KDCA NextGen Impacts May Trigger Yet One More Legal Action Against FAA

FAA is presently being sued by groups across the nation, due to their botched NextGen implementation. It looks like another lawsuit may be initiated, seeking relief for residents in Bethesda, MD. See the Bethesda Magazine article (archived copy below, in a scrollable PDF).

Essentially, what is happening is FAA is tweaking upward the number of operations handled at Washington National Airport [KDCA], to enable four airlines (American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest) to schedule heavier arrival and departure pushes. To facilitate this, FAA got Congress to pass legislation in early 2012 that eliminated the requirement to do real environmental assessments (this is the infamous ‘CATEX’ issue; click here to see documentation of a CATEX example impacting residents near LaGuardia).

Using CATEX to approve and implement NextGen procedures has turned out to be a huge failure. The root failure is that FAA’s DNL noise metric does not capture the very real and damaging noise impacts caused by repetitive flights passing one after another at low altitudes, using automation to track the same narrow path. This narrow route concentration is very clearly indicated in the graphics, within the article below. The repetitive noises go on for days and even weeks on end; people suffer sleep loss and elevated blood pressure, and some may be going crazy, but their problems are all dismissed by FAA. Oddly, FAA insists that by averaging those weeks over the entire calendar year, no damages are done ‘on average’. This is sort of a variation of a bad strategy for abating pollution: “the solution to pollution is dilution.”

The graphics in this article appear to depict the pre-NextGen and post-NextGen departure tracks. Montgomery County is concerned about the intense concentration for north flow departures heading northeast to NYC and Boston, etc.; the NextGen RNAV departure begins a right turn over the RNAV fix named ALEEX (Cabin John Parkway and I-495), then passes DOGUE (roughly 2-miles NW of the Mormon Temple), inundating North Bethesda. Similarly, residents in the Fort Hunt neighborhoods of Virginia are impacted, because the new RNAV departure procedure in south flow turns west at lower altitudes, roughly two miles north of Mt. Vernon … instead of climbing another couple miles southbound over the Potomac River. Again, all to save the airlines a smidgeon of money, while shifting a heavier noise and pollutant cost onto previously peaceful residential communities. The people below are frustrated not just because the noise pattern persists for hours on end (and can repeat each day for weeks on end), but also because they are trying to squeeze accountability out of one of the most intransigent and insensitive federal bureaucracies ever to exist: today’s FAA.

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

The Larger Picture

On a national scale, FAA is facilitating hub concentration (see this aiReform Post). Each of the hub-growth airports is also not just seeing a larger number of flights, but the flights are serving a higher percentage of through-passengers, who never even leave the airport terminal. And, for each of these few growing hub airports, other airports are in sharp decline. So, as KDCA grows, there is a shift of flights away from Washington-Dulles [KIAD] and Baltimore-Washington [KBWI]; Dulles is now down 47% from peak traffic year (2005), and BWI is now down 23% from peak traffic year (2001). This is precisely the problem that is growing at a tiny few other major U.S. hub airports, such as Seattle [KSEA] (where Delta is rapidly expanding its schedule) and at both Kennedy [KJFK] and LaGuardia [KLGA] in the New York City area. The KSEA hub expansion is diminishing Portland [KPDX] (down 31% from peak traffic year 1997) and Salt Lake City [KSLC] (down 30% from peak traffic year 2005). In the NYC area, Southwest is expanding while gutting service at Islip [KISP] (down 48% from peak traffic year 2000) American expansion has all but eliminated the use of Pittsburgh [KPIT] as a hub (down 69% from peak traffic year 1997); Delta expansion has all but eliminated the use of Cincinnati [KCVG] as a major airline hub (down 73% from peak traffic year 2004).

NextGen route concentration, caused by autopilot use of RNAV routes, is a serious impact that FAA chooses to totally ignore. Think about it: wherever you live, chances are that any aircraft flying through is not noticeable so long as it is roughly 2-miles or more away from directly overhead. In the case of Bethesda, the pre-NextGen dispersal of departures meant each resident below was subjected to randomized and irregular noise events; but, post-NextGen, the noise events are concentrated and repetitive, like a Chinese dripping water torture.

An 1860 photograph of an actual water torture, used by prison authorities to drive Sing Sing prisoners insane. (source: The Burns Archive, via Wikipedia)

Of course, this picture reflects the attitudes and values of our nation in 1860. Today, we have technologies that can benefit us, enhancing quality of life … but only if we manage them intelligently.


