from extensive retail (as was already very evident from BAA’s huge retail expansion at Heathrow and Gatwick). And the investors—not German taxpayers—would have taken on the risks of cost overruns and schedule delays. The Berlin airport fiasco is a costly object lesson in how not to develop a new airport.

» return to top

How Real Is the Shortage of U.S. Air Traffic Controllers?

Last month Travel Weekly ran an article by Robert Silk headlined, “Union and FAA at Odds Over Effect of Fewer Air Traffic Controller Hires.” It highlighted concerns from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) that FAA now faces “a critical shortage of controllers,” while FAA says staffing is more than adequate. Ironically, there is some truth to both of these statements.

NATCA points out that FAA’s plan for this fiscal year was to hire 1,431 controllers—but thanks to the partial government shutdown back in December-January, which closed the FAA training academy, the agency expects the actual number will be only 907 new hires. NATCA also points to fewer certified professional controllers than standards call for at some key en-route centers and TRACONs—including Northern California TRACON and Central Florida TRACON.

FAA, however, points out that air traffic peaked in 2000, and has yet to return to the level reached that year. And its recent Aviation Forecast shows air traffic, while steadily increasing since 2013, is expected to grow to less than 90 percent of the record 2000 level by 2028. The Travel Weekly article includes a graph showing actual and projected air traffic, 2000-2028, and actual and projected certified professional controllers, with FAA’s projection of certified professional controllers (CPCs) reaching about 90 percent of the level it was at in 2000 by about 2023.

What these contrasting narratives tell us is that something is wrong with the allocation of controllers, not their total numbers. And thereby hangs a tale. Back in 2014 the National Academy of Sciences critiqued FAA controller workforce planning as a bureaucratic mess, a conclusion that was seconded by a DOT Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that same year. Congress asked OIG to report on FAA’s progress in 2016 (AV-2016-014), and I wrote about that report in the February 2016 issue of this newsletter. OIG documented that the problem was misallocation of controllers, with shortages of CPCs at some key facilities and surpluses at others. It recommended that FAA to employ a commercial controller-scheduling and workforce-management tool called Operational Planning and Scheduling (OPAS), which is used by a number of leading ANSPs, including Airservices Australia, Germany’s DFS, and Nav Canada. FAA had actually acquired OPAS, but was resisting using a not-invented-here system rather than developing its own replacement system.

Fast-forward to November 2018, and yet another update by DOT’s OIG: “FAA Remains Several Years Away from a Standardized Controller Scheduling Tool” (AV-2019-013). The auditors found that eight years after FAA purchased OPAS (for $17 million), and after finally working out an agreement with NATCA in 2016 to use it for controller scheduling at all ATC facilities, the process got bogged down in haggling over a host of modifications. The end result was a compromise in which OPAS will be used only as a management tool for annual planning, and a whole new system will be developed for daily work schedules. To be called ATOMS (Air Traffic Operational Management System), the new custom system software will take until at least 2020 to finish and test, at a projected additional cost of $18.5 million (assuming it stays on budget).

The OIG report’s conclusion sums up the sad reality of this situation:

“Efficient schedules are a critical aspect of workforce planning, since inefficient facility schedules can lead to excess staffing or [insufficient staffing leading to] increases in overtime. Due to FAA’s decision to implement both OPAS and ATOMS, the Agency’s ability to implement optimal controller schedules remains years away from realization.”

» return to top

Airport Slots Rise in Importance

With the development of the third runway at London Heathrow, along with another terminal, LHR’s capacity for flight movements and annual passengers will increase significantly. Since the airport rations runway capacity by slots assigned to individual airlines, a 50 percent increase in slots raises the question of who will get the new slots, and how that process will work. Virgin Atlantic has begun arguing that this gives it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to expand its footprint. That is also true for all the airlines currently serving LHR—and for potential new entrants.

Economists have long criticized the current European slot regime as anti-competitive. Slots are made possible by investments made by airports to expand their runway capacity (and provide enough terminal capacity to match). Yet the status-quo approach, embedded in the IATA “Worldwide Slot Guidelines,” treats slots as owned de-facto by the airlines that were there first, apart from the handfuls of slots that may become available due to an airline cutting back service, going bankrupt, etc. Current European Union regulations basically mirror the IATA guidelines. EC Regulation 95/93 accepts the grandfathering of slots to incumbent airlines, as long as the airline uses each slot at least 80 percent of the time. If and when new slots become available, half are to be allocated to new entrants at the airport and the rest can be claimed by incumbents. There are well-known cases of airlines operating “ghost flights” in order to hang onto slots under the 80 percent rule. On average in Europe, only about one percent of slots are re-allocated each year—a sweet deal for incumbents and a real barrier to more-robust airline competition.

