Aviation Policy News: Feeling Comfortable Flying During Coronavirus and the Math on an FAA Bailout
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Aviation Policy Newsletter

Aviation Policy News: Feeling Comfortable Flying During Coronavirus and the Math on an FAA Bailout

Plus: Technology to clean airline cabins during the coronavirus pandemic, battle of European airport slots, reducing emissions, and more.

In this issue:

Does FAA Need a General Fund Bailout?

Earlier this month, Politico quoted FAA Administrator Steve Dickson telling the Air Traffic Control Association that, with the majority of aviation excise taxes suspended through Dec. 31, the balance in the Airport & Airways Trust Fund will not be sufficient to get the agency through the end of the calendar year. Since, in the battle over whether Congress should increase the federal cap on Passenger Facility Fees, the airlines had repeatedly cited a huge unallocated balance in the Trust Fund, I was a bit skeptical. So let’s take a look at the numbers.

First, FAA’s FY 2020 budget, established prior to the coronavirus pandemic, calls for 97 percent of it to be funded by the Trust Fund, with just 3 percent coming from the government’s general fund—the lowest fraction in 25 years. Second, the excise taxes that were suspended—on airline passenger ticket, air-cargo waybills, and commercial aviation fuel—apply to 72 percent of the agency’s excise tax revenue, not the whole amount. For the nine-month period of the suspension (April 1 through Dec. 31, 2020), the loss of expected revenue is $8.582 billion.

To see how large the impact on the Trust Fund is, start with the balance on October 1, 2019, the beginning of FY 2020: $17.107 billion. Let’s assume that until the coronavirus pandemic got under way and air traffic plummeted, normal excise tax receipts covered the planned 97 percent of FAA’s budget. So the Trust Fund balance should have remained around $17.1 billion through the end of January. Revenue would drop significantly in February and March—let’s guess by $2 billion, so the Trust Fund would take a $2 billion hit. Thus, between April and the end of December the Trust Fund would need to cover the expected loss of $8.582 billion in revenue from the now-suspended taxes. The original balance of $17.1B minus $2B (Feb.-Mar.) leaves $15.1B to cover the planned loss of $8.5B in suspended fee revenue. That would leave $6.6 billion in the Trust Fund by Dec. 31, a far cry from zero.

Assuming Congress allows the suspended excise taxes to be reinstated as of Jan. 1, 2021, the revenues they yield will still be less than under normal conditions, given air travel’s expected slow recovery. And having a meaningful amount on hand in the Trust Fund is prudent, to allow for future contingencies. But if my numbers are close to being correct, there is no dire or immediate need for a general-fund bailout of the Trust Fund.

Two other points are worth noting. The rationale for the general fund (i.e., all federal taxpayers) to pay for part of FAA’s budget is justified by two items in its budget. First is the FAA’s safety regulatory function. Nearly all federal safety regulatory agencies are paid for by taxpayers overall, and FAA should be the same. Second, a considerable fraction of FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants goes to general aviation airports that are not self-supporting from their own fees and charges, and hence traditionally rely on federal subsidies. In very approximate numbers, each of these two categories is about $1 billion; $2 billion is about 12 percent of FAA’s budget, so an argument could be made for a general-fund contribution of 12 percent, rather than the current 3 percent. That would be well within the range of the historical average.

Second, there have been some articles in the aviation media lamenting the fate of the 60-odd air navigation service providers (ANSPs) that have become self-supporting from air traffic control (ATC) user charges over the past two decades. Some critics have pointed to FAA as a counter-example, since it has “assured” government funding. Nav Canada has long maintained a rate-stabilization fund to reduce the need to increase its ATC fees during recessions when air traffic decreases. But the COVID-19 pandemic obviously goes far beyond that, so on May 20 Nav Canada proposed a 29.5 percent rate increase, effective Sept. 1. However, given the financial condition of its customers, the company has also proposed deferring the 2021 cash impact over a five-year period. That strikes me as quite reasonable, especially after many years with no Nav Canada fee increases, and even several reductions.

