This editorial ran in the Boston Globe on 11/19/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

No rush on the runway
A Boston Globe Editorial

M ASSPORT WON a victory in its 30-year effort to build a new runway at Logan Airport when a judge yesterday modified a 1976 injunction blocking the project. The removal of that roadblock leaves little standing in the way of Massport's push for the new tarmac, which it claims is needed to reduce delays by giving Logan more flexibility on days when strong northwest winds limit the airport to just one usable runway. Pressure for the $70 million project grew in the boom years of the 1990s when Logan became one of the most delay-ridden airports in the nation. The recession that began in 2000 and the sharp reduction in travel after 9/11 greatly cut the delays, but Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford in her ruling on the injunction accepted the Massachusetts Port Authority's argument that the reduction drop in air travel is just a temporary blip.

Opponents of the runway, many of them from the airport's neighboring communities, have said the wind problem could be solved by reducing Logan's unusually heavy traffic of small commuter and general aviation aircraft. At just 5,000 feet, the proposed runway is too short for large commercial jets and would be aimed at keeping the smaller craft out of the main runway flow. A cheaper alternative would be a peak pricing system of fees at the airport. With such fees pegged to the heavy-traffic periods of the day, smaller aircraft would have an incentive to use other airports in the region, including Hanscom and the badly underutilized field in Worcester.

The approval of the new runway by the Federal Aviation Administration last year called for Massport to create a peak pricing plan. This page has long argued that Massport should, as an alternative to the runway, put in place a peak pricing mechanism that would substantially reduce early-morning and late-afternoon flights -- if delays again become a problem. Flights at Logan dropped 23 percent between 2001 and this year.

The FAA approval also limited the runway to use when northwest or southeast winds exceed 10 knots. This condition is aimed at neighbors' concern that Massport would use the new runway not just to solve the delay problem caused by winds but to increase the airport's capacity. If the runway is built, enforcement of the wind restriction would be a test of Massport's and the FAA's credibility. The Port Authority has a record of making promises and then breaking them.

Even when all legal hurdles to the runway are cleared, the Massport board should make sure that no costly construction project is undertaken until an aggressive system of peak fees is used. Governor Romney, an advocate of using the free market to cut government expenditures, should urge Massport to pursue peak pricing in theory and in practice.

Despite yesterday's ruling, no runway should be built unless a full and fair trial with peak pricing proves ineffective.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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