Under increased pressure from aviation regulators and airports, IATA in June released a modest revision of its guidelines. The revision gives airports an equal voice with airlines in how slots are distributed. But that does nothing about the vast majority of slots held (without being paid for) by incumbent airlines.

A new policy paper by Matthew Lesh of the Adam Smith Institute in London points out two salient facts regarding Heathrow slots. First, with the U.K.’s imminent departure from the European Union, it will no longer be bound by EC Regulation 95/93 (and the IATA Worldwide Slot Guidelines have no legal force on their own). Second, with a 50 percent increase in LHR slots in prospect, this presents an opportunity to allocate the new slots differently: by auction. Lesh cites a December 2018 advice paper to the Department for Transport by the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority which concluded that there are “strong arguments for moving to a market-based approach to slot allocation,” since “The current rules restrict the ability of new and/or smaller airlines to enter and expand their offerings.” And in the case of Heathrow, the revenues from auctioning all the new slots could help cover the projected $18 billion cost of the new runway and terminal.

I agree that Lesh has spotted a unique opportunity, which should be supported by most airlines seeking to better serve southeast England, as well as by airline passengers and other supporters and beneficiaries of airline competition, as well as by Heathrow Airport Ltd itself.

But as long-term readers of this newsletter know, I think a more-viable overall solution than slot auctions is market pricing of landings and takeoffs. In nearly all real-world cases (unlike LHR today), only a handful of slots would be available for auction each year, in the absence of EC 95/93 or unthinking adherence to the IATA Worldwide Slot Guidelines. Among the reasons runway pricing is better are the following:

  • It would apply to all flights from day one, and not have to be phased in over many years as old slots become available;
  • It would apply to international as well as domestic flights (whereas in the United States, foreign airlines are exempt from any slot reductions);
  • Since airports already have the right to charge variable prices, per ICAO charging principles, it is unlikely that national governments would intervene to require exemptions for favored players (small airlines, those serving rural communities, etc.); and,
  • There would be no arbitrary number of inclusions or exclusions for business jets or other non-airline operators; whoever is willing to pay the variable price could land and take off.

I elaborated on these points in the December 2007 issue of this newsletter.

» return to top

Progress on ATC Reform in Europe

Although 2018 is widely considered the worst year on record for airline delays and airspace congestion in Europe, the modest steps taken over the past decade towards the goal of a Single European Sky (SES) have produced some productivity improvements. As documented in a report from Eurocontrol—“2006-2016 U.S.-Europe Continental Comparison of ANS Cost-Efficiency Trends,” March 2019—unit ATC costs in Europe decreased nearly 9 percent over that decade, while corresponding U.S. unit costs increased by 6.7 percent.

Despite the European progress, its overall cost of providing ATC services is still far higher than comparable services provided by FAA’s Air Traffic Organization. That’s because Europe suffers from far more en-route centers than the USA (62 vs. 23), to handle 36 percent fewer annual flight hours. SES was intended to lead to consolidation not just of airspace but also of facilities—but that has not happened. National governments (and ATC unions) staunchly resisted closing facilities, especially en-route centers. And the second-best solution—creating Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs) among ANSPs of adjoining airspace—has led to only modest improvements.

So the aviation community awaited with interest the report of the Wise Persons Group of experts, appointed by the European Commission to recommend more effective ways to develop the Single European Sky. Their report, released on April 15th, did make a very important “long-term” recommendation: create a shared upper airspace in Europe, with a common charging system—basically ignoring national borders once planes reach cruising altitudes. It also called for common technical standards to foster interoperability among ANSPs. In addition, it proposed reform of national licensing of controllers, to make it easier for controllers to relocate to areas of Europe with controller shortages.

