Airports UnspinningTheSpin

Aurora Airport is an Example of How GA Airports are Changing for the Worse

Aurora Airport (KUAO) sits on the north edge of Marion County, 22-miles south of Oregon’s busiest commercial airport, Portland International (KPDX). In late 2021, a new airport master plan process was initiated: FAA put up more than $1 million, airport-sponsor Oregon Department of Aviation (ODAV) inked a contract, an outfit known as ‘Century West’ began crafting all the technical reports, and another outfit known as ‘JLA’ took on managing a 2-year public engagement process. Now, it has stretched out to a 4+year process, burning out earlier concerned citizens who just could not endure this slow-motion special-interest landslide. The objective of all of this waste: to finalize documents supporting the intended outcome…. a lengthening of the KUAO runway.

The current KUAO Airport Master Plan is an excellent example of the gross inequities between the few who benefit from airport expansion and the many who are impacted in surrouding communities. It mirrors similar failures at KBED, KAPA, KBJC, KTKI, and so many other GA airports nearly 50 years past their peak.

The Overall Trend

In the last few decades, while General Aviation (GA) has been declining to a fraction of the peak operational levels of around 1979-1980, there has been one dominant area of expansion: private and charter jets based at GA airports. It has become a very common phenomenon to see declining GA airports retool, with the following game-plan:

  1. tear down older T-hangars and other aircraft parking structures and, build larger, climate-controlled box hangars;
  2. infill undeveloped airport lands with even more corporate box hangars,  for housing jets that burn 100 to 500+ fuel gallons per hour;
  3. spend millions in nearly free FAA AIP grant monies to lengthen runways and add taxiways, to serve heavier jets;
  4. aggressively market to the wealthiest set,  to bring their private/personal jet to be based at the airport;
  5. use even more federal grant monies to ‘secure’ the oversized airport acreage with perimeter fencing (ostensibly to stop airport terrorist activities, but more importantly, to insulate the airport users from the 99.9% who are OUTSIDE the airport, by concealing on-airport activities from public view);
  6. accommodate a tiny few (usually one or two) airport operators, who want to make money catering to the elite jet owners who base at the airport, selling fuel, maintenance, pilot services, ‘customer satisfaction’ services, and management services (such as leasing out the personal jet for expensive air charter work); and,
  7. ‘upgrade’ the airport name to include the word ‘Executive’. Ah, such brilliant marketing (…but, to hell with impacted citizens).

The net result is what used to be a LOCAL airport serving pilots living in the local community, becomes an invading occupying force, serving outside interests and ‘regulated’ (is that really a fair word?) by the captured regulatory agency FAA… from far-away FAA regional offices and from Washington, DC. Gee, what could go wrong?

And, one more serious problem with this trend toward personal and charter jets: the long-term impact accelerates Climate Change. When it comes to outsized personal carbon footprints, private jet flying is the fastest way for a person to burn fossil fuels… an hour of such flying can exceed a year of fuel for a personal car. Private jet trips, mostly for vacations or to jaunt out to a distant game or do some shopping because ‘…why not?…I can afford it…’, this kind of mindless flying hyperconsumption  is the worst of the worst within aviation.

What Can You Do About It?

Show up. Ask questions. Speak up about what you do not want to happen at your local airport. Advocate for future generations, and for a viable climate future.

Airport Master Plan processes happen. They are strongly dominated by aviation interests, and designed to be controlled by the aviation players (FAA, the airport sponsor and the contractors). But, the impacted side needs to attend, too. The next KUAO event is an Open House by ODAV, at North Marion High School, 4-7pm on June 13th. For more info, see the webpage by City of Wilsonville.

Just show up. That’s how we make the democratic process work.

And, to help you learn more, here’s a KUAO reference document to dive into: a well-written Airport Master Plan from 1976 (36Mb). Before all the spin and games began, when officials actually tried to serve more and deceive less; plus, this one was published right when GA was peaking (in no small part due to student-pilot training subsidies via the GI Bill). It is a fascinating read.

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.