New hangars mean more flights

When Million Air secured Westchester County’s approval for a major expansion at our airport, they argued that their new 52,000 square foot hangar would reduce the number of flights. This claim was highly misleading and was not enshrined in their lease. We now have evidence that it was also likely false.

Case studies in expansion

There are two recent natural experiments to find out what happens when new hangar space is made available for charter operators at HPN. We obtained 8 years of FAA radar data that details every IFR flight in and out of HPN. During that time, Westchester County entered new hangar leases with charter operators FlexJet and NetJets. We can thus see what happened to FlexJet and NetJets operations after they were able to store more aircraft here.

In both cases, new hangar space increased the number of flights. They also increased the proportion of “local flights” that are to or from airports within 40 miles and are thus likely traveling empty to pick up passengers, since that distance could be covered faster by car. This is unsurprising as charter aircraft go where their customers are, with the exception of HPN competing with Teterboro (TEB) for NYC based customers.

FlexJet Before After
1/1/2011 – 1/14/2016 1/15/2016 – 3/5/2018
Flights per day 3.3 8.0
Flights as % of total HPN flights 1.2% 2.5%
Local flights per day 0.46 1.06
Local flights as % of FlexJet’s flights 11.5% 13.0%

FlexJet operations before and after their lease

FlexJet commenced their first lease at HPN on January 15, 2016. After entering the lease, their average flights per day increased from 3.3 to 8.0. To control for overall levels of air traffic, we looked at FlexJet flights as a fraction of total daily flights at HPN. In the pre-lease period, FlexJet accounted for 1.2% of HPN flights. After the lease, they accounted for 2.5% of flights. Signing the lease increased their average number of local flights from 0.46 per day to 1.06 per day. This increase is not a result of an overall increase in FlexJet flights as local flights as a percentage of their flights each day increased from 11.5% to 13.0%. Each of these effects is highly statistically significant.

NetJets Before After
1/1/2011 – 12/31/2016 1/1/2017 – 3/5/2018
Flights per day 29.6 30.6
Flights as % of total HPN flights 10.0% 9.4%
Local flights per day 2.66 3.62
Local flights as % of NetJets’ flights 8.9% 12.3%

NetJets operations before and after their second lease

NetJets commenced their second lease at HPN on January 1, 2017. This expanded their hangar space by 39% and their outdoor parking space by 43%. Their average flights per day increased from 29.6 to 30.6. Their flights as a percentage of all traffic decreased from 10.0% to 9.4%. The additional space increased their local flights from 2.66 per day to 3.62 per day and increased local flights as a percentage of their flights from 8.9% to 12.3%. Each of these effects is statistically significant.

Environmental impact studies needed

Every project at Westchester County Airport to create new aviation capacity or maintain existing aviation capacity should include a full environmental impact study. No project should be approved without careful consideration of its effects on the environment, including secondary impacts of changes in the type and quantity of air traffic on surrounding communities. Airport projects are typically for long periods of time – 20 to 30 years – and federal law makes it extremely difficult for the county to roll back aviation activity once it is there. The county must act responsibly. It must never again accept aviation interests’ promises that airport development will benefit the environment unless those promises are carefully determined to likely be true and most importantly, are enforceable.

4 thoughts on “New hangars mean more flights

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  1. Thank you to the author of this article and insight provided. Obviously past county executives were mislead. We need more people like you to bring this matters to the forefront to prevent any further degradation to the quality of life to people in Westchester. The housing market is already suffering for a variety of reasons, and we don’t need to exacerbate the problem, by creating more noise , pollution and LaGuardia north in our back yards.

  2. Thank you to this author for writing to champion this county-community concern. As it is, we’re hearing increased overhead plane noise and experiencing greater traffic congestion than ever. Not to mention the lower housing prices these days. I am saddened that our county executives allowed themselves to be mislead and agreed to pay, with our tax dollars, for this expansion. Will anyone be able to protect or enforce our current curfew regulations?

    1. Sadly, federal law makes it impossible to enforce the curfew. We recommend you contact your federal representatives to protest the loss of local control caused by the 1990 Airport Noise and Capacity Act. Additionally, we encourage residents to make noise complaints to the airport and to attend Airport Advisory Board meetings to learn more and to demonstrate that residents will not accept the noise, air, and water pollution caused by the growth of the airport.

  3. Thank you for this article that confirms that new hangars can actually increase air traffic. It seems non-sensical that expansion would decrease traffic. As someone who gets nearly every NetJets, FlexJets, LuxoJets etc. arrivals over my roof constantly, at such low altitudes (proved by Airnoise tracking system) I cannot even imagine our already ruined lifestyle in our own home, with even more traffic.

    I have never really gotten an answer as to why the planes started to fly lower since 2017, other than being told at a meeting that they have always been that low (not). I have never gotten a satisfactory answer to why the path changed and now they are directly over my roof, when they had not in 26 years of living in my home. To be told in an airport meeting by their officials with their slide show that the flights never changed, is just a slap in the face and gaslighting at best.

    Whenever I write to the CE’s office they just tell me to contact the airport. I have reached out again to Vedat Gashi. Fingers crossed!

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