Part 2: “It is like being broken up with on a Post-It note”

More details to ponder about FAA’s latest tantrum: their refusal to communicate with Marylanders because the good Governor has filed a legal challenge against FAA. Sheesh.

Washington Post followed up on the Baltimore Sun news story. (click here for the source article, click here for an aiRchived version) The piece was by Michael Laris. There is a common and consistent problem with articles by the mainstream media, including Washington Post. In the middle of this article, a paragraph implying NextGen benefits is inserted, but none of the alleged benefits are supported by any real data. That is to say, the suggestion of addressing congestion fails against the reality that total airport operations (takeoffs and landings) at the main passenger airline airports have actually declined 14% between 1989 and 2017; in other words, the only ‘congestion’ is accommodation of airlines who ‘demand’ that a select few airports become superHubs. (click here for a 3-page PDF analysis; the combined data showing the 14% decline is at the bottom of page 3) And, as for efficiency, the only ‘gains’ are potentially realized by subverting the environmental review process (e.g., liberally applying the CatEx) to impose highly impactful routes with turns lower and closer to airport runways.; in other words, FAA is orchestrating a wholesale dismissal of environmental concerns.

There’s another important detail to consider, about the Baltimore-Washington airport. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), Southwest is by far the dominant airline at KBWI, with nearly 69% of passengers. (click here for BTS website, click here for an aiRchived copy of the KBWI airport report) So, if FAA imposes changes that increase both impacts and airline profit margins, Southwest is the key player who could, in a very neighborly way, advocate on behalf of impacted residents. When is the CEO of Southwest Airlines going to stand up and protect community quality-of-life and health, by telling FAA to fix these new routes? If Southwest did this, they would stand to build even greater customer loyalty. That, coupled with their near-monopoly at KBWI (and dozens of other U.S. airports, BTW!), is always a good business move.

Air Cargo is Growing – and Concentrating – at the Most Impactful Airports

A couple months ago, a collection of reference tables was uploaded in an aiREFORM Post. One of those tables was about air cargo, and deserves a closer look.

Using FAA’s data, the 107 ‘busiest’ air cargo airports were presented, in rank order and showing the annual cargo tonnage. Not just that, but also showing annual trends (change from previous year), peak years, and percent below peak year. A scrollable PDF of the 11-pg table is added at the bottom of this Post.

So, what does all this data suggest is happening in aviation? Here are a few summary points, plus some suggestions of what should be researched further:

  • as a bit of background, readers should understand that the two largest air cargo operators are FedEx (with a main hub at KMEM, ranked #1), and UPS (with a main cargo hub at KSDF, ranked #3).
  • the overall U.S. air cargo market is flat, as summarized at the bottom of page 11 of the table; i.e., total tonnage for these 107 main air cargo airports was 151B tons in 2003, and only surpassed that in 2016 (to 155B tons). This is an average annual change of 0.2% per year, well below population growth.
  • there is substantial consolidation happening (we see this in passenger airlines as well as banking, groceries, and all industries, so this is no surprise). Notice the distribution of PEAK years. The higher the ranking within the 107 cargo airports, the more likely 2016 was their peak cargo tonnage. Likewise, look closely at the bottom of the ranked list of 107 airports, where you will find the vast majority of these airports are steeply declining (see especially the average annual rate of change in the far right column).
  • looking at the biggest annual changes, nearly all of these are happening at major hubs with large expansions (such as KSEA, with the addition of Delta’s new hub in 2012), or at former major hubs abandoned by passenger airlines and now desperately accommodating air cargo development (see especially the Ohio airports on this list, such as KCVG).
  • it appears that passenger airlines are altering their business models to haul more air cargo. Aircraft engine power has grown tremendously, plus FAA continues to fund runway expansions. The total weight capacity for newer jets is thus likely growing faster than passenger demand. As such, it behooves the airlines to load up with extra weight, collecting revenues on air freight. If every seat on a flight is filled, air cargo is cut to a minimum; but, if 50% of seats are empty, an enormous extra loading of air cargo is accommodated.
  • if airlines are hauling more/extra air cargo (plausibly, to feed stock at ‘fulfillment centers’?), those arrivals will need much more time at the gate, for trucks to haul off the excess cargo. This will cascade into more delays with arrivals having to wait until their gate becomes accessible. At KSEA, much of the proposed development on the south end may in fact be NOT for passenger airline servicing but for the unloading of excess cargo from the belly of those aircraft.
  • ponder this: the tonnage statistic may not reflect actual air cargo demand. That is, this statistic will inflate, if/when more tonnage is routed in the belly of air carriers. So, for example, let’s say Delta adds excess passenger capacity at KSEA, and has a hard time filling all the excess seats; they can still profit by hauling lots more belly-cargo. But, that cargo will weave through Delta’s hub system, not going direct to its final destination but instead causing tonnage to grow tremendously on the main Delta hub routes such as KATL-KSEA, KLAX-KSEA, and KMSP-KSEA.

Those of us who are concerned about current impact trends near major hub airports can and should do two things, in terms of how we consume air miles:

  1. we should fly as little as possible – even not at all; and
  2. we should minimize as much as possible our use of air freight, by avoiding hyper-consumer programs such as Amazon Prime.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

Federal Way’s Mayor at PSRC, Expressing Numerous Concerns about KSEA Over-Expansion

Here’s a summary of some concerns opposing KSEA over-expansion, expressed by Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, at a meeting of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) executive board. Highlights and aiReform footnotes have been added. To view the three attachments in the summary, click on these links:

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

What’s Going On Here?

The pattern observed across the nation is that decision-making behind airport expansions is intentionally dispersed and distorted, so as to create plausible unaccountability for all involved officials. In this example, the industry (especially Delta and Alaska airlines, the two major hub players at KSEA) are getting FAA assistance to push through even more hub development, with two regional authorities offering cover: Port of Seattle, and Puget Sound Regional Council. It needs to be understood that both of these regional authorities are heavily biased toward commerce; they have no meaningful concern for impacts in residential communities, as evidenced by non-mention of these growing problems in Lance Lyttle’s POS slideshow.

What is the Biggest Distortion?

Lance Lyttle’s slideshow, especially the part pretending that the expansion is serving local demand. Quite the opposite, the two major hub airlines are simply adding supply and scheduling huge numbers of passengers THROUGH KSEA, to boost their profits. People in and around Puget Sound have not and will not massively increase their alleged ‘demand’ for air travel, as Mr. Lyttle is implying (i.e., the 41% growth in enplanements in just 5-years is almost entirely to serve people outside Puget Sound). Again, the expansion is solely for airline benefit, and entirely at a cost to local community health and quality of life.

Why is aiReform.com Archiving These Documents?

These documents are being archived to encourage people to study them, and to ensure the records remain available to future airport impact victims who may seek to study the past. It is hoped that this archiving will help people to become more effective in advocating for balance, to protect their homes and communities. Readers are invited to send their comments and reviews to aiReform, which may be included in Updates to this Post.


See also:

At Sea-Tac, Enplanements (and Impacts) are up 41% in Five Years

A Port of Seattle (PoS) News Release today crows about the airport setting a new annual record with 46.9 million passengers in 2017. (click here to read an archived copy, with aiReform footnotes added). As is the pattern, economic benefits are exaggerated, while environmental impacts are completely ignored.

Back in 2010, PoS went to great expense to draft a Part 150 study. Within that document package was a 44-page ‘Aviation Activity Forecast’. The key graphs within that study are condensed into this scrollable 3-page PDF:

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

You can dive deeper, looking at an archived copy of the 44-page analysis here.

One of the most disgusting statements in the PoS News Release is the leadoff to the second sentence, a classic example of greenwashing, which reads: “Demand for air travel at Sea-Tac Airport increased 41 percent the last five years…” Let’s be clear. The good people in and around Seattle did not suddenly wake up 5-years ago and start spending more money and increasing trips out of Sea-Tac. Nor did the area population explode anywhere close to 41% in 5-years. No, this alleged ‘demand’ is engineered by two airlines – Alaska and Delta – as part of their escalation of hubbing intensity, all in pursuit of slightly higher airline profits. More people fly INTO [KSEA] without ever leaving the airport terminal, either sitting in their cramped seat of rushing to catch another plane at another gate. Lots more people – up 41% in 5-years. This is NOT increased ‘demand for air travel’. And, it also means fewer people are able to get direct flights from origin to destination, without the increasing number of detours through KSEA; in other words, everyone loses, except the airlines and the airport authority.

Clean up your act, PoS: get the excessive growth at KSEA under control, and knock off the greenwashing propaganda, OK?

Hubbing Strategies Increase Impacts, But Do Not Create Sustainable Airline Profits

Airline stocks have been tanking lately, in no small part due to strategy shifts by United. In a nutshell, United is trying to design a broad restructuring of its three domestic-focused hubs in Chicago, Denver and Houston. Why? Because this trio of domestic hubs “…has profit margins that are 10 percent below the inland domestic hubs operated by American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc….”

The situation is discussed in this Bloomberg article (click here to view source, or view the archived PDF copy below).

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

What is the most consequential quote in the article?

“As part of its strategy, United is boosting connections in its three mid-continent hubs by an average of 17 percent by adjusting its flight schedules, a process it’s completed in Houston and will commence in Chicago next month.”

In this one quote, United is making it clear that, for all major U.S. hubs, traffic growth is NOT about customer demand; it is airline schedule tweaking, to increase profits, that is causing the huge impact increases at major hubs, especially at KBOS, KJFK, KDCA, and KSEA.

Which airports/hubs are most monopolized?

Here are the main hubs for the four largest airlines:

  • American: Charlotte [KCLT], Dallas-Ft Worth [KDFW], Miami [KMIA], and Philadelphia [KPHL]
  • Delta: Atlanta [KATL], Minneapolis St Paul [KMSP], and Salt Lake City [KSLC]
  • United: Cleveland [KCLE], Washington-Dulles [KIAD], and Houston [KIAH]
  • Southwest: Baltimore [KBWI], Dallas-Love [KDAL], and Chicago-Midway [KMDW]

Most other major airports are either smaller market and dominated by Southwest, or they are duopoly hubs. Four duopoly hubs that stand out are:

  1. Denver [KDEN] – Southwest and United
  2. Chicago O’Hare [KORD] – American and United
  3. Phoenix [KPHX] – American and Southwest
  4. Sea-Tac [KSEA] – Alaska and Delta

Will hub concentration reduce over time?

No, not likely at all. The level of industry scheduling collusion, and the absence of real regulatory oversight, ensure this trend toward hub concentration will continue to intensify. As an example, look at the hub concentrations for 2013 data, at this aiReform Post. Note that nothing has changed: at the bulk of these 77 airports, monopolies and duopolies have only strengthened in the past four years.

CBS News Story about Long Island Impacts, features Plane Sense 4 LI Activists

Thank you, newyork.cbslocal.com, for giving coverage to the abuses under the Arc of Doom. Here’s an embed for their recent 2-minute+ news video:
The root problem is a captured federal agency (FAA) that has working with lobbyists and the airlines to slowly make a disaster for airport neighbor communities; they have created new regulations and technologies being used to channel flights into narrow and repetitive routes. Meanwhile, and with intent, they are ignoring impacts upon people.

This problem can be fixed. Residents could see very substantial relief if FAA/Congress worked to take away incentives that airlines like Delta and JetBlue use, to fly ever-larger number of passengers THROUGH the congested NYC airports. This hubbing practice adds a sliver more to airline profits, while immensely amplifying noise and air pollutant impacts. Address the flawed incentives, and you trim away the excessive flights. If FAA cannot do this on their own, Congress needs to step up and force FAA to do it.

ATC Is Not the Real Cause of Airline Delays…

…and the airlines have long had all the tools they need to solve the problems caused by their own corporate greed and mismanagement. If NextGen impacts are out of control where you live, you need to read the article below.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s Post, here is an outstanding article written by Michael Baiada, a retired United 747 pilot, who sees past the NextGen promotional frauds. Even better, Mr. Baiada gets into the details of how easily the U.S. air travel system could be made more efficient and less impactful, while also improving the flying experience for us consumers. Turns out, the root of the problem today is too many people abdicating their duties: airlines refusing to run their business, regulators who enable this management failure while also serving as cover, lobbyists too focused on perpetuating the lobbying revenue stream, and so forth.

The article is a bit technical but very well written, and Mr. Baiada does an outstanding job explaining system details that FAA/industry work so hard to make muddy and complex. I heartily recommend sitting down and carefully studying this article; you will learn a lot, to help fight for rational airports, serving the local communities ahead of the airlines.

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

A copy of the article by Michael Boyd, as referenced in Baiada’s article, is archived here.

Thanksgiving, 2017: Three Graphics That Say a Lot

Here are three graphics: the first posted by airline lobbyist A4A, the second posted by FAA, and the last shared online at the Facebook site, Plane Sense 4 Long Island. Note the conflicting data from FAA and the lobby; note also the noise and air pollutant impacts on communities, such as under the JFK Arc of Doom, or under the narrow NextGen flightpaths in and out of KBOS, KCLT, KLAX, KPHX, KSEA, and other airports.

The airline lobby says 28.5 Million ‘passengers’ are forecast… (click on image to view source)

…but FAA says 3.95 Million will fly for Thanksgiving. That’s a lot less than the 28.5 Million claimed by A4A. (click on image to view source)

I have to wonder: why such a huge discrepancy, 3.95 Million vs 28.5 Million? Well, the 28.5 Million figure was produced by the airline lobby, and released in a press package on November 1st. It looked suspicious then. And, as is to be expected for a lobbyist (or a captured regulator!), the spin felt aimed at helping us all believe air travel is incredibly popular. But, it is just spin, and quite deceptive. For example, what is a ‘passenger’, and how do they measure ‘passengers’? Is it each person counted only once, whatever their full travel itinerary flown, or is a person who flies 4 legs to get to dinner listed as ‘4 passengers’? Are flights via airline hubs subject to double- or even triple-counting, toward the 28.5 Million figure? Such accounting methods would rapidly inflate towards an absurd 28.5 Million figure. Most likely, FAA’s figure is reasonably correct, and represents the number of outbound and return seats, related solely to Thanksgiving trips; thus, a more accurate A4A infographic would have declared that 7.9 million seats will be filled in 2017 for Thanksgiving travel (the math: 2x 3.95M).

So, assuming that FAA’s figure is fairly accurate, what does this figure mean? I.e., why is air travel so elite, even in the United States? Think about it. This is the biggest family holiday of the year. The national population is now 326.3 Million (per the Census Bureau population clock). Here, FAA, the U.S. federal authority on aviation, claims only 1.2% of our citizens use aviation to travel for Thanksgiving? Seems mighty small … but it is probably fairly accurate (and FAA has the data, so they should know). Plus, notice the figures for automobile travel: 45.5 Million (i.e., 13.9% of us will travel by car, 11.5-times as many as who will air-travel this holiday).

Regarding the third graphic… how about those residents losing their minds (and sleep) under the nonstop aircraft streams? This problem is much worse in 2017 than it was in, say 2007. What changed? The two key changes are implementation of NextGen, and packing flights in closer using the reduced separation standards of Wake Recategorization (aka ‘wake recat’). Oddly, FAA/industry are always pitching NextGen, but they both cautiously stay quiet about wake recat; this is odder, still, because the NextGen pitch is far more fraudulent, thus should be the angle they stay quiet on. Anyway, these two changes together reflect an unspoken mission shift at FAA: this agency not only does not understand the dire need to allow a local voice to moderate air commerce in and out of their local airport, but now, FAA is fully in service to the airline industry, enabling these excessive and growing impacts.

The Bottom Line: What’s more important: rising airline profit margins, or families seated together, in the homes they worked to buy and build and maintain, so that they can relax for a day of shared gratitude?

What’s more important? Hell, this is a no-brainer; it sure is NOT airline profit margins.

…Jana Chamoff Goldenberg‎ posted the great graphic at Plane Sense 4LI (can we credit the artist, too?) … THANKS!

People and Communities Would Benefit, if We Disincentivized Hubs

Interesting discussion about community impacts and port authority overdevelopment at Sea-Tac [KSEA], in this Quiet Skies Puget Sound Facebook Post.

(click on image to view source Facebook discussion)

Here, one of the area residents being victimized by Sea-Tac overexpansion suggests what really is the easiest solution: spread the flights out, so people are served locally, by their own local airport.

So, how do we make this change? The key to getting there includes changing the current system of fees/taxes to economically disincentivize hubs. For example, the U.S. Congress and FAA need to do three things:

  1. end ticket charges (especially the PFCs) that incentivize airport over-development. With airport PFCs, FAA/DoT collects billions of dollars each year, which are then reallocated into airport development projects. Much of this money goes to rural airports with nearly zero traffic (such as the recent debacle at Mora, MN), and the funds are generously doled out with near-zero local matches required. Airports like Sea-Tac are thus motivated to develop far beyond what the actual airport property and surrounding neighborhoods can stand.
  2. impose a steep carbon tax with at least half of revenues going away from aviation, such as to high speed rail. Indeed, the aviation sector provides an excellent opportunity to trial such a tax, while also funding new programs that are far more energy-efficient.
  3. establish a user fee system based on two key factors: direct-miles (between origin airport and destination airport), and aircraft seating capacity. Apply this fee system to all commercial flights (passenger and air cargo) as well as to all higher performance aircraft (e.g., bizjets, and flights by fractionally-owned aircraft). Thus:
      • for any origin-destination pair, a 200-passenger jet would pay twice the fee as a 100-passenger jet, and a 400-passenger jet would pay 4-times as much.
      • a 30-passenger bizjet would pay the same aviation user fee, whether it is chartering one elite passenger of 28, whether it is flying IFR (in the ATC system) or just out on a high-performance VFR hop.
      • passenger ticket fees/taxes would be proportional to itinerary distance. E.g., a passenger ticket from Seattle to Boston via Atlanta would pay 25% higher fees due to 25% higher distance (2,712 NM through ATL versus 2,161 NM direct SEA-BOS); likewise, a SEA-LAX-BOS itinerary would pay 43% higher fees than a direct SEA-BOS itinerary (hubbing via LAX, in this example, increases distance flown from 2,161 NM to 3,091 NM).
      • and, of course, this all would apply to commercial helicopters, too. A helicopter doing an urban air tour, or a helicopter charter hop from KSMO to Staples Center, would pay the fee, subject to a hefty minimum user fee per operation.
      • similarly, it would apply to commercial skydive operators, whose noisy aircraft would also be subject to a hefty minimum user fee per operation.

This simple set of proposed fees/taxes would not only reduce hub pressure at places like KSEA, KJFK, KCLT, KPHX, and KBOS; it would also all but eliminate system delays, and reduce environmental impacts. Plus, this system would strongly incentivize the airlines to offer more direct flights. This would mean less travel time for the consumers who fund this system, and would be a Win-Win for nearly everyone. The only losers would be the airlines and airport authorities who have gone too long, abusing too many, under the current flawed fee/tax system that maximizes consumption.

Just one thing is required: an elected Congress willing to work together, to order FAA reform: to totally revamp the fee/tax system, replacing it with only a carbon tax and a direct-miles fee.

Unfriendly Skies: Forty Years of Airline Deregulation Failure

An excellent analysis was sent to the aiReform administrator, along with this email comment:

“This is the best article I have seen in a VERY long time about the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the traveling public, airline deregulation.”

 

He’s right. David Dayen did a fantastic job writing “Unfriendly Skies: It’s time to admit that airline deregulation has failed passengers, workers—and economic efficiency.”

A paragraph from the opening page of the article.

Mr. Dayen points out the role of all politicians, at both political extremes, in passing the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978; he debunks the myth of lower costs and higher efficiencies that actually did not happen, and shows evidence of FAA’s expanding regulatory capture; he also bears down on how the airline industry is a microcosmic example of the rise of oligopolies, that change processes and markets for their narrow benefit while imposing great costs onto many of us.

Click here to view Mr. Dayen’s source article at American Prospect, or click/scroll below to read a PDF archived copy with aiREFORM annotations.

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