In this issue:
- New tool for managing the airside
- Protecting airports and airliners from missile attacks
- Runway pricing gains support
- TSA overkill on business jets
- First Midway, now three others
- News Notes
- Quotable Quotes
We hear a lot about how the future NextGen ATC system will provide the same, real-time information to all key participants in the system, from pilots to controllers to airline and airport operations people. An early example of such a capability is now deployed at several U.S. and overseas airports. As an enhancement to ASDE-X (airport surface detection system), Sensis Corp. has developed something called Aerobahn. It's a web-based information system that fuses real-time flight operations data and airport surveillance data (from radar and transponders), sharing this information among all key participants via the Internet.
The system has three principal uses. It can display a real-time picture of where aircraft are on the airport, including gate areas as well as runways and taxiways. It can be programmed to give alerts when various thresholds are reached-e.g., the length of a taxiway queue. And it can provide historical data for purpose of analysis-such as, to do a post-mortem on how a snowstorm was handled.
Over the past year, several airlines have signed up for Aerobahn to better manage their terminal operations at ASDE-X equipped airports-for example, Continental at Houston and Newark, as well as Northwest at Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul. (Overseas users include Fraport for Frankfurt Airport, French ATC provider SNA for Paris Orly and de Gaulle, and the Civil Aviation Department for Hong Kong International.) Those overseas operations are for the entire airport in each case, rather than to serve a particular airline. But serving entire airports is now coming to the United States, too.
In September, Sensis announced a one-year contract with DOT's Volpe Center to provide Aerobahn to the FAA at New York's JFK International Airport. Sensis hopes that airlines serving JFK will also sign on, and Delta was the first to do so. The FAA intends to use the real-time data to identify new policies and procedures for JFK that could reduce taxi times, save fuel, and reduce emissions-the same kinds of benefits that have attracted individual airlines to use the system.
Aerobahn depends for much of its data on ASDE-X, which is being installed at 35 U.S. airports, primarily to reduce runway incursions. The FAA is also planning to contract with one or more companies to test smaller, less-costly airport surveillance systems that could be installed at small to medium-size airports, also primarily to reduce runway incursions. The other missing piece in providing comprehensive airport surveillance is getting transponders onto all ground vehicles. Doing that would provide comprehensive identification of all vehicles, not just aircraft, at ASDE-X/Aerobahn airports. And this approach could also be integrated with a lower-cost multilateration system at smaller and medium-size airports. One approach for doing that was set forth in "Reducing Runway Incursions-A Simple, Yet Effective Next Step," in the Summer 2008 issue of The Journal of Air Traffic Control. (www.atca.org/journal.aspx)
What's a cost-effective way to deal with the alleged threat of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS)? The conventional wisdom in Congress for a time was to mandate that every airliner in American be equipped with a million-dollar system to detect and deflect such missiles-an approach that appears wildly out of proportion to the threat. Fortunately, instead of mandating this brute-force approach, Congress agreed that the Dept. of Homeland Security should test it, along with alternative approaches.
We haven't heard much recently about the DHS's 15-month test of Northrop Grumman's anti-missile system on 11 Fedex MD-11s in operational service, which ended in March. The Fedex planes flew 4,500 "sorties" to 51 different airports carrying the 500-lb. Guardian pod. Airlines certainly hope the results will show that the system is too costly to purchase and fly with-but so far DHS has not released any results.
What we have seen recently is information about an alternative approach, being tested under Project CHLOE. This concept involves protecting the airspace above and around airports, via a long-endurance, high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) carrying either just a detection device (linked to ground-based interception or spoofing devices) or combining both detection and countermeasures on the UAV. Last month the Scaled Composites White Knight One aircraft began test flights of the Northrop Grumman Guardian pod as a precursor of tests against threats set to begin this month. (http://mojaveskies.blogspot.com/2008/08/whiteknightone-tests-project-chloe-pod.html)
Considering the physics of the situation, it seems plausible to me that one or more UAV-mounted systems operating at the planned 65,000 feet could scan the needed three-mile radius around a large airport, plus approach and departure corridors (where airliners are most vulnerable, given their low altitudes during takeoffs and landings). However, effective countermeasures from that altitude may be far more difficult, suggesting that a combination of airborne sensor and ground-based interdiction (e.g., Raytheon's proposed Vigilant Eagle) may well be more feasible.
