2004-11-19 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

There are 5,000 airports in the U.S. that are marked for expansion, mostly under the guise of creating “safety”, without informing the population of the scope of the project or its dangers.  For example, in New York, Westchester County Airport sits less than 250 yards from the Kensico Reservoir, the source of 90% of New York City’s and 85% of Westchester’s drinking water.  Airport expansion threatens our clean water and air supply. Already, the Westchester region, like a large percentage of other airports, is in a non-attainment area for safe levels of healthy air, including ozone and particulate matter.

Airports and aircrafts are huge, poorly regulated polluters.  Data from the state of Illinois and U.S. Environmental Protection agencies show that Chicago O’Hare’s aircraft alone emit more Volatile Organic Compounds than all 70 Illinois electric generating power plants combined, with Carbon Monoxide emissions as much as 60% of that total! (It also appears that the other criteria emissions and particulate pollution are also “off-the-charts”.)

Regarding climate change, U.S. and other government reports show that carbon dioxide combined with other exhaust gases and particulates emitted from jet engines could have at least two to four times as great an impact on the atmosphere as that from all ground based carbon dioxide emissions combined.

I wish to make clear what’s behind the hype airport promoters use to secretly push airport expansion. Massive commercial jet aviation is not only unsustainable, it is bad for our health, our children’s health - and bad for our environment.

The overhaul of major runways at Kennedy Airport will bring lots of trouble to our communities. Under the guise of “airport improvements”, the airport is extending these runways further and widening them to accommodate the massive Airbus 380 that are too big for even Newark’s Liberty Airport to handle! The A380, which will seat 555 passengers in a typical three-class interior layout, will enter airline service in 2006. The A380 has the potential to increase an operator’s return by as much as 35%. The whole A380 family has been created to provide operators with a quantum leap in productivity. Its increased capacity and increased range provide airlines with significantly more seat-miles on every flight.

The main deck of the A380 is the widest in the world. Its floor area has 49% more floor space and 35% more seats than the 747-400. And because Airbus has taken care of the boarding and deplaning issue, cutting out choke points by using ergonomic research to design two sets of doors, turn-round time is significantly lower. This allows schedules to be kept tight and extra flights flown. The net results are operating costs that are between 15% and 20% lower. All this adds up to more trouble for the community and more profits for the airline industry.

The air cargo version of the A380 offers more payload and more range capability than current freighters. Its basic capability is a payload of 150 tons on standard pallets on all three decks. The increase in payload offers great savings from consolidation of freight shipments and the increase in range (eliminates intermediate stops, further lowering costs) means that more cities can be joined by “next day” freight services. This aircraft can cross the Pacific in a single stride which can cut as much as a day off door-to-door time, allowing such items as “just-in-time” deliveries for e-commerce, to be faster and guaranteed. The cargo version of the A380 is planned to go into service in 2008.

On top of all that, as I mentioned last year in my column when we said “au revoir” to the Concorde, I touched upon another airport dilemma to deal with. The Federal DOT wants to enact a bill that gives them authority over construction at the airports without consideration to protecting communities and the environment. Under this piece of legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not need to conduct any type of studies at their discretion. At our expense, all laws and opportunities for hearings will be thrown out the window!In an effort to accelerate airport expansions around the country, some in Congress are all too willing to sacrifice the public’s voice in this process and the consideration of environmental and public health impacts. Rather than seeking efficiency through better cooperation and coordination, the FAA conference report seeks speed by reducing who is included in the decision.

This report shuts out other federal and state agencies with valuable expertise, weakens or eliminates essential checks and balances, and disenfranchises affected communities. The role of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the study and design of airport expansions could be dramatically curtailed. The U.S. EPA brings vital expertise to bear in the analysis of air pollution and public health impacts. The language also could trump existing environmental and public health protections. For example, regulations governing wetlands permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act require the Corps of Engineers to evaluate “fish and wildlife values,” “water quality,” “conservation” and “aesthetics” and other factors in determining whether a permit serves the public interest.

The Corps has an affirmative duty to avoid “unnecessary alteration or destruction” of wetlands. Nothing requires the FAA to take these factors into consideration and the conference report language could relieve the Corps of its existing obligation to do so. Language giving the FAA complete authority to determine the range of reasonable alternatives, especially combined with the phrase “notwithstanding other provisions of law,” arguably overrides the substantive standard that protects parks and other cherished resources.

By Elisa Hinken

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