A PETITION: Asking FAA to Fix the Boston NextGen Mess

(click on image to read and sign petition at Change.org)

(click on image to read and sign petition at Change.org)

Boston is one of many communities where FAA has implemented new NextGen procedures that are creating exceptionally intense noise impacts. Using nearly bottomless financial resources, including airline passenger taxes, FAA has spent a lot of money, carefully maneuvering with the airlines and lobbyists to get Congressional support for these new procedures. Sadly – and inexcusably – the key element of Congressional support was a line of legislation passed in early 2012 that allows FAA to implement these impactful procedures using a ‘categorical exclusion’, aka a ‘CATEX’, which means ESSENTIALLY ZERO ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW.

20150627scp.. five NextGen RNAV routes around Milton (google maps)It is absolutely unbelievable what FAA has done, particularly in Phoenix, Charlotte, Queens, Chicago, and Minneapolis. To preserve local quality of life, many citizens have risen to challenge FAA, forming groups calling for environmental reviews and FAA performance that is both accountable and transparent. One of those groups is Boston Fair Skies Coalition. They recently started a petition. The petition is aimed at Allan Goldsher, who is listed as the FAA contact person for an FAA proposal to implement new routes. In the map above, two departure routes are marked in yellow and red; three arrival routes are marked in blue, gray and black. The history behind this proposal is summarized at this Town of Milton website. Further details can be viewed here. FAA has set a June 30 deadline for citizen comments.

The Boston Fair Skies website has some valuable content, which not only details the problems FAA is making around KBOS, but also helps people in other U.S. cities to better understand their own local NextGen impacts. Be sure to click through and read the MassPort Webinar, posted on the website homepage.

(click on image to go to the homepage for the BOSFairSkies.com website)

(click on image to go to the homepage for the BOSFairSkies.com website)

GIGO: Lessons Learned from FAA’s Bad NextGen Deployment at Phoenix

GIGO: Garbage in, Garbage out. Here is the quick definition from Wikipedia:

“…in the field of computer science or information and communications technology refers to the fact that computers, since they operate by logical processes, will unquestioningly process unintended, even nonsensical, input data (“garbage in”) and produce undesired, often nonsensical, output (“garbage out”)….”

GIGO is a very old principle in computer programming. In fact, it is so old that the concept was first discussed even before the Civil War ended! Charles Babbage, considered the father of the computer, created mechanical systems to crunch numbers and automate the textile industry, as far back as the 1820’s.

Two centuries later, in 2015, our technologies have advanced considerably, but the validity of the GIGO principle has not changed. In fact, it is becoming even more meaningful today, as ‘experts’ use GIGO to manipulate outcomes. GIGO explains how we end up with NextGen implementation debacles like the one that has destroyed quality of life in Phoenix neighborhoods for the past nine months.

FAA’s Manipulation of Phoenix NextGen

When faced with a desire to implement new NextGen departure and arrival procedures at Phoenix, FAA had a problem. The noise abatement procedures, which had evolved over many decades, called for straight-out departures over the Salt River during the predominant west flow. But, a very large number of Phoenix departures were heading for destinations to the north and east, and FAA and the two primary airlines at the airport, Southwest and USAirways, wanted earlier turns. So, to save a couple miles per flight during initial climb, FAA built a campaign around NextGen, making grandiose pro-environmental declarations when their real goal was just to bypass the environmental rules.

When exaggerated, the benefits of NextGen could be used to justify early turns, but FAA was still stuck with a time-consuming environmental review process. Following the financial collapse of 2008, there was intense pressure to find ways to stimulate the economy. Thus was created an opportunity for FAA to manipulate Congress into approving a waiver from environmental review. After a couple years of crying to Congress that ‘gosh, we are sure trying, but we just cannot speed things up’, FAA was able to slip some ambiguous language past Congress; starting in 2012, the Categorical Exclusion was allowed.

(click on image to view article online)

(click on image to view article online)

To finish setting the stage, FAA’s last important step was to ‘buy’ a support program, by hiring a cadre of ‘experts’. These are the people who hopefully would appear credible when they signed off on the FONSI’s and CATEX’s. For this, FAA tapped their deepest revenue source – the airline passenger taxes that we all pay to fly – and applied them toward a series of large NextGen implementation contracts. One of those contracts, worth $106 Million, went to SAIC, who then hired a collection of ‘Yes Men’ who would do whatever was needed to implement NextGen.