I still think the most cost-effective approach is the current effort to seek out and destroy errant MANPADS, run primarily by the State Department, which claims to have destroyed 26,000 of these nasty weapons since 2002. As reported by David Hughes in Aviation Week (July 28, 2008), the program's director, Lincoln Bloomfield, estimates that 50,000 more of the weapons are "in nations where stewardship falls short of what is needed to keep them out of the wrong hands." He also says that in nations where terrorists are most likely to purchase them, the authorities usually want money in return for destroying them. That's all right with me, if the cost turns out to be far less than the tens of billions of dollars it would take to equip and operate anti-missile devices on the entire U.S. airliner fleet. And sometimes all it takes is a team of skilled people to help governments do the destruction work. State and Homeland Security have a group of 20 peo ple who operate in two-person teams to help other countries assess and deal with their MANPADS situation.
Countering MANPADS could have been another case of legislate first, analyze later. Fortunately, in this case Congress wisely called for research on alternatives.
Although airport and airline groups have both criticized the U.S. DOT's proposal to auction off a portion of the slots at the major New York airports, the picture is quite different when it comes to airports being able to price the use of their runways. When the Air Transport Association filed a legal challenge to the revised DOT airport rates and charges policy (which would allow congestion pricing), the Airports Council International-North America condemned the ATA's position. "DOT recognized that airport proprietors are in the best position to manage the use of the facilities they planned, financed, built, and currently operate," the organization said in a statement. "Airports can work with airlines and the local community to develop rates and charges that address airline overscheduling, congestion, and passenger inconvenience."
Individual airport officials have begun speaking out in defense of runway pricing. In a roundtable discussion in the August/September 2008 issue of Airport Magazine, Tom Kinton, CEO of Massport (operator of Boston Logan Airport) called congestion pricing one of the "tools in the toolbox" to help with capacity problems. He was seconded in that viewpoint by Calvin Davenger, Jr., deputy director of aviation at Philadelphia International Airport.
But the heaviest hitter to weigh in on this issue in recent weeks was Alfred Kahn, the father of airline deregulation. The 91-year-old Kahn got a standing ovation for his keynote speech at the ACI World Conference in Boston Sept. 22nd. (A tape of the speech is available online at www.aci-na.org/boston-beacon/monday/9-2-08_kahn.html.) When demand exceeds capacity, he told attendees, takeoff and landing prices should go up accordingly. He told Benet Wilson of Aviation Daily that charging for runway use based on aircraft weight "doesn't reflect the congestion problem. On the contrary, it discourages landings by heavy aircraft with large capacity and encourages the use of smaller planes." And he recounted that "A book I wrote back in 1971 on pricing said then that the industry needs to vary charges based on use. Delays cost billions of dollars a year in time and wasted fuel." More than 2,000 delegates from 154 airports and 369 companies in 49 countries took part in the conference.
It's not clear whether the DOT's slot auction proposal for New York will survive legal challenges; the legal evidence looks mixed to me (as a non-attorney). But I think DOT is on solid legal ground in clarifying the long-standing ability of airports to use something other than aircraft weight as the basis for runway charges. Let's hope the Court of Appeals agrees.
Ever since the TSA was created by Congress in 2001 to inspect airline passengers and their baggage (in hopes of preventing another 9/11 attack by converting an aircraft into a guided missile), some critics have been calling for similar security measures to be applied to non-airline aircraft-or at least the larger ones. Now those critics seem about to get their way, if the TSA's proposed Large Aircraft Security Program goes into effect next year.
"Large" in this case is defined as a maximum takeoff weight of 12,500 lbs. or more-which in practice means nearly all business jets and many turboprops-an estimated 10-12,000 aircraft. Passengers on those flights would have to be checked against the same watch lists used for airline passengers, and the flight crews would have to be fingerprinted and pass a criminal history background check in order to keep flying. (Apparently, such regulations already apply to companies providing air charter services, which I did not know.) In addition, operators of these jets and turboprops would have to contract with TSA-approved auditors to demonstrate their compliance with the TSA regulations.
What's a sensible person to make of all this? If you believe that the whole passenger and baggage screening program applied to airlines makes sense as a cost-effective response to the terrorist threat (as do most members of Congress), then this new program could be seen as merely being consistent ("closing a loophole," as those legislators would put it). After all, business jets include luxury private versions of 737s and A320s (and even the occasional 767 and 747), and if the bad guys got hold of one of those and flew it into a building, it could produce just as much destruction as the planes on 9/11. Smaller bizjets don't carry anywhere near the fuel load, but conceivably could be packed full of explosives to make a bigger bang.