To the surprise of many observers, controllers’ unions in Europe were generally positive about the report. Most notable was an article in the current issue of Air Traffic Management by Dr. Luis Barbero, the president and CEO of the Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers in the U.K. (GATCO). He and Tom Laursen, EVP Europe for the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA), wrote a letter to the editor of The Economist taking issue with some of the unions-resist-change points in a long article in that magazine’s June 15, 2019 issue. In his ATM article, Barbero endorsed the proposed European Upper Flight Information Region (EUIR), stressing that it must not be constrained by considerations of national sovereignty or borders. He argued for a flexible price structure “that takes into account the law of supply and demand, making congested routes more expensive and vice versa.” He endorsed EU-wide standards for ATC systems, so that air traffic control can take better advantage of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology. And he called for increased ATC staff mobility, implying support for EU-wide controller licensing. These views are a breath of fresh air, and I hope they are actually shared among all six European controllers’ unions, not just GATCO.

I will close on an additional, somewhat-positive, note: It looks as if last winter’s alarums about summer 2019 being even worse than 2018 in terms of European airport and ATC delays may have been overstated. Aviation Daily reported on July 1st that airports group ACI Europe finds that the growth in air travel seems to be slowing. Director General Olivier Jankovec said, “There are signs that the traffic momentum is fading for Europe’s airports. A synchronized slowing of the world’s economy and significant geopolitical risks are combining with volatile oil prices, [ATC] disruptions, and overcapacity to exert downward pressures on both demand and supply.” While not good news in general, slower air travel growth could give Europe’s airports and ANSPs some much-needed breathing room to move forward on the kinds of reforms proposed by the Wise Persons Group and GATCO.

» return to top

Inspector General Finds Vulnerabilities in Global Entry Program

As I did with PreCheck, I was an early adopter of the Customs & Border Protection (CBP) trusted traveler program called Global Entry. I average only one international trip a year, but after having endured huge customs and immigration lines and delays in returning from overseas, I welcomed the opportunity to bypass most of that hassle. And I’ve been very pleased with the experience, as have nearly all the 5.4 million members currently enrolled in Global Entry.

Obviously, a trusted traveler program must correctly vet applicants as low-risk and must ensure that those returning to the country via this expedited process are the same people who were previously vetted. Alas, according to an audit released last month (in redacted form) by the DHS Office of Inspector General, CPB is not doing a thorough job of either task. (OIG-19-49)

On the vetting of applicants, the audit found that CPB is sometimes approving applicants who are ineligible. The redacted report says the team reviewed a statistically valid sample of applicants from 2016-2017 and identified four potentially high-risk, ineligible applicants who nevertheless were accepted. Since the sample size was redacted, it’s hard to judge how big a flaw this is, but the text says that the auditors “can infer with 90 percent confidence that there could be [redacted] ineligible and potentially high-risk members participating in Global Entry.” The team found that the Handbook used by those doing the vetting is flawed, and made suggestions to fix this.

The other problem occurs when members return to a U.S. airport from overseas. After using the Global Entry kiosk, the member receives a receipt which he or she must present to a CPB officer before leaving the secure area. What I did not realize—since I have never seen this done—is that the officer is supposed to verify that the receipt is authentic (via a Security Check Digit and a Daily Security Code). The auditors reported that at the nine airports they visited, over 5,700 Global Entry members “may not have had their Global Entry receipts authenticated by CBP officers.” At all nine airports, “none of the CBP officers at the Federal Inspection Service area verified the Security Check Digit printed on the receipt”—and that squares with my experience. It turns out that officers the team interviewed “were either unaware of the requirement or did not include the Security Check Digit when explaining the receipt verification process.” And when the OIG people explained what the officers were supposed to be doing, they reacted that it would be “cumbersome” and “could slow passenger movement.” The auditors subsequently learned that “CBP supervisors at seven of the nine airports did not disseminate the Daily Security Code,” so it’s no wonder the officers were not using it.

This may sound like nit-picking, but those procedures are there for good reason: to prevent unauthorized people from entering the United States while pretending to be a Global Entry member. The report notes that actual Global Entry receipts are available on the internet, enabling people to create a fake receipt including their own photo. Two out of 11 OIG covert testers were able to enter the United States using fake receipts created from online material. The auditors concluded that “Unless CBP redesigns its Global Entry receipt authentication process to make it less complicated and easier for CBP officers to use, travelers with malicious intent may gain expedited entry using a fraudulent receipt.”