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European Airport Slots Battle Continues

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, European officials gave airlines that use slot-controlled airports a temporary waiver, through Oct. 31, of the use-it-or-lose-it rule for slots. In normal times, if a carrier (almost always a legacy airline) does not use a slot at least 80 percent of the time during a year, it loses it. But the airlines pleaded that with passenger demand close to zero (at least in the early days of the lockdowns), it would be sheer waste for them to run empty flights just to preserve their slots.

Although I am opposed to slots as anti-competition, if the European Union was not going to replace slots with market-based runway pricing, the temporary waiver was less-bad than thousands of empty flights. But with air travel now growing and airlines preparing summer schedules, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called for extending the waiver through the winter travel season to give the airlines flexibility in planning as they work toward “normal” levels of flight activity.

Airports Council International (ACI) is opposing the extension, and they have a far better case than IATA. First, they point out that giving airlines this flexibility would allow them to declare full schedules, hang onto all their slots, but cancel many flights that ended up with very low bookings. This, said ACI, would “leave airports with the operational costs involved but no revenues to cover them,” since a flight that does not operate does not pay landing fees or other airport charges, but the airport has staffed up to handle the workload.

That’s true, but fortunately ACI also said that leaving lots of slots de-facto unused would reduce competition and slow the resumption of services to link Europe together again. With the legacy carriers no longer hogging 20 percent of slots they are very unlikely to use this winter, this is a great opportunity to chip away at fortress hubs by allowing low-cost carriers to provide new services. ACI told the European Commission that “There is a danger here that airlines use the airport slot allocation system and the flexibility afforded by the waivers to ensure airport slots cannot be reallocated and [thereby] keep competition at bay.”

An interesting side-show is playing out between Lufthansa and the German government. In exchange for a $10 billion bailout, the airline’s management agreed to give up 24 slot landing and takeoff slots at its two major hubs, Frankfurt and Munich. Those slots would be allocated via a competitive bidding process, and offered first to new entrants at those airports; any slots not snapped up by new entrants would then be offered to carriers that already serve Frankfurt and Munich, enabling them to better compete with fortress-hub Lufthansa. The $10 billion is some indication of how strongly Lufthansa wants to retain its fortresses. However, since the deal requires the approval of two-thirds of the airline’s shareholders, and the largest shareholder is opposed, the whole bailout deal may fall through.

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Ligado vs. GPS, Round 2

The controversy over the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) unanimous approval of Ligado’s plan to use spectrum adjacent to that used by GPS continues. Although the plan was endorsed by the secretary of commerce and the secretary of state, it is opposed by the Departments of Defense and Transportation as posing a threat to some or all users of GPS. On behalf of governmental users, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—itself part of the Commerce Department—filed two petitions with the FCC on May 22 to reconsider and stay the Ligado order, or at least postpone it pending further study. NTIA’s job is to coordinate federal agencies’ use of spectrum, so its concerns are consistent with its charter. Its petition lists possible interference with GPS use by every mode of transportation, surveying and construction, timing signals for the electricity grid and financial networks, plus general aviation and drones.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) filed a petition for reconsideration on May 20.  ALPA seemed to acknowledge that avionics used in commercial air transport may be hardened enough to resist interference, but expressed concern about GPS receivers used by general aviation pilots, which are not FAA-certified and could lead to GA aircraft posing a threat to airliners. It also raised concern about future Ligado-based smartphones carried by passengers interfering with L-band satellite communications for controller-pilot data communications. A number of airlines and other companies, totaling 69, signed a letter to the FCC supporting a stay of its Ligado order.

I am not an expert on spectrum or interference, so I cannot offer a technical judgment on which side has the better case. Everyone acknowledges that Ligado’s predecessor, LightSquared, proposed a system that clearly would have drowned out many GPS signals. The key question now is whether the company’s current model is sufficiently isolated from the bands used by GPS to prevent interference. My friend Tom Hazlett, former chief economist at the FCC, points out because the L-band spectrum (like most US spectrum) is a commons, it leads to potentially conflicting uses. Without clear property rights, this produces a kind of no-man’s land, where it is difficult to resolve conflicts like this. I plan to read a law review article that he and a colleague published on this subject several years ago, and I may have more to say next month.