Garbage in, Garbage Out: the Phoenix CATEX Sign-Off

On June 23, 2015, Skyharbor Airport officials announced completion of an investigation into how the Phoenix NextGen departures became implemented. The officials also posted a collection of 25 supporting exhibits. One of these, Exhibit 21, measures a whopping 121Mb to present a 255-page PDF. The first 20-pages is presented below. This is the document in which Caroline Poyurs, a SAIC contractor who later hired on as an FAA ‘Environmental Protection Specialist’, signed off on a Categorical Exclusion for the PHX NextGen Departures and Arrivals. With her signature, Ms. Poyurs was essentially declaring that the impacts were not significant. Read it for yourself and just try to make sense of it.

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

Imagine you have the job as the representative for Phoenix. You are the one and only person FAA is showing this garbage to. There are well over a dozen people in the room, and they all represent the airlines, FAA (management and union personnel from both the tower and the radar room), and FAA’s hired contractor, MITRE. They all seem to know what the plan is, and you really feel like an odd man out. Everyone else acts like the 255-page CATEX sign-off report is crystal clear, but your head is screaming, “This is garbage!” You survive the surreal meeting, take the garbage back to your cubicle, and shake your head wondering, “Do I have ANYTHING substantial to share with my supervisor?”

You don’t; FAA gave you nothing but indecipherable garbage. So, it sits on your desk, time marches on and then, one day, the shit hits the fan when FAA starts flying these impactful departures. And eventually, the blame gets pinned on you. Are you having fun, yet?

Fix this Problem now, FAA

This has gone on long enough. Southwest and USAir need to immediately reject the flawed NextGen Departures and exercise their final authority by demanding straight-out departures like they used to get. File the Silow Four, the St Johns Eight, or other non-RNAV departures, and REFUSE to fly the MAYSA Three, LALUZ Three, and other RNAV procedures.

With the next charting cycle, FAA needs to replace the flawed NextGen Departures with new procedures that use NextGen constructively, procedures that continue westbound to an appropriate distance and altitude to minimize noise impact on Phoenix residents (hint: 9DME has worked well for years). On top of that, FAA needs to become fully transparent by creating REAL documents that ensure anyone can understand their proposal, and posting these documents online, well in advance of implementation. If they had done this in the first place, we would not have this mess to clean up today.

FAA: Winging it with Arbitrary Numbers & Declarations

In a recent cartoon, the concerns of residents in the Santa Cruz Mountains area (south of the San Francisco Airport) were graphically presented by Steven DeCinzo:20150614.. Cartoon re citizens upset at FAA-NextGenHell around Santa Cruz (S.DeCinzo, SCSentinel)DeCinzo’s Op/Ed is drawing many chuckles. But, more importantly, it is not an exaggeration of how upset people are by the changes FAA has imposed. All under the guise of ‘NextGen’, in a contemporary example of aviation ‘greenwashing’.

So, why are people so upset?

Well, there is clearly the lost quality of life (sleep interruption at night, and new streams of aviation noise during many stretches of the day). But, the upset is compounded by how FAA came to impose these procedures. There was the CATEX rule (categorical exclusions), manipulated through Congress in late 2011, as a workaround that would eliminate FAA’s need to do full environmental reviews. And, there was the broad use of FONSI declarations, also as a workaround to eliminate any real environmental review.

FONSI means Finding of No Significant Impact. In July 2014, FAA declared FONSI on their NorCal OAPM (for Northern California), thus declaring their belief that nobody would be bothered by the proposed new NextGen arrival and departure procedures. Boy, were they wrong. But this is not surprising. Fact is, FAA routinely says what they need to say (not what the facts would have them say) to check off the boxes, to complete the required processes, to go forward with their plans. And, also routinely, their ‘plans’ are not to serve the airport neighbors, but to bring ‘relief’ to the airlines, so that  they are no longer burdened by pesky environmental restrictions.

Oh, and FAA is repeating the NorCal OAPM process in Southern California right now; they have published hundreds of pages of SoCal OAPM documents and plan to announce yet another FONSI in the coming months.

An Example of FAA’s Arbitrary Numbers

The NorCal OAPM paper was done by ATAC, and followed an analysis done by SH&E, in 2009, Baseline Capacity & Delay Analysis for the Primary Bay Area Airports. Here is a JPEG showing page 9 from the SH&E study: 20090925scp.. KOAK Baseline Activity Forecast thru 2035

The figures reflect actual airport operations (takeoffs and landings) for 2007, and projections for 2020 and 2035. Dark blue shows a projected slow increase in the number of passenger airline operations. Light green is air cargo. Medium blue is general aviation (GA). And, pale blue are GA ops that stay in the local pattern (mostly for flight instruction). An orange line has been added on the left side, identifying the annual itinerant operations totals at around 255,000, but projected to exceed 300,000 by 2035. The prediction was to stay flat, but instead, at the midpoint toward 2020, there has been a sharp decline to average just 170,000 operations in the past two years.

