- New insights on European aviation and climate change
- Rethinking airline service at small airports
- Noise—a serious challenge for eVTOLs and vertiports
- Finishing up the 5G and altimeters drama
- Amazon Air adds business for airports
- What’s in store for the next FAA reauthorization
- News Notes
- Quotable Quotes
On April 15, Eurocontrol released a detailed report on “the aviation path to 2050,” forecasting three possible growth scenarios and discussing how each would deal with the European Union’s aviation goal of net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
In the mid-range scenario, here are the five components that Eurocontrol projects as contributing toward that 2050 net zero CO2 goal:
- 17% via evolutionary improvements to aircraft and engines;
- 2% via revolutionary new aircraft technologies, such as electric and hydrogen-propelled aircraft;
- 8% via more efficient flights, such as improved air traffic management;
- 41% via gradually increasing use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF); and.
- 32% via various market-based measures, such as buying offsets (CORSIA) and applying Europe’s Emissions Trading System to aviation.
Not included in Eurocontrol’s report are policies such as one being implemented in France to require trips up to 500 kilometers to be made via rail instead of air travel. The idea is being discussed in several other countries, which makes the release of a new study carried out by consulting firm Oxera on behalf of five aviation stakeholder groups very timely. Despite being funded by trade groups ERA, ACI Europe, ASD Europe, CANSO, and A4E, the report, “Short-haul Flying and Sustainable Connectivity,” released on March 24, is well-done and provides a thoughtful and data-rich assessment of short-haul flying and various alternatives, primarily passenger rail.
This turns out to be a more complex issue than is evident at first glance. CO2 emissions per passenger-kilometer are higher on short-haul flights than on long-haul flights, since take-offs and landings are a larger fraction of short-haul flights. The European Environment Agency (EEA) notes that the carbon footprint of passenger rail includes the CO2 emissions from the production of the steel and concrete used, especially for high-speed rail (HSR). The report cites EEA’s calculations of the monetary cost of pollution per passenger for a 500 km journey and finds that it is higher for gasoline and diesel cars carrying one person but that the same cars have much lower pollution costs if they’re carrying four people. The report notes in passing that by 2050, if government and auto industry electric vehicle plans are realized, a very large fraction of personal vehicle trips in Europe will be electric, rather than petroleum-fueled.
The report also discusses the non-CO2 environmental impacts of air and rail travel. Noise exposure occurs along the entire rail right of way, whereas aviation noise is limited to land areas around airports. Railroads also have negative impacts on wildlife and biodiversity. They produce soil pollution from abrasion of brakes, wheels, tracks, and overhead electrical lines. Indirect emissions account for 21% of overall emissions from aviation but 39% and 100% from diesel and electric trains, respectively.
Section 3 of the report focuses on the challenges in shifting short-haul travel from air to rail in Europe. One key finding is that “There is unlikely to be sufficient rail capacity [already in existence] to accommodate the passengers shifting from air,” if this is mandated. There is no real HSR network in Europe today, as opposed to “an ineffective patchwork of poorly connected national lines,” in the words of a 2018 review by the European Court of Auditors. And for existing non-HSR railroads, about 45% of track miles are non-electrified. Hence, to be a low-carbon alternative to air travel, Europe’s passenger rail system would need to electrify the rest of conventional rail and greatly expand and interconnect national HSR systems, at huge taxpayer cost.
Another problem is the much longer travel time of passenger rail. Of the top 150 intra-EU rail routes, only 14% have a duration of less than four hours. Another 20% take four to six hours, and 39% are eight to sixteen hours long. So it’s no surprise that current proposals for air-to-rail shifts focus on routes of 500 km or less. A case study of travel between Berlin and Munich finds that door-to-door trip times for that route may be comparable, but current rail service between the two could accommodate only 26% of current air passengers. Rail capacity would need to be greatly expanded, generating a large carbon footprint. The alternative would be to accept that some large fraction of those travelers would shift to driving or intercity bus. Unfortunately, the report does not analyze intercity bus travel, which is extensive in Europe.
As for the carbon footprint of newly added high-speed rail lines, the report presents estimates for three hypothetical cases: high-potential (strong demand, minimal tunnels, or elevated track), low potential (low demand, considerable tunnels and elevated track), and an in-between case. The low-potential case has an estimated carbon payback time of 50 years, versus just three years for the high-potential case. But given the political choices of where to build HSR in many countries, low-potential routes would likely be part of the mix.
