To Sham or Not to Sham? Ah, yes, another Aurora Airport Master Plan Process…

The current Master Plan process for Aurora Airport is a classic case study, showing how aviation interests work to suppress airport expansion opposition and force their own self-serving pro-expansion agenda. And the aviation interests are not just a few pilots or operators at Aurora. This is a state airport, run by the state of Oregon, via the Oregon Department of Aviation (ODAV). Oversight comes from two entities with a long history of taking care of pilots while making a mess for the rest of us: the ‘Oregon State Aviation Board’ (OSAB) oversees ODAV, and FAA ‘signs off’ on the key steps of the work product, the eventual ‘Aurora Airport Master Plan Update’.

The previous Master Plan process blew up almost twelve years ago. At that time, the contractor and ODAV had a rare moment of good judgment, when on 3/10/2011 they presented a recommendation to the OSAB for no runway extension. The reaction by pilots on OSAB quickly nudged an aggressive campaign by a beehive of other Oregon pilots, and by Fall the ‘preferred alternative’ morphed into a 1,000-ft runway extension. It was a sham. Years later it was realized that, in all the commotion, authorities never got around to formally adopting the plan. Embarrassing, but not a problem; FAA stepped in and is now spending nearly a million dollars in public money, to have a contractor, Century West, create a new Master Plan. The process today and the many returning players echo strongly the horrible events around the 2011 process. It is hard to shake off the feeling this is yet another sham.

“It is beyond dispute that a lengthening of the runway, to allow larger and heavier fuel loads, benefits an elite core of operators and adjacent landowners who sell aviation fuel. Their goal is clearly to make more money selling larger volumes of fuel… and ODAV collects more
airport revenues in the process.”

So, what’s in this Aurora Airport Master Plan, for people impacted by airports elsewhere in the United States? A LOT!! So often, for someone being run around by rogue pilots and out-of-control airports, one of the most empowering tools is simply understanding the process. Not just the process as written up ad nauseam in boring FAA and contractor prose, but also HOW the process is played by the critical players: the airport authority, the FAA, and the pro-airport community (mostly pilots and aviation commercial interests).

This aiREFORM Post is the first in a series that will dive into the history and details of Aurora Airport, not just to help a few Oregonians seeking to tamp down over-expansion at Aurora, but also to educate others far from the rich farmlands of the Willamette Valley.

Click here to view a letter sent to two people seeking citizen engagement in this Master Plan process: Sarah Lucas (an ODAV aviation planner) and Brandy Steffen (a contractor at JLA Public Involvement).

Congress Needs to Pass Legislation Ending the Inequities of ANCA

We will soon have a new Congress. I hope we ‘fire’ some of the saboteurs who side with the former guy. I hope, too, to see more electeds who listen and serve people, ahead of money.

A past Congress was misled by lobbyists to give us the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (also known as ‘ANCA’). Notice how the title mashes ‘Noise’ and ‘Capacity’. It takes no effort to guess which was important, and which was ignored. ANCA set us up for the disasters FAA has pursued in the last two decades, pushing scam Metroplex EA’s and NextGen implementations.

The goal of NextGen and Metroplex was NOT about improving safety; it was about safely increasing ‘efficiency’ by expanding automation inputs to flight and ATC (and thus reducing human inputs, by pilots and controllers). These changes were achieved by essentially a wholesale abandonment of previous local noise mitigation procedures. The intent was to increase capacity for the airlines; problematically, at airports where airlines expanded too much, capacity gains caused massive efficiency declines, such as takeoff delays, enroute delays (added turns, slower speeds), and longer waits before taxiing to occupied gates.

In another week or so, the 2022 election will close and this round of attack ads will end. The dust will settle and another iteration of Dems and Repubs will be seated, ready to hear concerns from citizens, and proposals (and deals) from lobbyists. It’ll be ‘rinse and repeat’ time for aviation legislation. Some of our electeds will be working to fix the flaws of ANCA, but they will also be subjected to a heavy barrage of articles, papers, speeches, and so forth, funded by the deep money interests of aviation. This will include new variations on articles like one titled, 30 Years After ANCA: Can Airports Live with New Community-Imposed Noise Restrictions?‘ In late April of 2020, at a time when refrigerator trucks were stacking up in New York City to store the overflow of COVID victims, when the pandemic was at its most terrifying point, this article was written, hoping to protect aviation interests. Lobbyists then felt a need to defend aviation from one simple and frankly innocuous proposal: that local airports should have the right to discuss and possibly implement local airport restrictions. The article is filled with garbage and disinformation, much like the assertions at that time that it might help to drink bleach. Here is a copy with aiREFORM analysis footnotes (4page PDF) at page 2, or click here to download the PDF.