What’s shocking is that FAA pays money for these projections and uses them to justify new programs like NextGen. All while not looking at the real data. So, here is the real data, copied from FAA’s ATADS site (and with peak years highlighted):20150617cpy.. KOAK ATADS 1990-2014What the real data shows is that operations at Oakland peaked nearly twenty years ago, in the mid-1990’s. By the time the SH&E study was done, they had declined by a third, so the study projected a brief flattening and a rebound by 2035. Well, instead of a brief flattening we have seen a massive decline, and the 2014 total itinerant operations are now a 57% decline from peak year 1997. The steady downward trend shows no sign of reversing.

How does this connect back to NextGen?

When trying to justify NextGen, FAA routinely implies (and in some situations outright states) that NextGen is critically needed to increase capacity, to prepare for future demand. At airports across the nation, such as at SFO, established routes are being abruptly abandoned in favor of imposed NextGen routes. Despite the fact that these established routes had evolved slowly, sometimes over decades, to balance aviation efficiency against airport neighbor quality of life, FAA is proceeding with their wholesale abandonment.

These abandonment actions are being done as part of the NextGen implementation, and they are all predicated on the FAA belief that they are necessary, to accommodate future growth. The Oakland example shows that FAA has no real data to back that up. And, this is the case not just at Oakland, but also at the vast majority of the primary U.S. commercial airports.

‘We the People’ – Petitioning the White House to End NextGenHell

A petition has been started, asking President Obama to take action, to bring relief to victims of NextGen-related noise in places like Phoenix, Palo Alto, Charlotte, Chicago, Boston, Queens, Seattle, Minneapolis…

…the list goes on and on. And the list keeps growing, as FAA asserts the privilege they coerced out of Congress, to not conduct full environmental review while spending our money adding flawed and impactful NextGen routes. This is a clear-cut example of an aging bureaucracy running amok, serving the airlines at the expense of the citizens.

Signing the petition is simple, but it is a two-step process. First, you need to type in your name, email address and zip code; then, you need to open the email reply and click on the ‘confirm your signature’ link. After completing these two steps, a record of your signature (showing only your initials and location) will appear on the petition webpage. Be advised, it may take a few hours before it appears; I confirmed my signature late on 6/12, and did not see my initials post until daylight on 6/13.

(click on image to view and sign petition)

(click on image to view and sign petition)

I strongly encourage everyone to sign. Hundreds of thousands of residents have been adversely impacted. People are losing sleep and otherwise having health and quality of life destroyed. All this by FAA, an insensitive and unaccountable agency that clearly serves only the money interests related to U.S. airlines. You will not find a more classic example of regulatory capture in the U.S. government today.

Although I hope everyone will sign this petition, I will offer this one thought, because the idea that nothing will be done unless we engage a hundred thousand citizens is troubling.**The FAQs and Terms of Participation at the WhiteHouse.gov website state that a threshold of 100,000 petition signatures must happen within 30-days to compel a response. A petition to ‘Release the recipe for the Honey Ale home brewed at the White House’ collected 12,240 signatures and generated a response, so it would seem that NextGen Noise impacts may be important, too. Has our culture, and our political system, devolved to the point where elected leaders only serve as leaders if they collect an arbitrary threshold of petitioners?

Early in the last decade, did the previous President wait for a petition to collect 100,000 pus signatures before taking us to war, under the pretense of our helping to bring our version of ‘Democracy’ to the Middle East?

Obviously not.

Can President Obama do better than President Bush?

Let’s ‘hope’ so. We need a ‘change’.

When something is wrong, a good and effective leader acts on it. When basic rights are being abused, when people are being subjected to health hazards, when one party takes advantage of another, any good citizen would act immediately to fix the problem. I hope that President Obama agrees, that he needs to sit down immediately with Michael Huerta and Anthony Foxx, and demand immediate corrective action and accountability within FAA.

– Jeff Lewis, aiREFORM.com


The Two Sides at Santa Monica: ‘For Aviation’ vs. ‘Against Aviation Lead Pollution’

On July 1st, neighbors of the Santa Monica Airport hope to see a measure of local airport control FINALLY restored. Pilot groups are concerned about this, fearing business jets may have to use nearby airports with longer/safer runways, and maybe even seeing a full closure of the airport [KSMO] to become a park. The pilots feel a need to promote their activity and the survival of their airport, despite the fact that it is the largest source of lead in the local airshed. So, they recently got a reporter to post a nice (some might say ‘fluffy’?) pro-aviation article in the local paper.

The issues at Santa Monica go far beyond toxic lead pollution, but this article and the comments it generated offer a clear insight into just how far apart the parties are. One side completely ignores a serious health impact while doing a ‘rah! rah!’ campaign for aviation; the other side says, ‘wait a minute, you are poisoning our children!’

