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FAA's New Policy: Not For MSP?

Andy Pasztor and Jon Kamp of the Wall Strett Journal reported this week that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is "... paying more attention to potential hazards ... near busy runways in the event aircraft lose an engine during takeoff.

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SMAAC to Minnesota Congressional Delegation: Make Airline and Airport Safety a Priority Issue!

"The FAA Safety (first?) and Efficiency (operations at minimum separations whenever possible) policy urgently needs revision." That is what the South Metro Airport Action Council told Minnesota's US Senators and Representatives today (2 Apr 2014) by Email.

The recent Asiana Airlines and NTSB public statements about the fatal July 2013 crash at San Francisco's International Airport confirmed serious problems with training for and use of flight automation systems, which can be in various states, neither "all functions on" nor "all functions off." See http://www.quiettheskies.org/smaacforum/index.php?topic=390.0

Stretching the FAA responsibility to foreign airlines operating in the U.S. is dicey, as is the FAA's tracking of systems anomalies and deficiencies. The FAA (and other Federal agencies such as DOD and NASA) are also responsible for tracing the cause of avionics systems failures to the aircraft and avionics manufacturers.

The public is kept unaware of the above difficulties. Most information as released is unnecessarily technical, full of industry jargon and acronyms, and only available months or years after a crash.

The Congress is more aware, but safety concerns rarely lead to budget increases or the acceleration of R&D or deployment by FAA or airlines, As both the designer of air traffic control and airport instrumentation and the regulator of how these systems are complemented in aircraft and used in practice, the FAA is severely challenged. Almost daily, specific risky incidents are reported, sorted for investigation, and no details are reported until long after the incident. The investigations are costly and only events involving fatalities are expected to be thoroughly investigated. -- many of these investigations remain inconclusive forever.

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Statement from Rep. Keith Ellison addressing SMAAC Winter Forum

A statement from Rep. Keith Ellison addressing the SMAAC Winter Forum held on 1/7/14.

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Airline Competition

The Federal government sued to block the American Airlines-US Airways merger on the grounds that it would restrict competition and drive up fares on hundreds of routes around the country.

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Most Elected Offcials Unaware of MSP Issues

Because the media reported no incidents at MSP during the short Federal shut-down, elected officials and MAC Commissioners got off the safety hook.

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FAA Near Furlough Crisis

The U.S. air traffic control (ATC) system has a serious problem: the people who keep ATC equipment running remain out on furloughs due to the government shutdown.

-Paul Rinaldi, President, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)
Reuters interview, October 10, 2013.

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MSP Long-Term Comprehensive Plan May be an Attempted End Run

Last Sunday (November 21), Suzanne Ziegler wrote a very nice story about the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) Long-term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP) Update. MAC obscured several issues by planning more MSP expansion, including:

  • Economic forecasts
  • State and Federal government plans and policy
  • Safe rates and capacity of MSP

While it is valuable to know what MAC prefers, a long-term plan is not likely to be useful for programming MSP capital budgets because of the limitations of the need projections -- and doubts about why the plan was written. MAC is involved in approving a 5-year Capital Improvements Plan and the 2010 projects budget. Both documents revive 2005 to 2010 projects that were postponed or abandoned because of Northwest Airlines’ bankruptcy (2005) and merger with Delta (2008). 

MAC Deputy Director for Planning and Environment, Dennis Probst told SMAAC the LTCP should be updated every five years, but it has not been. Perhaps the reason for the update now is context for the more immediate future and to have the Met Council “bless” more MSP expansion before a new Governor’s appointments to both bodies?

Delta/NWA and MAC negotiated various changes in MSP development and financing for 2005-2010 (-2012 for gate leases) including various fee and lease reductions. We doubt that all “non-Delta carriers” will move to Humphrey. We expect major airlines, US Airways, United and American and their regional affiliates to remain at Lindbergh. 

MAC subsidizes operating costs for Delta/NWA and other airlines at MSP by sharing airport revenues from parking and concessions. Landing fees were reduced. Leases have been stripped of “depreciation” -- that is, monies put aside to repair or replace the facilities and equipment when needed due to wear and tear.

MAC brags that they levy no taxes. They have landside business deals and revenue proportional to airside operations, so MSP is said by the Commission to be self-sustaining. But that depends on continued use as a major hub to manage debt.