The report made six recommendations for reform. CBP concurred with all six, and the auditors were satisfied with CBP’s proposed action items for five of the six. In all six cases, the recommendations “remain open until CBP provides documentation to support that all planned corrective actions are completed.”

» return to top

FAA Progress on Data Comm

In general, FAA technology modernization programs have a poor record. As documented over the past several decades by numerous Government Accountability Office (GAO) and DOT Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports, all too often these improvements go well over budget and are delivered late. I’m pleased to report a major exception to this pattern: the on-track Data Comm program.

The idea is to enable controllers and pilots to confer via digital messaging in many cases, rather than by voice radio. This is like the rest of us coming to rely far more on texting, email, and other digital communications rather than mostly on phone calls. Globally, you will see this referred to as controller-pilot data link communications (CPDLC). The advantages are several. First, the radio frequencies involved in controller-pilot communications are shared, so sometimes people talk over one another. Second, people sometimes mis-hear things over aeronautical radio, especially if there is interference. Third, a digital message conveys a given amount of information from controller to pilot much faster, conserving use of the limited radio frequencies and getting an entire complex message to the recipient without having to repeat parts of it. Messages from controller to pilot show up on a screen in the cockpit, and once the pilot approves, can be directly input into the plane’s flight management system computer.

The first application of Data Comm was for simple Tower services—basically departure clearances (and last-minute changes to those clearances). The initial plan and budget called for installing this capability in 55 busy airport control towers. This process went so smoothly in 2015-16 that it was finished 29 months ahead of schedule and under budget. With the savings, the same capability was installed in seven more towers, including two very busy general aviation airports, Teterboro and Van Nuys. Of course, Data Comm is only useful for planes that are equipped to use it, but even with the project’s speedy implementation, recent FAA figures show that 13 U.S. airlines, 53 international airlines, and 1,600 business jet operators are now using the departure clearance services.

FAA has now moved into Phase 2, which will install Data Comm in all 20 domestic en-route centers. The first two are Kansas City and Indianapolis, now under way. The initial set of services to be offered digitally are:

  • Transfer of communication/initial check-in (to a center’s airspace)
  • Altimeter settings
  • Altitudes
  • Speeds
  • Crossing restrictions
  • Airborne re-routes
  • Controller initiated re-routes
  • Direct-to-fix routes

Expanded versions of these will be offered in a later stage, along with several additional features.

There is also a set of more-advanced features (beyond the current project’s scope) for improved ways to operate, such as trajectory-based operations (TBOs), dynamic RNP, advanced interval management, and tailored arrivals.

Fortunately, based on the tower services and initial en-route operations, controllers seem to appreciate the improvements that Data Comm is making, helping them do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. FAA’s Data Comm program manager, Jesse Wijntjes told Air Traffic Management recently that “Controllers are excited about Data Comm. They recognize the benefits, particularly in terms of efficiency and saving time. They are also looking forward to additional messages that will be available in later software releases. The most common complaint is that they wish more aircraft were able to participate.”

» return to top

News Notes

Aireon Launches Global ALERT System In cooperation with the Irish Aviation Authority, space-based ADS-B provider Aireon on July 9th activated its free tracking service for aircraft in distress, Aircraft Location and Emergency Response Tracking (ALERT). It is available at no charge to airlines, ANSPs, regulators, and other aviation parties. As of July 8, 193 users had registered for the service. On request for the last known position of an aircraft, ALERT will provide the latest position based on ADS-B transmissions, and can email a report on the last 15 minutes of the flight.

Bipartisan Bill Would Remove Cap on PFCs Rep. Thomas Massie (R, KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D, OR) have introduced HR 3791, which would eliminate the $4.50 federal cap on the local airport user fee, the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). Large hub airports (which have the greatest need for expanding passenger terminal capacity) that increase their PFCs beyond $4.50 would forego federal AIP grants, and the bill accordingly provides for a $400 million reduction in AIP spending. The bill has been endorsed by a number of conservative, taxpayer, and free-market groups.

Heathrow Master Plan Released Last month, Heathrow Airport Ltd. released the master plan for its expansion, including the addition of a third runway (with the M25 motorway running beneath it in a tunnel) and an additional terminal. Currently at capacity, LHR is the busiest airport in Europe, handling 80.1 million passengers in 2018, compared with second-ranked Paris Charles de Gaulle. Runway completion is scheduled for 2026, with the other additions following.

