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Meeting with Governor's Office Aug 5th -- MSP Airport Overflights

Last January, three Minneapolis legislators and three SMAAC Board Members met with Governor Walz' staff policy advisor on Transportation. A Power Point presentation had been prepared for the Governor connecting FAA and airline discussions in Washington with the extended delays in revising maximum hourly operations at MSP airport. Some of the discussions were probably back-channeled by the Republican majorities in the House Transportation and Environment Committees. 

We were supportive of the Governor's initiatives on GHG reduction from State operations and we were working with Rep. DeFazio and other Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to revive interest in reducing GHG emissions from commercial aviation operations at MSP and en route --which are government functions.

As the COVID-19 crisis grew, however, more than 4 of every 5 daily commercial flights were cancelled and the PBN/RNAV approaches and departures routes and runway use rates issues were lost, postponed or redefined. At MSP, the airports commission re-organized and increased its staff and budget and the now ten-year-old update of the MSP long-term comprehensive plan is a step further removed from public or legislative concern.  

SMAAC prepared a follow-up Presentation asking the Governor to explain State policy on two fronts:

A] Does the Executive Order requiring Minnesota State Departments and Agencies to reduce GHG emissions apply to the Metropolitan Airports Commission's operations at MSP and other MAC airports?

B] Since considerable GHG is released during jet flights in MSP airspace, more at busier hours, does the Governor anticipate plans will be made to reduce GHG and other pollution on a per flight basis at MSP?

It remains uncertain if the Governor, the MAC, the Met Council or State Departments (Health, MPCA, etc.) will see the presentations. SMAAC Forum has asked Governor Walz to participate in an on-line presentation and discussion on MSP operations and routes and GHG and particulate monitoring. Perhaps legislation will be proposed to include public health and safety outcomes in the MSP LTCP.

"I think we should persist." President Spensley said, "The overflight issues were made more relevant by the pandemic, since it is known that near-airport neighborhoods have more health risks, including respiratory disease and lung cancers, and COVID-19 infections likely harsher."

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MSP International Airport: Planning is Stuck Again

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic-- and the Federal disbursements to maintain essential air travel and stimulate the US economy in response --are complex and ever-changing. MSP International Airport (MSP) provides a window into the national air-travel situation,but too little to base a forecast about economic recovery on at this time.
A few years ago, the Airports Commission commissioned a "study of the economic and jobs impacts of MSP operations." At the time, there were 27,000 jobs on-site. Jobs included flight crews stationed in the Twin Cities and airline personnel working at MSP. The total jobs from air travel, off-and on-site jobs was estimated as 86,000. Residency, spending locally and paying State and property taxes for that 86,000 was not known, but assumed.
Today, passenger capacity is about 1.2 million departing) seats/year compared to 8.5 million in 2019. See Note below. About half the concessionaires have closed and the other have reduced hours. Operations remain somewhat concentrated in a few busier hours. 
There is some unknown variation in Federal jobs --and airline jobs --at MSP now because of reduced schedules; and, frequent policy changes in both cases about international travel restrictions.
Our point is: No one, particularly airlines, can forecast reliably before April 2021, best case. The Federal government needs an air-travel-recovery plan based on routes allowed and supported. With demand <40% of 2019 levels, tweaking runway-use rates and adding storage at MSP doesn't make much sense.
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U.S. Senate Bill: FAA Re-directed to Certify B-737 MAX Airworthiness

In the United States Senate, on June 17, 2020, the “Aircraft Safety and Reform Act” was introduced to effectively reverse provisions of the 2018 FAA Re-authorization that allowed Boeing leeway to decide that the B-737 MAX 800 and 900 are safe to fly.

Boeing and other component manufacturers had been delegated safety certification responsibilities that would now require detailed and continuous “surveillance and audit” by FAA.

The bipartisan move to regulate the design and manufacture of aircraft, engines  control technologies etc. curiously started in the Senate. FAA Re-Authorization includes policy and appropriations; routinely undertaken by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. 

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Airlines are "Re-Opening" in a high cost/risk mode.

At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and elsewhere, Delta is flying at "all (its) U.S. hubs" with capacity and service "significantly reduced". Delta has moved operations in Chicago to O'Hare from Midway and resumed flights to China. In Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, more flights between hubs in June than May to serve large metropolitan areas. This means, as in Chicago, no Delta service from a second airport in the same Metro area. 

In the case of Chicago-Minneapolis St. Paul air service, Sun Country and Southwest costs will increase at Midway and at MSP. Despite the risks of COVID-19 being spread, passengers and aircraft will more often share airport space at peak hours. Expensive work is underway at Seattle and Atlanta to handle Delta hub-to-hub-to-hub cross-country and international connections. 

More facility and operating costs, with fewer passengers per flight, means much higher fares and fewer jobs.

"In my opinion, there is little chance that enough affordable air service to sustain economic growth in the Twin Cities will return until (if) the pandemic ceases to limit seats per flight." said SMAAC.US co-founder Jim Spensley. "Some airlines are already  out-of-business and the prospects are that an average air trip will be longer and less comfortable again due to over-scheduled hours at busier hubs. 