See also:

The Need for Night-time Curfews near SuperHubs, so People can Sleep

The Heathrow Airport west of London is hands-down the busiest UK hub for transatlantic commercial passenger flights. Just as we see in the U.S., where NextGen is creating health problems and destroying communities, hundreds of thousands of residents are severely impacted by the long conga lines of low, slow and loud arrivals. Plus, the noise and fumes from nonstop departure streams deny sleep and increase stress, too. Some of the worst examples in the U.S. include: Boston, NYC-JFK, NYC-LGA, DC-Reagan, Chicago-O’Hare, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Seattle.

A recent article notes a Conservative minister calling for a strong ban on all flights for the 7-hour block, from 11PM to 6AM. This would be a very good first step toward reducing Heathrow impacts. Indeed, it not only should be done, but the curfew should extend further. Given the tendency of airlines to overschedule at the main superHub airports, we commonly end up with delays cascading at the end of the day; thus, 11PM arrivals actually land at midnight or even later. This has been a huge problem at LaGuardia [KLGA], for example. So, to ensure that these arrivals actually land before the 11PM curfew, CAA (and FAA, in the U.S.) should require:

  1. the airlines need to schedule the arrivals long enough before 11PM so that, if delayed by the end of the day, they can still land before 11PM; and,
  2. substantial penalties need to be imposed – and rigidly enforced – to incentivize airlines to clean up their schedules, so that slippage past 11PM never happens.

Here’s an archived copy of the article:

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

Kudos to Mr. Hands for pressing forward on this proposed curfew at Heathrow. FAA should give serious consideration to imposing similar curfews at the busiest U.S. commercial hubs. If FAA refuses to do this, at the least FAA should pass the authority on, so that local officials and the communities can impose these restrictions.

2016 ATADS Data Posted, Shows U.S. Air Traffic Activity Remains Severely Depressed Overall

FAA has posted the official traffic counts for calendar year 2016, so another analysis can be done to see how much aviation activity has declined in the U.S. This analysis is important as it fully debunks – using FAA’s own data, no less – one of the core lies being used by FAA and others while trying to sell both ATC privatization and NextGen: the false claim that air traffic is ‘increasingly congested’.

The reality is quite the opposite: the U.S. aviation system is shockingly decongested, with activity depressed far below levels two decades ago. At the vast majority of airports with ATC (and these are the airports with reliable traffic counts), operations (landings and takeoffs) are down 30%, 40% even more than 70% from peak traffic years. There is a large ‘dead-zone’ of vastly underutilized airport infrastructure across the heart of the nation, most of it abandoned by FAA and the airlines; it stretches from St. Louis to Memphis to Pittsburgh to Detroit and on to Kansas City, coinciding with much of the region that tipped the election to Donald Trump. The ‘reliever airports’ developed by FAA in the 80’s and 90’s are relieving nothing. Indeed, these airports are increasingly serving only an elite few, as FAA continues to direct air passenger taxes toward expanding and maintaining these facilities. This is a classic example of the masses paying to subsidize those who least need a subsidy … primarily to enable elites to zip about in their private jets or via expensive air charter services, staying away from the TSA hassles while using their own network of smaller secured airports.

The database is searchable via the ATADS-OPSNET webpage. For this analysis, the annual operations data was compiled for 86 airports, including all of the ‘ASPM-77’ airports and nine other airports that have previously been studied by aiREFORM. It is reasonable to assume that FAA’s ASPM airport list essentially includes all of the most significant commercial airports, accounting for over 99% of all routes flown for both passengers and cargo. That said, the list is also a bit odd for the airports it does not include, most of which were busy GA training fields in 2016, such as: Deer Valley, AZ (DVT, with 370K ops in 2016), Centennial, CO (APA, with 332K ops), Daytona Beach, FL (DAB, with 307K ops), and Sanford, FL (SFB, with 289K ops).

The 86 airports are divided into four groups below. The first three groups comprise the 36 busiest U.S. airports since 1990; i.e., these are the 36 airports known to have had at least one year averaging 1,000 operations per day, in the historical record going back to 1990. These 36 airports are broken into three groups: airline hubs that are generally not declining, airline hubs that have already declined substantially, and non-hub airports serving primarily general aviation (GA). The fourth group, includes the 50 other key U.S. airports, though these are slower, as none of them has ever achieved an annual average of 1,000 daily operations.