House Oversight Hearing: How Leaded Aviation Fuel Is Poisoning America’s Children

An important hearing was held today at the Environment Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Representative Ro Khanna. Both FAA and EPA were asked to attend; they both refused to attend. No surprises there… failure hates to confront accountability.

The hearing is well worth a listen. It ran for 106-minutes, but your listening time is actually only 76-minutes, due to a full 30-minute recess (starts at minute-24, and you can skip ahead to minute-54) for a House Vote. A general timeline follows at the bottom of this post.

One interesting twist to ponder… so, as mentioned at the Hearing, FAA refused to show when invited. Where were they? Well, it so happens today is the middle of the week for the biggest General Aviation (GA) event of the year: AirVenture at Oshkosh, WI. Yes, FAA will have MANY officials rubbing elbows with the mostly recreational-flying community, as they celebrate their rights and freedoms at Oshkosh, but our national regulator cannot find even one FAA official to appear at this hearing. And, the interesting twist… well, as testimony to how FAA is deploying its ‘delay-delay-delay’ tactic, check out FAA’s PDF of their PAFI presentation at Oshkosh this same week 6-years ago, on July 26, 2016. Back then, FAA sent a team to present to pilots, letting them know how hard FAA was working (budget ~$6M per year, thank you Congress!) to safely and quickly achieve the end of leaded fuels. Within the PDF it declares goal was implementation by 2018. Um, that was how many years before how many pandemics and how many insurrections?

And, wouldn’t it be interesting to know just one short set of figures:

  1. how many gallons of leaded fuel were consumed for flying to and from (and at) this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh?
  2. how many aircraft flew to and departed from the AirVenture event this year, and what is their composition, in terms of how many must burn leaded fuel versus how many can burn unleaded fuel or leaded, versus how many can burn ONLY unleaded fuel?
  3. can we have a short list of all aircraft types within each of the three categories listed above?
  4. similarly, can we have a short list of all aircraft engine models that are lead-only, versus lead or no-lead, versus unleaded only?
  5. and, lastly, can we include on the above two lists the year of introduction for each aircraft type and engine type?

The last item on this list would be fascinating to learn. Is it possible, in the roughly thirty years FAA has had to ‘fail’ to phase out lead, that nonetheless FAA has successfully certified numerous NEW aircraft types and NEW engine types that must burn leaded fuel, only perpetuating the problem … and just how messed up is that, from an environmental justice and health perspective?

What was my read?

As an ‘overall view’, I found it interesting AND VERY CLEAR that (R)’s tended to be on the side of aviation and commerce, while (D)’s were pushing to clean this up. No surprise there, given recent history. Just as interesting, clearly, D’Acosta was the mouthpiece (sort of the Giuliani?) for the (R)’s to bounce questions off, all aimed at legitimizing this ongoing failure… or, at least, aimed at suckering regular people into believing the lie that FAA and industry are actually making progress. It’s all smoke and mirrors and lots of delay.

Other Activist Views:

During the preparation of this Post, other activists shared a few good thoughts:

  • Cindy Chavez deserves a National award!
  • Does anyone know how to obtain a copy of the AOPA letter Herrell entered into the record? Her opening statements regarding GA had more to do with fire-fighting and life flight whereas the complaints filed by the public are much more focused on flight training and private pilots. As far as the economic benefits of GA, it’s a heavily subsidized industry. If it was a good business investment then why the chronic dependence on public handouts? I’d rather see my taxpayer dollars spent on jobs focused on environment safeguards, reducing global  warming, education, health care, parks and the arts as well as high speed rail.
  • Democrats and Republicans have very different reasons for wanting to issue subpoenas. A lot of politics involved. That being said, both parties seem to be frustrated by the FAA and EPA foot-dragging. Flood’s comment on EPA top down decision-making regarding an endangerment finding or leaded fuel ban is preposterous. If any sector engages in a top down approach its the FAA and the aviation industry.
  • Both Khanna and Lofgren called the avgas issue a national health crisis. There was a declaration of this nature made during the Flint water crisis and a lot of bottled water was shipped in as a result, but how replace lead polluted air?
  • Dr. Lanphear referred to it as an urgent public health problem. Tlaib also emphasized the need for a greater sense of urgency as children are being poisoned now. Lofgren described the RHV lead study findings as “terrifying.” Both she and Khanna spoke of being outraged by the ongoing inaction. Like Lofgren, I’m appalled that the FAA would tell communities they have to continue poisoning children due to grant assurances.

