- Does America now have too many spaceports?
- FAA makes progress on drones, but there’s much more to do
- Airports’ funding crunch—and P3s
- Making airports safer (in Europe)
- Airport slot rules getting even worse
- Is hydrogen the answer for green aviation?
- News notes
- Quotable quotes
With commercial space launches setting new records, it might seem strange to question whether the United States has more spaceports than are needed. Yet that is an important subtext of a December report from the Government Accountability Office, “Commercial Space Transportation: FAA Should Examine a Range of Options to Support U.S. Launch Infrastructure.”(GAO-21-154, available at GAO.gov)
To be sure, GAO’s investigators did not suggest this, but some of those (space launch companies) interviewed by GAO did. As Figure 2 in the report reveals, this country already has 19 official launch sites. Twelve of these are designated and licensed by FAA as “spaceports” and are mostly located inland, generally with a runway for horizontal take-offs and landing (like those used by Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit). The rest are nearly all federal launch sites, such as Vandenberg AFB and the Kennedy Space Center. Two are privately owned sites in Texas, one each for SpaceX and Blue Origin vertical test launches and recoveries.
At the time GAO did this study, of the 12 spaceports with FAA licenses, only five had ever hosted a launch or re-entry between 2015 and 2020. Yet as of August 2020, FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) was spending time and money reviewing license applications from nine entities for 11 more spaceports. Only four of those 11 had identified launch providers at that time. GAO did raise the question of whether processing all these applications was a good use of FAA’s limited commercial-space staff and budget.
What seems to be going on is a typical political “If you build it, they will come” phenomenon. State or local governments, with some support from members of Congress from their locales, argue for spaceport grants in the hope of “economic development.” And space launch is a lot sexier than yet another boondoggle convention center or sports arena. There is already a spaceports trade association (I kid you not), the Global Spaceport Alliance, which last year prepared a “National Spaceport Network Development Plan” for AST. And Congress seems to be going along with the program. The 2018 FAA reauthorization law required FAA to provide recommendations to Congress on “how to facilitate and promote greater investments in space transportation infrastructure.”
GAO criticizes FAA for narrowly focusing on just two possible funding programs: the small two-year Space Transportation Infrastructure Matching (STIM) grants ($1.5 million distributed to seven spaceports, 2010-2012) and a very small diversion ($12 million) of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants to two airports that also have FAA launch site licenses. GAO suggests FAA could have suggested direct loans (akin to Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, TIFIA loans, in surface transportation), loan guarantees (against what kind of collateral?), or tax-exempt private activity bonds (PABs) like those used for surface transportation public-private partnerships. And on pages. 27-28 of the report, GAO also suggests that, just maybe, launch companies might be charged user fees for making use of the infrastructure at government-owned launch facilities.
GAO’s useful report also explains in some detail why vertical launches are best-suited to coastal launch sites, while horizontal launches can take place from inland locations—subject to community noise and airspace constraints. And at this point in time, the vast majority of space launch spending is on vertical launches. But that may change. Companies like SpaceX are seriously proposing suborbital point-to-point flights, in SpaceX’s case launching and landing vertically. This concept, a staple of science fiction dating back to at least the 1950s, offers potential half-hour journeys between, say, New York and Sydney (not counting, of course, the time to get from one’s actual starting point near New York to a vertical launch site, and the reverse process on landing at the launch site serving Sydney). Some of these point-to-point suborbital flights may involve horizontal take-offs and landings, in which case inland spaceports might have a bigger future.
To underline the potential of this concept, on Jan. 4, 2021, FAA and NASA signed a memorandum of understanding on “mutual goals in commercial space activities.” Part of that MOU says that “NASA seeks to enter into public-private partnerships to improve airspace, passenger, and crew safety while enhancing the capabilities of commercial suborbital point-to-point spacecraft.” That is an appropriate role for research and development, but it does not justify adding yet more spaceports to what is already more than is needed.
Editor’s note: My Reason colleague Rebecca van Burken has written a longer commentary about the GAO report.
On Friday, Jan. 15, the FAA released two long-awaited final rules related to the airspace integration of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). FAA’s remote identification and flights over people regulations will increase flexibility for UAS operators and aim to lay the groundwork for future rulemakings to give operators even more flexibility, such as enabling parcel delivery and operations beyond an operator’s visual line of sight. That said, FAA has indicated that full integration of UAS—especially larger unmanned aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds—into the national airspace system will not occur anytime soon.