This First Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the eleven primarily-commercial airports that show sustained performance. For 2016, two of these airports were in their peak year (SFO and JFK); the nine other airports each declined no more than 13% from peak year operations levels. These airports have the following characteristics:

  1. each of these airports had a Peak Year in their history, with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations; only MCO (Orlando) did not sustain that performance in 2016.
  2. notice that each airport is nearly pure commercial traffic; at each of these airports, 95% to 99% of operations are air carrier or air taxi.
  3. notice also, each airport had less than 5% local traffic (most had zero local pattern operations).
  4. these airports tend to be major ‘hubs’, where the airlines schedule more flights than are needed to serve the local community; thus, noise and pollution impacts on neighborhoods are increased, so that the airlines can bolster profits by accommodating many ‘through-passengers’.
Airport 2016 Total Operations 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
ATL (Atlanta, GA) 898,356 99% 2007 991,627 -9%
ORD (Chicago, IL) 867,635 99% 2004 992,471 -13%
LAX (Los Angeles, CA) 696,890 96% 2000 783,684 -11%
DEN (Denver, CO) 572,520 99% 2010 635,458 -10%
CLT (Charlotte, NC) 545,742 95% 2013 557,955 -2%
JFK (Queens, NY) 458,707 98% 2016 458,707 0%
SFO (San Francisco, CA) 450,391 97% 2016 450,391 0%
EWR (Newark, NJ) 431,214 97% 1997 467,443 -8%
SEA (Seattle, WA) 412,170 99% 2000 445,677 -8%
LGA (Flushing, NY) 374,487 98% 2006 406,211 -8%
MCO (Orlando, FL) 323,914 95% 2007 367,860 -12%
average change: -7%

The Second Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the sixteen primarily-commercial airports that have NOT shown sustained performance. A quick review of this group shows:

  1. each of these airports had a Peak Year in their history, with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations; in 2016, nine of the airports sustained that performance (though with an average decline of 25% from Peak Year), while seven of the airports now average below 1,000 ops/day (with an average decline of 50% from Peak Year).
  2. notice that, as with the first group, each airport had less than 5% local traffic, and each airport is predominantly commercial. I.e., air carrier and air taxi traffic accounts for 85% to 99% of total operations; twelve airports were 90% or higher commercial, and only Honolulu (HNL), Washington-Dulles (IAD), Pittsburgh (PIT) and Salt Lake City (SLC) had less than 90% commercial traffic.
  3. these airports tend to be lesser ‘hubs’, former hubs, or non-hubs.
  4. the bottom five airports [Washington-Dulles (IAD), Memphis (MEM), St. Louis (STL), Pittsburgh (PIT), and Cincinnati (CVG)] illustrate the consequences of wholesale hub abandonment by airlines. In each case, a dominant airline typically was having difficulty getting tax or labor concessions from the community, so they chose to abandon billions of dollars worth of terminal, runway, and other infrastructure, in the pursuit of marginal profits.
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DFW (Dallas – Ft Worth, TX) 672,748 99% 1997 934,624 -28%
LAS (Las Vegas, NV) 535,740 92% 2006 619,474 -14%
IAH (Houston, TX) 470,780 98% 2007 603,641 -22%
PHX (Phoenix, AZ) 440,643 95% 2000 638,757 -31%
MIA (Miami, FL) 414,234 95% 1995 576,936 -28%
MSP (Minneapolis – St Paul, MN) 412,898 97% 2004 540,727 -24%
BOS (Boston, MA) 395,811 96% 1998 515,788 -23%
PHL (Philadelphia, PA) 394,022 96% 2005 536,153 -27%
DTW (Detroit, MI) 393,427 98% 1999 559,548 -30%
SLC (Salt Lake City, UT) 320,259 85% 2005 455,214 -30%
HNL (Honolulu, HI) 305,608 80% 1992 403,708 -24%
IAD (Washington-Dulles, VA) 292,124 87% 2005 553,021 -47%
MEM (Memphis, TN) 224,883 90% 2003 402,362 -44%
STL (St Louis, MO) 190,517 95% 1995 517,961 -63%
PIT (Pittsburgh, PA) 141,630 89% 1997 457,732 -69%
CVG (Cincinnati, OH) 137,225 95% 2004 515,851 -73%
average change: -36%

The Third Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the nine busiest general aviation airports that historically had a Peak Year with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations. Only one of these airports has shown a sustained performance: Deer Valley (DVT), a major training airport in the Phoenix area. A quick review of this group shows:

  1. only one of these airports has more than 36% commercial (air carrier and air taxi) operations; five of the airports have less than 25% commercial operations.
  2. the outlier is Oakland (OAK), which is a unique airport that has historically operated as two separate airports, even with separate ATC towers. It has served as a major hub for Southwest on the east side of the Bay Area, but aside from that is essentially a non-hub.
  3. even with major training airports (which often cater to students from around the world), the decline in operations is profound. For Florida, the two listed airports averaged a 22% decline; for California, the four listed airports averaged a 52% decline from Peak Year.
  4. when airport flight schools import students, the flight school expands profits while airport neighbors endure substantially higher impacts; not just noise, but also air pollutants, including toxic exhaust from the leaded fuel still used in most small airplanes and helicopters. This is a serious issue for airport neighbors, in terms of both health and quality-of-life. Hillsboro, OR (HIO) is another example (see further down, in the Fourth Group); here, the Hillsboro Aero Academy gets cover from the Port of Portland and FAA while imposing their impacts.
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DVT (Phoenix, AZ) 370,034 65% 2006 406,507 -9%
APA (Englewood, CO) 332,111 47% 1998 466,267 -29%
DAB (Daytona Beach, FL) 307,333 47% 36% 2001 373,812 -18%
SNA (Santa Ana, CA) 300,354 30% 36% 1991 569,241 -47%
LGB (Long Beach, CA) 294,886 52% 1994 488,313 -40%
SFB (Sanford, FL) 289,312 55% 36% 2001 397,557 -27%
OAK (Oakland, CA) 222,799 15% 67% 1999 524,205 -57%
VNY (Van Nuys, CA) 213,566 31% 1999 598,564 -64%
BFI (Seattle, WA) 169,641 26% 1994 422,804 -60%
average change: -39%

The Fourth Group (below) provides a ranked listing of fifty additional airports, none of which has had Peak Year traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations (at least not since 1990). A quick review of this group shows:

  1. these airports tend to be either minor commercial hubs heavily dominated by one airline, or general aviation airports.
  2. the extent of decline is again profound, averaging 38% for the whole group.
  3. The one most significant outlier in this list is Bellingham, WA (BLI). Here, we have an airport near the Canadian border, catering to passengers who cross the US-Canada border to catch cheaper flights. When the Canadian ATC system was privatized, a schedule of steep fees and taxes was imposed to generate needed revenues. Niche airlines like Allegiant took advantage of this, offering scant flight schedules (often just one or two trips per week) out of airports within a few hours’ drive of Canadian residents. Impacted communities include: Bellingham, Flint, Toledo, Niagara Falls, Ogdensburg, Plattsburgh, Burlington, and Bangor. The result, again, was airline profits and a tiny few local part-time jobs, with uncompensated aviation impacts on airport neighbors.
  4. Washington-Reagan (DCA) is an emerging hub. Here, we have a major commercial airport near the Capitol, growing quickly and increasingly impacting neighborhoods, but its growth comes from the downsizing of two other DC-area airports; i.e., both Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Baltimore-Washington (BWI) are declining as their seat capacity and operations are shifted closer in to the nation’s capitol.
  5. Dallas-Love (DAL) is another emerging hub. In this case, we have an airport for which FAA and Congress imposed restrictions, way back in the 1960s, to prop up the new major hub at DFW. Those restrictions ended a few years ago, so now Southwest is busily growing their DAL schedule to destinations previously not allowed. [Interestingly, the same pattern of lifted restrictions applies to the DC area; when federal funds were used in the 1960s to develop IAD, restrictions were imposed on DCA, but now that the restrictions are lifted, IAD is being largely abandoned.]
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DCA (Washington-Reagan, VA) 299,670 98% 2000 342,790 -13%
FLL (Ft Lauderdale, FL) 290,239 87% 2005 330,967 -12%
ANC (Anchorage, AK) 279,861 68% 1997 318,080 -12%
MDW (Chicago, IL) 253,046 85% 2004 339,670 -26%
BWI (Baltimore-Washington, MD) 248,585 94% 2001 323,771 -23%
PDX (Portland, OR) 227,709 90% 1997 329,790 -31%
DAL (Dallas, TX) 224,193 73% 2000 256,787 -13%
HOU (Houston, TX) 202,106 71% 1997 262,892 -23%
HIO (Hillsboro, OR) 197,763 58% 2008 260,957 -24%
SAN (San Diego, CA) 196,935 95% 1995 245,280 -20%
BNA (Nashville, TN) 194,758 80% 1993 315,049 -38%
RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC) 193,453 73% 2000 296,434 -35%
AUS (Austin, TX) 192,032 68% 2003 222,100 -14%
TPA (Tampa, FL) 189,682 88% 2000 278,632 -32%
TEB (Teterboro, NJ) 177,606 42% 2000 282,847 -37%
HPN (White Plains, NY) 164,511 43% 1999 222,274 -26%
SAT (San Antonio, TX) 164,393 66% 1998 273,345 -40%
IND (Indianapolis, IN) 162,294 90% 2000 259,860 -38%
SJC (San Jose, CA) 160,509 79% 1991 340,875 -53%
SDF (Louisville, KY) 156,200 91% 1994 184,653 -15%
SJU (San Juan, PR) 154,727 89% 2000 236,903 -35%
PBI (West Palm Beach, FL) 144,527 58% 1993 233,558 -38%
TUS (Tucson, AZ) 137,561 22% 37% 2005 284,555 -52%
OGG (Maui, HI) 136,654 85% 1999 188,387 -27%
MSY (New Orleans, LA) 134,263 90% 1994 175,493 -23%
ABQ (Albuquerque, NM) 133,828 10% 55% 2002 254,568 -47%
BUR (Burbank, CA) 132,391 21% 48% 1991 224,033 -41%
ISP (Islip, NY) 124,164 47% 2000 238,239 -48%
MCI (Kansas City, MO) 122,844 97% 1999 219,956 -44%
CLE (Cleveland, OH) 118,653 92% 2000 331,899 -64%
MKE (Milwaukie, WI) 113,715 87% 1999 221,866 -49%
SMF (Sacramento, CA) 111,187 91% 2007 180,037 -38%
JAX (Jacksonville, FL) 103,788 70% 1999 161,539 -36%
BUF (Buffalo, NY) 97,605 16% 72% 2000 165,334 -41%
OMA (Omaha, NE) 96,275 71% 1999 188,216 -49%
BDL (Windsor Locks, CT) 94,812 81% 1999 183,444 -48%
BHM (Birmingham, AL) 94,401 53% 1991 180,961 -48%
ONT (Ontario, CA) 91,671 80% 1994 159,895 -43%
BLI (Bellingham, WA) 84,600 32% 29% 2000 89,730 -6%
RSW (Ft Myers, FL) 79,151 89% 2005 96,148 -18%
OXR (Oxnard, CA) 74,151 55% 1993 137,933 -46%
BTV (Burlington, VT) 71,133 26% 37% 1991 123,146 -42%
PVD (Providence, RI) 70,088 17% 62% 1999 156,366 -55%
PSP (Palm Springs, CA) 55,919 55% 2002 109,509 -49%
MHT (Manchester, NH) 55,537 73% 1993 116,272 -52%
DAY (Dayton, OH) 51,854 76% 1991 189,896 -73%
SWF (Newburgh, NY) 43,851 21% 26% 1999 168,603 -74%
SLE (Salem, OR) 34,646 32% 2007 101,800 -66%
RFD (Rockford, IL) 34,356 21% 30% 1991 114,593 -70%
GYY (Gary, IN) 25,844 31% 1995 64,725 -60%
average change: -38%

