FAA and Port of Seattle: Leading Us in a Global ‘Race to the Bottom’

Rose Bridger’s latest paper takes a close look at Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Practically speaking, SEZs are an evolved form of entities such as the Port of Seattle, which was a special authority created by the state of Washington, when the Port District Act was passed back in 1911. These entities are designed to empower players who are wealthy and politically connected, while also insulating these players from both accountability and transparency. SEZs are typically supported by governments, and these days often are done in ‘public-private partnership’ with multi-national corporations.
SEZs generally subsidize the major players with:

  • …use of state authority to sieze lands – frequently productive farmland; this is part of the global land-grabbing phenomenon that is displacing rural and indigenous people.
  • …public funding of infrastructure, including airport construction, utilities and surface transportation networks.
  • …allocation of land and other essential resources; and,
  • …of course, generous tax breaks.

Across the globe, thousands of airport-linked SEZs have been developed. These are a form of deregulation targetted at benefitting big-business, and they frequently seed rampant cronyism. The rates and laws within SEZs differ from the surrounding areas; tax breaks and other incentives aim to narrowly benefit investors, while simultaneously aiding the incumbency of elected officials. However, due to weak linkages with the host economy, the benefits of SEZs often fail to extend beyond the boundaries of the designated enclaves. Also, foregone tax revenues put a strain on local government coffers. Non-resident investors take advantage of these tax breaks, but often eventually relocate to alternative sites offering even more generous perks. When this happens, the SEZs languish as useless white elephants. And the impacts upon local residents tend to be negative and extreme: destroyed communities, blighted ‘noise ghettoes’, sleep loss and stress, and diminished health caused by aviation air pollution.

Here’s a PDF copy of Rose’s latest paper (23-pages):

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

In her conclusion, Rose notes:

“New airport linked economic zones bring the short-term certainties of massive government expenditure on infrastructure and lucrative contracts for construction firms….”
“Airport-linked economic zones accelerate the global ‘race to the bottom’ by providing geographically defined areas where deregulation and tax breaks, to serve the interests of big business, are maximised. The new economic zones must also be viewed within the context of broader economic justice concerns of tax breaks for aviation set to benefit investors, in particular the almost universal tax exemption of aviation fuel for international flights. Allocation of land assets to airports for generation of non-aeronautical revenue is another form of subsidy. Monetisation of airport land banks is accelerating worldwide as aerotropolis style development gathers pace.”

Rose Bridger’s Latest Paper Looks at Aviation Abuses in Indonesia


The imbalance of power between aviation and local residents is troubling. In the United States, we commonly see where the federal regulator, FAA, ‘collaborates’ with airport authorities, airlines, operators and other industry players to run roughshod over local communities. Aviation profits are always profusely accommodated, nearly always with substantial costs to people and the environment: natural habitat is destroyed, quality of life is diminished, and people are exposed to more air pollutants, including carcinogens.

Across the planet, some of the most egregious aviation injustices are happening where state authorities are enabling industry expansions against the will of local residents, sometimes even large population areas. When people in the U.S. rise up to fix aviation impacts, they rarely have to deal with lines of cops. They deal instead with a wall of unaccountable bureaucrats; people who make their money by supporting aviation expansion; people who routinely lie, distort, and even antagonize the much better people who are responsibly seeking to fix the aviation impacts; people who play ‘hot potato’, claiming they lack authority so “…gee, check with the other guy.”

Is it fair to say that, in either form, this amounts to state terrorism? If burdens are imposed and rights taken, be they by gun or billy club or categorical exclusion, does it really matter how graphically extortive the process is? Nobody may be killed or even injured (a good thing!), yet many bodies (and minds) incur great costs for the narrow benefits created. Farmland is taking and people are dislocated (see this example in rural Minnesota). All of this is enabled by federal agencies that pretend to enforce safety and manage aviation, but more truthfully just offers cover for industry players to abuse people. In the United States, in Indonesia, and across the planet.

How Do People Regain Power?

When dealing with unaccountable bureaucrats (especially those at FAA and various airport authorities), it’s always a good idea to learn as much as you can. Study what is happening elsewhere. See how others are making progress. Identify the framing that YOU need to impose on the issues; if we allow FAA/industry to frame the issues and implement faux-solutions like time-wasting workgroups, we only guarantee that the problems will persist, never to be resolved.

Rose Bridger, UK author of Plane Truth: Aviation’s Real Impact on People and the Environment, is one person whose works are well worth studying. Rose continues to be a prolific advocate for people and the environment. She has just published a new insightful study: Aviation expansion in Indonesia: Tourism, land struggles, economic zones and aerotropolis projects. Here is an archived copy:

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.


UPDATE, 6/14/2017: — per a GAAM email update: The report contains a map showing all the airport locations and maps of two airport sites, and accompanies GAAM’s interactive digital map: Aviation Expansion in Indonesia which features all the airports that are mentioned, integrating spatial information with text and images. For paper copies of the report, please contact: Third World Network, 131 Jalan Macalister, 10400 Penang, Malaysia, Tel: 60-4-2266728/2266159, Fax: 60-4-2264505, Email: twn@twnetwork.org.

New Aerotropolis Article, by Rose Bridger & GAAM

Another great article by Rose Bridger, who has published a 22-page slideshow called: “Climate Change, Concrete, Capitalism & the Airport City – What’s really going on at Manchester Airport, and with aviation worldwide.” A PDF version is presented below, with some very nice graphics (best viewed using the pop-out feature):

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

Subsidizing Environmental Destruction: One of Many Reasons Why ‘Aerotropolis’ is a Bad Idea

(click on image to open a downloadable PDF copy of the 4-page article)

(click on image to open a downloadable PDF copy of the 4-page article)

Rose Bridger has produced another excellent article, ‘Rise of the Aerotroplis’, published in the Sept/Oct issue of Third World RESURGENCE.