EASA Releases Certification Rules for eVTOL Aircraft The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, on July 2, released the world’s first certification regulation for eVTOL aircraft, in the form of Special Conditions. It applies to eVTOLs with passenger capacity of up to nine and takeoff mass of 3,175 kg. (7,000 lbs.) or less. No comparable document has emerged thus far from the FAA.

Audits Blast TSA Personnel Management The DHS Office of Inspector General found serious deficiencies in the way TSA manages its personnel, suggesting that significant changes in hiring and training transportation security officers (TSOs) could increase employee retention and improve morale. This could potentially save millions of dollars per year. (OIG-19-35) Two months later, the findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel for the TSA, “Human Capital Service Delivery Evaluation” (May 2019) identified “numerous challenges with human capital policy, operations, and services.” It noted that TSA fails to make use of the flexibilities offered by its underlying legislation, has an “ill-defined service delivery model,” and a headquarters human capital office “that lacks strategic focus and demonstrates insufficient teamwork.”

Nav Canada Proposes Small Rate Increase In a June 4th notice, Nav Canada has proposed an increase in domestic base rates of 0.8 percent, to be effective Sept. 1, 2019. It notes that the costs to users of space-based ADS-B separation services in the North Atlantic (oceanic) airspace will be recovered through the existing North Atlantic enroute service charge, which will be increased Jan. 1, 2020 to cover the increased cost of satellite data services from the Aireon space-based ADS-B system.

Chile Announces $1.4 Billion Airport Expansion President Sebastian Pinera unveiled a plan to upgrade the terminals at 17 airports around the country. The plan will rely on competitively bid P3 concessions. When the upgrades are completed, 15 of Chile’s airports will have the capacity for international service, compared with six at present. All work is scheduled to be completed by 2026.

Boyd Group Forecast: Trans-Atlantic Flights to Mid-Size Airports New longer-haul narrow-body aircraft, such as the Airbus A-321XLR, will bring new trans-Atlantic service to smaller airports such as Albany, NY, according to the forthcoming annual “Airports: USA” forecast from aviation consultant Boyd Group. Besides increased aircraft range, the forecast credits Interstate highways as creating “road hubs” for new international flights. There will also be more international flights at larger mid-size airports such as Kansas City, Memphis, Milwaukee, and St. Louis.

Remote Tower for German NATO Base Announced Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions has won a contract to install a digital tower at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in Germany. It will provide air traffic services while the existing control tower undergoes refurbishment. This is the first case of an operational remote tower at a military base, and a first for NATO.

Frankfurt Building $4 Billion Terminal 3 Investor-owned Fraport in April laid the cornerstone for its huge new Terminal 3, one of the largest privately financed infrastructure projects in Europe. Due to the growth of low-cost carriers at Frankfurt, the first portion of T-3 to be completed will be Pier G, a low-cost facility sized to handle 5 million annual passengers, scheduled to open in 2021. After that will come Piers H and J, to be completed by 2023. In total, T-3 will add capacity to handle 23 million more passengers per year.

30 percent of Athens Airport Concession for Sale The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund is seeking expressions of investor interest in its 30 percent stake in the Athens International Airport, which extends to 2045. It will accept only all-cash payments. Deadline to submit qualifications is September 2019. The state’s Corporation of Assets and Participations will retain its 25 percent stake; the other shareholders are private companies.

City Attorney Says Lambert Referendum Would Not Be Binding St. Louis City Counselor Julian Bush told city aldermen last month that a bill seeking a citywide referendum on the long-term P3 lease would have no legal effect. He told them that the city charter does not delegate such decision-making power to the citizenry. Another alderman said he would introduce a charter amendment to change that, as regards the airport. A charter amendment requires 60 percent approval.

Electronic Flight Strips Coming to Netherlands ATC LVNL has selected Frequentis to implement electronic flight strips as part of its modernization of existing control towers. The smartSTRIPS system has already been installed in the two towers at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, the world’s ninth busiest airport.

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Named Airport of the Year Arizona DOT named the Phoenix metro area’s secondary airport as its 2019 Airport of the Year. The airport, a former military base located in Mesa, is now the nation’s 32nd-busiest airport. Last year it handled 288,000 aircraft operations (landings and take-offs).