The remote ID regulation will require manufacturers to install radios to broadcast UAS location and vehicle ID information. Those UAS IDs, like license plates, will be observable by the general public, but only authorized law enforcement personnel will be able to match vehicle IDs with personally identifiable registration information held by FAA. According to the rule’s regulatory impact analysis, FAA estimates annual costs at the (OMB-mandated) 7 percent discount rate to be $26.5 million, although this would be offset a bit by FAA’s estimate of $400,000 in annual savings due to reduced UAS incident investigation costs. The remote ID rule was viewed by aviation stakeholders as a foundational regulation necessary to satisfy law enforcement, national security, and conventional airspace user concerns, after which more advanced operational rules could be promulgated.
The small-UAS operations over people rule is one such operational rule. Previously, commercial UAS operators wishing to conduct operations over people or at night were required to obtain waivers from FAA. The waiver process is time-consuming and, if approved, highly prescriptive. FAA had previously issued more than 600 waivers related to operations covered by the over people regulation, which also includes previously forbidden flights over moving ground vehicles. This new rule should allow for more routine operations and expand the scope of viable commercial UAS activities. As a result, FAA’s regulatory impact analysis estimates the over people rule will actually result in an annual net cost savings of $78.5 million.
While this is an important milestone, and FAA deserves credit for taking into account stakeholder concerns in developing these rules, much more work needs to be done to fully integrate UAS into the national airspace system. FAA’s UAS regulatory pipeline includes numerous incomplete rulemaking activities, including modernization of the special process to certify UAS as airworthy, prohibition of UAS operations near critical infrastructure, and finalization of the small UAS registration and marking requirements rule. FAA must also complete advanced UAS operations rulemakings related to parcel delivery, beyond visual line of sight and fully automated operations, and large unmanned aircraft and UAS infrastructure requirements necessary for future urban air mobility passenger operations.
Is FAA up to the airspace integration task? Readers of this newsletter will recall an article in last month’s issue (“Are Airspace Property Rights the Way Forward for Drones?”) on a proposal to devolve near-surface (400 ft. and below) airspace management to state and local governments to facilitate advanced UAS operations. The author of that proposal believes FAA is overly cautious and is unlikely to fully integrate UAS into the national airspace system within a reasonable timeframe.
But that proposal also raises serious questions about state and local governments’ acceptance of even these early FAA-approved operations, with a number of state and local officials suggesting they wish to ban UAS activities that are permitted under current federal regulations. According to an FAA survey of commercial UAS operators, flying at higher altitudes remains their top long-term aspiration and this could not be met by a federated airspace framework that only devolves the airspace below 400 feet to state and local governments.
For better or worse, UAS airspace integration appears likely to continue under largely uniform FAA control. The current FAA authorization runs through Sept. 2023 and it is unlikely any major changes to UAS policy will occur before then. In the run-up to reauthorization, it will be imperative that both the UAS industry and FAA offer comprehensive requests to Congress that provide details on policy constraints, resource needs, and reforms to statutory authority that can help speed UAS airspace integration while balancing aviation safety and the public interest. FAA’s UAS posture is not ideal, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it’s the only game in town.
Editor’s note: Alphabet’s Wing division criticized the remote ID rule, complaining that instead of broadcasting their ID (as aircraft must do), every UAS should report its position via the internet. Wing cited “privacy” concerns about broadcasting UAS ID, but parent company Alphabet makes its money by harvesting massive amounts of data from the internet, using it to sell advertising. Privacy concerns indeed!
U.S. airports, like their global counterparts, are caught in a financial squeeze. Their primary revenue sources—airline fees and space rentals plus revenue from passenger spending—are still greatly depressed by the ongoing decline in air travel compared with pre-pandemic conditions. A report from Fitch Ratings in early December found that U.S. airport traffic was down by an average of 71 percent in third-quarter 2020, compared with the same quarter in 2019. And one-third of those airports “performed worse than Fitch expectations of a 75 percent decline,” and just one airport lost “only” 50 percent of prior-year passengers. Worst hit were international hubs such as BOS, IAD, JFK, LAX, MIA, and SFO, with HNL worst of all, down 89 percent from 2019 in the third quarter.
