How Safe Can We Believe MSP Is?

Last Summer, the South Metro Airport Action Council (SMAAC) formally asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to move more slowly in adding flights during the busy times at Minnespolis International Airport (MSP). The MAC's response was unsatisfactory, mostly defaming SMAAC for its resolution, but also disclaiming any role in increased air operations rates. MAC staff advised the Commission, in public, that FAA's, and the user airlines' systems and procedures were "not unusual" for similar airports.

SMAAC holds that MSP expansion, particularly constructing more gates and leasing them to Northwest, enables the larger "Sky Team" hub. Coupled with simultaneous use of new Runway 17-35 and the parallel runways, peak hours at MSP now involve 156 to 160 flight operations compared to about 85 ten years ago. This increase means, in lay terms, that there are more aircraft flying closer together and taxiing further and faster on somewhat less space.

Nationally, accidents and troubling incidents were up considerably in the last decade, although that period includes times when airline operations declined due to 9/11 and the establishment if the Transportation Security Agency, bankruptcies, and strikes. Although not well reported in the Twin Cities, FAA is being questioned by Congressional Transportation Subcommittees about increased runway incursions, accidents, and the safety of new air traffic control systems. Meanwhile, FAA's budget requests, for R&D and for training air traffic controllers, are being cut, or considered for cuts, by OMB and Congressional appropriation and budget committees.

Locally, several incidents at MSP briefly raised media and public concerns, but the separate incidents were not connected to the increased operational rates. Neither have they been related to national trends, as they ought to have been: incursions, congestion, ground incidents, and accidents at or near airports are concentrated at the major hubs, associated with high operational rates.

SMAAC had hoped to increase public awareness of aviation safety, pollution, and economics. MAC, however, is close-mouthed about happenings at MSP, especially problems. Local FAA officials prefer to communicate through MAC or the Great Lakes Regional Offices near Chicago.

As a case in point, fuel spills at MSP. Even though massive fuel leaks briefly became news, many details were missed because nothing was revealed at public meetings of MAC or its standing committees (even though millions of dollars in related capital projects were approved)and because investigations werre occluded by a stipulation agreement between the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, MAC, airlines, and fuel companies.

Last week, only a few media outlets reported a fuel-truck accident at MSP. The reports quoted the MAC spokesman, Pat Hogan, who provided the basic facts (only). SMAAC thinks the general public was probably interested in more details:

Where exactly was the accident and spill (eg. near workers, buildings, aircraft)? What contributed to the accident (new driver, new roadway, congestion, excessive speed due to rushing to keep up with air ops)? Were operations affected (How was the airliner re-fueled? Was it delayed? Was there a connected string of delays}? What fire and >emergency crews >responded? How and where was the fuel disposed of (and was the spill and disposal reported to and monitored by PCA)?


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