Meanwhile, I lament the demise of the former independent Office of Technology Assessment, which was set up to provide independent, science-based advice on conflicts such as this. Lacking that, perhaps this is a job for the National Academy of Sciences.

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Making Airliner Cabins Safer

While the pandemic continues, in order for people to be willing to resume flying, they must be persuaded that their chances of being infected by COVID-19 while flying are minimal. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has produced guidelines that it hopes will be adopted worldwide, to facilitate international travel. That is going to be a tall order. In this article, I will focus on what is being considered for cabins here in the United States, besides likely mandatory mask-wearing.

The House passed its grandiose Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, which seems unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate. The HEROES bill would provide $1 million for the FAA to fund a research organization to research “existing and potential technological solutions to reduce pathogen recirculation and to mitigate any elevated risk of exposure to pathogens in the cabin air.”  Message to Congress: The private sector is already hard at work coming up with potential solutions.

In recent days I’ve seen three ideas proposed by various companies, using different approaches and with varying costs and likely effectiveness:

  • Seattle-based design firm Teague has produced a plastic device to attach to the overhead airflow unit that directs the HEPA-filtered air to always flow downward over each passenger, to where it gets exhausted from the cabin. This air-curtain idea should be relatively cheap to make and easy to install. How much protection it would provide beyond the existing environmental control system (ECS) is still to be determined.
  • Honeywell has proposed an ultraviolet-light cabin cleaning system that would be rolled up or down the aisle before every flight to kill bacteria and viruses during a 10-minute pass. It would appear to need two passes, one aimed at seats and tray tables and another aimed at seatbacks and overhead bins. Honeywell estimates the cost at below $10 per use (presumably one-way). At this point, COVID-19 research is downplaying the risk of getting the virus from surfaces, rather than from airborne particles.
  • Aviation Clean Air has just received an FAA type certificate for a device that generates positive and negative ions that kill bacteria and viruses. It is part of a package now offered by Aloft AeroArchitects. It must be installed in the ECS by mechanics and a typical narrow-body would require four 1.4 lb. units; a widebody six to eight. The Aviation Daily article did not report the price, but did report on lab tests that showed high levels of killing bacteria on surfaces and removing particles from the air, but I have not seen reports on its effectiveness in killing the COVID-19 virus. Still, this looks to me to be the most promising of the proposed cabin systems, thus far. It is already in use on some business jets.

These new systems are encouraging, but they will still need rigorous evaluation of their effectiveness against COVID-19 before any of them can be installed and start protecting air travelers and crew. Meanwhile, I am not looking forward to my first COVID-era flight. Here’s Aviation Daily (June 4) on some of the ICAO hygiene guidelines:

“[Their] multiple other recommendations—including suspending or minimizing food & beverage service, limiting access to lavatories, wearing masks at all times, and limiting carry-on luggage to a small purse or briefcase—will be constant reminders of the virus’ dangers [and very obnoxious]. On top of that, passengers will likely have to allow at least another hour or two ahead of their flight, on top of the time they were previously advised to allow, just to spend that time at the airport in (distanced) queues to be health screened and then in longer boarding lines. Restaurant service is likely to be minimal and lounges probably closed. It adds up to a miserable journey.”

No kidding!

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A New Approach to the Single European Sky, Maybe

The original plan to achieve the Single European Sky (SES) set the following goals to be achieved by 2020, compared with 2005:

  • Three-fold increase in capacity, wherever needed;
  • Ten-fold increase in safety performance;
  • 10 percent reduction in the environmental impact of flights; and,
  • Cost reduction to airspace users of at least 50 percent.

Needless to say, none of these goals has come anywhere close to being achieved.