Hearing Timeline: (…times PDT)

~1106: Rep. Ro Khanna (D, CA Dist.17) chair, opening statement.

1111: Rep. James Comer (R, KY Dist.1), brief statement handing off to Rep Herrell.

1113: Rep. Yvette Herrell (R, NM Dist.2) member. Opening statement; she read off the debatable pro-aviation points so often pushed by FAA and industry, while ignoring the impacts. But, on a positive note, she did say the committee needs to issue subpoenas for FAA and EPA.

1117: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D, CA Dist.19) her district includes KRHV.

1119: witnesses sworn in

1119: Cindy Chavez (Santa Clara County supervisor): discussed KRHV scope, lead history, efforts eliminate lead, role of industry lobbyists to block health initiatives, etc.

1124: Maricela Lechuga: lives 5-blocks from KRHV. Family history, historical context of Mexicans having East San Jose available for housing. Impacts of proximity to airport, to the point of not even being allowed to grow trees to offer shade for children.

1129: recess for voting at Congress. Reconvened at 11:59 PDT. (recess was for a vote related to semiconductor chips)

1200: Bruce Lanphear presented short video about impacts of lead on growing children, loss of IQ score even for very lead pollution levels. Also, increased ADHD incidence, increased risk of heart disease. Airborne lead: aviation produces ~70% of total pollution; particles are much smaller than lead particles associated with old-paint lead.

1206: George Braly, chief engineer at GAMI. Link to an AOPA article dated 7/21/21. “It’s just amazing, the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that has gone on….” He believes FAA is in defiance of Congress, in its failure to act, failure to even communicate.

1212: Chris D’Acosta, CEO of swift Fuels. Link to an AOPA article dated 11/11/13 when FAA approved use of Swift’s unleaded fuel.

1218: Rep. Khanna recognized self for 5-minutes of questions:

  • Supervisor Chavez, would you say lead is an environmental justice issue?
  • Lechunga, Do you feel your comment has received the concern and action it deserves?
  • further questions to Mr. Braly, Supervisor Chavez,…

1224: Rep. Herrell recognized. Offered AOPA written statement into the record. Series of Q&A to Mr. D’Acosta. Herrell: “It’s obviously a very robust process.”

1229: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D, MI Dist.13) member. Concerns about what she has learned about impacts in Detroit area airports. Question to Mr. Lanphear, about the ‘cost’ of lead on IQ and health. Question to Supervisor Chavez.

1235: Rep. Pat Fallon (R, TX Dist.4) recognized. Asked Mr. D’Acosta to detail history on PAFI and EAGLE fuel programs. Video cut out before end. Links to background info…

  • PAFI White Paper (FAA, no date, 4p) at link. (download saved)
  • FAA’s webpage about Eagle Initiative at link. (PDF printed)

1241: Re. Lofgren recognized. Thank you to Supervisor Chavez. One question to Professor Lanphear, regarding blood level study. Expressed outrage over DoT Secretary not replying to letter from Congressional reps; “Hopefully we will get some action from this administration that is sorely lacking.”

1246: Rep. Mike Flood (R, NE Dist.1) Concerns about impact on agriculture (spray planes) if leaded fuel was disallowed. Questions to D’Acosta. At 12:50, at end of Rep. Flood’s time, Mr. D’Acosta asked to clarify on aircraft types.

1251: Closing comments by Rep. Khanna, noting that House Reps have 5-days to submit written materials. Adjourned at 1252.


REFERENCE MATERIALS: (more to be added as found later)

 

Santa Monica: The Quest for Local Control Continues

The last time the City of Santa Monica accepted FAA grant monies was in 1994. But, airport grants are not just for subsidizing the few who use the airport; they are also for imposing restrictions on the airport sponsor (in this case, the City of Santa Monica), so as to perpetuate the airport and also to compel airports to become dependent on more FAA grants. The list of restrictions, called ‘Grant Assurances’, is extensive. One of them, Grant Assurance 22, comes up time and again, used by FAA and aviation interests to confound airport sponsors and activists seeking balance or closure. 

