Environmental impacts of air travel—part two

Jim Starry, designer of a new airport concept, the Starrport, is alarmed by the global trend of governments committing vast sums of money to expand traditional airports in a quest for economic growth. In 2003, Congress committed $40 billion over the next decade to expand or build new airports in the U.S. With some 2,000 airports targeted for federal funding, it is a lure that few communities will ignore. U.S. airport expansions are not required to develop environmental impact statements and that, too, has Starry alarmed. He believes global airport expansions may top 10,000.

Will all these new facilities ever be utilized? We could be witnessing globally what occurred earlier when canal building caused widespread economic ruin only to be eclipsed by railroad building, which made canals obsolete. Overbuilding railroads left its own economic ruin in its wake.

While we remember the clarity of our skies when flights were canceled after 9/11, we never thought much about ground level impacts of air transport, although we once pointed out to an airline executive that small soot particles in his swimming pool might have come from jet exhaust from a nearby airport.

Starry believes he has an airport design that can be built on one-third the land for one-half the price, earn four times the revenue of conventionally-designed airports and save 55 million gallons of jet fuel a year.

He could be considered a dreamer, but his dreams are rooted on the ground. His design calls for inclined runways leading to and from the main terminal. When a plane lands at the bottom of the runway, the uphill slant gradually slows it and allows it to reach the flat top near the terminal. A plane would no longer consume 500 gallons of fuel using the reverse thrust to slow it. Its rolling wheels would generate electricity used to taxi to and from the terminal. It could reach takeoff speed on the declining runway without using the usual 1,000 gallons of fuel. Up to 250 gallons of jet fuel would be saved by not taxiing to and from the terminals waiting to take off or land.

Space under the inclined runways would house a 20-story, above-ground terminal accommodating all terminal services, including parking. Passengers could enter the airport from four underground roads and park on the lower levels.

Runways would have a slight triangular depression to center the plane and collect and direct rainwater, melted snow and de-icing agents for subsequent purification.

Consuming far less land and generating far less pollution, it would not be necessary to locate new airports 32 miles from a city as the new Denver International Airport was. The increased distance adds millions of miles of travel each year, consuming fuel and time while releasing more pollution.

While some elements of Starry’s design such as parallel runways have been incorporated into Denver, Dallas and O’Hare’s newly begun expansion, the total concept has yet to be implemented. Articles in Earth Island, World Watch and USA Today, more than 1000 presentations and numerous meetings with local, state and international officials have exposed many people to the idea. However, the concept counters conventional wisdom and existing airport design regulations, which no one has been willing to challenge.

Corporate global aviation leaders at the second international Aviation and Environment Summit and Exhibition in Geneva, Switzerland, April 25 and 26, are searching for environmental solutions to air transport and will be debating issues such as fuel, local emissions, noise and technologies. Starry, heading to the conference, may have found the right audience this time.

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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