Airport Policy may be a hobgoblin of Little Minds

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Aviation is an unusual industry in that its primary assets, airplanes, are all infinitely movable. One exception to that theme is that airports are incredibly immovable objects. One would expect that with such fixed assets, the policies, which define whether or not to build or deconstruct such a facility and which establish how such infrastructure should be governed, would be very stable.

The first example of this seeming anomaly involves the 2nd City, Chicago, IL. In 2003, the Mayor of that major transportation hub, in the dead of night and without prior notice, intentionally destroyed Meigs Field. His “rationale” was noise and the need to convert the site into a park (Chicago has a severe shortage of Parks that the “island” is far from a garden.) The new Mayor has changed course and has expressed his support for building two heliports, Illinois Medical Center Vertiport and Chicago Helicopter Express. The operations of these aircraft are not known for severely quiet take-offs and landings. Try to place the Meigs destruction and the addition of two Heliports on a straight policy line.

The next three articles involve federal officials expressing positions about airports.

Starting from the apex of the US pyramid, the Vice President traveled to NYC’s Vaughan College of Aviation to give his support to Gov. Cuomo’s initiation of a competition to modernize John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, Stewart International Airport in the Hudson Valley and Republic Airport on Long Island. The fact that Mr. Biden took time, in the midst of several major crises, to express the Administration’s support for four New York State airports’ improvement shows a willingness of the federal government to intervene in local issues.

At the Cabinet level, Secretary Foxx, former mayor of Charlotte, NC, responded to a battle between the City and a Commission over which legal entity can control Charlotte International Airport. His response on behalf of the same federal government is as follows: “The FAA has a role in anything that involves governance change. But this issue needs to be dealt with either by the courts or locally among leaders,” This is not his personal view, but must convey the position of the FAA independent view on this CLT issue.

Next layer down is the FAA Administrator, who grew up in the Los Angeles metropolitan area known as the Inland Empire. The airport which serves that community, Ontario International Airport, is embroiled in a battle with the Los Angeles World Airports, which manages the nearby facility. In response to a question posed by a reporter in the below article, Administrator Huerta said the FAA’s role is to manage airspace and assure that the airport is safe. As to governance, he is quoted as saying “In terms of how the structure is put in place and how it’s governed, that’s really a decision that is made by the local entities when they establish the airport and make a determination on how to govern it.” His views are even more “hands off” than the Secretary.

To quote that well recognized authority on aviation policy, Ralph Waldo Emerson– “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

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