So Europe’s powers-that-be set out to rethink the program. Not mentioned officially was the glaring fact that with 36 percent less flight activity than the USA, Europe has nearly three times as many en-route centers and 75 percent more controllers. Air routes are affected by political borders, rather than following the shortest, fastest routes between origin and destination. Yet since SES began, not a single center has been shut down; it’s a matter of each country’s “sovereignty.”

For the rethink, the European Parliament commissioned a far-reaching Airspace Architecture Study (AAS), which offers a number of good ideas. Seeking an end-run around politically difficult cross-border facility consolidation, the AAS recommended de-coupling ATC service provision from the “local architecture” of facilities. Hence, it introduced the idea of virtual centers, using common air traffic data stored in the cloud and accessible to all ANSPs. The Eurocontrol Network Manager would get the ongoing task of planning the overall system and defining what is needed from each ANSP. On a day-to-day basis, the Network Manager would direct controller resources to whichever sectors were busiest, regardless of the physical location of the controllers or who employs them.

Early projects, conceived prior to the AAS, have seen ANSP collaborations to establish free-route airspace (FRA)—in northern Europe by the nine ANSPs of the Borealis Alliance and by four ANSPs in southeast Europe. France and Germany are separately moving forward with their own FRA projects within their larger airspaces. Another building block is Eurocontrol’s change, as of Jan. 1, 2020, to charging airlines and business jets for the actual route they fly, rather than the route they filed on their flight plan (which is often different). That way the ANSP that is actually guiding the flight gets the user-fee revenue. This is made possible by a new surveillance tracking system called Artas that operates Europe-wide.

A major step toward the AAS model is the development of the Coflight Cloud Service (CCS), which will provide common data for use by virtual centers. This project was originally proposed by the CEO of Swiss ANSP Skyguide (former banker Daniel Weder) and is being developed by the ANSPs of France (DSNA) and Italy (ENAV), with technical support from Thales and Leonardo and oversight by Skyguide and Malta’s ANSP. That is important progress, given that most European ANSPs have not, so far, supported the AAS virtual center model.

And there certainly are ANSP concerns—such as whether each will still have enough air traffic to collect fees from. Ian Thompson, in an overview article on AAS in Air Traffic Management (Issue 4, 2019), suggests the potential of ANSPs competing to attract traffic, but he also points out that ANSPs’ current economic regulatory model is part of the problem. Like traditional U.S. public utility regulation, it allows the ANSP to earn up to a pre-defined return on its assets (termed the Regulatory Asset Base). As decades of U.S. economic research have shown, the regulatory asset base, RAB, model provides incentives to over-invest in facilities and equipment, since a 6 percent return on $5 billion of assets is a lot more money than 6 percent on $3 billion of assets. That regulatory model is not consistent with the AAS virtual center/competition model, intended to be asset-light.

So as of 2020, the Single European Sky is a long way from being realized. But some of the impediments—like far too many facilities and cumbersome routes dictated by political borders—are slowly being rethought and reformed.

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Should ICAO’s Aircraft Emission Regime Be Changed Due to COVID-19

It took many years for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to agree on a framework under which airlines would offset their carbon emissions. But before it has even begun, an array of environmental groups is calling for what would be a drastic revision. While I am critical of the Carbon Offsetting & Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), what the greens want goes too far.

As I explained in “A Smarter Way Forward on Airline CO2 Emissions” (Aviation Policy News, December 2019), CORSIA requires airlines to offset the growth in their emissions beyond the measured level in the base year 2020. Because of the collapse of air travel this year due to the pandemic, 2020 will be a far-from-normal year, with emissions dramatically lower than in 2019 and other recent years. That’s why environmentalists want to keep 2020 as the base year, but doing so would put a much greater cost burden on airlines when many will be in dire financial straits for a number of years. So I disagree with keeping 2020 as the base year.

