Aviation Policy News: Why New York airspace remains a mess
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Aviation Policy Newsletter

Aviation Policy News: Why New York airspace remains a mess

Plus: The rise of hybrid electric aircraft, reality time for eVTOLs, and more.

In this issue:

Why the New York Airspace Remains a Mess

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that “approximately 75% of all delays in the National Airspace System occur because of delays in the NY Metropolitan Area airspace.” It is the country’s most-complex airspace with three major airports in close proximity along with dozens of smaller airports. Two decades ago FAA launched a program called Metroplex to redesign complex airspace in a dozen metro areas, including the New York/Philadelphia airspace. But that metro area was dropped from the program in 2013, without a meaningful explanation. The other 11 metroplex projects were completed (including Southern California, South/Central Florida, and Washington, D.C.) and the program ended last year. Why was New York/Philadelphia omitted?

An editorial in The Wall Street Journal last year during FAA-imposed flight cutbacks at Newark International (EWR) provided the following clue:

“FAA years ago proposed redesigning New York’s airspace, to include combining facilities to make controllers more efficient. That project crashed and burned thanks to political parochialism. New York Democrat Chuck Schumer in press releases touts his ‘fierce advocacy’ in fighting an integrated facility that might have moved [some] air traffic controllers from Long Island and allowed more efficient staffing.”

That appears to be a reference to a little-publicized plan to shift Newark (EWR) approach-control service from the New York TRACON (N90) on Long Island to the Terminal Radar Approach Control Facilities (TRACON) located at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). The original Metroplex plan covered the entire New York/Philadelphia airspace, so this is hardly revolutionary. The N90 TRACON was identified in last year’s Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General report on controller staffing as having only 54% of the number of fully-certified controllers that it should have. Hence, relieving N90 of the Newark portion of its workload would provide a far-better match between N90 controllers and flight activity. Making this change need not require any N90 controllers to move. It would likely require increasing the controller staff at PHL, whose TRACON is at the airport, co-located with the airport’s control tower.

I’ve been researching the rejection of this plan with the help of an experienced aviation consultant and former member of FAA’s NextGen Advisory Committee, who wishes to remain anonymous (and whom I will designate as “X”). Last month X emailed me, saying that:

“The transfer of EWR traffic from N90 to PHL is being slow-rolled and at risk—due to the position of Sen. Schumer and controllers union NATCA.” X’s informant is a former FAA headquarters executive. The HQ person says the union has an alternative, but risky, proposal. “Sen. Schumer and union president Rich Santos dug a hole. Schumer says he’s opposing the transfer to protect jobs—but no one has proposed reducing jobs at N90. The change would require the cooperation of air traffic controllers and some training in the PHL facility by N90 controllers. This would be a temporary assignment to make the change responsibly, not a relocation.”

X then provided further background information:

“About three years ago, then-NATCA president Paul Rinaldi and FAA leadership met with Schumer and members of the New York congressional delegation. FAA was ready to direct the move and felt they had the authority to do so. . . .  The technology is there to make the shift to PHL. The simulations and training that were developed are robust and can be used in other difficult areas (e.g., Denver and Southern California which [despite Metroplex] are still having issues). The simulations are based on operations in the NY metroplex.”

But X’s conclusion is, “They [FAA] waited too long. Now it’s tangled up in politics.”

At last year’s U.S. Chamber Aviation Summit, JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said he was surprised the cut in flights was only 10%, given the very low number of N90 certified controllers.

X followed up early this month noting that despite FAA having hired 1,500 air traffic controllers in 2023 and publicly mentioning additional controllers at Jacksonville center, there is no reported change in N90 staff level, which is still at 54% of recommended number. X wrote to me:

“If this number continues to remain static, as it has for some time now, it’s an indication of the [N90] culture issue that is discussed internally but never externally. Reportedly, the union senior controllers are reluctant to certify new controllers for that particular facility. I’ve thought for some time that FAA publicly stating the 54% as the reason for [New York region] flight cuts was FAA sending a signal of some kind. It’s also odd that FAA had to extend the cuts twice. Surely their staffing models would allow them to know when there would be improvement in the 54% number—and that it wasn’t going to get solved during the four-month period they announced for the original cuts. Possibly they thought the transition of EWR to PHL was indeed going to happen—and then it didn’t, forcing the extension.”