As of now, Delta/NWA and MAC are discussing the gate lease renewals, with Delta saying they have no plan for renting fewer gates at the Lindbergh Terminal – that is, not moving the hub or part of the hub elsewhere. But MAC may be committed to building gates at Humphrey before Delta is contractually bound to gates in 2012. Delta may view their contracts with MAC as easily amended, which was Northwest Airlines’ experience.

Delta collects a 35 to 40% fare premium from local flyers, which more than covers lease and landing fee payments made by Delta at MSP. Minnesotans are paying for Delta’s hub operations at MSP. High fares are especially an issue for economic growth as small businesses in Minnesota are disadvantaged compared to their competitors in non-hub cities.

We doubt this is a viable 20 year financial plan.

FAA has no realistic plans for ground or air traffic control systems supporting more gates at MSP, particularly if rates (operations per hour) should increase as a result of more aircraft at MSP. New FAA air traffic control systems are scheduled no earlier than 2017 (assuming MSP is the first airport equipped with Next Gen ATC).

Talk of increasing passenger capacity by use of larger aircraft is just talk. Delta has suggested they have plans to increase seat capacity on regional (collector) flights by re-allocating the merged fleets and crews. This would be counter to the current trend of schedule reductions. The seat capacity mentioned is from about 70 to about 100, this 43% increase in seats is more than the projected increase in passengers through 2030. 

James R. Spensley, President

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SMAAC Opens On-line Complaint Service for Residents, Travelers

The South Metro Airport Action Council (SMAAC) announced today that it has opened a "Citizens’ log" on its website for residents and travelers encountering unusual annoyances or travel delays during the shutdown of the North Parallel Runway for reconstruction Aug. 17-Oct. 31, 2009. The on-line address is http://quiettheskies.org.

SMAAC, the citizen-based group monitoring issues at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) has been leafleting summer neighborhood events and MAC public hearings about the runway closure. SMAAC wants reports about loud overflights, both time-of-day and direction, as a check on the announced plan, and passenger anecdotes about MSP or airline problems under delay conditions.

According to the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), weather caused unanticipated difficulties for airlines, airport, and FAA staffs during a similar shutdown of the South Parallel Runway in 2007. Since Delta/Northwest apparently hasn’t much reduced its hub operations, less safe capacity combined with reduced visibility conditions creates airport congestion which likely will slow hourly operations drastically.

"The North parallel runway project shifts the 1,200 daily flights at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) to the three other runways for the duration," said Jim Spensley, SMAAC president. "This will expose thousands of residents, businesses and travelers to additional health, environmental and safety risks.

Spensley also said that rerouting decisions were made without any meaningful opportunity for affected citizens to propose alternatives in advance, in spite of repeated attempts to do so. As in 2007, using either the new runway or the cross-wind runway instead of a main runway limits safe capacity under calm, good visibility conditions (visual flight rules) because of crossing runways and intersecting runway headings. With higher winds or less visibility, MSP’s safe hourly rates for arrivals and departures are very much reduced.

Airport staff estimated that delays during the project will be two to four times normal for this time of year.

SMAAC notes, however, that less use of the new runway (R17-35) over Minneapolis, compared to the similar 2007 project, is planned this time. South Minneapolis residents and schools complained bitterly during the Fall 2007 project, and SMAAC appealed to Congress for more Federal review.

Under the Federal Aviation Administration’s temporary air traffic control plan, the usual southerly departures and northerly approaches using the new runway over Bloomington, Eagan and Apple Valley will be continued, slightly increased. The plan is to alternate two departures or arrivals each on the South parallel runway (R12R-30L) and the new runway (R17-35) with one operation on the cross-wind runway (R4-22), wind and weather permitting. If this plan is implemented, 240 operations per day would be using the cross-wind runway over Bloomington, Richfield, and Burnsville to the Southwest of the airport, or Minneapolis and St. Paul to the Northeast of the airport.

August (2009) delays are already up compared to 2008, and during the first week of the 2009 project, more delays than predicted by the MAC were recorded.

The MAC’s two roles in planning the temporary operations are key delay elements: scheduling the $17 million runway repair project (when and how long) and opening and closing the adjacent runway (R4-22).

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