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.
|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 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.
|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 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.