The politicization of a feasible solution to New York’s chronic airspace congestion is outrageous. Restricting flights into the financial capital of the world is a sign of very deep problems. The entire U.S. aviation community should defend and lobby for this important reform to be implemented.

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The Rise of Electric Hybrid Aircraft  

Long-term readers of this newsletter are aware of my skepticism about electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft as having a future role large enough to justify the huge amounts of venture capital being invested in them. The two key shortcomings of vertical flight via electric power are low payload and short range, due to the very large energy cost of vertical take offs and landings.

I’m encouraged to see the growing commercial interest in a fast-rising generation of hybrid-electric aircraft, both conventional take off and landing (cTOL) and vertical (eVTOL). In previous issues I’ve discussed the hybrid Heart Aerospace 30-seat cTOL ES-30, with a range of 250 miles. This month brings news of additional hybrids under development and attracting interest from operators.

Aviation Week (Dec. 11-24, 2023) devoted a whole page to Electra.aero’s “ultra-STOL” hybrid-electric passenger aircraft. Sized for nine passengers and with a range of up to 500 miles, it will use the “blown wing” approach demonstrated by its flying prototype, Goldfinch, to be able to take off in just 150 feet. Foregoing vertical lift enables nine passengers (compared to three or four in eVTOLs) and range up to 500 miles (vs. 50 to 100). Eight electric propellors on the wing provide the blown lift for ultra-short take off, while the turbine engine enables the much longer range. U.K. helicopter operator Bristow Group has made a cash deposit to secure early delivery of an initial five of the aircraft.

Another promising hybrid is Elroy Air’s Chaparral. It’s a VTOL, but with neither a pilot nor passengers. It’s being designed for autonomous cargo flights of up to 300 miles carrying 300 to 500 lbs. It has eight lift props and four underwing props for forward flight using a turbogenerator to get the needed range. The business plan calls for starting cargo operations overseas prior to full U.S. FAA certification. Elroy Air has commitments for over a thousand Chaparrals, including customers Bristow, aircraft lessor LCI, and FedEx.

Another proposed hybrid is from a Dutch startup Maeve Aviation. It has designed an 80-seat CTOL hybrid passenger plane. Powered primarily by two turboprops supplemented by battery power, it is projected to have an 800-mile range.

Late last month U.S. public charter operator JSX announced ambitious plans to acquire a fleet of hybrid airliners. It has sent letters of intent (LOIs) for up to 332 hybrid-electric aircraft to three companies:

  • Electra.aero: 82 of its 9-passenger ultra STOL 9-seater (32 firm and 50 options)
  • Aura Aero for 150 of its 19-passenger Era (50 firm and 100 options)
  • Heart Aerospace for 100 30-passenger ES-30 (50 firm and 50 options).

All three fit in with JSX’s limitation to aircraft with no more than 30 seats and mostly short- and medium-range operations. This is a significant vote of confidence in hybrid-electric passenger aircraft.

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Reality Time for eVTOLs

Aviation Week began the new year with a pair of in-depth articles on the emerging eVTOL/air-taxi industry. The two Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) feature articles were headlined “Crunch Time” and “Sanity Check.” Reading between the lines, it’s difficult to see any of the U.S. companies actually receiving the needed FAA certifications (type certificate, facility (production) certificate) and—if they plan to operate the vehicles themselves—airline operator certificates. And that is only one of the hurdles. Another is raising the additional venture capital to get through several more years until certifications are in place. And still another is whether any of them are compatible with a viable business model.

The “crunch time” article includes a bar chart listing 14 eVTOL contenders against 11 milestones each must attain, starting with subscale component testing and ending with FAA type certification. The only one that has reached the goal line is China’s EHang (certified only in China). The next further-along are Auto Flight and Volocopter, the only two that have completed flying the full envelope in a pre-production aircraft.

Among Archer, Joby, Lilium, and Wisk—the best-known four—only Joby has gotten as far as the first flight of a pre-production aircraft. Archer has flown a full-scale prototype, but Lilium and Wisk have only gotten as far as flying a subscale prototype. Aviation Week author Ben Goldstein, relying partly on analysis by Sergio Cecutta of SMG Consulting, states that with most of these firms planning on entry into service of their eVTOLs in 2025, “Such a tight schedule for FAA testing of a clean-sheet aircraft—no less a novel design like a tiltrotor eVTOL has never been accomplished.”

