South Metro Airport Action Council
** S M A A C **

Listening to the Neighbors

Dan Wascoe's article [Jet Noise debate ready to takeoff, Metro section, Mar 22] has the revealing quote from MAC Chair Vicki Grunseth: Commissioners "need to listen to the airlines" meaning of course, agree with Northwest. What the Commissioners need to do is listen to the airport's neighbors and follow the Minnesota law incorporating what anonymous Commissioners called a trade-off for expanding MSP (for increased hub use by Northwest Airlines) instead of building a new airport where far fewer people would be harmed by noise and other airport pollution. Commissioner Houle is right that "What this area has done clearly exceeds [federal] guidelines." In approving the Environmental Impact Statement for MSP Expansion, the Feds said, in effect: Minnesota chose a course of action that, without necessarily meeting future air transportation needs, will likely require noise mitigation for 17,000 rather than less than 1,000. Commissioner Houle is technically correct: Federal guidelines are to minimize environmental impacts.

MSP expansion costs are over $3.1 billion. A pretty high price, not including the bulk of the extra noise mitigation trade-off, mostly for Northwest Airlines' benefit. The $214 million sound insulation program to date may have "bought" negative "without delay" capacity, and local MSP users will pay higher fares (to offset cost increases). The media doesn't report that actual airline use of MSP in 2000 (524,000 operations) exceeds the capacity that Northwest and MAC claimed, in 1996, could not be attained without a new runway, or that this level of use was never mapped without assuming substantial use of a new runway. In other words, the trade-off, and the "commitment" was for a combination of noise abatement and sound insulation for long-suffering neighbors under the main runways. The issue at hand is not whether "houses in the 64-60 DNL areas as mapped for 2007 operations" deserve treatment, but that MAC chooses to ignore the facts:

There is considerable doubt that the 2007 map is reasonable. Thousands of untreated homes, apartments, schools, churches, hospitals, nursing homes, and businesses were exposed to more than 65 DNL noise, according to maps made by MAC between 1995 and 2002, and more homes and schools should have been removed or converted to more compatible use because of 70+ DNL exposures. MAC and Northwest Airlines conspired, in 2000, to both reduce Northwest's lease rates and accelerate aspects of MSP expansion that allowed increased use of the main runways. Between 1996 and 2001, Northwest was permitted to expand its control of Lindbergh Terminal gates and increase its use of the main runways at peak (hub connection) hours. The 1996 noise compatibilit y plan did not forecast this level of use; MAC said use would be less because of the limited capacity of MSP without a new runway. Another reason Northwest was able to extend its hub operations was the Commission's investment in improving the reliever airports. The name "reliever airport" refers to directing slower and smaller aircraft away from MSP so that peak use rates could be increased. Small private planes and some turboprop airliners could not "keep up" with approach traffic flow or take-off as soon after a large jetliner. By these policies, MAC steeply increased noise compared to projections and disadvantaged Sun Country (trying at the time to operate scheduled flights) and limited the facilities available for new, competing airlines such as Southwest or Jet Blue.
Jim Spensley

For further information, contact Jim Spensley at 612/824-9988 or email

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