Hello everyone, please take your time to read this critique of Million Air 2022 Hangar 2 DEA (Draft Environmental Assessment), from the Coalition to Prevent Westchester Airport Expansion, as reported by George Klein, the Steering Committee Chairperson of the Coalition, to WESPAC.
The DEA is fundamentally flawed because its conclusions depend on incomplete, theoretical, and unenforceable claims regarding “ferry” flights to airports in the vicinity of HPN. While the DEA claims that the “elimination of ferry flights would have a positive impact on the airport environment,” it does not consider the increased number of flights resulting from rebasing aircraft to HPN when those aircraft are flying to or from airports other than those included in the study or conducting other operations. Furthermore, the DEA does not critically evaluate Million Air’s (“MA”) claim that its project would eliminate ferry flights. Instead, it simply incorporates a study commissioned by MA (attached as Appendix K) to make this claim. That study relies on unproven and incomplete assumptions, and fails to comprehensively evaluate available data. MA’s unwillingness to supply such data is a core reason the study cannot be properly evaluated. A legitimate detailed study of the impact of its existing hangar can be conducted by Westchester County Airport (‘HPN”), Westchester County (“County”) and/or interested third parties with MA’s cooperation and must be included in the DEA. The entirety of the DEA’s claims about ferry flights are only supported by Appendix K, and since that is flawed, any references to the DEA’s claims about ferry flights are also similarly flawed.
In evaluating the DEA and the claims contained therein, it is important to recognize the following facts:
- No regulations exist that can require MA to adhere to a business model that reduces flights, adhere to any proposed plans, or house a specific set of aircraft that they claim will decrease operations following their basing at HPN.
- All revenues generated at HPN stay at HPN and do not provide any material financial benefit to the general funds of the County. Any claims that imply that additional fuel fees or lease revenues will create material benefits for the County are false.
- HPN has substantial funds in reserve and is in no level of financial distress.
- HPN and the County cannot be used interchangeably, they are separate legal entities.
- The selection of tenants will ultimately be driven by which aircraft owners will pay the most money to MA.MA is a for profit entity and has no legal or practical obligation to seek out tenants that will have the largest environmental benefits to the extent environmental benefits exist or could be enforced.
Hangar 1 Analysis Contains Serious Flaws:
Claimed reductions in ferry flights are composed of two parts – those attributable to the construction of Hangar 1, which was completed in violation of FAA directive and NEPA in January 2018 – and those attributable to the proposed construction of Hangar 2.
No assertions are made by the DEA about the impact of rebased aircraft in Hangar 1 on total operations. Instead, it simply focuses on ferry flights on 4 airports – OXC, BDR, SWF, and MKE. Without additional data, the DEA cannot draw valid conclusions since it must evaluate the total environmental impact of the project, not just the environmental impact of aircraft flying between HPN and 4 other airports.
Any valid analysis should include not only ferry flights (using the tail numbers of the actual planes that were rebased into Hangar 1), but of all operations in and out of HPN by actual planes that were rebased into Hangar 1. All operations have an environmental impact and there is no use in selectively choosing which types of operations should be evaluated in this type of analysis. With the provision of the actual tail numbers of the planes that have been based in Hangar 1 during its existence, a thorough analysis of any claims of decreased aircraft operation can and should be conducted for this DEA. The lack of such an analysis raises serious questions and no DEA should be accepted without such an analysis and level of transparency.
Rebasing aircraft to HPN is every bit as likely to increase both the number of ferry flights and the total number of operations by these aircraft. This is a fundamental and fatal flaw with the DEA. Cherry picking selected types of flights and claiming that this is representative of the project’s impact on all ferry flights and on all operations in the future provides no value to the DEA and only raises concerns as to why this flawed analysis was utilized. At a minimum, the DEA must evaluate whether aircraft relocated to HPN have (or could) require more ferry flights and total operations because of any number of factors, including:
- availability of appropriate maintenance services at HPN;
- requirements to enplane or deplane passengers at airports other than HPN; and
- flights to other airports that have lower costs for refueling.
