Full speed ahead
What will the airport look like in 2059? A lot like the airport today -- but with busier off-hours, more passengers, and, quite possibly, wind turbines in the lower airspace.
Because of the airport’s location on a peninsula in Boston Harbor, Logan officials can’t just add a runway when traffic gets tight. “I can’t say what’s going to happen in 50 years,” says Matthew Brelis, spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, the independent public agency that manages the airport and the port of Boston, “but right now we have no plans for expansion.” The agency’s executive director echoes him. “We’re at our limit for land,” says Thomas Kinton, “but not for our capacity to grow.”
Passengers have likely noticed one of the reasons: Planes at Logan are already fuller. The number of passengers flying in and out of the airport has held relatively steady in the past decade, at about 26 million each year, yet the number of flights has actually decreased by about 25 percent over the same period. “When fuel was cheaper,” Kinton says, “it wasn’t uncommon to have airplanes flying around half-full. Given the economic constraints today, they need to fly at three-quarters capacity.”
The second reason will be a new airport-use fee policy designed to counter passengers’ tendency to prefer certain flight times. Brelis says Logan was the country’s first major airport to make plans for this kind of program, which aims to turn today’s dramatic traffic peaks and valleys into gently rolling hills by charging airlines higher fees for the most popular travel times. “Just because everybody wants to fly at 7 a.m. and come home at 5 that afternoon doesn’t mean they’ll be able to,” Kinton says. The airport could handle a lot more traffic in the middle of the night, for example, and will do just that if more capacity is needed. “We’ll have to use our crews and aircraft around the clock.”
In the nearer term, airport officials are working to consolidate vehicular traffic by opening a single rental-car facility -- replacing rental companies’ individual lots -- proposed for an area between the Ted Williams Tunnel and East Boston’s Jeffries Point neighborhood. The new facility will put all the rental-car agencies in one building, where the agencies’ separate, proprietary buses will be replaced by a single shuttle service, cutting down on air pollution and freeing up curb space near the terminals. It will include other eco-friendly elements, too, such as solar panels to generate some of the building’s electricity, a system using recycled water for washing the rental cars, and rainwater irrigation for the green space that will surround the new facility.
In the past several years, Logan has grown increasingly eco-friendly -- for an airport -- and Kinton foresees more conservation and use of renewable resources for the industry in general. A program is underway using small wind turbines (obviously, the height of traditional turbines could present a problem for planes) to generate a portion of the electricity used in Logan’s office building, and runways that need repaving are fixed using “warm-mix asphalt,” which has lower pollution levels than traditional asphalt. When the renovation of the Terminal B parking garage is finished in about two years, new solar panels on the roof will generate a small portion of the electricity the garage uses, and some lights will come on at night via motion sensors.
Kinton also says Logan will use its lobbying power, along with other airports, to try and persuade the airline industry to develop quieter, more fuel-efficient jet engines and aircraft that can taxi on battery power, which means they will pollute less and save energy while on the ground as well as in the air -- making for an entirely new definition of the term “friendly skies.”