U.S. airports’ capital investments are financed 100 percent by bonds, unlike many global airports that have equity investors as well as bondholders. Debt service must be paid, on pain of ratings downgrades that lead to higher borrowing costs. Well-run airports maintain debt service reserve funds, but when revenues are squeezed, there may not be much left over for capital investments, such as terminal modernization, consolidated rental car centers, or new backup power systems.
In November 2020, I took part in a panel on airport funding and finance at the annual conference of the Airport Consultants Council (ACC). My role was to discuss the potential of public-private partnerships (P3s) for hard-hit U.S. airports. P3s offer an alternative to putting capital improvement projects on hold until air travel recovers, since they tap into private capital—a mix of equity and debt that in some cases does not require the use of any existing airport revenues or new airport bond issuance.
In last month’s issue, I profiled a “revenue-risk” P3 at Newark Liberty International Airport that is developing a consolidated rental car center. (“Newark Pioneers New Model P3 for Consolidated Rental Car Center”) The company doing the project is investing equity and bank debt to build the facility, with a new revenue stream of an inflation-linked rental car customer facility charge. This kind of P3 adds no debt to the airport’s balance sheet and relies on no existing airport revenues. It would work for any facility that has a built-in revenue source, such as a new parking structure or an on-airport hotel.
At the Airports Council International-World annual meeting in November, former director-general Angela Gittens told attendees that in the recovery period, “there will be more interest in items that may have been off the table before, like partial privatizations or creative ways of getting revenue short term.” She also noted that airports owned by municipalities must anticipate that those owners will have limited financial capacity to help them.
And that brings me to the second part of my ACC presentation. Cities and counties that own and operate airports now have a new option, thanks to the 2018 FAA reauthorization act. They can tap the asset value of their airports via the relatively new Airport Investment Partnership Program (AIPP). Under AIPP, a government airport owner can enter into a long-term P3 structured as a lease, competitively selecting from among the world’s leading airport companies, with financing provided by public pension funds or the growing ranks of infrastructure investment funds. Unlike the former federal pilot program, there are no restrictions on how many or what size airports can choose to do this. The lease payments can be made annually, over a 40-to-50-year lease term, or the net present value can be paid up-front, as was done in the case of San Juan International in 2013 and was being seriously considered in 2018 for St Louis Lambert Field. However structured, the lease revenue can be used by the airport owner for general government purposes, including other infrastructure investment.
During the ACC panel, we had a good discussion of how this might work, and why financially strapped cities, counties, and states (such as Hawaii and Maryland) might be interested in doing this. One of the points I made was that due to the long-term nature of these P3 leases, the investors might be less risk-averse to financing major improvements (such as new or modernized terminals) since they do not rely on investors as conservative as municipal bond buyers. And the risks attendant to premature investing would be borne by the P3 investors, not by the airport owner.
My fellow ACC panel members seemed to be surprised by the caliber of those who wanted to lease Lambert Field. The interested parties included four of the world’s five largest airport companies (Aena, Aeroports de Paris, Fraport, and Vinci Airports), major infrastructure investment funds (including AMP Capital, Blackstone, Global Infrastructure Partners, and Partners Group), major public pension funds (such as the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and Public Sector Pension), and two firms that invest in infrastructure on behalf of pension funds (IFM Investors and Ullico).
Preliminary research at Reason Foundation suggests that many large and medium U.S. hub airports have a net asset value (after paying off existing tax-exempt bonds) of between $1 billion and $10 billion, based on pre-pandemic airport transactions worldwide. How much those valuations would be discounted as of 2021 is uncertain, but in the context of, say, a 50-year P3 lease, I don’t think the valuations would be substantially lower.
The proposed St. Louis lease fell through, despite strong investor interest and airline support, due to divided opinions among the metro area’s business and government leaders. But I’m willing to bet there will be other interested governments as air travel begins a serious recovery.
In principle, keeping vehicles on the airport service from running into each other should be simple. With today’s technologies, if each vehicle’s real-time location and direction is known, automation should be able to keep them separated, as well as streamlining their paths.