But as others have pointed out, you could make just as big a bang by driving an explosives-laden van into the parking garage under numerous tall buildings. And for all the TSA's emphasis on background checks and fingerprinting for U.S. flight crews, the proposal does not call for doing likewise for foreign bizjet crews. How consistent is that? What this sounds like is not a carefully thought-out attempt to close a genuine loophole, but an effort to regulate what TSA can (U.S. crews and planes but not trucks) because it will play well with the poorly informed-in the media and in Congress.
What the next Administration really should do is to revisit the whole non-risk-based approach to aviation security that was mandated by Congress in its post-9/11 panic. That would mean rethinking 100% checked-baggage screening as well as the proposed new "large aircraft" regulations.
Note: If you wish to post comments on the proposed TSA large aircraft regulations, the Docket Number is TSA-2008-0021. Go to www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions, using this docket number.
Just a week after the City of Chicago selected the winning bid of $2.5 billion for a 99-year lease of Midway Airport, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the deal. It now goes to the FAA as the city's final application under the Airport Privatization Pilot Program, with approval expected to take 60 days or so. That would permit a financial closing by year-end. Financial people I've talked to expect the portion of the $2.5 billion accounted for by debt (typically two-thirds or more) to be much smaller than usual, given the turmoil in the debt markets. Once that settles down, the winning consortium would very likely refinance.
In previous issues I have noted expressions of interest in doing likewise from public officials in Austin and Milwaukee. That interest still exists, though neither one has a political consensus in favor of privatization at this point. A third possible contender, New Orleans Louis Armstrong International, surfaced in recent weeks. All three airports are classified by the FAA as medium hubs, which is relevant because the Pilot Program allows only one of its five slots to be taken by a large hub, which Midway is. (One slot is reserved for a general aviation airport.) With city, county, and state governments heading into deep fiscal waters, more airports might be put into play in the coming months, competing for the three remaining commercial airport slots.
With respect to Austin, insiders I've talked with tell me discussions between public officials and private sector parties have continued this year, after the big flurry of public discussion in the first half of 2007. The only news item I could find via a Google search was that the Austin Airport Advisory Commission has a briefing on airport privatization on May 13, 2008. Other than that, mum's the word on the continuing discussions.
The Milwaukee airport privatization idea favored by County Executive Scott Walker has become a political issue. On Oct.9, 2008 a County Board committee voted down Walker's proposal for a $500,000 consultant study on the issue. Committee members asked "What's the rush?" to which Walker replied that there might be more airports seeking slots than there were FAA slots available. And Budget Director Steven Kreklow said the study was needed because of the legal and financial complexities of leasing the airport, and the county's desire not to have to depend only on information provided by prospective bidders. The issue has also been caught up in squabbles over where to get the funding to bail out the county's ailing bus transit system.
In the case of New Orleans, the push is coming from the business community, along with Mayor Ray Nagin. The city and the airport are still recovering from 2005's Hurricane Katrina, and the idea that a long-term lease could generate hundreds of millions of dollars to help redevelop key areas of the city is attractive. Prior to privatization coming onto the radar screen, the idea of the state acquiring Louis Armstrong International Airport (and paying handsomely for the privilege) was under consideration, and a Regional Airport Authority has just been created to explore that approach. But in early October the city's Aviation Board began developing a request for qualifications for consultants to estimate the airport's value if leased. Several city council members have spoken out in favor of considering privatization, especially if that would let the city retain ownership, rather than having the airport transferred to a state-designated airport authority.
As of now, my guess is that New Orleans will be the first of the three to file a preliminary application with the FAA. Once the state and municipal fiscal crunch really sinks in, I expect there will be others.
New Study Relates Airport Efficiency, Privatization. An international statistical study looked at whether ownership form affects the cost-efficiency of airports. Key findings include: majority private ownership works better than majority government ownership; US airports operated by port authorities would be more efficient if operated by independent airport authorities; and privatization of one or more airports in cities with multiple airports would improve the efficiency of all of them. "Ownership Forms Matter for Airport Efficiency" by Tae-Hoon Oum, Jia Yan, and Chunyan Yu is forthcoming in the Journal of Urban Economics.