"SMAAC warned the airports commission, the Governor who appoints the Chair and Commissioners, the Legislature and the FAA that MSP operations should be limited to 130-135 flight operations per hour, and that it would be healthier, safer and better for the economy if they were."

Sometime next year, a vaccine is expected to be available. By then, COVID-19 infections will be widespread with coronavirus mutations likely. international travel restrictions will continue for at least months. 

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Political Campaigns Will be Different

We are pleading for bold political leadership on commercial aviation needs. It is painful to contemplate what our children and grandchildren may face if we fail to step up now.

In the coming months, SMAAC will face campaign challenges posed by social distancing or accepting risks: Is there a virtual stump-speech, rally, fund-raiser, debate or door-knock? 

Are TV ads, blogs or social media trees credible? What do you think?

The Board wants to open this blog (NEWS) for in-bound campaign news and messaging from candidates to Members. We'll need moderators and fact-checkers!

The Board wants to ask candidates what they know about airlines, airports, air traffic control, air pollution and public health and safety. And what they'd work to fix if elected. We'll need writers, analysts and contacts with campaigns and candidates.  


A. The Legislature?  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Metropolitan Airports Commission and the Met Council have little or no set responsibility for air pollution from overflights. No laws establish how flight courses (routes and heights) are set and enforced.

B. The Congress?   The airport-to-airport routes at cruise altitudes are planned and supported by appropriations --the National Airspace System and the Federal Aviation Administration's en route air traffic control network. The plans set after 9/11 increased GHG and other emissions per flight in several ways. And again after mergers and hub airport consolidations in 2008-09.

We'll need to ask the candidates serious questions about meeting both economic growth and public health needs during the COVID-19 recovery and in the long-term. 

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Fears About Plans for Commercial Aviation

The Special Metro Airports Analysis Center is starting to track how the $billions appropriated to “tide-over” commercial aviation is being used. A Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal report steered us to Seth Kaplan, a well-known journalist and airline-industry expert, already known at the Center for his remark: “It’s not that an airline, after it merges… has to pick a hub to close.” The Center is trying to extend investigations of the airline routes, created during “recovery” after both 9/11 and after the recession of 2008, as increasing greenhouse gas volumes emitted (global warming, air pollution), and the cost of air travel.


Will a recovery from the economic hardships imposed to control the COVID-19 pandemic

be fair (democratic and equitable)? 

We fear it will not, given the history

and the importance of international (air) travel to both

controlling human epidemics and lubricating global economic growth.


In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned airports that many epidemiological studies correlated overflights and increased health and mortality risks within ten miles of busy airfields. Increased incidences of pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases were found,

Correlating changes at urban airports, higher pollution doses from jet operations to health risks had seemed easy enough in 2014. WHO reported that the correlation was stronger applied to persons who had lived near or worked at a busy airport. Hearings were held in the House of Representatives and bills were passed and funds appropriated to study the topic.  EPA/FAA Finding was issued in 2015, connecting commercial aviation to excessive releases of greenhouse gases. By law, the Agencies prepared to promulgate Rules.

We asked for health-outcomes studies, unsuccessfully, at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, as part of the 2010-2025 Metropolitan Transportation Policy Plan. University of Southern California scientists compared the density of sub-micron particulates in lower-income neighborhoods east of Los Angeles International Airport and found an abundance of particles ear-marked chemically as produced in jet engines. That study was repeated in Seattle just last year.

The responsibility for overflight pollution rules (EAW/EIS work) was muddled by de-regulation lobbies. There were a multitude of deaf ears in city halls, airport sponsor’s hearing rooms, and State capitols. The EPA/FAA Finding was nullified in 2017 by the Trump Administration.

Last year we updated and released a White Paper and, with citizen groups in other aviation-impacted cities, hoped to extend National Airspace System (NAS) analyses with more concern for health and environment impacts.

In the COVID-19 crisis, the large airlines, some airliner manufactures and other aviation interests reacted in the same ways they had reacted to climate change in 2017, to financial audits in 2009 and to security in 2002: air operations are not solely to blame and must not be regulated. Yet we know COVID-19 was harsher for persons with lung and heart disease.


The FAA reacted slowly after 9/11 and the Next Gen developments, funded in 2007, got in the way. FAA, airports, and airlines acted badly after the 2008 financial crisis. The Congress, too: bills were introduced to increase funding of Next Gen and privatize air traffic controller jobs. Bills were passed to enable airline mergers and reduce inspections; airline mergers were allowed that more or less passed $millions from air travelers to airline executives.