It appears that European airports are ahead of most U.S. airports in implementing such systems, sometimes termed Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control System (A-SMGCS). One key technology is multilateration, in which multiple ground stations determine the positions of aircraft both on approach and on the ground. Privately-owned London Heathrow (LHR) was the first airport to install a multilateration system for this purpose, implemented by Saab Sensis in 2000. A recent article in Air Traffic Management (Nov. 20, 2020) discusses a project under which LHR took advantage of greatly reduced night-time flight activity last year to add 21 new ground stations to the 31 already in place. Heathrow Airport (LHR) has integrated multilateration with ADS-B, to provide additional data and redundancy.
Multilateration and ADS-B have been pioneered on the continent by ERA, a Czech company. It developed a transponder to be mounted on all airport ground vehicles, so that they would be visible and identified by the overall A-SMGCS. It broadcasts on the same 1090 MHz as ADS-B. ERA calls the transponder SQUID. An article in the Air Traffic Technology International 2021 reports that ERA’s first implementation of this system took place at Prague Airport, and was followed by an installation at Amsterdam Schiphol in 2005. Others now using the system include Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo, Montreal, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, and other airports in Indonesia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Turkey. Overall, the article notes ERA having installed nearly 8,000 SQUIDs on airport vehicles worldwide.
Systems like this are rare at U.S. airports. The largest 35 airports have ASDE-X, which uses multilateration, but does not have the means to identify individual ground vehicles. Runway incursions remain a serious problem here, and ADS-B is now on all commercial aircraft and the majority of GA aircraft. But multilateration and ground vehicle transponders are not in common use, according to a former FAA engineer I discussed this with, for two reasons. First, unlike in Europe, our air navigation service provider (ANSP), FAA, does not separate traffic on taxiways or other parts of the airport surface movement area. Second, the 1090 MHz frequency used by airport vehicle transponders is severely congested in this country, due to so many other aviation uses. There is more to this story, but that’s all I have space for this month.
In November, struggling U.K. low-cost carrier EasyJet sold 312 of its slots at London Stansted Airport to Ryanair, permitting its competitor to add 22 daily arrivals and departures at Southeastern U.K.’s third-largest airport. The price was not disclosed. Later that month, JetBlue managed to acquire 14 slots at London Gatwick, enough for one daily round-trip per week; it also acquired 28 slots at Stansted, enabling twice-daily round trips. These were slots that became vacant due to other airlines going under or ceasing service at those airports, and were “allocated” via an obscure process that has nothing to do with the market value of the slots.
In early December, the International Air Transport Association, which had already won an exemption from European lose-it-or-use-it slot rules for the summer and winter flight seasons, pushed hard for continued waivers for the summer and winter 2021 seasons. And, emboldened by its prior success, IATA also asked for the normal 80 percent threshold for retaining slots to be temporarily reduced to 50 percent for the duration. IATA even made noises about keeping the waiver in place for summer 2022.
IATA had also struck a deal with Airports Council International to jointly form the Worldwide Airport Slot Board as the vehicle for slots lobbying, claiming this new body now reflected “the united position of the air transport industry on what needs to be done to protect connectivity and choice in the best interests of passengers.” But that is inaccurate because the interest of passengers is best served by competition and lower airfares, not entrenched incumbents charging high fares. Within Europe, Ryanair and Wizz Air loudly complained—but to no avail. The European Commission has already approved the waiver throughout 2021 and the 50 percent usage rule, but so far not beyond that.
On this side of the Atlantic, the news is almost as bad. This month the FAA announced that it is extending slot waivers through Oct. 30, 2021, for JFK, LGA, and DCA. But restrictions on use also extend to IATA-designated Level 2 airports ORD, EWR, LAX, and SFO. At least FAA maintained the 80 percent threshold for use-it-or-use-it, rather than caving in to 50 percent like the European Commission. Three U.S. airlines bitterly oppose this incumbent-protection measure: Allegiant, Southwest, and Spirit. All three have been working hard to gain entry to hub airports dominated by legacy carriers, but they are succeeding only at the margin, where slots become available in dribs and drabs due to airlines withdrawing service or going belly-up.
Let’s hope U.S. airports don’t make common cause with the legacy carriers’ efforts to keep low-fare competition out of airports that would benefit from more traffic and passengers who would benefit from more flight options.