One other important factor is that a large fraction of short-haul European air travel is flights from smaller cities to major hub airports where passengers connect to longer-haul flights. Yet few of the originating cities have convenient rail lines that connect directly to those larger hub airports. This leads to the possibility that if short-haul flights are banned within Europe, some passengers may opt to fly to a connecting hub outside Europe (e.g., Turkey or Dubai) to reach long-haul destinations.
There’s far more in this well-done report than I can summarize here. It raises many important considerations about both the feasibility and extent of carbon footprint reduction from a mandated shift of short-haul air travel to passenger rail.
Changes in aircraft economics are leading to cuts in airline service at small airports. The 50-seat regional jets that used to provide much of the service to such airports are fuel-guzzlers and are being retired from service. A new study from Swelbar-Zhong finds that as of June, 50-seat regional jets will fly only 53% of the departures they flew three years ago. And this shows up in numbers for the big-three legacy carriers. For airports that rely on 50-seat regional jets, American this June will serve only 33, down from 42 in June 2019. And while Delta and United have not cut any airports so far, their connections to hubs from small airports are down from 2.2 per day to 1.7. The same report also looks at airports served 100% by regional airlines. The June 2022 schedules show American-affiliated regionals will serve 122, down from 139 in June 2019. Delta is down from 82 to 76, and United is down from 142 to 124.
Newer, larger regional jets have better fuel economy, but that’s meaningful to their operator only if they fly mostly full of fare-paying passengers. So this leads to one or two large RJs replacing three or four small RJs. As industry analyst Bill Swelbar points out, that may be okay for vacation travelers, but not for those needing to make timely connections at a large hub airport. So this is not only a problem for small airports; it is also a problem for business travelers and others needing to make connections.
About 100 small airports are eligible for per-passenger federal subsidies under the Essential Air Services program, enacted in 1978 as a 10-year transition program to help smaller cities adjust to newly deregulated air travel. That program has numerous flaws and inequities and it does not directly address the changes in aircraft economics that are driving the changes noted above. So what hope is there for smaller airports?
One promising trend is the ongoing growth of ultra-low-cost carriers, including, Allegiant, Avelo, Breeze, Frontier, Spirit, and others. These carriers seek to connect smaller airports with popular destinations, especially for leisure travelers (though some budget-conscious business travelers use them, too).
A possible future option is regional air mobility, via a new generation of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, though at this point their business case is unknown and uncertain. An opinion piece in Aviation Daily by David Marcontell of Waltzing Matilda Aviation explains its plan to offer fuel-efficient service to small airports using DHC Dash 8 Q400 turboprops initially, with possible future upgrades to Universal Hydrogen’s fuel-cell electric conversion. That, too, is speculative, but his point about the potential of fuel-efficient turboprops to replace fuel-guzzling 50-seat RJs is sensible.
Another option already in motion is customized bus service. American, Sun Country, and United have made deals with bus operator Landline. American, its most-recent partner, will begin Landline service on June 3, 2022, between Philadelphia and two small airports: Atlantic City and Allentown/Bethlehem. Already in operation is Landline service for United from Fort Collins and Breckenridge (CO) to United’s Denver hub. And Sun Country has Landline service from seven small airports in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The value proposition for customers is being able to check in for their flights and be security-screened at a Landline Portal at the small airport and then be delivered directly to their gates at the destination airport. The Landline buses have leather seats, free Wi-Fi, in-seat power, and streaming entertainment.
Landline, in my view, has a lot of potential and has just raised $28 million to expand its service. And from a public policy standpoint, it is unsubsidized, unlike the poorly justified federal Essential Air Service program, still in existence after 44 years.
On April 7, an aviation news article appeared in my in-box, “Flying Electric Cars Are Coming—and Oshkosh’s Airport Might Be One of the Few Places to Charge Them.” The rather breathless story focused on a startup vertiport developer, Volatus Infrastructure, which announced plans to build “the first permanent electric vertical takeoff and landing vertiport in the Americas” at Wittman Regional Airport, the site of the huge annual AirVenture fly-in convention. Volatus co-founder Grant Fisk seems to have missed Palm Beach International’s agreement for a vertiport announced last year. But he also told the reporter that “half a dozen [eVTOL] vehicles are in final approval stages for general use and sale early next year.” I don’t think so. And what kind of vertiport business model depends on a single annual event for a large fraction of its paying customers?