Volocopter still claims it will be ready for paying passengers at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. But Cecutta tells Goldstein that “I just don’t get how they expect to satisfy all the requirements of EASA in under six months. . . . I have no idea how they [could] pull this off.

Given how far most eVTOLs are from the certification finish line, another 2024 question mark is cash burn. The “Sanity Check” article includes a bar chart comparing how much each of five startups has raised—and how much they have already spent. Lilium has spent nearly 83% of the $1.34 billion raised thus far, and Vertical has burned through 74%. Looking somewhat better are Archer (55%), Eve (28%) and Joby (51%). Wisk was not included, but it may be better off financially due to being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boeing.

I’ve addressed the question of a viable air-taxi business model in previous issues, most recently in the Aug. 2023 issue. For eVTOL air taxis to compete with surface vehicles (e.g., for rush-hour trips to and from airports), they must offer time savings that are worth multiples of taxi or Uber fares. And that revenue must cover operating and maintenance costs (including a pilot, at least in near term, and landing fees) and also a share of the very large capital costs of developing and certifying the vehicles. I have yet to see any kind of pro-forma business plan with believable numbers. There may be a small market niche in the largest metro areas where traffic congestion is highest, but if so, that will likely support only a small number of the many ambitious eVTOL startups.

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No Consensus on Electric Aircraft Charging Standards
By Marc Scribner

Developers of electric aircraft, both eVTOLs and hybrid electrics, are examining how best to design and deploy the battery charging infrastructure needed to support commercial operations. To date, no consensus has formed on charging technology. Three standards have emerged as potential consensus technical standards but vary considerably from one another. This additional source of uncertainty should be considered by advanced air mobility (AAM) infrastructure developers and underscores why the public sector should not be placing vertiport bets with taxpayer funds.

Aviation Week’s Graham Warwick reported that in early Nov. 2023 the AAM industry publicly divided itself into two camps on electric aircraft charging (“Archer, Beta Team On Charging While Joby Offers Alternative,”).

In the first camp are Archer Aviation and Beta Technologies, who have agreed to use Beta’s Charge Cube system that adopts the Combined Charging System (CCS) standard pioneered by the electric vehicle industry. CCS for electric aircraft charging was endorsed in August by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association’s (GAMA) Electric Vehicle Propulsion and Innovation Committee, which included 11 other corporate signatories in addition to Archer and Beta.

In the second camp is Joby Aviation, arguably the leader in eVTOL aircraft development, which has developed the Global Electric Aviation Charging System (GEACS). One day after Archer and Beta revealed their agreement to use charging technologies based on CCS, Joby announced it was making GEACS freely available to the broader AAM industry.

Joby’s charging technology development is led by a former Tesla Motors battery engineering executive, and Joby’s decision to deviate from CCS is reminiscent of Tesla’s decision to deviate from CCS. Despite widespread government and automotive industry support for CCS, Tesla moved ahead with its then-proprietary charging technology more than a decade ago. Tesla then built out a large Supercharger station network for its vehicles.

Following the enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) was tasked with administering the $5 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) grant program, including a requirement that it select an interoperable charging standard that must be used by eligible grantees. Tesla responded by making its standard—rebranded as the North American Charging Standard (NACS)—freely available to competitors and encouraged FHWA to adopt NACS in lieu of CCS.

In the Feb. 2023 final rule on NEVI standards and requirements, FHWA ultimately selected CCS as the standard for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations built with NEVI dollars. The rule does allow grant recipients to offer non-CCS charging connectors (such as NACS), but only if the charging port in question has at least one CCS connection.

Many thought FHWA’s decision would cement CCS’s place as the consensus EV charging standard until Ford announced in May 2023 that it would equip all new EVs sold in North America with Tesla’s NACS charge plugs rather than CCS plugs. GM followed suit in June and as of this writing, every major automaker except Mitsubishi and Stellantis has announced it would adopt NACS for vehicles sold in North America.