By definition, Grant Assurances remain valid for 20 years; thus, 20-years after a grant is accepted, if an airport sponsor accepts no grants for those twenty years, they have finally earned their freedom from grant-slavery, come clean, and can theoretically regain local control of their local airport. This is what the people of Santa Monica aspired to do eight years ago, in 2014.

The Santa Monica Airport is jammed up against houses and, in fact, the spacing is so deficient residents have had lawn furniture overturned by the blast behind taxiing jets. The lead from leaded aviation fuel continues to be deposited on area homes, because FAA and the aviation industry have stonewalled the replacement of leaded aviation fuel. Indeed, in the 25-years since lead was removed from all U.S. automotive gas stations, there have been thousands of new engines built, put into new small recreational airplane designs, all centered on the consumption of leaded aviation fuel.

Activists have been fighting for health and quality of life for many decades, so it is not surprising that, when the City of Santa Monica finished their last grant obligations in 2014, a ballot measure was added to the November election seeking local control and conversion of the property to a park. The aviation lobbyists spent lots (estimates were 8-times the spending by Local Control proponents,) but they lost. The majority spoke and voter empowerment made it look like residents were going to see a park soon. It was headed that way until late January 2017, when a few City officials, fearful of dragged out legal challenges and an ongoing lack of FAA cooperation, caved to FAA’s pressure and ‘settled’ with a Consent Decree that made airport closure arguably a lot less likely.

The fight goes on. City Council met just last Tuesday, and was given a 94-page packet by City Manager David White, ‘Update on Dispensing Unleaded Fuel at SMO’. They also received 72-pages of citizen comments, all advocating for an end to leaded fuel sales, and preferring a full closure of the four underground fuel storage tanks the City owns. Included was this 3-page PDF investigating the integrity of the fuel tanks.

So, What’s With ‘Grant Assurance 22’?

Grant Assurance 22 is ten pounds of ambiguity under the headline, ‘Economic Nondiscrimination’. It has nine listed elements. Three of them are:

Grant Assurance 22a states: “It will make the airport available as an airport for public use on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination to all types, kinds and classes of aeronautical activities, including commercial aeronautical activities offering services to the public at the airport.”

Grant Assurance 22h states: “The sponsor may establish such reasonable, and not unjustly discriminatory, conditions to be met by all users of the airport as may be necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the airport.”

Grant Assurance 22i states: “The sponsor may prohibit or limit any given type, kind or class of aeronautical use of the airport if such action is necessary for the safe operation of the airport or necessary to serve the civil aviation needs of the public.”

So, while 22a seems to imply ANY aviation activity has to be allowed without discrimination and on reasonable terms, both 22h and 22i offer exceptions, allowing specific conditions and even outright prohibitions, as needed for safety and efficiency.

Would it be a ‘reasonable term’ to NOT allow lease of an underground tank past its designed age limit? Should FAA’s view of safety include protecting area residents from lead toxin exposures? Is FAA our friend or our enemy (with us or against us)? What kind of a regulatory agency is it that leans hard with its sole authority but lacks the heart to cooperate with communities impacted by its activities?  Is this the same agency that handed off regulatory action to Boeing for the deadly 737MAX fiasco, and the same agency that grounds all tiny drones in yards to protect manned aircraft (yet is now slowly repealing rules so drones can fly low over crowds of people)? Yup, this is FAA: the U.S. aviation ‘faux-regulator’ captured to serve aviation, and working to protect industry from problematic people.

Oddly, the City Attorney is hung up on Grant Assurance 22, acting and speaking uncomfortably to question its applicability. And, unfortunately, the City Manager appears to be parroting the statements by the City Attorney. As a result, the City’s residents are being subjected to an unsafe, unhealthy perpetuation of aviation privilege that benefits a tiny elite. But these City officials are missing an important reality, so fearful they are of FAA. Both of them should ponder this: if they shut down all the tanks and an aviation lobbyist files a Part 16 complaint (against the City, claiming they are not compliant with grant assurances), their biggest penalty will be placement on the ‘Airport Noncompliance List’ and loss of grant eligibility… neither of which matter, for an airport set to close later this decade.

So, let’s close down the underground tanks. And, thank you, City of Santa Monica, for standing up to the FAA bully.