Automating Aircraft Terminal Docking. A function long performed manually at U.S. airports-guiding an airliner into place at its jetway, typically by a ramp worker waving orange wands-is being automated at Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport. Safedock uses laser guidance to let pilots self-park at their assigned gate. Putting in the system was motivated by delays due to FAA safety rules that prevent workers from being on the ramp during lightning events (which are common at DFW during the summer). That policy often left airliners sitting on the ramp near the jetway but unable to dock, until the lightning conditions passed, playing havoc with schedules and passenger convenience. As of October, Safedock is in place and operational at 81 gates at Terminals A, C, and D serving American Airlines. American Eagle and United have expressed interest in getting it installed at another 72 gates in Terminals B and E.
Registered Traveler Updates. Although the TSA has required RT providers to make their systems interoperable, specific arrangements had not been in place until recently. But in September, Clear and Vigilant signed a reciprocal fee agreement that provides for each to pay the other an interoperability cost-sharing fee whenever it processes a passenger belonging to the other program. Thus far, the third provider, FLO, has not worked out similar deals. Meanwhile, Clear announced a significant rate increase. Effective Oct. 14, 2008, annual membership goes from $128 to $199. As of October 1st, Clear had 210,000 members. The most recent airport to open Clear lanes is Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson.
Easing of Liquid Rules in Sight. New two-dimensional X-ray systems at passenger checkpoints may soon (i.e., next year) make it possible to scrap the current U.S. and European requirements that liquids be limited to 3-oz. containers and placed in a plastic bag that must be removed from carry-on bags. The travel newsletter Tripso reported in September that the U.K. government is running tests to see if the new scanners' software can distinguish between harmful and harmless liquids (based on their molecular structure). If so, the current requirements could be scrapped for all U.K. airports equipped with the new 2-D X-rays (as are all of BAA's airports). And in a Wall Street Journal article on October 3rd, Scott McCartney reports an interview with TSA Administrator Kip Hawley in which the latter said that the machines' software to distinguish harmful liquids has worked in laboratories and is being readied for deployment to the nearly 1,000 2-D machines that will be in place by sometime next year at U.S. airports. TSA is also discussing the issue with European Union officials, so that all can agree on a common standard.
More Low-Cost Terminals in the Works. Two more no-frills (bare-bones) terminals aimed at low-cost carriers are in prospect. Privatized Copenhagen Airport has announced plans for a $36 million "CHP Swift" terminal, to begin construction next year and open in mid-2010. It will have an initial capacity of 6 million annual passengers and will be designed for a 30-minute aircraft turnaround. Air Asia, a low-cost carrier based in Singapore, is negotiating with state-owned Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad for a no-frills terminal at Kuching Airport in Sarawak. Aviation Daily reported (Oct. 10th) that "a deal seems to have been brokered" to accomplish this.
Reason Anniversary Celebration. Reason magazine, the flagship publication of Reason Foundation, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, with a gala event in Los Angeles, Nov. 14-15. "Reason Goes Hollywood" takes place at the historic and glamorous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and includes both a conference and a black tie banquet. Details are at www.reason.org/events. Hope to see you there!
"ACI [Airports Council International] has decided that it is the appropriate body to make standards relevant to airports. There are two things of interest in that: first, that ACI now thinks it has the weight, membership numbers, and gravitas to make standards that will actually become standard; and secondly, that it is moving into what was previously thought to be IATA's role. This is evidence of the growing commercial heft of the airports, which see themselves as an important and freestanding part of the air transport industry. The number of members continues to grow, and to be increasingly aggressive about asserting their rights. Standards are really the logical next step."
--Andrew Charlton, Aviation Intelligence Reporter, October 2008 (www.aviationadvocacy.aero)
"In the days following 9/11, you had a sense of what a terrorist looked like. All the frequent flyers were saying, we know we're not terrorists, so they said they should be able to go through more quickly. It has a very appealing logic to it, but the terrorists have figured out-beyond a shadow of a doubt-that they want to use Western operatives who have no distinguishing characteristics from anyone else who is a business traveler. All the things you can do on a quick background check, you can easily defeat with what we call a clean skin . . . . We don't want to give a free pass to somebody who could do us harm. That was the philosophical problem [with the original concept of Registered Traveler]. It was more a changing enemy than a changing position. We felt the Registered Traveler community was doing a good job on the ID piece. We wanted to recognize that work with the ID, but we didn't want to false advertise to the American public that we'll do this miniature threat assessment-which was absolutely not a background check, not a criminal history check-it was just 'Are you not on the watch list?' . . . . It's not a security program but an ID program."
--Kip Hawley, TSA Administrator, Business Travel News, Oct. 20, 2008.