The market’s shift away from CCS is yet another setback for government efforts to dictate the terms of the EV transition. While Congress is much less likely to shower the electric aircraft industry with subsidies, AAM infrastructure developers should consider the recent history of EV charging as they evaluate competing electric aircraft charging standards. In addition to CCS and GEACS, a third charging standard for eVTOLs is being developed by Australia-based Electro through SAE International’s Aircraft Energy Storage and Charging Committee (SAE AS6968).

The uncertainty surrounding electric aircraft charging is one of many challenges that AAM infrastructure developers must address. For eVTOL short-haul air taxi operations, minimizing charging time is paramount to ensuring the high-tempo operations needed for commercial viability. Non-VTOL electric aircraft using conventional airfields may be less sensitive to charging times, but a high degree of interoperability across electric aircraft types should be a prerequisite for airport operators considering substantial investments in new electric charging infrastructure.

These risks are likely to fade as the AAM industry moves toward commercialization. For the time being, however, they represent significant risks. This is yet another reason that responsibility for vertiports and other AAM infrastructure development be undertaken solely by the private sector. Taxpayers should not be compelled to place bets on the future of electric aircraft, including how they are to be charged.

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How The Wall Street Journal Ranks Large and Medium US Airports

Several years ago, The Wall Street Journal began publishing an annual report on “the best US airports.” They obtained data on 30 indicators from a traveler survey conducted for them by Dynata, and data from U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The data are separated into two sections: reliability and convenience. The former is made up of 10 factors drawn almost exclusively from BTS and TSA data, with the score on each accounting for 5% of the total score; Hence, reliability accounts for half an airport’s total score. The metrics include things like percent of on-time departures and arrivals, the average lengths of such delays, average taxi-out and taxi-in times, and delays due to major airport security incidents. The convenience and value score is based on 13 indicators (presumably each accounting for 3.85% of the total convenience and value score. These measures come partly from BTS data on ticket prices and airline market share, one measure from aviation data firm Cirium, and many from the passenger survey.

Here is an overview 2023 findings, published by the Journal last November. First, medium hubs score better than large hubs. The highest-ranked large hub is Phoenix (PHX), with an overall score of 63.4. But the highest-ranked medium hub is San Jose (SJC) at 71.2. If the airports were all grouped together, the top 16 medium hubs would score higher than the highest-ranked large hub. So the real highest-ranked U.S. airports would be, in order:

San Jose (SJC)71.2
San Antonio (SAT)70.4
Sacramento (SMF)70.0
Indianapolis (IND)69.9
Houston Hobby (HOU)69.0
Portland (PDX)68.0
Santa Ana (SNA)66.9
Oakland (OAK)66.9
Kahului (OGG)66.2
Tampa (TPA)66.1
New Orleans (MSY)65.6
Salt Lake City65.3
Kansas City (MCI)65.1
St. Louis64.7
Pittsburgh (PIT)64.0
Chicago (MDW)63.8

Only after all of the above come the top-scoring large hubs, whose top 10 are PHX, MSP, LAX, ATL, DTW, SFO, IAH, SEA, LAS, and BOS. The lowest-ranked medium hub is DCA, scoring 57.6. That is higher than the scores of many large hubs ranked 11 through 20.

So who finished up in last place? Four large hubs, in the last four places overall, are:

Orlando (MCO)49.1
Dallas/Ft. Worth48.0
New York (JFK)43.6
Newark (EWR)37.6

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Cost-Effective Rural Internet Service

Broadband internet service is now seen as a 21st-century necessity, just as electricity and telephone service was viewed for much of the 20th century. But the usual means of providing this service—fiber optic cable—is cost-effective in urban areas, where houses and businesses are located quite densely. It’s another story in vast low-density rural areas, where fiber can be very expensive.

Congress loves to give things to voters, and so recent years have seen a growing array of federal rural internet subsidy programs, most of them aimed at bringing fiber lines to small towns, farms, Indian reservations, etc. A Government Accountability Office report in May 2022 identified $44 billion in federal rural broadband funding from 2015 through 2020.

