MSP Plans "Hated"

 Regarding Kevin Terrell’s very useful Opinion piece (Star-Tribune August 23rd).  He was absolutely correct: local travelers who are paying for it and citizens who are living with it “hate” the MSP 2035 plan; also the 2020, 2025, and 2030 MSP expansion plans.  The economic and environmental difficulties ahead were mislaid while MAC and the Met Council were making the plans.

M r. Terrell re-visited events that since 1996 have been heading toward “a future we’ll hate” by expanding MSP more as a hub for Delta Airlines, nee Northwest, than to meet Minnesota economic growth needs. Some of Mr. Terrell’s historical details are approximate, and probably the FAA is blamed where Congress is at fault. Also, the Metropolitan transportation policy plans blessed just about everything that the airports commission proposed, including runway over-use and airport facilities only needed to support “surge capacity.”

Abrupt changes of MSP expansion plans in 2002, 2005, and 2010 were controversial for a bit, and then faded from media attention.  The day-to-day operational risks made more obvious by the FAA’s mid-July 2015 suspension of R35 arrivals are the same flavor (Oops didn’t plan for that!) as those that followed the May 2005 accident on the ground and the September 2010 near-mid-air-collision.  So similar, in fact, that the South Metro Airport Action Council’ (SMAAC) comments on the 2030 MSP LTCP could be repeated for the 2035 version.

Mr. Terrell used flight data to show that noise-exposure maps were very, very off. This was welcome proof, but not the first demonstration that airline forecasts of fleet-mix and schedules are not reliable. Of particular note here, MSP plans also assumed that long-delayed technology developments would suddenly be proven and rapidly deployed.

The Star-Tribune reported in a story written by Pat Doyle, February 3, 2011:

“The airport (Commission) is counting on passenger traffic growing by 70 percent by 2030 to justify a planned massive expansion (unveiled in 2009). It's expected to cost $2 billion to $2.4 billion over two decades and be financed with concessions, ticket and parking fees, federal grants, airline charges and bonds paid by airport revenues.”

One thing changed dramatically since: FAA was juggling runway use to allow up to 90 arrivals per hour after the September 2010 near-mid-air collision. That caused a much-hated situation of lower, louder, one-after-another overflights in new neighborhoods in Minneapolis as well as more overflights being heard over SW Minneapolis (and even further west).

But the changes also made peak-hour use of R35 and R40L near-simultaneous for essentially every operation in westerly flow.  In July 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board warned that this was "inherently unsafe" since FAA regulations allowed pilots and controllers to abort landings, resulting in "go-arounds."  In the case of runways with converging headings, a go-around on one runway (at MSP, R35) might enter airspace already occupied by a departure on the other runway (at MSP R30L or R30R). Even if a collision was avoided, there would be risky emergency manuevers at low altitudes.   

The NTSB warning “does not apply to MSP” the MAC was told by its noise manager in September 2013.  SMAAC showed that peak-hour runway use intervals (60 seconds between R30L departures and 90 seconds between R35 arrivals) overlapped for no less than 20 times per hour. So unless there were unreported delays or losses-of-separations or runway incursions, the converging runway go-around risk was unchanged until last month.  Now that safe per hour operations (120 to 130) are less than scheduled operations plus “early” acceptances,  it is time to consider the costs of higher runway use rates versus any economic benefits.  Among the costs count  safety programs, capital and operating costs; noise, air pollution, and other impacts including liabilities for health impacts, loss of land use and tax evenues, high fares, etc.

We doubt it is possible technically to operate 155 gates and 150 operations per hour safely at MSP at any acceptable cost.  The MSP costs are mostly financed, plus mark-up by O&D passenger fare hikes. 


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