February 5, 2001, 10:00 am Eastern Time

News Release

Source: US-Citizens Aviation Watch Association                           Contact: Jack Saporito, (847) 506-0670


     AIRPORT NEIGHBORS OPEN LETTER TO WASHINGTON: Short term solution creates long term problems

Chicago, ILL—US-Citizens Aviation Watch Association (US-CAWA), an aviation watchdog organization, is opposed to the aviation industry's RUNWAYS Coalition.  The industry’s aim is to add runways, while further reducing already inadequate environmental and public health protection and to protect airports from court challenges.  US-CAWA is an organization comprised of various grass roots and civic organizations and municipalities.  US-CAWA’s purpose is to protect those adversely affected by the air transport industry.

            One of our recent major efforts was to prevent the passage of AIR-21 (The Airport Reform and Investment Act for the 21st Century).  This Act called for the massive expansion of aviation and an enormous increase in landings and takeoffs, especially at magnet airports such as LaGuardia, Kennedy (JFK), O’Hare and Reagan-National.  AIR-21 also called for a huge increase in flight activity at smaller regional airports.  Federal taxpayer money, through the general fund and other financing schemes, amounting to more than $40 billion over the next three years, was added to the billions of tax dollars already spent, in an attempt to achieve this extraordinary expansion.

            US-CAWA and scores of others groups were opposed to this bill, because it would result in more serious and deadly public health problems that are already pandemic and deplorable.  It would cause more intolerable noise for millions of American airport neighbors, greater pollution of our waterways and aquifers, noteworthy safety problems, significant impact on climate warming, and other serious environmental, quality of life and public welfare problems.  Sadly, because aviation is the key to economic globalization, this bill had the support of both parties and the Clinton Administration.

             Due to the gallant efforts lead by Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde (R-IL), with the help of various members of US-CAWA, a Congressional coalition of the slot-controlled airports was formed.  Because of the technical block our four airports had over the whole U.S. air transportation system, this coalition, while it held together, was powerful enough to hold the AIR-21 bill (HR 1000) at bay three sessions in a row.  Thus, the bill was not able to pass.  Our strategy was to hold off the bill as long as possible, while the situation could be assessed and adequately mitigated.

             AIR-21 was again promoted in the 106th Congress by the House Transportation Chairman Bud Schuster (R-retired) and, also, in the Senate by Senator John McCain (R-AZ)).  They were successful the final time because many of the New York and New Jersey delegation, heavily influenced by aviation lobbyists and other special deals for some airport neighbors, gave in to the heavy pressure.  Our coalition broke up and the bill passed.

             The major excuse the New York delegation gave for voting for the bill was that the elimination of the High Density (Slot) Rule was delayed seven years at JFK and LaGuardia.  It was touted as a “great victory” for New York.  Many of the New York and New Jersey delegation’s staff were warned by US-CAWA of the many loopholes in AIR-21.  On the other hand, O’Hare neighbors were punished for Illinois’ strong stance against AIR-21, as the Slot Rule will be fully removed at O’Hare in 2002.  Actually, the great victory was in Illinois, because Congressman Henry Hyde and Senator Peter Fitzgerald did the right thing for Americans.  They made themselves aware of the serious and deadly impacts of aviation; the Illinois legislators stuck to their principles, despite overwhelming pressure to “go along”.  Wisconsin’s Congressman Obey sums the situation up well.  He was quoted as saying, if you pass this bill, “God help us all!”

             Since the passage of this bill, 600 additional daily flights (204,000 annually) were scheduled to be added at LaGuardia because of regional jets (below 70 seats), and other exceptions that were exempted from the Slot Rule in the AIR-21 Act.  The delays felt at LaGuardia that rippled throughout the nationwide system this summer were predicted earlier in a 1995 Department of Transportation Report to Congress A Study of the High Density Rule.  Basically, the study stated that if the Slot Rule was relaxed, massive delays would follow.  In 2000, these actual delays and safety considerations forced the Port Authority to limit the increase temporarily to about 200 additional daily flights, until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can work out a method of forcing in more.

             Already now, and as a result of AIR-21, studies show that the health of more than 70% of Americans is seriously threatened.  We expect an increase in the already unacceptable rates of cancer, respiratory and scores of other serious diseases and afflictions that are associated with “airport-aircraft poisoning”, especially for those communities downwind.  Aviation’s toxic air emissions are not confined to the airport boundaries, but contaminate areas twenty miles or more away from the airport.

             While it is easy to condemn those who voted for this ill-advised bill, despite the objection of scores of grass roots and civic, environmental and other organizations and municipalities, the real question is “What can they do about it now to make it right?”

             According to the FAA and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), there is nothing in the pipeline that will reduce the horrendous flight delays, which will only get worse, even if all the present plans go forward.  Immediate action should be taken to call for a moratorium on all airport expansion, since all airports are part of the same system and affect one another.  The moratorium is needed to fully and objectively assess the situation and to try to adequately mitigate the harmful effects, since existing controls do not work.

             In view of the fact that the massive aviation buildup is happening way too fast and too much to the least sustainable form of transport, the many billions of taxpayers dollars that are being used for the expansion should be redirected into aggressively developing other forms of more sustainable forms of mass transport, such as a world-class, very-high-speed rail system, leaving air transport for long distance and over-seas.  High-speed rail is not only a safer and environmentally friendlier alternative, it could also appease the concerns of legislators, giving good transportation access for goods and passengers to rural areas, while providing true competition against air transportation fares. 

             It is time that our country takes the lead from other countries around the world and does what is in the best interest of the American public.

Jack Saporito, President

US-Citizens Aviation Watch Association


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Contact: Jack Saporito, (847) 506-0670

(ed. Note:  US-Citizens Aviation Watch Association (US-CAWA) is a national association of environmental organizations, civic and grassroots groups, cities and townships that advocates a sustainable, equitable and accountable aviation industry. US-CAWA is linked with established organizations in 27 countries throughout the world.  US-CAWA monitors all types of airport and aircraft-related safety: noise, air, water, and ground pollution, especially hazardous and toxic air emissions, public health and general aircraft safety.)