Show Me The Money!

The problem with all airport community issues come down to M-O-N-E-Y. There are currently some programs that try to account for noise. There are almost no programs that account for pollution; or lower property values; or an array of socio-economic harms.

If you look at the galaxy of Federal Regs that have sprouted from ANCA, just to account for ‘noise’, it’s clear to us that even if the political will were in place to address all the other major negative impacts from large airports, most of us will be dead by the time those programs could be implemented.

So we have a modest proposal; not a Jonathan Swift snarky proposal. I mean a for realz, sincerely modest proposal. Here it is:

A small percentage of every Passenger Facility Charge collected by major airport operators should be skimmed off the top and provided as an annual block grant to the surrounding cities.

That’s it. Really. It will take a bit longer to explain the usefulness than the actual thing itself.

The Why

We need to acknowledge once and for all, that the basic problem of the airport community impacts is not ‘noise’ or ‘pollution’ or even ‘health’. It’s money. Having an airport grow next to your city causes your city places one in such an inferior position as to make resistance futile. And the first step towards enabling communities to help their situation is money.

As we’ve said so many times, airports are factories, pure and simple. The end products (goods, services, passengers) tend to flow away from the factory towards the wealthier parts of town. But as with any factory, the emissions stay right next door, falling on homes, waterways, etc. You can’t quantify the overall impacts in terms of ‘noise’ or any simple C02 calculation. And in fact, it is the constant request to ‘study’ and account for the damages before any compensation can be granted which holds up relief and enrages affected citizens. (You don’t wait for an accurate accounting after a flood to start helping residents.)

So the simplest way round the entire mess of ‘impacts’ is simply to cut a check to each city and let them help their communities cope as best they can (with some best practices guidelines of course).

The Upsides

Less paperwork. One could rewrite the Part 158 with literally one or two sentences to get the ball rolling. Who doesn’t love law that is easy to understand and straightforward to implement? (Don’t answer that.)

Less stress. A change that minor might not require a whole new ‘bill’. It might even be slipped unnoticed into any number of the outrageously complex omnibus bills that legislators routinely vote on without dissecting in details.

Federalism wins! What politician doesn’t love sending money down to the street? And in this case, cities really do know best. They may not be experts on the effects of Ytterbium or other UFPs, but they sure can identify which homes require better noise insulation or air filtration a lot easier than some airport  noise office. You can maintain the current airport noise offices to provide educational services as to best practices on building codes. But you then put the actual oversight onto each city (where it belongs). That would help to build the proper culture of respect for noise mitigation in local building inspectors (an area that has long been handed off to airport operators–to the detriment of homeowners.)

Speed. Creating Federal programs to pipe money or resources down to each airport will take eons in the current political environment. And in many cases that would simply be re-inventing wheels already created by activists at pretty much every major airport with a Quiet Skies group. In fact, ‘studies’ only read as ‘delay’ for residents who see obvious needs in the communities. The hard work has already been done at the regional level.  So why do more studies and lawyering when the locals already know what they need?

No new taxes! You’re not asking for budget fights. You’re simply re-assigning money that is already being collected. This is a lot like the ‘in-lieu’ funds that every builder now pays into to mitigate the environmental costs of their development. And you can win that fight with airport operators and airlines with some simple moral shaming: a piece of that pie should have been going to communities since the AIP’s inception back in the 1990’s. In-lieu funding is well-accepted by every other type of building, so why not when it comes to airports? When you build? You compensate the surrounding communities. Simple.

Now there are certain programs (noise and pollution monitors come to mind) that might need to be administered by regional authorities. But this is one area where all the cities have had no trouble working together. The science, including placement, design and upkeep are well-understood. The hardware for those are off-the-shelf products. So this can be contracted out to a choice of reliable vendors.  At the end of the day? Monitoring is a lot like sewers and other infrastructure: important but blissfully non-controversial.

And less obvious, but just as important: this scheme would improve the negotiating posture of local communities and that alone would provide knock-on benefits to other ongoing conflicts. Just one example: currently, many airport operators like the Port Of Seattle engage in a ton of do-gooder projects that constantly put Cities in ethical conflict. If your City Council takes a grant to build that new playground does it affect how hard they then want to push back in a concurrent negotiation on night time flights? Of course it does. By reducing some of the fiscal pressure that all airport communities feel, it frees their City Councils to advocate more unambiguously on direct airport issues (routes, timing, frequency)

The Downsides

Food fights over who gets what and how much? I get why you might be concerned. You watch how cities drool like idiots at the mere mention of something like the South King County Fund. But we maintain that those sorts of embarrassing displays would be far less than one might think. The Cities have never had much stomach for direct confrontation with the FAA. And who wants to argue with someone who is giving you money when you never had any before? In short, our cities will probably be easy dates.

Corruption?  For sure, we’re worried about that too! I don’t mean the twirly-mustache kind. I mean the ignorant local politician kind where they take money meant to improve health and reduce impacts and instead build shiny new sidewalks! (A Des Moines project meant to ‘improve water outflows to Puget Sound’ was turned into just such an engineering project a few years back.) The desire to do traditional ‘municipaly’ stuff is almost irresistible. So some guard rails to prevent excessive ‘creativity’ will likely be required. But we submit that this is the sort of protection that one must include in every form of legislation so there’s nothing special in this case.


In short, a percentage of every Passenger Facility Charge should go directly to the affected cities for them to develop their own mitigation programs. This legislation is simple, straightforward and would provide the fastest path towards providing relief for the affected communities of any currently proposed legislation. Above all, locals around the country need to see a ‘win’. Now. And though this leaves many areas of airport fairness unresolved, it’s a big step towards giving residents the confidence that they can ultimately achieve fairness.

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