[ai-RCHIVE] Four Versions of FAA Advisory Circular 91-36

Here’s an example of abusive pilots, that also shows how FAA is a captured federal regulator actually enabling this type of abuse.

Fort Devens is a historic U.S. Army facility in the towns of Ayer and Shirley, roughly 25-miles west of Boston. Years ago, the Moore Army Air Field was closed. According to Wikipedia, part of the land then became a hospital facility, aimed primarily at serving specialized and mental health needs for prisoners.

Back in the early 1970’s, coincident with ‘Earth Day’ and the wave of citizen empowerment toward improving and protecting the environment, FAA was nudged into creating an ‘Advisory Circular’ about small airplane noise. The advisory circulars are not binding or regulatory, but they do spell out what FAA asks the pilot community to do, toward achieving certain objectives. This is how FAA treats pilots: ‘pardon me, would you please try this?’, like royalty. If pilots do not conform to the ‘advice’ contained within an advisory circular, eventually FAA can become compelled to issue actual regulations. Now, if FAA also chose to enforce those regulations, we might achieve a nice balance, between the right of the pilot community to use their aircraft, and the rights of the non-pilot community (aka, all of us residents) to enjoy our homes and yards without excessive noise and aviation air pollution.

Roughly a decade ago, residents around Ayer prevailed in a nuisance lawsuit filed against a group of pilots. Ever since, there has been an extraordinary concentration of low-level small-plane flight activity over the homes of the residents who won that legal action. When these residents complain to FAA, to MassPort (the airport authority), or anyone, they get nothing but deadends.

Check out this disturbing example, posted on Facebook.

Now, about that ‘Advisory Circular’. In the 46-years since it was first posted in 1972, it has been updated three times. The updates are generally unsubstantial, as you can see for yourself. Here are links to archived copies of all four versions of FAA’s Advisory Circular 91-36, ‘VFR Flight Near Noise-Sensitive Areas’. Each version is 2-pages, with minor changes as the Advisory Circular evolved. Version ‘91-36B‘ was signed off in 1982, version ‘91-36C‘ appeared in 1984, and version ‘91-36D‘ (the current version) was signed off in 2004.

Frankly, these four versions of Advisory Circular 91-36 show FAA’s ‘milquetoaste approach’ to NOT managing aviation impacts. FAA has made it clear to rogue operators like this one near Boston: they may bully with impunity, knowing FAA will not impair this perceived ‘right’. The impacts that FAA recognized in 1972 have persisted because FAA refuses to serve and fails to evolve. And so, across the nation, for two generations now, residents have complained and been ignored by an agency that serves only the industry it is supposed to be regulating.

‘Stay Grounded’: International Action has Begun, to Curtail Aviation Excesses

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

Over the past year, activists from around the world held a series of lengthy teleconferences to craft a position paper,’ 13 Steps for a Just Transport System and for Rapidly Reducing Aviation‘. This is a great group of people, concerned about aviation excesses in the face of unmitigated climate change.

Here are a few links:

  • Action weeks: the first two weeks of October 2018
  • Support: how you can support the Stay Grounded effort
  • Position Paper: download your own PDF copy of an excellent analysis (English version)

An example of recent activism was the protest by Stay Grounded leaders, at an EU aviation summit. Click here for a video, with a great protest speech. This is the kind of calm and factual activism we need across the planet, to rein in the damages and injustices being caused by excessive aviation growth.

Given the depressingly evident impotence and indifference of many U.S. elected officials, and the captured status of FAA as an industry-servant, we need this kind of activism here in the U.S. Can we return to our roots, as strong individuals who speak truth to power and demand meaningful civic involvement, or has this become a relic of our past American glory?

‘Rush to Reauthorize’, or should we bear down and ‘Get it Right This Time’?

The two houses of our national Congress have reportedly hashed out some details that may enable them to quickly reauthorize FAA. Is this good, or is this not so good? Should we ‘Rush to Reauthorize’, or should we bear down and ‘Get it Right This Time’?

I am for the latter, for three reasons. First, we are stuck in a rut (aviation over-expansion at all costs, with no accountability) that will not change, so long as we apply bandaids onto dirty wounds. Second, when we rushed to reauthorize the last time, it gave us horrible new laws like expanded CatEx; simply, rushed reauthorizations NEVER turn out well. And, third, the key lobbyist for the airlines (A4A) announced today, they ‘applaud’ this Congressional progress … which, frankly, coming from A4A, is like the smell near a run-over skunk; i.e., if A4A is for it, then whatever ‘progress’ Congress has made is almost certainly filled with industry privileges and community damages.