Hydrogen is all the rage as the likely best answer for “de-carbonizing” commercial airlines. Airbus last September unveiled three hydrogen-powered aircraft concepts on which it plans extensive research and development from now through 2025, at which point it hopes to decide on which versions are actually worth developing. From that point, it would start developing one or more, targeting entry into service by 2035.
The first would be a turboprop with 100 seats, likely powered by hydrogen fuel cells driving electric motors. Next up in size would be a narrow-body jetliner seating up to 200, using jet engines powered by liquid hydrogen fuel, supplemented by a hybrid-electric system powered by fuel cells. This aircraft would store the fuel in the aft fuselage, reducing its seating capacity. The most ambitious is a blended wing body (BWB) design for long-haul routes. That configuration provides a lot more room for hydrogen fuel tanks in its capacious interior.
Most of the actual work going on with flying prototypes is on small planes (2-to-50 passengers) that can be powered by electric motors driven by hydrogen fuel cells. One example is the conversion of a twin-turboprop DeHavilland Dash-8-300, in which the two engines are replaced by electric motors, each driven by a two-megawatt hydrogen fuel cell stack. The conversion eliminates 10 seats, to make room for hydrogen tanks, making it a 40-passenger plane.
That conversion is a project of a startup company called Universal Hydrogen. Its business model is to develop the infrastructure to bring hydrogen from producers to air transport users. Its key innovation is to bring hydrogen (gas or liquid) to users in modular capsules, They are designed for easy transportability in standard intermodal cargo containers, and would be loaded onto aircraft using existing ground-handling equipment, or even a forklift.
Universal Hydrogen agrees that hydrogen will be more expensive than jet fuel through 2025, but thinks its cost will come down over time. That might be true for “ordinary” hydrogen produced from natural gas or water using conventional electricity. But to be “green” hydrogen, it would have to be produced using “sustainable” energy, such as from solar, wind, hydro, or nuclear. Robin Stanier, writing in Aviation Week (Oct. 26-Nov. 8, 2020), estimated that just to produce the 75 billion kg. of fuel used in short-haul aviation worldwide each year (about 25 percent of the total) would take 1.2 million gigawatt-hours per year. That, Stanier estimated, would require 100 of the world’s largest solar farms or 200 of the largest wind farms. And, assuming the hydrogen is produced from water (electrolysis), this production would require 9 kg. of clean water for every kilogram of green hydrogen. And this is just for the annual green hydrogen for short-haul aviation.
Another noted skeptic is emeritus MIT professor Alan H. Epstein. In a Jan. 14 column in Aviation Daily, he concludes that sustainable hydrocarbon fuels will be significantly more cost-effective than either liquid or gaseous hydrogen. He dismisses hydrogen fuel cells as heavier and less efficient than existing jet engines but thinks they might be competitive in less-energy-efficient general aviation planes. He also raises questions about the size, weight, and safety of liquid hydrogen fuel tanks.
Weighing all of this (and a lot more that I don’t have space to discuss here), I think the case for hydrogen is far from established, but this does seem a worthwhile subject for continued research and development. And if neither hydrogen propulsion nor sustainable jet fuels pan out in the next decade or two, there is significant scope for airlines to offset all their CO2 emissions by paying for carbon sequestration and storage on land or under the sea. I wrote about this in the Dec. 2019 issue, “A Smarter Way Forward on Airline CO2 Emissions.”
Heathrow Runway Gets New Lease on Life
The U.K. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Heathrow Airport Ltd.’s (HAL) appeal of a decision by the High Court of England and Wales that the addition of a third runway at LHR was contrary to the U.K.’s Paris Agreement commitments on climate change. The Supreme Court noted that the country’s 2008 Climate Change Act provisions exceed those of the Paris Agreement and that LHR will have to demonstrate the runway plan’s compliance when it applies for development consent to build the runway. HAL praised the ruling, pointing out that with the new runway it will be better able to compete with major EU hubs that have added runway capacity in recent years.
Supersonic Flight Testing Getting Closer
On Jan. 6, FAA released its final version of a rule for testing supersonic aircraft over land. While it does not legalize regular supersonic flights, it does permit testing such aircraft at Mach 1. In December, the FAA and Kansas Department of Transportation announced an agreement under which KDOT will establish a flight corridor for testing civil supersonic aircraft. The Kansas Supersonic Transportation Corridor is planned as a racetrack-shaped route 770 nm long at FL 390 (39,000 ft.) in low-volume airspace near the Kansas-Oklahoma border. New flight procedures for that airspace have been developed by FAA and Lemasters Group Consulting.