Fisk is onto something, however, in seeing merit in locating initial vertiports at airports. Thousands of small U.S. airports exist, many of them lightly used, and a McKinsey study found that most Americans live within a 16-minute drive from an airport of some sort. Garrett Reim of Aviation Week pointed out in a March 21-April 3 article that such “airfields may offer an early and cheap test case for urban air mobility.” Reim’s article went into detail explaining that the lack of eVTOL performance data means that FAA cannot yet produce detailed guidance or regulations for vertiports. Its initial “Engineering Brief No. 105, Vertiport Design,” consultant Rex Alexander pointed out, can be seen as a “foundational document to build from, since there is not yet data from eVTOL prototype testing to be able to provide realistic guidance. We’re still trying to identify what a stabilized approach is for an eVTOL,” and that may vary depending on its configuration and its propulsion and lift system.
An even larger problem is likely to be noise exposure. For urban air mobility, as Graham Warwick points out in an Aviation Week commentary (March 21-April 3, 2022), when bringing aviation closer to people, “any level of [noise] annoyance will foster public opposition and could put the brakes on [this] democratization of aviation before it can gain momentum.” He recalls that the original 2016 Uber Elevate white paper stressed that urban air mobility (UAM) must blend into urban background noise.
There are at least two big problems with urban air mobility noise. First, there is very little real noise data available, since there are only a few flying prototypes so far, and only one or two (e.g. Joby, working with NASA) are systematically measuring and documenting noise. Because of the many different forms of lift and propulsion, each eVTOL may have different noise impacts, as well as different approach and landing paths.
The second problem is that the FAA’s current way of accounting for airport noise exposure has come under increasing criticism as not being able to assess changed noise impacts on specific neighborhoods—such as when approach and departure paths change due to the implementation of performance-based navigation (PBN) at major airports. In its report “Aircraft Noise: FAA Should Improve Efforts to Address Community Concerns” (GAO-22-105844), released last month, the Government Accountability Office pointed out that the current Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL) method comes up with the same average impact for one flight per day at 114.4 dB and 100 flights per day at 94.4 dB. GAO recommends that FAA identify better metrics, especially ones that identify changed noise impact for specific locations near airports.
Assessing urban air mobility noise impacts will be even more challenging. Juliet Page of acoustical engineering company Blue Ridge Research & Consulting” told Aviation Week’s Reim that, for example, eVTOLs in the heart of a city will create noise that bounces off surrounding buildings. She added that eVTOL noise will not be anything like the day-night average sound level currently used for airports. “We need to consider sound in three dimensions,” she said, and this involves the field of psychoacoustics—the study of human perception of sound. She also pointed out that some local noise ordinances “really make no technical sense,” being developed by people who don’t understand decibels, log scales, and other aspects of acoustics.
While these urban noise problems may be solvable, they constitute another barrier to the potential business viability of urban air mobility. More viable, in my view, is regional air mobility, which can rely on vertiports located at airports (of all sizes) and fall within the airport’s overall noise regulations. I still think a vertiport at Oshkosh is at least five years too soon, but it’s not as bizarre as (today) building a vertiport downtown, prior to any real data on eVTOL noise or any FAA standards for such vertiports.
After all of the miscommunication between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prior to the auction of C-band spectrum for expanded telecommunications, it turns out there was—and is—a simple, previously-used solution.
My long-time friend, economist Tom Hazlett (who is also a former chief economist at FCC) co-authored a commentary in the Spring 2022 issue of Regulation, “Why Couldn’t the FCC and FAA Solve Their 5G Problem?” What he and co-author Michael J. Marcus point out is that there is a well-established process when new uses of spectrum displace or inconvenience prior users of that spectrum. When the spectrum is auctioned off to new users, the old users are compensated with a portion of the federal government’s auction proceeds.