Part 135 aircraft do not simply fly from their home base to a destination airport and back. Their business model is explicitly to serve a variety of customers in multiple locations which means that they will enplane and deplane passengers at a variety of airports at every opportunity that presents itself. A Part 135 aircraft that is not maximizing every opportunity to conduct operations is not maximizing its profitability and that would be an illogical action for a for profit enterprise. The only way rebasing an aircraft to HPN could reduce flights at HPN is if no maintenance is done off the field and if each trip begins with passengers enplaning at HPN and ends with passengers deplaning at HPN. In other words, there must be no repositioning flights of the aircraft from HPN to any other airport, whether for maintenance, fuel, or passenger enplanements / deplanements. The DEA is silent on this point, as no attempt is made to describe how the rebased aircraft will be maintained and how often they will serve passengers at other airports.
Reductions for Hangar 2 Ferry Flights are Not Supported by Evidence:
Moving on from the serious deficiencies in the analysis of the impact of Hangar 1, any claims about Hangar 2 take those significant deficiencies and add on assumptions that cause an exponential level of concern. The 1,222 eliminated annual ferry flights are based on no factual data at all and as such provide no substantial value to the DEA. The 1,222 figure appears to be sourced from Appendix K but every plane that is included in the Hangar 2 analysis cannot be evaluated because not only do these aircraft have no history of post basing behavior at HPN, but they also don’t have any level of legal commitment to move to a potential additional Hangar 2.Furthermore, there exists no mechanism to restrict which aircraft and what types of operations such prospective tenants would conduct should Hangar 2 be constructed and even if such mechanisms existed (which they don’t), no effort is made to demonstrate that this survey is representative of tenants that would occupy the completed project.
The scarce evidence that does exist suffers from the same fallacies used for Hangar 1 – including that the elimination of a cherry picked list of “ferry” flights, apparently from OXC, TEB, FRG, MMU, SWF, ISP, DXR, FOK, BDR, EWR, LGA, JFK, and HVN are responsible for the entirety of the project’s impact on air traffic at HPN.
The only details provided that appear linked to Table 9 in the DEA are in Table 8, (Appendix K, page 18) a list of 6 prospective tenants (which presumably is a subset of the 9 tenants and “others” shown in Table 9). These prospective tenants are based at SWF, TEB, BED, and SJC. Of those airports, only SWF and TEB could be considered in the local area of HPN. It seems likely that the list of 1,220 flights on page 5 of the DEA is simply a compilation of all flights operated to or from HPN to airports within an arbitrary radius by some set of prospective tenants. Even if all these flights were in fact empty repositioning legs, moving these aircraft to HPN would not eliminate these empty legs since the aircraft in question were not based at these airports. Instead, the aircraft were likely repositioning between dropping off one set of passengers and picking up another set of passengers. Such repositioning flights would occur regardless of where the aircraft are based.
If we are to believe that the Table 8 prospects are a subset of the Table 9 prospects, then the study is further deficient as it appears to conflate all flights operated by a charter company with flights operated by aircraft that would be rebased to HPN. Table 8 claims 1,148 annual trips to HPN across 6 prospective tenants, but the vast majority of these flights are from Prospect 2, which claims 937 annual trips to HPN. Are we to believe that this 1 aircraft (Prospect 2) is will move to HPN and would eliminate 937 annual ferry flights, or 2.5 trips per day, every day?
In short, the DEA’s claim of 1,222 fewer annual ferry flights hinges entirely upon Table 9. The numbers given in Table 9, however, are unsupported by any evidence. To the extent that Table 8 appears to support Table 9, it is wholly unrealistic as it would require one tenant to currently be making 2.5 ferry trips per day, every day.