However, CORSIA is very weak tea for a large and growing problem, under normal conditions. In my December article, I argued that a revised version should apply to all CO2 emissions, not just the annual increase, and should apply to all (not only developed-country) airlines, as well as to business jets. The current plan also calls only for reporting those emissions from 2021 through 2026, with the purchase of offsets not beginning until 2027. So a more meaningful version of CORSIA would require offsetting all carbon emissions but starting in 2027 as already planned. That would give airlines time to recover from the pandemic and rebuild their businesses to the point where buying a much larger amount of offsets would be feasible. The greens would get larger emission reductions, but not at the price of crippling the recovery of air travel over the next six years.

Note: in my December article I summarized recent research on the large potential impact of very large-scale forest restoration and agricultural land restoration, as very worthwhile carbon offsets.

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News Notes

St. Louis Gives Up Airport Privatization Slot
After saying in May that it might be prudent to retain its slot in the FAA pilot project for airport privatization, Mayor Lyda Krewson, on May 29, notified FAA that it was withdrawing from the program. The St. Louis NAACP and the regional carpenters’ union announced plans for a November ballot measure to see if voters would anyway prefer a potential billion-dollar lease of St. Louis Lambert Airport. Thanks to the most recent FAA reauthorization act, airport owners have no need to ask FAA for one of the 10 slots from the former pilot program. Today any airport owner may work with private investors to lease its airport while complying with the provisions of the new 2018 Airport Investment Partnership Program.

Europe’s Air Traffic Starting to Recover
Eurocontrol reported that 6,013 flights operated in Europe on June 2 and that flights that week were up 13 percent from the week before. It projected that up to 9,000 flights per day would occur in the second half of June and up to 10,500 per day in the first weeks of July. Last year’s daily traffic in early June was over 34,000 flights.

S&P Assesses Australia and New Zealand Airports
In a mid-June assessment, S&P Global Ratings reviewed the finances of the major commercial airports (nearly all privatized) of Australia and New Zealand, due to the pandemic-induced reduction in air travel. Though the headline news was that three had their ratings reduced a notch, five others had their current ratings affirmed. And all eight have “at least adequate liquidity” over the next 12 months. Melbourne Airport was reduced from A- to BBB+, still investment grade. New Zealand’s Wellington International and Christchurch International were also downgraded one notch, from BBB+ to BBB and from A- to BBB+, respectively—again both still investment grade.

First Autoland-Equipped Aircraft Gets FAA Certification
In mid-May, the Piper M600/SLS became the first aircraft with the new Garmin Autoland system to receive an FAA type certification. As described in an article in the December issue of this newsletter, in the event of pilot incapacitation, Autoland takes over, communicating with the nearest feasible airport and making an approach, landing, and taxiing to a safe location for the occupants to deplane. Deliveries of the Piper plane are expected to begin right away. Awaiting certification are the Autoland-equipped Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet and the Daher TBM 940.

Another Entrant in Remote Tower Market
EANS, Estonia’s ANSP, is now making use of a remote tower center developed by Estonian company Cybernetica. The company is a successor to the applied research unit of the Institute of Cybernetics of Estonia’s Academy of Sciences. Air Traffic Management, on May 18, reported that EANS and Cybernetica have signed an agreement to work together to offer this remote tower model for low-activity airports worldwide. The remote tower center in Estonia is initially managing traffic at the Kuressaare airport, with three other airports planned to be served in the near future: Parnu, Kardla, and Tartu.

Study Suggests Rail Cutting into Short-Haul Air Service in China and Europe
Researchers at UBS, an international bank, have released a survey of Chinese and European travelers, assessing their future mode choice for short-haul trips. Due to potential shifts from air to rail, the report projects overall air traffic growth of 4.6 percent per year through 2028, which is less than the long-term average of 5 percent. In part due to government policies to reduce carbon intensity, the report concludes that there will be “an acceleration in the shift from planes to high-speed rail in both Europe and China.” Aviation Week’s article (May 4-17) includes a UBS map of air routes in Europe likely to be most affected.