The parallel with 5G is not exact, because aviation was not actually using the spectrum that AT&T, Verizon, and other companies paid $94 billion to acquire. FCC had previously worked out a deal with the actual incumbent users of that spectrum, to provide them with $13 billion in compensation. FCC had negotiated that compensation deal in advance of the auction. But because it had dismissed aviation’s concerns about interference with radar altimeters, no such compensation for affected airlines had been considered.
Fast forward a few months, and we find that testing of the commercial aviation fleet by FAA has found that about 90% of the fleet have modern altimeters that are properly shielded from the potential interference that was the source of FAA and airline concerns. The altimeters that will need to be replaced are mostly on older regional jets, not on mainstream narrow-body and wide-body jetliners.
Hazlett and Marcus don’t know the estimated replacement cost of those altimeters—nor do I. But it’s possible to make a ballpark estimate. Assume each replacement box costs $50,000 each, in quantity, and costs another $1,000 in labor to install for a unit cost of $51,000. There are about 5,800 U.S. commercial airliners, so 10% of those is 580. Some multiplication yields a replacement cost of about $30 million. That’s a trivial fraction of the $13 billion paid to prior incumbent users of the 5G spectrum. And it’s an even tinier fraction of the $81 billion the Treasury netted from the auction.
In congressional testimony in February, Meredith Attwell Baker, president of telecommunications trade group CTIA said “There have been all sorts of instances where, through a Spectrum Relocation Fund or through a designation from Congress, there has been use of spectrum auction proceeds. Congress can use the proceeds . . . as they wish.”
Rather than sticking regional airlines with the bill for retrofits, it would make sense for Congress to use a bit of the $81 billion to pay for the replacement altimeters. Had FAA and FCC held serious discussions on the potential interference problem a year in advance of the spectrum auction, the testing and a compensation plan could have been part of the deal. It wasn’t, so the problem is now one for Congress to solve.
The Chaddick Institute at DePaul University last month released another in its recent series of reports on the growth of Amazon Air, the air cargo carrier that Amazon has created for inventory shipments among its warehouses and fulfillment centers. The report is: “Total Package: Amazon Air’s Changing Network and Strategic Orientation,” March 2022.
The first thing to understand is that while Amazon Air is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amazon, all its air cargo operations are carried out by contractors; it does not hold an airline operating certificate. The 85 aircraft in its fleets carry the Amazon Air logo but are operated and maintained by contractors such as Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) and Atlas Air. In Europe, Amazon Air contracts with Irish cargo carrier ASL Airlines and several others.
The Chaddick report finds that from August 2021 to March 2022 Amazon Air itself increased its flight activity by 14% and expanded its U.S. network to have fulfillment centers or warehouses within 100 miles of 73% of the U.S. population. Growth was even larger in Europe, with Amazon Air’s own operations there growing from 8 to 18 between August and March, and with its European partner airlines ramping up from just a handful of daily flights to between 20 and 24 per day. Its European network includes Barcelona, Cologne, East Midlands, Hanover, Katowice, Leipzig, Madrid, Milan, Paris, and Rome—each of which got between one and three flights per day as of March.
I’m especially interested in seeing which U.S. airports are playing key roles in the fast-growing Amazon Air network. Table 1 in the report lists all the U.S. airports it serves as of March 2022. In order of daily flights, the top five are:
|1. Fort Worth Alliance (AFW)||36.6/day|
|2. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (CVG)||31.1|
|3. Wilmington Air Park (ILN)||25.2|
|4. Baltimore/Washington (BWI)||19.2|
|5. Lakeland Linder (LAL)||17.7|
Close behind the top five is up-and-coming San Bernardino (CA) at 15.5, which the report dubs an emerging hub.
Number 1 on the list is Alliance Airport, a largely cargo airport with no scheduled passenger airline service, and number 3 is a comparable cargo airport, Wilmington. I’d expected to see Chicago Rockford in the top group, but the report lists it as a declining hub for Amazon Air (10.2 flights/day), possibly because of large and growing UPS operations there. Lakeland also has no scheduled passenger airline service and is midway between the booming Orlando and Tampa markets.
Surprises in the top 5 are BWI and CVG, both of which are very passenger-focused. I don’t have an answer for BWI, unless Amazon’s operations are mainly overnight, when passenger traffic is light. CVG is only 60 miles from Wilmington, and Amazon Air operates the two of them in a complementary manner, with ILN departures mostly in the middle of the night, while CVG’s take place mostly in the middle of the day.
