Jim Spensley

  • published Fears About Plans for Commercial Aviation in News 2020-05-05 14:42:54 -0500

    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.

    MORE …

    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

  • LTCP Survey Response: Caucus Sample Resolution

    Attention Members: The MSP LTCP Update schedule --late by several years -- parallel the 2020 Election schedule. So, let's take an endorsement/platform stand!  You can use the LINK below to access an editable Resolution to modify and share with the campaigns you support and the caucuses and conventions you attend.



  • commented on MSP CRO Update 2019-10-18 16:40:18 -0500
    Several elected municipal officials or staff alternates are seated (a good term for what they do, sit) on the MSP LTCP Stakeholder’s Advisory Panel. Safety risks, PBN/RNAV routes, almost daily changes in forecasts, rules, equipment and technology are blithely presented over two decades of assumptions not including any responsibility for dealing openly about health, cost, or pollution.

  • published FAA: Airlines Trump Health and Safety in News 2019-10-14 08:41:16 -0500

    FAA: Airlines Trump Health and Safety

    The FAA chose to ignore the impact of overflight pollution according to internal USDOT/IG documents originated by FAA. The troubled Next Gen air traffic control program elevated "industry (airline) expectations" over public health and safety.

    CAUTION: While we believe that the premise is correct --FAA usually designs PBN/RNAV route procedures only to increase hourly use of runways and other airport facilities --the IG study was of Metroplex implementations, multiple airports in urban areas. 

    When Next Gen could not resolve air traffic congestion in "more complex" airport and large metropolises without increasing air pollution and safety risks, they doubled down on "efficiency policy."  During the last years of the George W. Bush administration, with the Next Gen program under development --and nothing else funded --FAA anticipated an expansion of routes, along the East Coast especially, and an "airline demand" for greater runway availability at many airports. Outside of the R&D departments, air traffic control management planned to "optimize runway use at minimum separations." 

    This is not news at MSP. FAA tried PBN routes at MSP soon after the September 2010 near-mid-air-collision, and the MAC maintained the illusion that environmental reviews and noise mitigation would be continued. FAA publicity featured "optimized efficient use of airport facilities and airspace," and airlines characterized noise complainers as being against the efficient and optimized flight routes needed for economic growth.

    "Politicians (cynically or stupidly?) adopted the above views and did not question the MAC seriously when investigations of public health and safety or environmental impacts (GHG for example) were denied." Jim Spensley, SMAAC President 




    In a bombshell and likely accidental admission, the FAA revealed the truth about how the MetroPlex and NextGen flight paths were designed 
    without noise, ground safety and public impact issues being considered.  The FAA was responding in writing to an audit conducted 
    by the Transportation Departments Inspector General.  The audit report stated that community noise issues were problems that were causing 
    delays with the FAA's implementation of the MetroPlex program across the Country.  The FAA's response to the audits findings stated that 
    after noise issues became problematic, it later changed it's processes to include those concerns in future design procedures.  But in doing 
    so, it admitted that the original design processes (which were used for the Sky Harbor NextGen flight paths) only considered optimization 
    of paths to benefit the industry.  Here is the text of the FAA response regarding noise concerns from page 37 of the audit report:

    "In order to address extensive community concerns about new noise exposure, procedures are designed and implemented that do not maximize 
    efficiency benefits, but do result in less noise exposure. When the Metroplex program began in 2010, the focus was upon optimizing routes 
    and airspace design. When community concerns were included in the design equation, optimization was no longer the only consideration. It 
    is an extraordinarily complex balancing act to provide both efficiency benefits to industry and to minimize new noise exposure in 
    communities. These are usually competing priorities."

    The FAA also went on to admit that the programs only intent was to make use of all available airspace which created new noise impacts 
    over areas that previously had not experienced flight path intrusions:
    "The intent of the Metroplex program was to make efficient use of all available airspace, which created new noise impacts. In many 
    communities, some neighborhoods experience less noise, and some more-relieved communities generally have not recognized the beneficial 
    noise reductions, while impacted communities strongly oppose the new or increased exposure."

    The title of the  audit report, issued on August 27th is "FAA Has Made Progress in Implementing Its Metroplex Program, But Benefits for 
    Airspace Users Have Fallen Short of Expectations".  The report goes on to say the the FAA is behind schedule in implementing the programs and 
    that benefits as promised are questionable.  Other statements from the report include:

    "Delays have occurred largely due to increased community concerns about aircraft noise."