Congressional Leaders Slam DHS Report on GPS Vulnerability
A 26-page report on America’s position, navigation, and timing (PNT) requirements delivered two years late was derided for its superficiality, errors, and failure to address many of the things Congress asked of it three years ago. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D, OR) and several senior colleagues sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf asking that the report be retracted and replaced with a report responsive to what Congress requested, within six months.

TSA Alters Checkpoint Screening Due to COVID-19
As of June 15, new procedures went into effect at checkpoints to minimize screeners’ touching of passenger possessions—including boarding passes. The most onerous of the new rules is that if items that are supposed to be placed in bins are left in carry-on bags, the screener will send the passenger back out to pre-screening, to remove the items for placement into bins; this includes food, which far more people will bring on board if airlines stop offering food for purchase onboard. One bit of good news: Precheck members won’t need to remove food from carry-on bags.

Ontario (CA) Airport to Get a Boring Company Tunnel
Apparently it’s difficult to drive from Rancho Cucamonga to nearby Ontario International Airport. So the county transportation authority has approved a 2.8-mile tunnel between the two. The $60 million tunnel will be developed by Elon Musk’s Boring Company, which completed such a tunnel in Las Vegas recently. Part of this new project involves the development of 12-seat electric vans. The expected usage is 1,200 round-trips per day.

Sofia Airport P3 Lease Approved
A 35-year concession to improve and operate Bulgaria’s Sofia Airport was approved earlier this month by the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria. Losing bidders had protested the selection of the winning team, led by Meridiam and Munich Airport. The team will pay an annual fee of either $27.6 million or 32 percent of airport revenues, whichever is larger. Other bidders included teams led by Aeroports de Paris, Fraport, Copenhagen Airports, and Manchester Airport Group.

London City Airport Reopening This Month
The privately-owned airport that serves mostly business customers has been closed since March 25 due to the collapse of business travel. With air travel beginning to recover, London City announced that it will re-open by the end of June. A parallel taxiway construction project is making good progress, and some additional space is being provided by the shift to a remote tower located elsewhere.

Skyguide Launches U-Space Apps for Drones
The Swiss ANSP, Skyguide, early this month unveiled two apps for operators of drones. They will allow operators to plan and operate flights that include airspace subject to air traffic control. The U-Space app allows users to create and submit flight plans for approval using either a phone or computer app. These services will “initially” be offered at no charge, according to Skyguide.

Berlin’s Tegel Airport to Close before New Airport Opens
With air traffic far below normal, airport operator Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg announced last month that as of June 15 Tegel Airport will close for at least two months, and perhaps permanently. Since the much-delayed new Berlin International Airport (BER) terminal’s opening date is Oct. 31, where will planes and passengers go in the interim? It turns out that airline service has continued at the former East German terminal at Schoenefeld, on the opposite side of the airport where the BER will finally open at the end of October.

Intelsat Files for Bankruptcy Protection
Publicly-traded Intelsat filed for bankruptcy protection on May 13, saddled with $15 billion in debt. The company operates one of the world’s largest fleets of communications satellites, which, among other services, provide wi-fi for airliners, cruise ships, and oil rigs. It began as a quasi-government organization in 1962 but was privatized in 2001 as a Luxembourg corporation.

Polish ANSP Implements Electronic Flight Strips
The Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA) has implemented Electronic Flight ProgrEss Strips (EFES) in its control towers. The system was provided by Frequentis, which worked closely with PANSA to integrate the system into its towers. PANSA reports that EFES is part of its Digital Tower strategy, a major step toward standardizing tower-related data.

UK and Poland Teaming for MegaHub Project
The British and Polish governments have signed an agreement to establish a British-Polish consulting team to help design the new Solidarity Transport Hub. To be located 40 kilometers (km) from Warsaw, it will be an international hub airport as well as a railway hub for 1,600 km of rail lines. The new airport is intended to replace the Warsaw Chopin Airport, with a planned opening with two runways in 2027.

