MSP Airport Capacity

THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST POSTED 10 JANUARY 2020. WE WERE NOT THEN AWARE THAT MN STATUTES 473.xx HAD BEEN MODIFIED (the extensive changes had not yet been codified and published). 

SMAAC and S. Minneapolis legislators met with the Governor's staff about governance policy and long-term planning delays at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on January 6, 2020. We said:

"The nine-year delay in updating the MSP Airport LTCP has obscured ​facts about airport operations and details ​of how overflights affect public health and safety and the environment. 

"The 2011-2016 MSP Capital Improvements Plans were considered incomplete by Met Council. To be useful for updating the Transportation Policy Plan for air transportation, we understood, the MSP Long-Term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP) was to be updated considering conditions applied by the Met Council. Due to the near-midair-collision at MSP, the maximum flights/per hour limit was being studied by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The airport uses stated in the 1998 FAA agreement and the incomplete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) lay on the table awaiting likely Air Traffic Control (ATC) improvements and the study findings. 

"While ensuing events have intervened, it is our observation that Met Council and State oversight was inadequate.  The MAC was in the 6th month of a 15-month project to plan for MSP future operations. The scale of the effort is evidence that MSP flight operations were subject to the limitations of  the 1996 Law (operations per year etc.)" 

"State policy, rather than the Metropolitan Airports Commission alone, needs to tend to meeting Minnesota economic growth needs for air service --without increasing public health and safety risks." 


NOTE: The NTSB Warning about the safety risks of concurrent operations on converging-heading runways Converging Runway Operations (CRO) led to FAA Safety Orders: the 1st, in 2014, refined the ATC Tower staffing, runway use plans, and emergency procedures. limiting arrivals on R35 in case of an aborted approach. The 2nd, in 2017, specified that runway use intervals would depend on automated communications and more precise routes. Neither of these resulted in a "maximum safe operations per hour" for planning schedules and open runway hours supporting 620,000 annual flights.

In May 2019 the FAA issued its 3rd Safety Order limiting MSP airport flight operations and runway-use rates in NW flow. But the new rule allowed a choice between one arrival on R35 or two departures on the parallel runways. This safety rule allows 3 scenarios for fleet arrivals in NW flow

1. An arrival rate (60-70/hour) the same as in SE flow;

2. More arrivals and fewer departures.

In simple terms, these alternatives involve schduling percise times for each operation (PBN navigation) and a plan for holding approaching aircraft near the airport to "meter" their precise landing times within a few seconds to maximize runway use. Also, if an arrival bank is larger than about 70, more aircraft accumulate at MSP straining the facilities (gates, parking, taxiing, terminal improvements, etc.). 

Present Day Concerns

CLIMATE CHANGE: The FAA has the technology to securely surveil flights using GPS. That would allow flights to avoid dog-leg routes to remain in range of FAA en route radar sites. Average trips in 2005 were 20% shorter compared to 2010 for about the same number of trips. City-hub-City 


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  • Jim Spensley
    commented 2021-09-12 00:27:44 -0500
    The Metropolitan Airports Commission Chair acknowledged our request to present our concerns about safety, GHG emissions, health risks, and costs and suggest a solution. He rejected it out of hand. Interesting.

    The solution is partly here and partly a revival of the original Next Generation air traffic control plan to increase air transportation by “expanding routes horizontally.” The FAA has presented a dilemma here, in that the maximum safe operations per hour (arrivals and departures per hour) is 12 to 15% less than was thought when the new runway was approved in the 1998 Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement (ROD/FEIS).

    The Commission confuses what its user airlines forecast (want) with what Minnesotans and Minnesota businesses need (want). We wonder if the Governor and the Legislature know if the MAC pays more for public relations consultants than for safety experts? We don’t. It should be more transparent and easier to find out though.
  • Jim Spensley
    followed this page 2021-09-11 23:16:55 -0500
  • Smaac Forum Panel
    published this page 2021-08-20 16:58:47 -0500