If Amazon Air continues growing at recent rates (as the Chaddick analysts expect), that growth could be a boon to strategically located airports with spare capacity, such as Ontario (CA), Riverside March Air Reserve Base, Kansas City International, and Albuquerque. Amazon Air certainly bears watching.
With a year and a half left in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, lawmakers will begin holding initial discussions on the next FAA reauthorization due by October 2023. At the Air Traffic Control Association’s (ATCA’s) annual meeting in February, speakers provided insight into the key policy issues that will likely be the focus of reauthorization negotiations. The bill is likely to be less transformative than past reauthorization proposals, and midterm election results are likely to guide the shape of the bill, but some substantive policy improvements appear to be on the minds of both industry and Capitol Hill.
The current authorization was agreed upon as a milquetoast compromise after an ambitious proposal to spin off FAA’s Air Traffic Organization into a self-supporting user cooperative failed to win support from key political factions. Holly Woodruff Lyons, now in private consulting after a long career on the staff of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as the Republicans’ aviation point person, said that Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), the committee’s ranking member and its likely chairman if Republicans win control of the House in November’s elections, is not interested in reopening major FAA reorganization at this time. This is disappointing but an understandable sentiment following the often-acrimonious battle to bring international best practices to U.S. air traffic control in the lead-up to the 2018 reauthorization.
But the outlook for air traffic control reform wasn’t uniformly negative. Woodruff Lyons did note the committee is very interested in remote towers, particularly at rural airports that currently lack towers. Readers of this newsletter are familiar with Congress’s and FAA’s lackluster efforts on remote towers, another area where the U.S. is falling behind peer countries. With the $4.9 million in FY 2022 funding for Leesburg and Fort Collins remote tower projects that was appropriated in March, Congress is well-positioned to harness this limited momentum into a more robust program in the FAA reauthorization due next year.
Woodruff Lyons highlighted two areas of potential conflict. First, the aviation industry has made a lot of bold environmental commitments without a lot of detail on how those green goals can be achieved. Electric and hydrogen-fueled airliners remain a dream and drop-in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), viewed by some as an important bridge between the present and net-zero greenhouse gas emission future, may be on track to hit 2% of total aviation fuel by 2025, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Gina Zuckerman of the Cargo Airline Association said SAF is the only way for the industry to potentially meet aggressive climate goals, so scaling up production and closing the price gap between SAF and kerosene are top priorities. But the impression the aviation industry is leaving with many in Congress is that they expect taxpayers to pay for this transition. This may not sit well with some members, warned Woodruff Lyons, especially Republicans.
Second, consideration of new user fees on new airspace users—and drones in particular—is likely to provoke a jurisdictional turf war between authorizing committees and tax-writing committees. Tax-writers on the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees tend to be more focused on overall tax burdens than promoting the users-pay/users-benefit principle. Authorizers with the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Commerce Committees will need to begin working with their tax-writing colleagues early in the reauthorization process in order to minimize the negative effects of this looming conflict. The good news is these new entrants do not appear to be opposed to paying reasonable fees to support the system, according to Steve Brown of the National Business Aviation Association.
Another jurisdictional turf war may be brewing as Congress debates permanent fixes to the 5G cellular deployments and avionics interference conflict that have generated a great deal of heartburn in the telecommunications and aviation industries. In late 2021 and early 2022, Congress was focused on dealing with the immediate fallout of this intergovernmental and inter-industry dispute, but the FAA reauthorization may be a logical place to address it, according to Woodruff Lyons’ replacement, House Aviation Subcommittee Republican Staff Director Hunter Presti. With allies of the aviation and telecommunications industries dug into their positions, the Senate may prove to be the better venue because the Senate Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over both the airwaves and the airspace, while the House splits aviation and spectrum management jurisdiction between the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Mike Reynolds, the deputy policy director for aviation and space for Senate Commerce Committee Republicans, said initial stakeholder meetings and hearings in advance of FAA reauthorization are likely to begin in late summer or early fall of this year. That being said, the policy priorities of the next FAA reauthorization will be contingent on the outcome of November’s midterm elections, as well as the Democratic leadership race to replace retiring House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR). Stay tuned.