No Evaluation of Hangar 2 is Possible Without a Valid Analysis of the Claims Regarding Hangar 1
The DEA claims that experience from Hangar 1 “[establishes] a benchmark…that can be used to predict the impact of Hangar 2 redevelopment.” (Appendix K, page 17) Whether this may be valid or not, we need a detailed and transparent study of the experience of Hangar 1 as a start.
Potential Changes in Aircraft Mix are not Evaluated
The proposed Hangar 2 project would replace existing T hangars housing single engine piston aircraft with a new hangar designed for “modern corporate aircraft.” (Appendix K, page 8) While the DEA does not go into further detail about what it means by “modern corporate aircraft,” we can infer from references to APUs, deicing, and the list of prospective tenants on Appendix K, Table 8, that the new aircraft would generally be twinjet aircraft. Twinjets have far worse specific fuel consumption than single engine piston aircraft. As such, the DEA should assess the environmental impact from shifting the aircraft mix based at HPN towards less efficient aircraft.
- Hangar 1 has already been completed without an environmental review. we should not consider a further expansion, Hangar 2, that is against the stated policy of the county and during ongoing litigation between the county and Million Air (White Plains Aviation Partners, LLC v. The County of Westchester, 7:21-cv-05312). Indeed, the county’s position in the above litigation is that Million Air does not have the right or county approval to proceed with Hangar 2.
- The DEA fails to consider connected actions from increased demands on infrastructure caused by the project. It simply mentions that Westchester Joint Water Works will supply water for fire suppression in the new hangars (Page 8), but fails to mention that a lack of water pressure required the installation of a larger water main and larger pumps to serve the project site. The agreement between Westchester Joint Water Works and Westchester County, attached as Appendix C, detail the work that was necessary and should be incorporated into this DEA.
- The DEA fails to consider impacts on surface and groundwater from disturbance to a known brownfield site. Westchester County Airport is the subject of a NYS DEC consent order (DEC Case No. CO 3-20180308-44) related to PFOA and PFOS contamination identified in groundwater at the airport. While the primary site of PFAS contamination is in the northeast corner of the airport, test wells and surface sampling have shown that PFAS contamination is present throughout the airport grounds, including at the project site. April 2022 sampling of monitoring wells immediately adjacent to the project site, including MW-1, MW-4, and FMW-24 show high PFAS levels – 5,890 ppt at MW-1, 12,317 ppt at MW-4, and 101 ppt at FMW-24 (Westchester County Airport April 2022 Groundwater Sampling Results, WSP USA, https://airport.westchestergov.com/images/stories/pdfs/about/gwmreportapril2022.pdf). The April 2022 report also shows high levels of VOCs in MW-1 and MW-4. No testing of surface or groundwater has been conducted by Westchester County at the project site despite the known contamination in immediately adjacent areas. The DEA makes no mention of this and fails to describe any measures that will be taken to evaluate present contamination or prevent further contamination of surface and ground water during the proposed construction and associated soil disturbance. PFAS contamination resulting from aircraft fire-fighting exercises ruined the drinking water of Newburgh, New York several years ago. These exercises were performed by a New York Air National Guard unit stationed at HPN till 1983, when they moved to SWF, adjacent to Newburgh’s drinking water supply. As the Kensico Reservoir, a crucial link in the drinking water supply to millions of people in New York City and Westchester County, is already taking small amounts of PFAS from outfalls at HPN, increasing the risk with any construction at HPN would be irresponsible. The migration of groundwater is capricious and unpredictable and would be made more so by construction disturbing the soil.
- The DEA repeats forecasts made in the 2017 Westchester County Airport Master Plan Update (“Project Need”). However, that Master Plan Update was expressly disavowed by the current county administration. Indeed, the county is in the process of updating its master plan with expected completion in 2023. The forecasts referenced in the DEA will likely be superseded within a few months. Furthermore, expanding facilities at HPN before completing the Master Plan Update would make a mockery of the FAA-sanctioned planning process.
- The proposed project is at odds with feedback from the County’s Airport Advisory Board.