A Sept. 6, 2023 Wall Street Journal article provided some data on how costly these efforts are. A bar chart showed the average cost per rural connection of four of the federal subsidy programs, as follows:

Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program$ 13,335 per rural connection
USDA ReConnect$  9,014
Treasury Capital Projects Fund$  3,313
FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund$  1,753

Those are the average cost per connection. But some cost far more than that. WSJ reporter Ryan Tracy noted that a planned project for the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska will cost an estimated $53,000 per hookup. Fierce Telecom’s Diana Goovaerts reported that a $33 million federal grant to the Alaska Telephone Company will run fiber to 211 homes and five businesses at a cost of nearly $204,000 per hookup.

There’s a better way to provide broadband to rural areas. Both SpaceX and OneWeb are building satellite networks that offer high-quality broadband service to rural areas worldwide at far lower average cost than the federal grant programs. SpaceX won an $855 million contract from the Federal Communications Commission three years ago to provide Starlink broadband service to 640,000 rural homes and businesses in 35 states. That works out to $1,336 per connection, 25% less than the per-connection cost of the FCC’s fiber program. Yet last month FCC terminated that contract because SpaceX wasn’t rolling out the service as fast as the agency wanted. Dissenting FCC commissioner Brendan Carr estimated that it would cost FCC $3 billion to provide the same amount of service as Starlink, nearly four times the cost.

SpaceX’s Starlink so far is the largest provider of space-based broadband, but Europe’s OneWeb is its first serious competitor, with 618 satellites in operation compared with 5,420 Starlink satellites as of December. Amazon has just begun launches for its 3,200-satellite Kuiper service.

As for reaching farmers, the world’s largest producer of farm machinery, Deere & Co., has just announced a deal with SpaceX under which it will install Starlink terminals on tractors, seed planters, crop sprayers, and other equipment. Deere estimates that about 30% of US farm acreage lacks sufficient wi-fi service for the kinds of agricultural services it now provides. And the problem is far larger in less-advanced agricultural countries, such as Brazil, where Deere also plans to offer Starlink equipped vehicles.

The problem of rural broadband is being solved—and at zero taxpayer cost—by space-based internet service providers. Federal broadband programs are an attempt to replicate New Deal rural telephone and electricity programs, when the private sector is rapidly expanding to meet this market demand using newer technology. Spending billions of taxpayer dollars on very costly fiber-based rural broadband is an example of making our economy poorer.

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News Notes

Harvard Professor Endorses ATC Reform
In a commentary released last month by Project Syndicate, “How to Fix America’s Broken Air Traffic Control System,” Harvard professor Jeffrey Frankel made the case for the United States to adopt the nonprofit air traffic control corporation approach pioneered by Nav Canada, the world’s second-largest air navigation service provider. Correctly identifying under-funding, aging technology, and ongoing shortages of controllers, Frankel calls for separation of aviation safety regulation from ATC service provision and a self-funded public utility approach for the air navigation service provider (ANSP).

Saudi Arabia Plans $1 Billion Airport P3 Program
The government’s National Center for Privatization is expected to issue requests for qualifications this quarter for two public-private partnerships, to develop regional airports in Abha and Taif, according to Infralogic (Dec. 13, 2023). Both projects will be 30-year design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) public-private partnerships. The first will expand the existing airport at Abha and the second will create a new greenfield airport. Both Aeroports de Paris and TAV operate airport P3 concessions in Saudi Arabia.

Nav Canada Gets Award for Fatigue Management System
The nonprofit air navigation service provider for Canada has received an award from CANSO (Civil Air Navigation Services Organization) for its pioneering Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS). The system integrates three key reports: fatigue risk, fatigue limit exceedance, and fatigue review. It is in place at all Nav Canada air traffic control facilities, including flight service stations. It covers over 2,000 operational employees at more than 100 facilities spread across five time zones.

Lilium Partners with Fraport on Vertiport Network
Regional eVTOL developer Lilium has announced a partnership with global airport operator Fraport to define a network of vertiports in Germany and Central and Northern Europe. The vertiports would be based at airports, so that the Lilium Jet aircraft can provide regional feeder service to airports. Lilium had already worked out airport vertiport agreements with airports in Cologne-Bonn, Dusseldorf, Munich, Nuremberg, and Stuttgart. Lilium plans to produce seven Lilium Jets to use for flight testing with EASA, beginning in late 2025.