Fourth Quarter US Airport Travel at 85% of 2019 Levels
Data released on April 5 by Fitch Ratings showed that in the fourth quarter of 2021 U.S. airports averaged 85% of passenger numbers from the fourth quarter of 2019, before the pandemic. For the full year of 2021, passenger traffic averaged 71% of 2019 levels. The data are based on figures from a select group of 38 of the 60 U.S. airports whose bonds Fitch rates, so they may not be fully representative of all U.S. passenger airports.
Newark May Expand Use of P3s for Modernization
Following the completion of LaGuardia Airport’s central terminal public-private partnership makeover, and the impending financing of three such projects at Kennedy International, airport operator Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is looking into several additional major projects to upgrade and modernize facilities at Newark Liberty International (EWR). It has issued a request for proposals for a master planner to work with the authority on the next phase of EWR modernization, with proposals due April 25. Replacement of the airport’s aging Terminal B is the next major project, following over $5 billion invested in current efforts to rebuild Terminal A, replace the aging AirTrain, and complete the privately-financed Consolidated Rental Car Center.
Ferrovial Buying Stake in JFK P3 Terminal Project
Ferrovial, the major Spanish developer, is negotiating with Carlyle Group to acquire 96% of Carlyle’s 51% stake in the $9.5 billion New Terminal One Project, which will replace aging Terminals 1, 2, and 3 at Kennedy International Airport. Other shareholders in the NTO consortium are JLC Infrastructure and Ullico.
FAA Announces New Contract Tower Program
As of now, 156 mostly small U.S. airports are part of FAA’s long-standing contract tower program. FAA’s April 18 news release announced that the FY2022 application period is now open for the new FAA Contract Tower Grant Program, which is to receive $20 million per year for five years. The notice does include projects “to construct a remote tower certified by the FAA,” but also notes that “The FAA is currently evaluating this technology to assess its suitability for use in the [National Airspace System].”
Denmark’s ANSP Expanding Scope of Remote Tower Contract
Naviair has announced that it is expanding the scope of its Remote Digital Tower contract with Frequentis. The contract will also cover implementing a new backup air traffic management system using the company’s PRISMA backup system. It will build on the PRISMA remote tower backup being implemented for the remote digital tower project at Billund to include PRISMA Enroute for Naviair’s area control center and approach control services at Copenhagen, Billund, and Roskilde airports.
Saab Remote Digital Tower Approved for U.K. Military Use
The United Kingdom Military Aviation Authority has accredited Saab’s remote digital tower capabilities under the Air Traffic Management Equipment Approved Organization Scheme (AAOS). This is the first AAOS ever issued for military remote digital tower equipment. The certification was reported by Air Traffic Management on April 7.
Ecuador Considering P3 for Some of 17 Airports
Of Ecuador’s 21 airports, three are already under public-private partnership concessions. This month, the country’s undersecretary for air transport announced that it is considering such concessions for at least some of the others. It may offer a package of airports, as has been done in Chile, Peru, and Uruguay. One possible model would be packages of four airports: two with strong air traffic and the others needing development. The undersecretary mentioned interest in such P3s from companies in Colombia, Mexico, South Korea, and the United States, according to Inframation News.
Two News Items on German eVTOL Company Lilium
One of the better-funded eVTOL startup companies—German developer Lilium—had two significant developments in recent weeks. First, U.S. company NetJets signed an agreement with Lilium for a possible order of 150 of its LiliumJet seven-seat eVTOL aircraft, to potentially operate using Lilium’s planned network of vertiports in Florida. Second, Aviation Daily reported (April 1) that Lilium had moved its target date for EASA certification from 2024 to 2025, due in part to supply-chain problems but also to increase the likelihood of successful certification.
Rockford Negotiating with Bidder for New Cargo Facility
Chicago-Rockford International Airport, which has pursued aggressive growth in serving air cargo operators, announced that it is in negotiation with its preferred developer of expanded cargo facilities at the airport, likely on a long-term P3 basis. The airport was impressed enough with the qualifications submitted by one of two short-listed firms that it opted not to issue a request for proposals but to begin negotiations with its preferred company, whose identity has not yet been disclosed. The project may add one or two 400,000 square-foot cargo facilities to the 190,000 sq. ft. already in use at Rockford.