New Haven Airport Wins Runway Lawsuit A long-running controversy over whether Tweed New Haven (CT) Airport can extend the length of its main runway was settled by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. It ruled that the state statute that limited the runway’s length to 5,600 ft. is “preempted by federal law and is therefore invalid,” as summarized by the attorney for the Airport Authority. Barring an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the airport is now cleared to pave portions of its current runway safety areas to increase the working length of the runway for take-offs. Airport officials hope the increased length will lead to additional air service. Allegiant Airlines has said it would begin serving New Haven if the runway length is extended to 6,000 ft.

New Jersey Senate Leader Wants Port Authority to Buy Atlantic City Airport Senate President Steve Sweeney wants the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to not just operate money-losing Atlantic City Airport but to buy it outright, taking it off the state’s hands. Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton says the agency is developing an RFP for a consultant study to analyze its options regarding the airport.

Gary Airport “Insources” Fire Service The Gary/Chicago International Airport has decided to self-provide airport fire and rescue service, taking over this function from the city fire department. The current schedule calls for the city firefighters to depart on August 31st, replaced by “new personnel who will be trained and certified.” The Fire Department was vetting applicants as of July 10th. The new fire employees will be cross-trained to do other airport tasks as well, and will work for airport manager AvPorts.

» return to top

Quotable Quotes

“[Rafael] Milczarski’s [CEO of LOT Polish Airlines] solution is to charge a single [ATC] rate across Europe—a rate that rewards the lower-cost providers; and, if struck at an average, would also punish the higher-cost providers. There are alternatives, of course. The [Eurocontrol] Network Manager, for example, could buy production from ANSPs to meet the flying foreshadowed by the filed flight plans and then sell that to airlines. That would also reward lower-cost providers. The issue might be the stability of long-term forecasts on the basis of which investments in new capacity are made. But . . . that is exactly what is not working now, so it can hardly be worse than what we currently do.” —Andrew Charlton, “ATM in Central Europe: Just Don’t Mention the Price War,” Aviation Intelligence Reporter, May 2019

“There has been much discussion and speculation surrounding St. Louis’ efforts to attract proposals for a potential public-private partnership via a long-term lease for the transformation of St. Louis Lambert International Airport into a first-class facility. Unfortunately, there are some who see airport privatization as a trick, when in reality there are many treats. . . . The traditional airport business model used in the U.S. relies on long-term leases that give airline anchor tenants considerable control over terminals, gates, and potential expansion, ignoring the fact that airports dominated by a single carrier are vulnerable to strikes and bankruptcy (the downfall of TWA and its impact on Lambert is a prime example). . . . With a potential for more than $1 billion in upfront money and ongoing revenue sharing, a St. Louis airport partnership represents an opportunity to produce revenues that could lead to the most significant investment in north St. Louis since 1870, when African Americans settled in Elleardsville. . . . [J]ustice for north St. Louis is access to that “vast ocean of material prosperity” that airport privatization potentially brings.” —Adolphus M. Pruitt II (St. Louis NAACP), “Pruitt: Is Airport Privatization a Trick or a Treat?St. Louis Today, June 19, 2019

“Automation works smoothly and well until it encounters a boundary condition; then, due to brittleness, a cascade of difficulties can ensue and quickly overwhelm the system, leading to an accident or a sudden collapse of performance, such as in sector throughput. This is the hallmark of complex systems. The steps to increase performance are offset by complexity penalties that represent new failure modes and require different steps to mitigate those penalties. Unfortunately, the trend for more automation, more autonomy, and more AI ignores brittleness—they erroneously assume brittleness magically disappears because the new algorithm is more powerful than the last. This turns out to be just plain wrong. Air traffic control is going to face these complexity penalties as the scale of operation continues to rise.” —David Woods, Ohio State University, “First & Last,” Air Traffic Management, Issue 2, 2019

“[Recent eVTOL developments] make the development of airspace markets and unmanned traffic management (UTM) systems all the more urgent. What regulators must guard against is first-movers squatting on high-revenue aerial routes. Airspace is nominally a common-pool resource, rationed via regulation and custom. That worked tolerably well for the Wright Brothers era and the jet age. Still, there are massive distortions and competitive problems because an oligopoly of first movers attained popular routes and airport terminals. The common-pool resource model for airspace leaves regulators with few tools to ration access sensibly.” —Brent Skorup, “What’s the Plan?” Urban Air Mobility News, June 26, 2019

» return to top