Wisk Plans to Operate Autonomous eVTOLs Within Existing ATC System
Aviation Daily (Jan. 5, 2024) reports that Wisk Aero has updated its concept of operations. The new approach aligns with FAA’s UAM ConOps V2.0 released last April. It envisions ground-based multi-vehicle supervisors in fleet operations centers, supported by third-party service providers. The autonomous vehicles will operate on a pre-negotiated UAM RNP route network, to enable ATC to manage the aircraft by exception rather than routine instruction. The time frame for this ConOps is defined as 2028-32.

Archer Deal for 100 eVTOLs for Dubai
Archer Aviation in November signed an agreement with Air Chateau, a Dubai-based heliport operator, under which Archer will provide up to 100 of its Midnight eVTOLs to the company. Air Chateau operates the Dubai Helipark, located at the Dubai World Central Al Maktoum International Airport. Air Chateau plans to own and operate the Midnights in the region. Previously, Archer signed an agreement with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office to launch operations in the United Arab Emirates by 2026, in a partnership with helicopter operator Falcon Aviation.

Nav Canada Reduces Rates Post-Pandemic
In a December notice, Canadian ANSP Nav Canada announced reductions in its ATC charges, effective Jan. 1, 2024. The en-route charge paid by airlines was reduced by 12%, while the annual fees for general and business aviation were reduced by 6%. But to rebuild the targeted balance in its depleted Rate Stabilization Account (RSA), temporary rate adjustments will be added back until the RSA balance has been restored.

France Launches Tender for Nantes Airport P3
The Transport Ministry last month invited qualified teams to submit expressions of interest in a long-term public-private partnership to extend the runway and refurbish the terminal of Nantes Atlantique Airport, the largest airport in western France. Vinci Airports has operated the airport under contract since 2011. The airport had 7.2 million passengers in 2019 and has built back to an estimated 6.6 million in 2023.

Four Consortia Bid for Manila Airport P3
Last month four consortia submitted formal bids for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the Philippines. They are the Manila Airport Consortium, the Asian Airport Consortium, the GMR Airports Consortium, and the SMC SAP & Company Consortium. The winning consortium will be responsible for expanding the airport’s capacity from 30 million to 60 million annual passengers. Qualified bidders will be announced this month, and financial bids are due on Feb. 14.

Tweed New Haven Airport Environmental Assessment Concluded
The FAA has completed the required Environmental Assessment of the planned expansion of the airport, under its recent long-term public-private partnership agreement with Avports. The improvements include lengthening the runway and building a new, larger passenger terminal. If all the proposed mitigations are accepted, Tweed New Haven (HVN) will be the first commercial airport on the U.S. mainland to operate under a long-term P3.

Eurocontrol and Germany Expand Free Route Airspace
Eurocontrol’s Maastricht Upper Area Control Center and Germany’s Karlsruhe Upper Area Control Center have expanded the scope of free route airspace in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands on a 24-hour basis. Thanks to these improvements, free-route cross-border air service is available within and between the Benelux countries, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland, and at night with Austria.

Schiphol Airport Increases 2024 Slots
The Dutch government suspended plans to reduce the number of runway slots at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, permitting 483,000 flights to operate in 2024. Despite the increase, Royal Schiphol Group said that it needs to relieve congestion at peak periods and that the airlines have agreed to help with this. So far, there is no indication that variable runway pricing is being considered for peak periods.

Bidders Line Up for 74% of Queensland Airports Company
The Infrastructure Fund (TIF) and two Australian public employee pension systems are planning to sell the 74% stake in Queensland Airports, which owns and operates four regional airports (Gold Coast, Townsville, Mt. Isa, and Longreach). First-round bids are due in March. Global Infrastructure Partners and Dexus Group will bid together, and KKR and Skip Capital are expected to bid. Infralogic reports that Australian fund manager Palisade Investment Partners is also interested in the company.

Airways International Provides TotalControl Simulator to Croatia
The commercial subsidiary of Airways New Zealand (the world’s first corporatized ANSP) has reached an agreement with Croatia Control (the ANSP of Croatia) to deliver its 270-degree TotalControl tower simulator. The simulator will be installed at Croatia Control’s Zagreb facilities. Commissioning is expected by May 2024. Airways International reports that more than 70 of its TotalControl simulators are in operation worldwide.

