Airports UnspinningTheSpin

[KBED]: ‘Just Say NO’ to North Airfield Expansion

People are impacted by aviation across the nation, mostly due to bad growth decisions by airport authorities like Massport. One of the three airports run by Massport is KBED, the Hanscom Airport in Bedford. The current KBED case study is a clear opportunity for people everywhere to learn about greenwashing, about the diminishment of citizen engagement, and about two key needs in the near future:

  1. the need to restore meaningful local control of airports (local residents and their leaders should have far more authority than the state or FAA, on deciding whether they want to allow skydiving, excessive flight training, large-scaled hangar additions, etc.; and,
  2. the need to rein in federal airport grant monies, especially the diversion of excessive airline passenger tax revenues and air cargo tax revenues wasted each year at thousands of GA airports.

The embedded PDF below provides an image of a 2018 KBED draft Airport Layout Plan (ALP). Yellow has been added, to mark a few hundred acres of airport land that could be divested for other community purposes, if the North Airfield Expansion is stopped. Dwell on the bottom of the embed window to use controls to zoom the PDF scale. KBED.20240526.. Proposal for Divestment of North-side Excess Airport Land (aiREFORM, 1p)

A Bit More Background

According to FAA’s data within their NPIAS 2023-2027 report, on average, each U.S. state has 262 airports, of which 65 per state are eligible for federal AIP grants. The vast majority of these AIP-eligible airports do not serve the larger public. Instead, these ‘general aviation’ (GA) airports serve two highly privileged and over-subsidized elite subsets: fewer than 200,000 GA ‘private pilot’ hobbyists, and a few thousand private and/or corporate jets, often used for vacations, golf and ski trips, and to fly ‘on a whim’ to do lunch or shopping or to go catch a sporting event or concert. Think about that: the main GA beneficiaries are vastly outnumbered by everyone else: there are roughly 2,000 non-aviation citizens for each hobbyist private pilot; they are not the 1% but a twentieth of the 1%.

When aviation activity peaked around 1980, it was largely because of massive federal grants, especially the GI Bill… Uncle Sam giving lots of money to veterans to learn to fly. The majority of that pilot growth went to either check off a personal bucket-list item or take on a new hobby. So, when the pool of GI Bill candidates declined, and when funding also declined, we started to see a steady drop in the pilot population and in annual aviation metrics.

Four+ decades of GA decline, and yet GA airports are expanding, and even faster in recent years. These airports are becoming less about a national system of air transport and more about low-cost leased public lands for posh beer gardens, man-caves, and virtual aviation country clubs.

One current hot case study is the largest GA airport in Massachusetts: Hanscom Field, KBED, 15-miles northwest of Boston. Like nearly every U.S. airport (not just GA, but also those dominated by airlines), both operations and based aircraft have declined significantly from peak levels around 1980. FAA’s Data (TAF, ATADS, ADIP, etc.) shows clearly, just as with all other economic sectors, we are enduring decades of  industry consolidation wherein only a very few airports are seeing growth.

Given this fact, most airports should be figuring out how to downsize, and how to provide their diminishing services on less acres. Nonetheless, and in no small part because federal grant monies are available, Massport is in free-for-all mode, trying to develop any and all corners of KBED. Just a couple years ago, there was zero active aviation development on the north half of the airport, and a strong case could be made to divest hundreds of excess airport acres, the better to be used for other community purposes, including open space and environmental protection of the Shawsheen River headwaters area. But, instead, Massport spent money moving hangars for a few small planes, seeking federal AIP grants to build and repair unused taxiways, etc., and, Massport is now embracing a huge addition of 17 large hangars in the so-called ‘North Airfield Expansion’.

Massport wants to increase revenues to match grants. Largest revenue sources at GA airports are lease and fuel flowage (per gallon fees added to fuel served at KBED). These funds are then used to get AIP grants, which typically are a very generous 90:10 or even 95:5 ratio (i.e., a million Massport dollars can pull in $9M or even $9.5M FAA AIP dollars). They want to add hangar capacity to store ~50% more aircraft; they want to add an entirely new storage ‘fuel farm’ for aviation fuel, on the north side, which also will add a ~50% increase in airport fueling capacity. They want this so badly they are stuck greenwashing, pretending all of this growth will reduce the airports environmental impact… all while hiding the key data that undermines their agenda. They are not doing this to serve the community; this is for an elite base of airport operators and Massport yes-men.

What else can you do?

      • See the excellent content and organization at the Stop Private Jet Expansion (SPJE) website.
      • Submit your own comments to Massport’s DEIR process, in opposition to the expansion proposal. Aviation is the fastest way to make an outsized carbon impact, undermining all other efforts to address expanding Climate Change, and small jets serving one or two pampered passengers are the worst of the aviation offenders, on an impact per passenger metric.
      • learn more by researching online, and watch for more aiREFORM Posts and data soon to follow.