    "Since 2014, further delays have occurred as FAA has implemented new PBN (Performance Based Navigation) procedures at more sites, largely 
    due to increased community concerns. For example, in fiscal year 2018, FAA cancelled the Phoenix Metroplex project due to litigation related to a previous PBN project."


    Read more

  • commented on LTCP Survey Results 2019-11-01 15:08:02 -0500
    The Survey responses suggesting a social media campaign and platform resolutions at the February 2020 Precinct Caucuses make sense together. A Sample resolution has been drafted. We’re going to post it as a text file in several places for downloading (different platforms and different sponsors to keep track of the forwards, re-tweets, and shares).
    Or you can post here and share that!
    Stand by. Soon there will be a link to the draft

    The Board is contacting several nice people who suggested using social media to start the ball rolling. Some will write their own resolution, we hope, candidates included if they want —the Sample isn’t very catchy.

    Shortly – after we update the list —we will upload the Draft Resoultion file to Mail Chimp and circulate the link in an all-contacts email —and here.

    Happy Haunting,

  • commented on About 2019-09-28 17:54:32 -0500
    Many thnnks to the respondents. We published a new page on the CRO situation. We hope cities and agencies appointed to the LTCP “Stakeholder’s Advisory Panel” are relentless about safety and climate change costs being considered; the airline appointees will be relentless about excluding environmental impacts (increased GHG emissions from closely-scheduled operations) and slow to commit to using new (different) aircraft and upgraded avionics for safety.

  • published Who are the MSP "Stakeholders? in News 2019-09-08 13:34:39 -0500

    Who are the MSP "Stakeholders?

    0The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) set up a Stakeholder Engagement Department and a Stakeholder's Advisory Panel on the MSP Long-Term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP). The Panel is dominated by airlines and others doing business with the MAC, a few city members --seasoned for servile cooperation by noise oversight committee routine --and a handful of government agencies and NGOs. No public or neighborhood panelists. 

    Several public engagement events are planned to "inform citizens" about the LTCP progress and "listen to comments." If you've been there and done that, were your comments used in any way? The events focus on various parts of the LTCP, but are not yet scheduled.

    A few years ago, to impress the Legislature and the Governor, an MSP  Vision Statement and Strategic Plan for a well-appointed and expensive destination airport --serving passengers with daily Delta flights to places Minnesotans and most destination passengers visit less than once a month.  The slickly presented Strategic Plan was apparently considered safe and healthy enough, although this wasn't mentioned.

    It's clear the Converging Runway Operations (CRO) delay was used to submerge the MSP 2014 Long-Term Comprehensive Plan (LTCP) Update and at least the 2017-20 capital projects, floating long-term goals without revealing details to the public directly or to the Met Council and Legislature formally, for appropriate economic growth forecast (O&D passenger use of MSP), financial, or environmental review.

    The CRO details now --stiffer safety-at-peak-hours restrictions --will:

    1. be more to Delta's competitive benefit;
    2. increase fares to pay airline fees;
    3. increase total noise;
    4. use PBN/RNAV route and limit vertical-approach technology to plan arrival rates;
    5. increase air pollution per flight with a greater GHG and overall pollution volume as passengers increase.

    A MAC staff opinion is that the Minnesota Legislature intended that the MAC defer off-site public health and environmental impact statements to the FAA/EPA.  The FAA doesn’t do EAWs at specific airports. Neither MPCA or MAC is responsible for EAW/EIS or public health studies of flight operations. It appears the Evironmental Quality Board has endowed MAC with EAW authority for capital projects and immunized them against appeals.

    A second assumption is that the small site will remain safe enough even if average hourly use increases to the annuaized equivalent of 800,000 to 1 million operations per year and 60 million passengers. That being the case --without a serious accident --the costs will be 3 or 4 times higher than moving to a larger site in 2001 would have been and 2 or 3 times the cost of building a second airport. now.  All of these 3 options are a risky capital investment as airline demand is fickle, not promised: airlines fail financially, real air travel demand is fare and service dependent, and the public may demand a lower public health and safety risk or more attention to GHG releases and global warming.

    Aren't those assumptions worth consideration in developing the LTCP?  We think so. Drafting a plan for 18 months to be considered for 18 minutes in its only pubic hearing seems less transparent and informative than it should be considering the projected cost over 20 years.

  • followed Donate 2019-06-20 14:09:06 -0500


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Retired systems engineer. Activist. Environmentalist. President of the South Metro Airport Action Council
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