Federal statistics (USDOT) show that jet fuel burned by commercial flight operations in 2011 was 20 to 25% greater than in 2005 --when millions more travelers flew. The difference was noted at hub airport as routes were changed for safety reasons. Four findings were documented:

  1. U.S. passengers-boarded in 2010 were less, but 2010 fuel consumption was greater (each compared to 2005). The average trip was apparently quite a bit longer, because the average aircraft in 2010 had fewer seats and a lot more cargo weight was carried in passenger flights in 2005.
  2. In 2011, a majority of passengers boarded at fewer airports than in 2005; shown by sorting airports by departing passengers, highest to lowest, and a running total.
  3. There were significant differences in airport rank, sorted by runway operations per day.
  4. At the busiest airports, flight operations per day were higher, and more concentrated at peak hours, in 2011 than in 2005.


We conclude that city-hub-city passengers traveled fewer miles each in 2005.

There were fewer seats available per departure in 2011, and

airlines prospered by higher load-factors and much higher average fares.

Health and safety risks increased as a result at MSP and similar hub airports.

We thought this had to be addressed by Federal policy. The DOT and FAA operational statistics had become less available and epidemiological research more prevalent.


In 2014, the MAC and the Met C were to update the Metropolitan Transportation Policy Plan for 2015 to 2035. The MSP CIP plan for 2010 to 2017 was to be approved. Facilities needed were postponed: said to be because the peak runway use rates were reduced (CRO safety) and amendments to the Consent Decree on Noise Mitigation.

SMAAC and similar groups around the country connected with EPA and FAA in 2013 (soon after President Obama recommended attention to the relationship of high-rate airport flight operations to air pollution, the 2010 WHO Warning. The result was the Official Finding in 2015 that, by law, resulted in drafting Rules for approach and departure routes and rates in GFY 2016 that did not happen.


In 2002 and 2008, the airline business had dropped like a stone,

but recovered financially after bailouts, with higher profits,

fewer airlines, less service, less safety, and less oversight.

Also, more pollution including GHG and particulates (carbon footprints).

Opinion by Jim Spensley, Co-Founder, Special Metro Airports Analysis Center

© Copyright 2020

SMAAC, Minneapolis, MN

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Gov. Walz' Climate Change Order

Governor Walz has been confronted with decisions about various projects --pipelines, for example --as to ongoing risks of harm to the larger environment from leaks or spills that pollute streams or aquifers. He considered that climate change and global warming caused by GHG gas emissions was similar and issued Executive Order 19-37 directing State departments and agencies to reduce GHG emissions.

We have been asking the Metropolitan Council (MetC) and the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) for decades to include environmental impacts from overflights as a topic in planning for more air traffic at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). The MAC has unusual authorities under Minnesota law and rules for assessing the environmental impacts of MSP on-site projects, facilities, and operations:

1] the Commission may skip EAWs for smaller projects and, orginally assess cumulative impacts over time each year in the Assessment Of Environmental Effects or AOEE. The AOEE was originally a Hearing Examination to find the pertinent facts, such as the increased fuel used per boarded passenger using two regional jets rather than one B-727 to fly from Chicago Midway to MSP. Hint: 2 landings and two take-offs rather than one.

2] the Commision prepares Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAWs) for larger projects and decides itself whether an Environmental Impacts Statement (EIS) is needed. 

Jet exhaust contains substances that pollute the air, including GHG emissions. GHG and solids from jet aircraft operations are proportional to fuel used, hours of operation and proximity, creating local health risk in addition to their global warming impact. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Aviation Agency officially found that commercial avaition added significant GHG volumes to the atmosphere, proportional to fuel consumption. Both fewer miles flown and less fuel used (less GHG released per hour) are possible improvements.

Note: Fuel efficiency --consumption in "miles per gallon" --for commecial flights is a very misleading parameter. 

1. At cruise altitudes less fuel is burned per hour than at low alitudes: slightly less GHG is emitted traveling 500 miles at 36,000 feet altitude than traveling 120 miles per hour around airports!

2. Circling around an airport awaiting your turn to land is a net zero miles per gallon.

3. Flying from Indianapolis to Los Angeles via Dallas is shorter than flying via Minneapolis but longer than it used to when there was a hub in St. Louis. Still people fly from Indianapolis to LA via Minneapolis because it is cheaper --but uses more fuel and makes more GHG.


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FAA Today

Here's our view:
FAA departments are isolated. 
1. Next Gen has been, at best, slow and often changes course on goals, schedules, airlines do not always cooperate (e.g. ADS-B) and the deployments to airports and TRACON are much varied;
2. ATC operations --facing daily pressures and generally understaffed --focuses on realtime work at airport towers (for example, "efficiency policy") to get those suckers landed ASAP and accidents happen directly and indirectly in the mix; 
3. various inspections  issues (737 MAX, maintenance schedules stretched, multiple avionics versions, aging factors, etc.), out-sourcing inspections and airworthiness design and testing functions, and more; 
4. Management, where the airlines lobby and work together (collusion on schedules and fares) and deal with employees (pilots, unions), airports and FAA (directly or indirectly) in their own/industry interests;
5. Planning, where fifteen years after the recession, the NAS en route network is little changed, but has half or less connecting hubs exacerbating peak-hour planning issues (capapcity andschedules) fuel is wasted and polltion increased, and airport and airport airspace safety is unnecessarily complicated.
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