Mobile Commits to New Airport
Officials in Mobile, Alabama, have approved going forward with relocating commercial air service to the downtown airport adjacent to the seaport, replacing the Mobile Regional Airport as the location for airline service. Airbus has a large production facility at the downtown airport. In October, the City Council transferred $30 million in reserves to the airport project; the city has also been authorized for two federal airport grants totaling $162 million. And the Mobile County board kicked in its own $30 million in March. The project will add a replacement terminal configured for international flights. On April 5, FAA approved the plan.
Proposed Federal Budget Calls for End to Diverting TSA Fees
Among the many provisions in the Biden administration’s FY2023 budget proposal is to end the practice of diverting to the general fund the revenue from the TSA security fee paid by airline passengers. The intent of the fee was to have passengers help support the costs of security screening, but putting the proceeds in the general fund makes it a tax, not a user fee. This has prevented easy comparisons of screening costs vs. user charges.
Avolon Cites 550 eVTOL Commitments
Aircraft leasing company Avolon announced it has amassed 550 commitments from would-be lessees of the Vertical VX4 eVTOL, exceeding its target of 500 (310 pre-orders and 190 options), reported Aviation Daily on March 30. Among the identified potential lessees are Japan Airlines, AirAsia, and Turkey’s Gozen Holding. Avolon has 500 of the eVTOLs on pre-order with U.K. startup Vertical Aerospace.
Airport Slot News
FAA has continued its “temporary” waiver of use-it-or-lose-it slot rules for international air services at airports—John F. Kennedy Internationa, LaGuardia, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport through Oct. 29. Hence, those airlines may reduce their flights at those airports without losing their previously allocated slots. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom Competition and Markets Commission will require British Airways and American Airlines to continue to offer four daily airport slots to competitors on three UK-US routes until March 2026. Those requirements were part of the approval of a joint business agreement between American and British Airways, which the commission judged would limit competition.
New Jersey Agency Seeks Developers for Atlantic City International
The South Jersey Transportation Authority is seeking companies interested in developing a 400-acre parcel on the northwest quadrant of the airport. Its airfield uses only 23% of its capacity, according to the Atlantic County Economic Alliance, which is promoting the proposed transaction. SJTC and New Jersey Transit are doing a feasibility study on adding a rail station at the airport.
“The same governments who call for more to be done on climate are the ones blocking [change]. We cannot continue to waste fuel with damaging environmental consequences. [Single European Sky] has failed. Twenty years later it has made no progress. If we can’t reform it, let’s liberalize it and allow national ATC providers to compete against each other.”
—Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary in “European Airlines Hope Sustainability Focus Sparks Airspace Reform,” by Helen Massy-Beresford, Aviation Daily, April 1, 2022
“The [European Network Airlines Association]’s Amaud Camus . . . chairs the competitiveness working group of the ENAA and has the task of distinguishing between off-shore state aid—very market-distorting—and on-shore state aid—very good. By competitiveness, he clearly means that somehow, state aid in the form of loans is more competitive and less distorting than state aid in the form of equity; and that European legacy carriers should not be crucified because their low-cost European colleagues did not put their snouts in the trough and ask for some. He did not actually say that last sentence in those words. Still, presumably, that is competitiveness the ENAA can applaud.”
—Andrew Charlton in “De-Platforming the Airline Coordination Platform,” Aviation Intelligence Reporter, April 2022
“The idea of this subsidy at its origin made sense and reflected rational concern about changes to the nation’s air services under deregulation. But today’s airline system is highly efficient and even serves small cities that have enough demand to justify service. There are advantages and disadvantages to living anywhere. Those living in or near big cities have access to plenty of air service, more restaurants, and more activities. They also likely have more crime, higher taxes, and a higher cost of living. Living in a small city brings lower overall costs but greater distances to airports, Broadway shows, and Chipotle. There is no public good served by saying that those who choose to live in a small place must be subsidized by the American taxpayer to have flights connecting to another city. They can drive to a close-by airport, just like in the hundreds of small cities that never received these subsidies in the first place.”
—Former Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza in “The Essential Air Service Program Is No Longer Essential,” Forbes, March 21, 2022