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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- There were significant differences in airport rank, sorted by runway operations per day.
- 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