Some activists will be excited to see a glimpse of ‘progress’, too. But, be careful to not feel so beaten down that ANYTHING even slightly positive becomes something to thrill over. It is much like how people dying of hypothermia feel oddly warm just before their end. Stay focused; stay strong; know what industry and FAA are aiming to pull off; and, demand real reforms.

Reclaiming FAA for ‘WE THE PEOPLE’

Here is a PDF with a short analysis of the current situation, by aiREFORM:

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

It is worth repeating…

…We can have a federal agency that serves WE THE PEOPLE, not just industry. We can benefit from aviation, while also ensuring aviation does not diminish our lives. And, this industry is strong enough to prosper without playing FAA and too many elected officials like puppets. But, nothing can happen, nothing will happen, until Congress steps up to the plate and reclaims FAA.

Demand real reforms at FAA. If this agency is too arrogant and too power-obsessed to heel, take away their power. Give that power back to the people, where it belongs.

Now is the time, Congress; you need to step up and serve the People, not the corporations.

10 Sample Questions for the Sea-Tac SAMP ‘Scoping’

More fine work by Quiet Skies Puget Sound. Check out the 2-page PDF below, their sample questions to try and get Port of Seattle (POS) to fully address health and environmental impacts within the so-called ‘Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP)’ review process.

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

A quick note adding on to #9 of the suggested questions in the PDF above (“What if Your Projections Are Wrong?”): aiREFORM! did a quick analysis of monthly operations at Sea-Tac, using FAA’s own ATADS data, and it suggests substantial growth is again happening this year. In fact, at the current pace, the operations total for 2018 will be roughly 439,600, an annual increase of 5.6%. This is what happens when airlines double down on profits via hub through-passengers; we see impactful growth rates that have no connection whatsoever to the local population or economy (i.e., it is purely airline ‘demand’, accommodated by the airport authority and FAA).

And one closing comment…

That POS has chosen to add the word ‘Sustainable’ in front of this latest airport master plan is quite out of touch with a stark reality: aviation is the most fossil-fuel intensive activity we arbitrarily do, and as such aviation is the fastest way to further pump up record CO2 levels and further destroy the future climate and habitability of our planet. Calling this ‘sustainable’ is like putting lipstick on a pig to make her ‘pretty’ (I mean no offense to pigs; they are beautiful too, after all).

‘We Have A Dream’ Letter

Another good example of activism, this time a letter from Plane Sense 4 Long Island, to the acting FAA Administrator. Their dream is shared by people across the nation, who need Congress and FAA to repair the damages being done under the NextGen program. Check it out:

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

Are the SAMP Open Houses Really Just ‘Propaganda Events’?

I attended a ‘Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) scoping Open House last night, for one of the fastest-growing commercial airports in the U.S.: Sea-Tac, serving the Seattle and Puget Sound [KSEA]. There is a lot to report, but even more, a lot to think about, especially this: what can I say to empower other impacted citizens so they can be as effective as possible when attending these events?

As a retired FAA employee (an air traffic control whistleblower, no less) who spent a full career working within the FAA culture and then embarked on a decade of research on how the FAA work culture has performed while implementing NextGen, I may have some insights to share. One of those insights is simply this: from what I saw at Highline Community College, on September 10th, these Port of Seattle (aka, POS) scoping Open Houses are not even a dog-and-pony-show; they are just occasions for industry players to check off a list pretending to engage citizens, while also spewing out their pro-aviation propaganda. And, just to be clear, this is not an aberration; this is par for the course, as it has been for at least a decade; at nearly all of our airports, when public forums related to environmental impacts and master plans and such are held, they have generally devolved into just a gamed process, a charade … which is why lots of people choose not to attend. [NOTE: they want more of us to not attend, which is itself the imperative defining why YOU MUST ATTEND, if you care about your home and health!]