Dominican Republic Renews Vinci P3 Concession
Vinci Airports has won a 30-year extension of its concession to operate six of the country’s airports. Under the new concession, Vinci subsidiary Aerodom will finance, operate, maintain, and modernize the six airports. It will make an up-front payment of $775 million—$300 immediately and $475 million in the first half of 2024. It has agreed to invest $830 million in the airports during the 30-year period, including a new terminal at Santo Domingo.

Farewell to FAA’s Kevin Willis
After last month’s newsletter went out, I received an automatic email from FAA noting that Kevin Willis will retire from the agency as of Jan. 31. I have talked off and on with Kevin over many years in connection with his being FAA’s point person for the original Airport Privatization Pilot Program and its successor, the Airport Investment Partnership Program. The last time I saw him was at an InfraLogic P3 conference in New York last June, where he spoke about recent developments in U.S. airport P3s, including New Haven and the Virgin Islands. Best wishes, Kevin.

Paper on Equity Ownership of Airports
A research report on the impact of private equity investment in airports and the formation of airport groups, which I wrote about in the Oct. 2022 issue of this newsletter, was released in March 2023 as NBER Working Paper 30544, as “All Clear for Takeoff: Evidence from Airports on the Effects of Infrastructure Privatization.”

There Is No 1.5º C Climate Cliff
That’s the title of a recent commentary by Reason science correspondent Ronald Bailey I highly recommend. It’s eye-opening and well-documented. Bailey, author of several books, frequently attends conferences such as the recent COP28 and understands how science works. “The world is very unlikely to achieve such steep cuts during the next six years. So, it is good, although not surprising, news that when the world passes through the 1.5 C target, it will not be plunging to its death over a climate cliff,” Bailey writes.

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Quotable Quotes

“The government set out to preserve Spirit Airlines as a stand-alone discounter that can offer cheap tickets for the most price-conscious travelers, but the decision to block the merger with JetBlue may have been a nail in Spirit’s coffin, some analysts said. ‘We are going to see cash burn over the next several years at Spirit, and a company that needs to continue to raise capital to survive,’ Melius Research analyst Conor Cunningham wrote Tuesday, adding that a liquidation might be more likely than a Chapter 11 filing if Spirit does go bankrupt.”
—Alexander Gladstone, Jodi Xu Klein, and Alison Sider, “With Deal Blocked, Spirit Airlines Weighs Its Options,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2024

“[Regarding the airr traffic controller shortage,] Congress and the president should raise the controller mandatory retirement age to the same as airline pilots. It’s time to recognize that age is not a problem and call this low mandatory retirement age what it is—discrimination. This would make several thousand retired controllers available for maybe one, two, or three-year contracts. I would allow those retired controllers to work only in their old airspace, and have them up and running in six months, nine months at the latest. I would also let these controllers keep their retirement money and let them earn their pay without affecting their retirement. Most of this actually has a precedent. Fired controllers from the Reagan era were allowed to come back to work under the Clinton administration. They came in and did a really good job. Retired controllers today can work as ATC trainers at the academy without affecting their retirement. And some controllers were grandfathered in when the age 56 retirement was created, and they worked into their 60’s. Also, these controllers should reach certification extremely fast.”
—Jim Winton, retired FAA controller, email to Robert Poole, Dec. 20, 2023

“In FAA land, there are only two solutions—controlled airport or uncontrolled airport. Their entire worldview revolves around the controller. What if instead we based airport services on the needs of the pilot customer where the distinction isn’t so black and white? Flying into an uncontrolled airport entails risk. Controlling the airport isn’t the only avenue to risk mitigation. What if RT (Remote Tower) technology was used to attain airport situational awareness (number of aircraft in the pattern, aircraft holding for takeoff, runway clear of hazards, wildlife, runway condition wet/dry). All these things can be determined by RT sensors. Then, append the information to ATIS and transmit to the pilot. As aircraft datalink capabilities improve, so will pilot situational awareness, the best path to improved safety.”
—An former military and corporate pilot who wished to remain anonymous, email to Robert Poole, Nov. 15, 2023

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