Neighbors petition Maryland Aviation Administration to halt BWI expansion until NextGen issues are resolved
RoundTable tactic born of frustration
Too Clever by Half tactic could harm Baltimore
Win/Win approaches exist
The DC Metroplex BWI Community RoundTable (RoundTable)has filed an interesting Petition to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA). The RoundTable is an initiative of MAA, at the request FAA to:
- Monitor the implementation of air traffic procedures established by the FAA DC Metroplex Project, including but not limited to the procedures implemented under the NextGen program
- Identify possible alternative routings and procedures;
- Evaluate noise effects and other environmental effects, of possible route changes;
- Make recommendations to the FAA for further consideration.
The group petitioned the MAA, which is also the sponsor of BWI, to halt the $60 million renovation and expansion project .
Recently. the Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to fund the project. Two of the DPW members, Gov. Larry Hogan, and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp voted aye, but State Controller Franchot voted against the proposal. All voiced on the record their significant concerns about the impact of NextGen and Franchot voted “no” to send a message to the FAA. Hogan told Franchot he was “punishing the wrong people” with his vote. The governor said the state has filed suit against the FAA to try to get the federal government to change the flight patterns.
“It should have never happened,” Hogan said of the new flight patterns. “But this project today has nothing to do with the flight patterns. The purpose of this is customer service. … To hold up this project would be a disaster in my opinion.”
BWI CEO Ricky Smith said the renovations to the Southwest Airlines terminal would upgrade an aging baggage system at the airport that has caused long waits for some passengers. He said bathrooms and the food court also would be expanded.
“The terminal is failing from a customer service standpoint,” Smith told the board. “The restrooms are overcrowded. People are walking over each in the food court. There’s no place to sit. … The baggage handling system has all but failed. I had a conversation with a gentleman the other day who said he waited three hours to get his bags.
There is no direct connection between the $60 million and the NextGen noise, although one might argue that the added landside capacity would result in more flights.
The RoundTable has been frustrated by the FAA, particularly after being cut off from further talks. The federal government “explained that they will not negotiate when the other party initiates litigation. At the direction of the Governor instructed Attorney General Brian Frosh to file a pair of petitions last month asking the agency to readjust flight paths to reduce the noise. These dialogues nationally have been reported as less than salubrious and the underlying FAA measurement standards may not be appropriate for RNP flight tracks. At that point, it is likely that the RoundTable sought some way to be heard.
Any community group has little leverage against a federal agency. Members of Congress can sabre rattle, but given the current deadlock, it is virtually impossible to enact something targeted at a local dispute. A common way to try to get the attention of a federal agency is to file a lawsuit. Even if a state or local government leads the suit, it is tough to beat the FAA in a US District Court or US Court of Appeals. A civic group or even some plaintiff governments will have to hire lawyers learned in the way of attacking the FAA. Usually those trial lawyers are expensive.
Someone grasped at the threat of cancelling the BWI expansion plan. The rationale? That will annoy the FAA; they like to spend the airport dollars. Right? Not really, maybe stopping a new runway or extension is close enough to the FAA’s mission to expand aviation capacity.
The $60M will be spent on additional terminal space needed to handle the strong demand for Southwest’s flights there. Withdrawing the request for AIP funds may annoy some FAA staff, but there may be other consequences is DPW reverses its vote on the expansion plan:
- The loss of this expected terminal space may cause Southwest to move the new increased seating and QUIETER Boeing 737 MAX8s to other airports. Many, many airports want more Southwest flights; a problem at BWI will be gladly received by those alternatives!
- Refusing the AIP grant will free those dollars for projects at other airports.
- An abrupt change in funding, especially grants already programmed, may cause the FAA to lessen its ranking of a renewed support of the $60 request and for future BWI applications for other projects. Some of the dollars allocated for airports are categorized as discretionary grants. Having fouled the FAA’s process, the BWI position on this prioritized list could be lowered. The long term consequences could be detrimental to Baltimore’s economy.
No doubt about it, someone very frustrated devised a very clever way to get notice of the RoundTable’s treatment. But the tactic may be “too clever by half.” It appears to be myopic and potentially destructive to jobs in the region.
The most efficacious way to solve this sort of problem is not confrontation; rather, getting experts who speak the FAA AT arcane language, who will understand the community’s problem and who can design win/win options has a greater likelihood of incorporating local noise goals and fitting within the FAA demanding parameters.
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