What To Expect When You Attend

A common event design is to set up a signup area and feed the ‘signed-in guests’ into the next room, where they can sequentially (or randomly) view a series of whiteboards. Each whiteboard represents an element of the review process, such as ‘noise’ or ‘air quality’ or ‘water quality’. Now, ideally, each whiteboard actually displays some valuable information – perhaps a design, a satellite view, a table, a list of project elements, etc. Well, that is the ideal. At the POS Open House last night, more than half the whiteboards were, well, just empty white boards. Nada. Zilch. In fact, the only area where they had consistently replaced the blank whiteboards was at the front end: the first half dozen were a blatant effort to dupe us into thinking the Seattle economy and the Seattle population were ‘demanding’ the growth in air travel. The very first whiteboard had some words laying out this spiel, and included a list of prominent Seattle-area businesses, including Costco, PACCAR, Amazon, etc. So, we are supposed to start to see, ‘gee, if Sea-Tac does not expand, maybe these big companies will leave town’. (hint: they likely will not and in fact, if things decline and they do, most of us will applaud their riddance) Two whiteboards later was a very deceptive graph with a green line and a blue, showing population growth as well as airport passenger growth. More about that graph later in this Post.

Another thing you will notice is there are LOTS of smiley-faced people wearing event badges and standing in front of the display boards. As you talk to them and ask questions, you will start to establish that most of them are employed by the Port of Seattle, but that also, quite a few are either FAA or contractors. Everyone of these people owe their income (and eventual retirement) to this industry, and as such it is not surprising that they come across as ‘all for expansion and just plain unable to understand how bad the impacts are on residents under the new concentrated flight paths. I also noticed that, by 7:30pm (2-hours into the 3-hour event), there were practically no residents left, but maybe 30- or even 40+ badge-wearing staffers standing around in front of all the whiteboards.

I found it disturbing, trying to communicate with these people on a human-to-human level. They come across as machines, rigidly focused on the industry-serving goal, which in this case is to spend billions of dollars expanding Sea-Tac’s airport facilities, to serve the demand generated by two dominant airlines, Alaska and Delta. Ask any of these people a hard question and their pat answer is to remind you, they are only here tonight to help you formulate your question so that you can submit it to the ‘scoping process’. Well, that in itself is bullshit, and here is why. For each of these people (some would accurately note they are in fact parasites feeding off the power and money of the aviation-government complex), their first and foremost reason for getting paid to stand in front of the display boards and greet you is to ease your acceptance of the fact they are going to ram this expansion project onto you and your home. They are there to help you believe the distortions behind the expansions.

These staffers were sized up perfectly with this famous quote:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

This quote was by Upton Sinclair, back in the 1930s. Click here for a Post showing an example of how FAA, all the way to the top, could not understand an obvious controller safety error at a California airport … and know, too, these things happen surprisingly frequently.

One of Their Distortions is the So-Called ‘Demand’ Myth

OK, here is a copy of the graph mentioned earlier, at the front end of the area filled with whiteboards and staffers:

This is the demand graph POS displayed last night, although this is an online copy as displayed at a POS event in July. Interestingly, POS decided to remove the headline last night, perhaps because they know it is utterly false; just look at how passenger growth vastly outstrips population growth, with the green line CROSSING the blue line. So, although the headline was not displayed last night, nonetheless staffers were using this graphic and making comments, over and over again, to push the false perception that ‘demand’ at Sea-Tac is driven by Puget Sound area population growth. Such is not the case; AIRLINES DEFINE DEMAND, by scheduling in pursuit of higher profit margins.

You are supposed to believe that all of this Sea-Tac expansion is driven by market demand. This is false. The true demand is from the two major hub operators at Sea-Tac, Delta and Alaska. Each impacted citizen needs to understand the passenger airline business model. They make profits best when they route as many people as possible through the hub airports, where those people may never even leave the plane, or may exit one plane only to board another. The airport becomes a Grand Central Station for airline passengers, and the surrounding communities must bear an extremely intensified impact in added noise, added air pollutants, and overall diminished health and quality of life. This is what accounts for the bulk of the enormous growth at Sea-Tac since Delta announced a new business plan in 2012, with a new hub at Sea-Tac (operations grew 31% from 2012 to 2017, and have climbed 5.6% so far this calendar year). And, this is what is trashing lives under intensified and concentrated NextGen routes feeding in/out of KBOS, KDCA, KORD, KCLT, KSAN, KPHX, KSFO, and elsewhere.

Here’s another ponderous point on this graph, and something I asked to a few staffers last night (BTW, I never got a good answer): where did they get their population numbers? Using their numbers, for the 2017-2027 decade, the average annual growth is just 0.6%; umm, the entire U.S. averages closer to 1% annual population growth, and Seattle is bragged about (by people at POS, FAA, etc., no less!) as being a booming place (for population as well as economics). So, they created this graphic using data that does not come close to tracking the reality as measured right now. Indeed, Puget Sound Resource Council (PSRC) published a report ‘way back in August’ noting Puget Sound’s population is growing at a 1.5% annual rate. IMHO, the lack of diligence behind these graphics is shameful.

Frankly, if the Port of Seattle was sincere in defining this demand, they would do the hard work of accurately assessing precisely how many users of this airport are actually THROUGH-PASSENGERS, who fly in but then fly out, never even leaving the airport terminal. The best these connecting passengers will do to ‘boost’ the Puget Sound economy is waste away a few hours between flights, perhaps buying coffee or some fish and chips. Yet, because these two major airlines make substantial profits by offering these flight connections at Sea-Tac, there is much pressure on Port of Seattle (and FAA) to accommodate this airline demand. This is spun to us as ‘market demand’, which clearly it is not.

Let’s be clear: airline demand is not the same as market demand. The display boards referencing market demand are implicitly stating that you and I, as customers, define ‘demand’ for commercial aviation useage at Sea-Tac. We do not. The airlines define demand, and both the airport authority (POS) and the federal regulator (FAA) expend great effort to accommodate whatever air commerce asks for. Sadly, they do so while increasingly ignoring the real and growing impacts upon actual human lives.

Why is This Demand Myth Important?

It is extremely important, simply because the entire SAMP proposal is anchored on the idea their is real ‘demand’ creating a dire need to invest in these expansion proposals. Generally, where there is a desire to expand an airport (and, always, this expansion is simply to give more capacity to the dominant airline), there is a tendency for the data to be exaggerated to justify that investment. Thus, if and when any of us actually does the deeper research to see what FAA has forecast, we see an astonishing pattern of forecasts WAAYYYY over what history subsequently produces in real data. And, at events like the Open House last night, staffers are conveniently overlooking a shocking reality that they seem incapable of digesting: that, in the U.S., with the sole exception of a handful of airports where FAA and airport authorities are overly accommodating to enable the creation of ‘super-Hubs’ for near-monopoly airlines, operations have been flat and declining for decades.

The Demand Myth needs to be exposed and crushed. Read more at these earlier Posts:

What We Each Need to Do at These Open Houses

Yes, absolutely, you should submit comments (though you should also make your own copy or get POS to let you have a copy, so you have more tools to hold POS accountable with the comments you have provided). But, there is a lot more that can and should happen at each community event. Here are some suggestions:

  1. From the git-go, understand it is OK that you are not an expert, just an impacted citizen. As such, it is THEIR responsibility to help with the technical heavy-lifting.
  2. With the first note in mind, ask questions and DEMAND real answers. Then, ask harder questions. Follow through. Make these staffers serve you; after all, per NEPA, that is precisely what they are supposed to be doing at each such event, when they field your questions.
  3. With your questions, try altering your approach. For example, try to appeal to this aviation professional (the staffer there to talk with you) human-to-human; try to establish if they have the capacity to actually recognize the impacts their work is having upon you and your neighbors; try to see if they might possibly have the strength of character to speak up against the prevailing current within a culture that is biased toward commerce and against people.
  4. Think outside the box. For example, last night, it fit well to ask them if they agree that Sea-Tac is operating beyond its design capacity (they all felt it was not … tell that to those being delayed on arrivals, and those waiting for long periods after landing, needing a gate to open up). Ask them, would it help if Delta and Alaska voluntarily reduced their schedules by say 20% during certain peak hours? Ask them who has the authority to manage capacity at Sea-Tac … what can POS do, what can FAA do? Ask them, especially if they are a POS employee, have they ever advocated on behalf of impacted citizens, and will they serve the people (not just the airlines) by advocating for people in the future? Think national-scale and ask them, if Sea-Tac were to impose real capacity management, would these constraints really have an adverse impact on the entire national airspace system, or would they actually just nudge airlines like Delta and Alaska to increase schedules elsewhere, and not abuse Seattle with far too many flights?
  5. Always, ALWAYS, keep it clearly in your focus: the staffer you are speaking with works for you (in theory) and at that precious moment while you are chatting, you are the most powerful representative of humanity to assist him/her in learning their need to advocate for people first, ahead of industry players. Help them to see beyond the corrupted culture in which they are trapped solely for a paycheck.