ESA Calls for Terrestrial GPS Backup
The European Space Agency has released a new European Radionavigation Plan which “recognized that . . . GNSS [GPS] should not be the sole source of PNT [position, navigation, and timing] information. Alternative PNT systems, not necessarily using radio frequencies, should thus be put in place where the criticality of the application requires it.” ESA had requested proposals for such systems last year, and GPS World reports that one of those going forward with ESA funding is a Maritime Resilience and Integrity of Navigation project from UK researchers. It is envisioned as a hybrid, including terrestrial components.

Brussels Airport to Test COVID-19 Procedures
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has selected Brussels Airport as one of several pilot sites for testing COVID-19 procedures. The effort is aimed at selecting the best measures to protect air travelers from the coronavirus. Among the measures to be trialed at the airport will be thermal cameras to detect high body temperatures before travelers enter the terminal. This was to be in place by June 15.

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Quotable Quotes

“I think we should ‘not waste a good crisis,’ to quote a Director General. ANSPs rightly stated that the radical and accelerated evolution towards digitalization and a new airspace architecture in a high traffic growth context was equivalent to asking the ANSPs to ‘change a wheel of the car while still driving.’ Now that traffic is so low, and next after the environmental effort, I believe that it might be the right moment to intensify efforts toward infrastructure/CNS rationalization. There are several reasons for this: the low-traffic context is favorable to this; it would contribute to the ‘operational excellence’ project contained in the transition plan of the Airspace Architecture Study and pave the way towards increased cross-border cooperation and service provision; and, this is likely to decrease ANSP costs and thus promote participation in the cost-reduction effort needed to survive the crisis and deliver high-quality performance plans for the period 2020-2024.”
—Francois Huet (Borealis Alliance), “A Time for Change at the Borealis Alliance,” Air Traffic Management, May 20, 2020

“Some airspace regulation maximalists within the FAA and industry believe—as a top drone official at FAA opined in 2014—that drones expand the FAA’s regulatory reach all the way down to the tips of grass in backyards, private woodlands, and farm fields all across the country. That represents a massive expansion of federal authority at tension with Supreme Court rulings and common-law principles of property ownership. To counteract simmering resistance from state lawmakers and city officials, federal lawmakers and a state law commission have proposed to formalize landowners’ air rights, generally up to 200 feet above the ground. Tech firms and drone companies oppose those efforts at their peril. Though few landowners are rash enough to shoot drones flying overhead, many Americans don’t want drone operations and policy to be determined by firms and regulators in Washington, DC.”
—Brent Skorup and Connor Haaland, “When It Comes to Drones, Who Owns Our Backyard Airspace?” GovTech.com, March 24, 2020

“Not one person, not even the airlines that stand at the front yelling the loudest about the need to obviate charges, can explain why they think that airports and ANSPs should be economic operators that work for free. We should not be rescuing air transport; we should be seizing the chance to reform it, to make it better, to make it work for everyone. IATA’s own slide deck shows that there are 30, count them, 30 profitable airlines in the world. We need to save the 250 loss-makers, why? Air transport rescue/recovery stinks of back to business-as-usual. An incumbents’ picnic, at everyone else’s expense.”
—Andrew Charlton, “The Revised Special Recovery Issue Commission Work Plan,” AviationAdvocacy blog, April 21, 2020

“Many/most prefer driving their own conventional cars rather than flying commercial on short-haul routes (500 miles or less). This has been true for years. Driverless cars [robo-taxis] would simply offer the same opportunity for those that, for whatever reason, don’t have access to their own car. Airlines have struggled serving short-haul flights since 9-11 because of the time overhead introduced by additional security. Physical distancing may well be the nail in the coffin for local airports and short-haul flights. . . . If Amtrak ever went “engineerless” (how trivial is that compared with driverless cars?) it could run frequent 1 (or 2)-car trains between most cities. That would really be the nail in the short-haul airline coffin.”
—Alain Kornhauser, “While COVID-19 Batters the Airlines, Driverless Car Technology Marches On,” SmartDrivingCar.com, May 7, 2020

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Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation.