NextGen is the FAA’s Carte Blanche to Wreak Havoc on the Public’s Ears and Serenity

Here’s an archived copy of an excellent article, written by Barbara Castleton, one of many NextGen victims in the Seattle area. She does an excellent job portraying how FAA and industry do not care at all about the health impacts (and diminished quality of life) caused by NextGen. A few aiREFORM footnotes have been added to this archived copy, to expand on some technical aspects.

Click here to view the source article at Medium.com.

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

NAS Annual Ops Have Declined for Decades Now, And NextGen Is Just Hype

One of the most frustrating and damnable aspects of today’s FAA is their manipulation of data, to steer public opinion toward more aviation expansion. This propagandistic phenomenon has worsened in the last decade. Sometimes, to get to the facts, you have to dive deep and find what FAA wrote long ago. Here is an example…Let’s go back to early 2001.

(click on image to view archived copy of entire FAA report, from April 2001)

Here’s a screencap from April of that year, FAA’s 125-page NAS Capital Investment Plan 2002-2006. This one small screencap offers some unvarnished statements about capacity and delays (and the whole document contains many, MANY more!):

  • “Currently, traffic at the 25 busiest airports exceeds their practical capacity by about 1 million operations a year.”
  • “Either demand is reduced, or capacity expanded to bring the NAS into balance. It is normal to experience some delay in the NAS, the challenge is to manage excessive delay.”
  • RE: 15 new runways scheduled to open in the next five years: “If all of these runways are built as scheduled, they will add about 1.4 million operations a year in capacity.”

OK, so let’s take a closer look. First, let’s look at FAA’s ATADS data, the most precise database available for studying operations at all FAA and contract control towers in the U.S. Here’s a table created for the ‘top 25’ airports; in this case, the 25 busiest OEP-35 airports in calendar year 2000:What does this show? It shows a critical reality: this aviation system is NOT expanding, is NOT becoming increasingly complex, and in fact has been down-sizing for nearly two decades. In other words, the expensive changes that industry and FAA are pitching so aggressively are NOT needed, and serve only to further line the pockets of the cronies they advocate for. (…which, of course, is why they are advocating!)

Now, let’s take another look at those quotes above, and let’s do the math. Those 25 busiest airports were allegedly exceeding practical capacity by ‘about 1 million operations’ annually. The totals in the table above (use the ‘TOTALS’ column, not the ‘Commercial’ column, because that is the number that matters to define ATC workload) show 13.4 Million operations in 2000. Thus, this FAA document suggests the ‘practical capacity’ of the top 25 airports in 2000 was 12.4 Million annual operations. By 2016, three key forces (airline consolidation, hub realignment, and economic normalization) had reduced total ops to 11.1 Million annual ops, well below the alleged ‘practical capacity’. While total annual operations at the top 25 airports are down 17% (from 2000 to 2016), the only airports bucking this trend are the ones where airlines insist on over-scheduling. In other words, their pursuit of profits is the root cause of daily system delays, it also is the primary source for massive impacts upon neighboring residential communities, such as near KJFK, KCLT, and KSFO.

Note, too, that actual capacity has increased substantially (which, of course, reduces ATC complexity), with the construction not only of the ‘15 new runways’ by 2006, but the many other new runways between 2006 and 2017.

As a side note, ponder this: notice the green background stats in the table above. These are the very few airports where operations have actually increased from 2000 to 2016. Most people would assume automatically, Charlotte was tops, because of American’s massive expansion there to create a super-Hub. They would be wrong. In fact, Kennedy airport in NYC beat out Charlotte. FAA and PANYNJ accommodations to JetBlue, Delta and American are the reason that the western half of Long Island is constantly inundated with long and low arrival conga lines into JFK. The 28% increase is quite impactful.

CONCLUSION: when Bill Shuster et al stand before press cameras or preside at hearings where they pitch NextGen and ATC privatization, they are out of touch and, frankly, pitching a fraud. They should instead be focusing on managing hub capacity, imposing limits at the most congested hub airports, so that the entire system can achieve higher efficiencies and lower impacts.

Labor Day, 2017

Here’s a thoughtful commentary about our latest U.S. holiday. The author, George Jehn, is a retired airline pilot, former high-level union official at Eastern Airlines, author and whistleblower. He pauses a busy life each Fall and shares his assessment of how we are doing, on issues related to labor and the U.S. economy. His views are framed by his experiences in the aviation industry.

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

People do not know the history behind this holiday, such as the deadly use of federal troops to break the 1894 Pullman Strike. People also tend not to know the many parallels between the extensive regulatory capture of FAA (by the airlines and other industry players) and the regulatory capture of the nascent ICC in the 1890s. Click here to view some documents about Richard Olney, and to learn more about how much 2017 is just like 1894.

(click on image to view source, at Clarence Darrow Digital Collection, University of Minnesota)

On a lighter note, here’s a no-holds-barred take by Jimmy Dore, a comedian who has become one of the leading online voices for those who feel our political and economic systems must be reformed. In this video, he dissects a Walmart employee orientation video that is extremely anti-union.

No one wants health care to be like the airlines!

“How was the hospital?
“Not great. My surgery was three hours late, my bed was double-booked so they dragged me out of the OR, and then they sent my appendix to Albuquerque!”

This is where aviation is headed, under the ATC privatization that Trump supports. A few will be enriched; most people will see things worsen. Substantially.

Click here to view the source article, or here to view an archived PDF copy of the article. The article title is harsh but, hey, take the time to see what is in the article and think about your own experiences. This industry is out of control – as is the faux-regulator FAA. The author makes some great points.

NextGen: “A Virtual Highway, and the Traffic Never Stops”

A good opinion piece related to NextGen impacts (and ongoing FAA failures) near the Baltimore-Washington Airport [KBWI]. This airport serves as the hub for Southwest, in the DC area (NOTE: the two other major airports serving the DC area are Dulles [KIAD] and Reagan National [KDCA]; United hubs at KIAD, and American dominates at KDCA]. There is some misinformation in the Op/Ed, as happens in a world run by money and set on crafting and pitching propaganda, but they also make some great points.

Here is an archived copy, with aiREFORM footnotes added:

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

A Tutorial: How You Can Use Online Resources to Identify and Study Flights Impacting Your Home

Many of us are too keenly aware of the destruction being done to residential neighborhoods, by excessive flight scheduling at the few U.S. airports where airlines are expanding their hubs. To protect homes and health, more of us are now forced to fight with FAA and airport authorities, asking for information and filing our concerns and complaints. This fight is generally made more difficult by one of FAA’s ugliest habits: their tendency to impede real education of citizens who are impacted by aviation.

Sadly, FAA et al tend to bury us with acronyms that cause eyes to glaze over. They try to dazzle us with vague technical references, hoping we become so overwhelmed by the details that we just have to step back and let the experts work this all out. They do not want us to know, of course, that the experts are routinely being compensated by FAA and/or industry, which of course biases their ‘expertise’ with a pro-aviation slant.

And so, there is a need for us to cultivate our own expertise. Fortunately, the internet offers very many resources, not just for research but also for helping one another. 

Here’s a tool that can help. The scrollable PDF below can be downloaded and shared, and it can be viewed offline. It presents an example of how one online flight tracking website (in this case, FlightAware) can be used to gather more information about impacting flights. The links within the PDF are all active.

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

Please use this tutorial. Learn, research, and share, so others can benefit from your research; so we can precisely present the data needed to compel FAA and your local airport authority to end the excessive impacts. Airports need to serve the local community first, not the airlines and their failed regulator.

Does JetBlue Care to Minimize Impacts?

Parts of Boston are being severely impacted by NextGen, under routes in and out of Logan [KBOS]. Not just by the narrow route concentration FAA is creating in their environmentally destructive application of satellite technologies, but also in the increased hub concentration that FAA is enabling.

In a nutshell, the airlines want to concentrate flights into just a handful of major hubs, but they need FAA’s help to do this. They need FAA to increase ‘runway throughput’, so that the major hub airlines at airports like Boston can add just a few more flights each hour. Of course, the problem is, in their accomodating the airlines, FAA is causing oversaturation of schedules to the point where:

  1. flows are virtually non-stop for most of the day; and
  2. the slightest bit of weather or surge of flights creates overload, and ATC works the arrivals into long conga lines – harder and less safe for ATC and flight crews, but also greatly amplifying impacts upon residents below.

JetBlue has a major hub presence at Boston. Not only that, but JetBlue is a major player at two other hub airports where flight overscheduling is destroying communities: LaGuardia [KLGA] and Reagan National [KDCA]. And, JetBlue’s network relies heavily on connecting passengers through these three hub airports.

Also, JetBlue uses social media to pitch their product, to try and encourage more people to take more flights, and more frequently. The JetBlue facebook page solicits comments from viewers, so it makes sense that a viewer in Milton, impacted by the increase in noise and air pollution by JetBlue and other airlines, would offer concerns and make constructive suggestions. This is precisely what was done, when Andy Schmidt initiated a discussion by sending JetBlue a message, on May 30th. After nearly a month of back-and-forth, and with many delays, Andy came to the conclusion that, frankly, “JetBlue doesn’t care.” He then posted a series of four screencaps, documenting the ‘discussion’. Here’s a compilation:

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

When it comes to environmental responsibility around hub airports, there is a huge vacuum. Neither FAA nor the industry they are supposed to regulate are working to protect communities from noise and air pollutant impacts. It is only about money, these days.

In the example above, Andy shows a great way to nudge the airlines toward becoming responsive and accountable. What is particularly intriguing about this example is that Andy pointed the airline right at a very effective and affordable action that would reap tremendous environmental benefits: the vortex generator. Here are two graphs from a320whine.com:

The red curve shows two spikes, at ~560 and ~620 hertz, which are the infamous ‘A320 whine’. Notice the substantial noise reduction (green curve) at these frequencies, when the VG deflectors are added.

The green shaded area shows noise reduction from red line (an A320 without the VGs) to green line (an A320 with the VGs added). Study this graph carefully; it shows an improvement, but notice, too, zero improvement within the final 12-miles (20-kilometers) of the arrival. Given the cost, this improvement is well worth the money spent, but airlines and FAA will also need to better manage traffic loads, such as by reducing hourly flow rates.

CONCLUSION: This is a good example of how social media can be used constructively, to engage airlines, and hopefully, to nudge them toward becoming more compatible with the communities they impact. And, the vortex generators are a real opportunity for JetBlue to show they care.

Will they? Will JetBlue’s management wake up, so thousands can sleep better?

“NextGen is a Catch-Phrase, Nothing More”

Social media can be a very powerful way to start to hold aviation officials accountable. For example, aviation noise activists are using Twitter and Facebook to discuss the impacts (and how to solve them), post images and data about flights, and report what they hear back from FAA, airport authorities, or elected officials.

One recent example is a very thorough report by Liz Burn. She called in a concern and eventually got a call back from Michael Carroll, at the Port of Seattle (POS). Here is an excerpt from her post:

(click on image to view source Facebook post)

As one who has been intensively studying NextGen for a few years now, I was very impressed that, at least for one brief moment, Mr. Carroll let down his guard and told the truth: NextGen is really just a catch-phrase, a brand-name, a label. It is also, frankly, a diversion.

The collaborating partners (FAA, A4A, airport authorities, airlines, and a few in Congress like Bill Shuster) are grossly over-selling NextGen, pitching the idea that it is loaded with new, whiz-bang features (though the bulk of the features are not new and actually existed before the 2003 start of the NextGen program!). These salespersons make lots of positive noise, all the while ignoring the many negatives and also taking our eyes away from what is really happening:

  1. NextGen is the abandonment of decades-old noise abatement agreements/procedures;
  2. NextGen is the enabling of airlines to further expand hub schedules at a handful of key cities … boosting airline profits, but at great cost to people below (and, by the way, the vast majority of routes in the U.S. offer little or no competition; i.e., a study of airline service for city-pairs shows most routes are monopoly or duopoly served);
  3. NextGen is the highly impactful concentration of routes into razor-thin lines, flown more precisely by using aircraft automation, to the point that those of us living under these new routes, lose sleep and even go crazy with the repetitive noise … one flight, then another, then another, on and on …; and,
  4. NextGen is the transition from manual to automation, for both air navigation and air traffic control: i.e., NextGen is REALLY all about doing away with human control, replacing it with computer control – both on the flight deck and in the control facilities. Both FAA and airlines hope that, with further NextGen implementation, the number of ‘monitoring’ controllers can be substantially reduced, and flight decks can seat just one ‘monitoring’ pilot (instead of two pilots).

Anyway, THANK YOU Michael Carroll for letting go of the ‘collaboration script’ for that one moment and confirming: NextGen is just an oversold brand-name.


See also:

A Gatwick Missed Approach Reveals Why the Proposed U.S. ATC Privatization is a Big Fail

Summer is upon us, and Yanks love to fly on distant vacations, oblivious to the enormous carbon cost associated with that privilege. Shall we take a quick trip to Europe? Maybe lunch in London and zip back to LA for dinner?

We could fly through Gatwick. Or, maybe, let’s not. A recent tweet, with a very telling graphic, suggests Gatwick is a bad idea:

EasyJet 8222, from Valencia to Gatwick on 6/9/2017. Weather was not the issue: it was near perfect that day. On the first pass, the flight went around after descending to approx. 900-ft. This missed approach appears to have been caused solely by NATS’ refusal to properly manage capacity; i.e., too many arrivals in too small a time window. (click on image to view source Tweet)

It turns out, if you study the arrivals to Gatwick, you learn an awful lot, including:

  1. that lots of privatization has happened in the UK, both to the ATC system, and to the airports … and it is broadly failing to deliver promised ‘benefits’ used to sell the privatization scheme;
  2. that the UK ATC system, NATS, is grossly inefficient on Gatwick arrivals, even 25-years after it was privatized in 1992;
  3. that FAA’s NextGen and Europe’s SESAR (the satellite-based ATC automation systems being oversold on both sides of the Atlantic) are both very similar, in how they intensify impacts while accommodating airline profits.

Here’s a PDF compilation of the ten arrivals to Gatwick, preceding the eventual landing of EasyJet 8222. The inefficiencies are astounding. Notice that for all flights, the bulk of the trip is very direct, but the compression for landing at Gatwick is being managed by holding stacks and other arrival delays, all controlled by ATC. This is precisely the same pattern we see in the U.S. At the key hub airports, where FAA refuses to manage capacity while accommodating airline desires to schedule far too many flights, FAA imposes both enroute delays and lots of delay turns to arrivals. This is the case at all the worst NextGen-impacted airports: Boston [KBOS], LaGuardia [KLGA], Kennedy [KJFK],  Baltimore-Washington [KBWI], Reagan-National [KDCA], Charlotte [KCLT], Chicago O’Hare [KORD], Phoenix [KPHX], Seattle [KSEA], and San Francisco [KSFO].

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

Why is Gatwick Such an Inefficient Mess?

Gatwick [EGKK] is the second-busiest commercial passenger airport in the UK, after London Heathrow [EGLL]. Both of these airports are infamous for the enormous noise and air pollutant impacts they place upon residential communities – not just near the runways, but far away as well. Just like with FAA’s NextGen, arrivals are dumped low, slow, and loud, and circuitous delay patterns (like the Arc of Doom) are flown, maximizing impacts.

A key feature of Gatwick is that, although it has two parallel runways, a local environmental agreement disallows use of both runways at the same time; i.e., the main runway (08R/26L) is to be used alone, and the backup runway (08L/26R) is only to be used when the main runway is out of service (for maintenance, etc.).

So, with Gatwick, we have a classic example of limited runway capacity but no thoughtful constraints to ensure profit-seeking airlines do not schedule too many flights. And, every one of these arrival delays stands a high probability of triggering delays on all subsequent flights using the delayed aircraft, for the remainder of the day. In other words, if NATS would address the Gatwick arrival compression issue, they would make huge progress in reducing flight delays across the UK.

What Causes Missed Approaches & Go-Arounds, and are They Problematic?

In a well-managed air traffic world, missed approaches and go-arounds are very rare. Flight crews and ATC both hate go-arounds, as they are a LOT more work. And, they can be dangerous; i.e., in a system built around repetitive and predictable processes, sudden changes inject a lot of risk.

These should not be happening as often as they do for Gatwick. They would not happen there, too, if NATS would impose restrictions against excessive flight scheduling.

Will the U.S. ATC Privatization Proposal Do Better?

Probably not. Given what we have seen so far, in FAA’s fraudulent sales pitches, the botched implementation, and the growing and unresolved impacts, etc., there is a near absolute certainty that privatization of U.S. ATC would be an unmitigated disaster. No efficiency improvements. No cost savings. Reduced transparency. No accountability. Just one more sell-out to industry money, to enable the few airlines and others to do whatever the hell they want.

Just say ‘NO!’ to ATC Privatization: this is Corporatocracy run amok.

A Closer Look at Massport’s Latest News Release

Here’s a good example of a typical news release by an airport authority: long on emphasizing ‘positives’, while totally ignoring impacts and other ‘negatives’.

Due to a runway closure for maintenance work, some residents in Randolph, Quincy, Milton, and Dorchester have seen a few weeks of temporary relief from the NextGen-related approaches to runways 4L and 4R. Their short reprieve will end soon. Of course, at any hub airport, where one or two airlines schedule lots of extra flights to sort out passengers who never even leave the terminal (as do JetBlue and American, the two main airlines hubbing at Logan), relief for one community becomes intensified hell for another community; the too-many-flights just get shifted elsewhere. See this local news article about Medford, Somerville, and Malden.

The airport authority for Boston Logan [KBOS] is Massport. They sent out an email, updating everyone (see archived PDF copy, below). Reading this as an impacted citizen, you may have these thoughts/questions:

  1. Tom Glynn declares, “Safety is Massport’s top priority,” but is this just a platitude/mantra? Would reducing the hourly operations level enhance safety, while also potentially eliminating all flight delays?
  2. Glynn also states, “We appreciate the patience of our neighboring communities and the travelling public as flight patterns have changed….” Would a reduced flight schedule not only improve safety and reduce delays, but also bring relief to the thousands impacted by repetitive flights that are low and slow and loud?
  3. The projects are called routine and essential for safety. Again, is safety enhanced by managing capacity, such as by imposing restrictions on hourly arrivals that ensure all arrivals are as direct as possible via routes critically designed to minimize community impacts?
  4. A portion of the project is to replace a wooden pier with a concrete pier that is designed to last 75 years. But, will the airport face closure even sooner, due to global sea-rise?

This last point deserves some elaboration. All KBOS runways are close to mean sea level (MSL), with lowest points ranging from 14-feet to 19-feet above MSL. Atmospheric CO2 is increasing at rates that are astonishing, when compared with billions of years of Earth geological history. Polar ice is disappearing (feeding more water into the oceans and atmosphere), oceans are warming (thus the water is expanding), and storms are getting stronger (accelerating erosion, especially at locations that are built on old landfills and estuaries, like Logan). All of this climate change is a result of excessive fossil fuel consumption (our insane carbon addiction, as a society, intensifying after WWII), and aviation remains the fastest way to consume fossil fuels … often for arbitrary purposes, such as air vacations and air freight. So, if FAA and airport authorities continue to refuse to manage airport capacity, their failure enhances the aviation impact on climate change.

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