For the record, the lead is used by the smaller planes and helicopters, particularly those used for flight instruction. The lead is NOT used by the business jets; they are powered by ‘Jet fuel’, which produces a different set of serious air quality problems, including particulates.

Here is a JPEG copy. Check it out, and then be sure to read the reader comments that follow the online article (one is copied below):20150610scp.. Third-graders go plane crazy at Santa Monica Airport (J.Bates, SantaMonicaDailyPress, 1p)

Here is one of the reader comments:

“As a parent, I wish they had disclosed the HEALTH RISKS to our CHILDREN from the visit to the SANTA MONICA AIRORT. Currently, leaded AVGAS (used by the aircraft at this airport) is the largest source of lead air pollution in the US, causing emissions of over 500 tons of lead per year. Recent research has found that children living and going to school near general aviation airports have higher blood lead levels than children living farther away, and studies have linked high childhood lead levels to a host of serious health problems.”

See also:

NextGen Article at KAZU (Monterey Bay)

NPR station KAZU, based in Seaside, California, has a good news article by Krista Almanzan, investigating the NextGen impact on people in the Santa Cruz Mountains area. It aired on 6/11/2015 at 6:45am, 7:45am and again at 8:45am.

Access the article at the link below, and click on the link at the top of the article to listen to an audio file (4+ minutes).


UPDATED 6/12/2015

Two Websites, Spawned by FAA’s NextGenHell, South of San Francisco

20150610cpy.. SoSSantaCruz website header image, thenVnow arrivals changed by NextGenBarely three months ago, FAA flipped the switch for new NextGen ‘thinner and lower’ arrival routes into SFO, and the impact on people living in previously quiet areas, from Capitola to Millbrae, has been horrendous. In keeping with their ‘NextGenHell’ pattern, FAA funds were paid to a contractor (on a list of contractors who collect huge contract fees each year) and the contractor gave FAA what they want: a pro-aviation report that is huge in both public cost and page volume. (Frankly, the FAA-funded NextGen and OAPM reports have become so overblown in recent years, there is no practical way for a concerned citizen to process their content; public forum participation, even by informed professionals, has been all but destroyed; of course, this is likely FAA’s intent)

The impacted people are up in arms, and they are rapidly organizing. In fact, two groups are very active and up with websites: Sky Posse Palo Alto, and Save Our Skies Santa Cruz.

20150610scp.. SOSSantaCruz.org clip showing next meeting and 'NoFlyDay 8-19'Both websites are very informative. And, both websites are rich with content that can help others to develop NextGenHell-related websites in other communities across the nation.

Both groups want FAA to scrap the new SERFR arrival route until a meaningful and valid Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is done (none has been done yet).

SOS Santa Cruz’s website lists many events, including a 6/25/2015 public meeting in Santa Cruz. And, they are coordinating a National ‘No Fly Day’ on August 19th, where we all need to NOT fly to protest FAA’s failure to responsibly fix the growing NextGen debacles.

It is great to see there are people who care enough about where they live and  work, that they will fight FAA’s NextGen to reclaim quality of life. And, the more we share our campaigns online, the more we help each other across the country to end this NextGenHell.

Zeldin Amendment Accepted into FAA Legislation

An elegantly simple way to box out some of FAA’s out-of-control behaviors. Should help East Hampton regain local control of their airport.

Thank you, Congressman Zeldin!
20150609.. Zeldin Amendment [KHTO].

What Is NextGen’s Environmental Vision?

The environmental and capacity-enhancement goals of NextGen were nicely summarized in a slideshow presentation in early 2009, ‘NextGen Environmental Issues – What Florida Airports Need to Know’. Here is page 12 from the 35-pages.
20150610scp.. p.12 of 35p 'NextGen Environmental Issues - What Florida Airports Need to Know' HMMH slideshowIn view of what has happened in the subsequent six years, NextGen is a colossal flop. A major failure, oversold with no real regard for environmental impact.

Do They Even Care?

Tens of thousands of U.S. airport neighbors are severely impacted by FAA’s imposed NextGen routes. They complain, and elected officials complain, yet nothing gets done. FAA officials just do not care.

Tens of thousands of airline support employees have seen their jobs outsourced, and the airlines then pay them indirectly, through contracts. Lower pay, less stability. The wrong kind of trickle-down; wages slide downward to barely enough to survive, let alone raise a family. Meanwhile, airline CEOs making millions focus on new ways to suck more money out of people. If it is not about money, they seem not to care.

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

Is ‘compassion’ just a spoken word? Something you refer to in front of a camera, just to look good? What prevents an airline CEO like Doug Parker from DEMANDING that the employees who support his profitable business earn wages sufficient to support their families?

Do the FAA officials and the Airline CEOs even care?