Airport neighbors using a big tool box

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It’s municipal election time in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and key suburbs around the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

Candidates need to look more closely at how a noisy, congested and high-fare airport affects its citizens. Minneapolis and St. Paul Mayors each appoint a Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) member. Other metro-area towns appoint delegates to the MSP Noise Oversight Committee (NOC).

However, newly-elected Mayors and Council Members will have little time to come up to speed on MSP issues. Important legislation affecting MSP will be debated in the State Legislature and Congress this term.

Perhaps the most important initiative in Congress is updating the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-95, the Federal Aviation Administration policy and re-authorization). Four Minnesota congressional districts and numerous other districts around the country, in urban areas with millions of voters, are around busy hub airports.

U.S. Representatives with these airports in or adjacent to their district will try to make the FAA and the aviation industry more responsive to the serious impacts of overflights. It is hoped that Federal rules with more open and timely reviews of airport plans and operations will result, including safety, noise, pollution, economic, and land-use cost-benefit analysis.

While congressional heavy hitters from the New York City metro area, representing 3 major airports in a tightly packed urban landscape are pushing for many of these federal initiatives, many believe the best achievable result will be small changes at the state and local levels.

In Minnesota and several other states, legislators are introducing policy bills to modify how “airport managers” interact with the public and local governments. The airport managers’ dealings with FAA and EPA rules and programs are the target. Representative Frank Hornstein and Senator Scott Dibble have a bill requiring an environmental assessment worksheet for MSP projects (2013-2020). This is the other side of the coin.

While Federal rule-making and rule-enforcement procedures are complex, the basics of determining economic need for flight capacity and operating a commercial airport remain with the MAC and other airport managers. State legislators in dozens of states are pushing for changes at airports and in Federal policy to, at least, require detailed reviews and processes for state oversight and appeals. It is how the airport is operated by FAA and used by the airlines — not airport facilities alone — that count with people. These issues should be broadly reviewed for economic and environmental impacts.