Air Force Backs Joby Aviation’s eVTOL
Last month, the U.S. Air Force issued a safety endorsement of a prototype electric VTOL developed by California startup Joby Aviation. USAF will work with Joby to carry out flight tests and assist the company in documenting the aircraft’s performance. Assuming positive results, USAF hopes to be able to contract with Joby to produce such eVTOLs to carry cargo and personnel. The decision is part of the agency’s Agility Prime effort, which seeks to take advantage of private-sector innovations, bypassing the cumbersome military development and acquisition process. Separately, Joby last month agreed to acquire Uber Elevate from ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies.
Airbus Announces Datalink Breakthrough
A new offering from Airbus will provide automated transmission of an aircraft’s predicted flight path, from the plane’s flight management system to the relevant air traffic control facilities. This is intended to optimize flight paths, reducing fuel consumption and increasing airspace capacity. It has been in development and testing for two years, with 90 aircraft carrying out 20,000 flights; ANSPs taking part included NATS, ENAV, DFS, and MUAC. Four-dimensional (including time) flight information will be sent via datalink to ATC facilities handling each flight. If the entire European jet airliner fleet were using the system, Airbus estimates the annual savings at 65,000 metric tons of fuel. The system has been certified for A320 and A330, with later certification planned for the A220 and A350.
United Airlines Pledges Carbon Neutrality by 2050
Breaking ranks with other major carriers, UA pledged last month to be carbon-neutral by 2050, rather than merely meeting the ICAO goal of halving CO2 emissions by that year. The airline will rely primarily on investing in carbon capture and sequestration (via 1PointFive, a joint effort of Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and Rushteen Capital Management), supplemented by increased use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Separately, the German air transport sector last month pledged net zero emissions by 2050. The announcement came from BDL, which represents airlines, airports, and DFS, the German ANSP. The plan includes more efficient ATC, technology innovation, emissions trading, and shifting some short-haul travel to rail.
London City Airport Plans for Traffic Doubling by the 2030s
Privately-owned LCY has completed major parts of its planned capacity expansion while it was closed to traffic for much of 2020. It has added a full-length taxiway, eight new aircraft stands, and some new passenger facilities. It declared the new taxiway operational earlier this month, which will permit up to 45 flights per hour. Its new remote tower, located 70 miles to the north, will go live later this year. While the remainder of the $675 million expansion plan will be on hold until traffic recovers, the new master plan released in December expects 11 million annual passengers by the mid-2030s, more than double its 5.1 million in 2019.
CBP Announces Expanded Use of Facial Recognition at Airports
In November, U.S. Customs & Border Protection put an announcement in the Federal Register seeking to expand its biometric exit program to all air and land ports, using facial recognition exclusively. If adopted as a final rule, any non-citizen going into or out of the country would be photographed and that photo run through a facial recognition program. In response, a 16-organization coalition led by the ACLU filed an objection, raising various legal concerns about the program.
First US. Military Remote Tower Completes Testing
The Frequentis Remote Digital Tower (RDT) procured by the Department of Defense has completed its Systems Operation and Verification Test, according to a Jan. 11 news release from the company. It has been procured by the Naval Information Warfare Center-Atlantic, on behalf of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
Berlin Airport Closes New Runway
After opening its new southern runway on Nov. 4, Berlin Brandenburg Airport closed it to traffic in early December. Terminal 5, the old East German terminal when the airport was named Schoenefeld, had been re-purposed as a low-cost-carrier terminal. But with too little overall traffic, that terminal faces a one-year closure starting this spring. Carriers such as Ryanair and Wizz will have to move to the new terminal, likely paying its higher rates, in order to continue serving the airport.
Atlanta Seeking Cargo Facility Public-Private Partnership
The Atlanta Department of Aviation issued a request for proposals (RFP) on Jan. 7 for a company or consortium to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain (DBFOM) a new cargo facility at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Responses to the RFP are due March 4. Inframation News reports that six teams responded last year to a request for information: AFCO, Aeroterm, Balfour Beatty, Ventus, Engineering Design Technologies, and Holder Construction. Recent long-term airport public-private partnerships include consolidated rental car facilities at EWR and LAX, an automated people mover at LAX, and an air cargo facility at Laredo International Airport.