The concept of aerotropolis began roughly fifty years ago, when federal aviation agencies conceived massive new airport developments, scaled up and created in concert with elite private interests. The concept is euphemistically referred to as ‘collaboration’, but cynically (or, perhaps more realistically?) it is what we have come to call ‘crony capitalism’. Invariably, the victims include those who are forced to vacate their homes/farms, and the expanded zone of airport neighbors enduring excessively concentrated air traffic patterns.

The article looks at the emerging use of aerotropolis developments for global tourism, equating the phenomenon with massive cruise ships. A tourism model in which the operational scale simply overwhelms local communities, offering very little local benefit while creating large adverse impacts. All so that off-site operators may reap sizeable profits. In short, Aerotropolis is a classic example of how private rights and public welfare have become thoroughly subordinated by the power of money to manipulate captured regulators and elected officials alike.

Here are two quotes:

“An aerotropolis may proclaim itself ‘self-sustaining’, but it achieves this status only by virtue of being gifted the land for revenue generation, which is a form of subsidy.”
“The secret of success of the world’s established major aerotropolis developments – including Schiphol, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Incheon, Dallas/Fort Worth and Kuala Lumpur – is that the airport owns a large area of land surrounding it, and reaps ‘non-aeronautical revenue’ from commercial development upon it.”

The Truth about Aerotropolises

Rose Bridger is a prolific researcher and writer on the impacts of aerotropolis developments around the world. There is a clear trend where elected officials are ‘collaborating’ with developers to create airport projects on steroids. The projects almost always include forced evictions to displace local farmers. Public benefits are grossly oversold while private benefits (to the developer and the elected officials) tend to be narrowly focused. Eventually, if there is any success, it is short-lived as each aerotropolis megadevelopment is eclipsed by the next aerotropolis project. And, again, as with all serial development balloons, the only REAL beneficiaries are the developers and the self-serving officials.

Here is an article by Ms. Bridger from June 2015:

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

View related articles tagged [TAG-Aerotropolis]

New Global Group Opposes ‘Aerotropolis Schemes’

Anyone who has been employed in aviation or studied aviation history knows that airports, airlines and manufacturers rely heavily on political support and governmental subsidy. In fact, a whole new industry has developed in recent decades to feed this relationship. Just like the scandalous ‘banksters’ who created new ways to steal money, today we have many opportunists who set up various airport schemes so they can get rich quick. They scheme to connect private money and public authority, mutually benefitting all involved parties — but, not the citizens. They dress it prettily as a ‘collaboration’. Always, the promoters are careful to present only the positive spin, while knowingly staying quiet about the negatives.

This works fine (not for us, but for the schemers) when people lack critical thinking skills, or when they are too tired (or too burned out or too busy or too distracted) to participate candidly in public decision-making. So, we are lucky that some critical thinkers care enough to speak up, and to form new groups like the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM).

Aerotropolis is the aviation equivalent of Walmart. Each new project is conceived in a boardroom, then implemented with a mountain of financing and political leverage. Sometimes, darker tactics are deployed (e.g., kickbacks, bribes, threats, etc.). Once the development is done, you have a monstrous economic engine quickly draining the life out of hundreds of older family businesses (and, often doing so while receiving huge tax waivers and other public subsidies). Sure, the new monster creates a few new jobs (after destroying more than a few old jobs), but the new jobs tend to be mostly at the lower end of the wage spectrum.

Just as with other self-serving, cronyistic adventures, with airport projects a scant few get filthy rich. And, what do the locals get?

  • it is not uncommon for tens of thousands of families to be forcibly displaced. And aviation abuses eminent domain everywhere — not just in the darker ‘less democratic’ corners of the world, but increasingly in the hollowed-democracy heartlands of even the most advanced economies.
  • farmland and natural habitat is destroyed, along with other declines in environmental quality. There is the air pollution and noise pollution that will always be associated with fossil-fuel-powered aviation (and worse yet for our climate future, each aerotropolis is consciously designed to maximize the rate of human consumption of fossil fuels). There is the land pollution via pesticides to ‘efficiently’ manage ‘wildlife hazards’, followed by wholesale killing when that fails. And, there is the use (and misuse) of de-icing and other aviation chemicals.
  • there is the loss of former open space when huge acreages become fenced off. On the other hand, locals get to ‘look at’ miles of this fenced-off open space every workday, during long drive commutes from their distant ‘almost-affordable’ residences.
  • whatever control the locals had BEFORE the project, once it is built, the locals almost ALWAYS lose that control. The corporations (and captured faux-regulators like FAA) take over, operating out of view.

And someday, if the distant Board and CEO decide to nudge a different profit margin, they may just move on to a greener taxbreak pasture. This has happened many times in aviation. Cincinnati ([KCVG] … thanks, Delta!), St. Louis ([KSTL] … thanks, American!), and Pittsburgh ([KPIT] … thanks, USAirways!), are three extreme examples. And it continues in a more subtle form today, as operations are increasingly concentrated into a dozen or so fortress hubs. We are now down to the ‘final four’ (American-USAirways, Delta-Northwest, Southwest, and United-Continental), and FAA looks the other way while airline officials carefully coordinate schedules to avoid any real competition.

Here are two PDF’s from the new organization. Scroll through the first window to see the invitation to join GAAM, written by Anita Pleumarom in Thailand. Scroll through the second window to read an analysis of the impacts caused by the Aerotropolis projects, written by ‘Plane Truth’ author Rose Bridger.


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