|South Metro Airport Action Council
** S M A A C **
Public Announcement/Press Release
Dateline: 21 July 2004 Minneapolis, MN
The Metropolitan Airports Commission has political direction to favor Northwest Airlines.
At the State level, Northwest Airlines was shored up by huge loans. In return, Northwest was to extend its Minnesota operations, reservations centers and maintenance facilities, into economically stressed areas. In 1996, Northwest hired dozens of lobbyists to stop the dual-track process before all the facts were reported. Northwest said then they could not afford to move their maintenance base or passenger service away from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. And, they said it would be unfair because competing airlines could add flights, gates, and services at a new airport easily, while Northwest had large capital investments at MSP.
The dual-track studies, however, showed that an increase in air transportation services was essential to economic growth, job development, and participation in emerging global markets. The Legislature assigned a number to this need: the number was widely reported as annual flight operations, capacity or use, charted at five-year intervals, from 2000 to 2020. Actually, the number was local (starting or ending a trip in the Twin Cities) passengers. Minnesotans flying to visit customers, attend trade shows, check on suppliers, or buy parts and services for their businesses; buyers or tourists or convention attenders flying to Minnesota.
Because Northwest operated a major hub at MSP, over half of the airport's passenger capacity was used by connecting passengers. Services purchased, and taxes paid, by airlines serving MSP are a small part of the airport's economic impact, but still significant.
Northwest lobbyists lied to the Minnesota Legislature: they said larger aircraft and a higher ratio of local to connecting passengers would reduce the needed flight capacity for the same number of local passengers.
They lied again when they said MSP expansion would allow more airline competition.
They lied again when they said a new runway was essential for needed capacity.
They lied again when they said that comparable capacity at a new airport would cost $1.4 billion more than at MSP. (The $4.2 billion new airport price tag was for just over double the flight and passenger capacity of MSP expanded.)
They lied again when they said closing MSP would not lead to re-development of the site and support economic growth. (See Denver’s experience re-developing Stapleton Field.)
They lied again when they said environmental compliance could not possibly exceed a few million dollars and that noise abatement would be funded from increased passenger-fee revenues and reduced by using larger, less-noisy aircraft.
The Legislature, skeptical of these assertions, incorporated many of them into the law, but ...
Northwest, as a matter of fact, never planned anything like this. Northwest planned to further fortify their hub. They asked MAC to add gates first, to lease them the gates at reduced rates, and to enlarge the terminal. MAC complied. Whereupon, Northwest expanded its hub, replaced many aircraft with smaller ones, and increased their hub operations by about 40%. To do this, they "dispersed" peak-hour take-offs, spreading noise and pollution over a larger area; they increased daily use of the noisiest aircraft (727s, DC-9s, and DC-10s) beginning in 1997 and continuing though 2000. Fully-loaded Northwest 747s were accommodated by runway extension.
MAC buckled under, pretending the law allowed it. Commissioners said they feared that otherwise Northwest would re-locate hub operations to Detroit or Memphis. (Oh sure, NOW they could afford to move away?)
So, thanks to this level of cooperation with Northwest, how has the public benefitted? A few added NWA jobs, with salary concessions and other economic activity reductions for thousands of old jobs. But local business seats are still monoply priced at 130% to 140% of comparable fares in cities that compete with us for economic development. Where are all thestart-up businesses?
There are fewer scheduled airlines, not more, serving MSP than in 1996. It is just wondrous, isn't it, what cooperation can be developed between a large, financially troubled corporation and a "public" agency like MAC. Who appointed these guys?
SMAAC maintains www.quiettheskies.org, with ROAR -- Residents Outraged About (Airport) Racket --and www.nonoise.org with a national organization.
Media: For further information, contact
Jim Spensley at 612/824-9988 or email Reply.