UK Will Open First Commercial UAV Corridor
Under Project XCelerate, a team led by British Telecom will develop the country’s first commercial drone corridor in open and unrestricted airspace, Aviation Daily reported on Dec. 17. The five-mile corridor will be located south of Reading and begin operating this summer. Working with BT are Altitude Angel, Angoka, Dronecloud, DroneStream, HeroTech8, SkyBound Rescuer, and Skyports. The project will include an array of test cases, such as infrastructure inspection, medical deliveries, and rapid-response emergency services. The flights will be operated beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).
SpaceX Wins $885 Million for Space-Based Broadband
Under FCC’s reverse auction for rural broadband, SpaceX will receive $855 million over 10 years from the agency’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to expand its Starlink satellite constellation to connect nearly 643,000 sites in rural areas of 35 states. Only one other satellite operator—Hughes Network Systems—won any funding via the reverse auction. The others were all land-based broadband providers.
EPA Releases Airliner Greenhouse Gas Rules
Late last month the Environmental Protection Agency issued its final greenhouse gas rule for commercial aircraft. Such planes will be required as of 2028 to comply with the internationally agreed International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) emissions standards. The rule has been criticized as too weak by environmental groups, but it is defended by manufacturers as enabling U.S-produced aircraft to be certified in other countries.
Airglades Airport Transportation Study
The planned conversion of the Hendry County (Florida) Airport to a cargo-reliever airport for Miami International will require significant upgrades for the surface transportation infrastructure adjacent to the airport. Hendry County last month received only one proposal for the needed Transportation Infrastructure Analysis around what will be Airglades International Airport (AIA). It came from Miami-based civil engineering firm Corradino Group.
New Kansas City Terminal to Open in March 2023
The Kansas City Aviation Department announced last month that its new terminal will open on March 3, 2023. Construction began on March 25, 2019, with an expected duration of four years. So the announced date would be basically on schedule.
Boeing Considering Expansion at MidAmerica Airport
MidAmerica Airport, across the river from St. Louis in Illinois, is in early discussions with Boeing about a possible expansion of its defense-related manufacturing facility located on the airport property. The project would be located on a 35-acre parcel at the airport and would require both a new taxiway and a new entrance from Illinois Route 4.
“While a welcome development, the [pandemic relief] funding by no means guarantees a smooth ride for U.S. commercial airports in 2021. If international travel demand remains low, some big U.S. gateways will suffer well into what is expected to be a measurable domestic uptick starting sometime in the second half of the year. Smaller cities remain at risk of losing service as airlines rework their networks with fewer aircraft and, notably, no clear option for a new-generation aircraft to replace the steadily retiring Bombardier and Embraer 50-seaters.”
—Sean Broderick, “U.S. Airports Are Caught in the Middle,” Aviation Daily, Jan. 13, 2021
“One of the features of the aviation industry is that we rarely tell the truth. The ‘Freedoms’ of the air are actually restrictions. The one thing that we do not share in a code-share is the code. International aviation is completely national. Aviation is the business of freedom, but it is regulated to within an inch of its existence. Slots have long been susceptible to this flaw—the Worldwide Slot Guidelines, for example, are not worldwide at all. They do not apply in much of the world, and they are only guidelines until such time as you choose to deviate from them where they do, at which point the full wrath of the incumbent industry will fall on your head like Thor’s hammer.”
—Andrew Charlton, “Being Flexible About the Unending One-Off Slot Waiver: Truth or Dare,” Aviation Intelligence Reporter, Dec. 2020
“Overall, the vision of hydrogen-fueled aviation is inconsistent with the reality of the looming 2050 need. An aviation-size, worldwide hydrogen fuel supply and airliners capable of using it are decades and trillions of dollars away. In terms of a timely green return on investment, the money would be much better spent on sustainable alternative jet fuels, both for capital investments in capacity and for technologies that improve yields and reduce costs. As for hydrogen and aviation, let’s leave that for dirigibles.”
—Alan H. Epstein, professor emeritus, MIT, “Leave Hydrogen for Dirigibles,” Aviation Daily, Jan. 14, 2021