Overall, ATADS data shows the ASPM-77 airports increasing commercial operations by 2%, from 2015 to 2016. But, the total remains 14% below system peak year (2000) and below annual totals for all years from 1993 through 2011. And, most importantly, if you separate out the main airports the few major airlines are increasingly focusing on, the operations at all other commercial airports are routinely down 30% or more from peak years. What we are watching is a slow reconfiguration by the airlines, to rely on roughly a dozen main ‘superHub’ airports, while gutting and even abandoning service at hundreds of communities.


See also:

Is FAA’s NextGen Mess Contributing to ‘Drowsy Driver’ Accidents?

The NextGen impacts at JFK are much more than just ‘annoying noise’; they are also causing sleep loss, which cascades into accidents, sometimes fatal.

Here’s a screen-capture of a recent Facebook post by Elaine Miller, at PlaneSense4LI. Elaine’s residential neighborhood is roughly 5-miles northeast of the departure end of the KJFK runways 4. To increase operations per hour, FAA established procedures for runway 4 departures to initiate an immediate right turn, sending them low over the Malverne area. The noise repeats for hours, even days.

(screencap of Facebook post copied 2/13/2017 at 7:12AM PST)

The New York Post article shares some alarming data: in the U.S., ‘drowsy driving’ is cited as a factor in 1,400 accidents per day, and fifteen of those daily accidents produce fatalities. So, it is not surprising that the U.S. federal Department of Transportation (DoT) expends lots of time and money trying to inform regular people (like you and me) on the need to stay rested and alert. What doesn’t make sense, though, is FAA is a major component of that same DoT … and yet it is FAA that is working against DoT and causing so much sleep deprivation, by not giving a damn about the enormous negative impacts caused by repetitive airplane noise.

How is FAA Exacerbating this Problem?

FAA wants Congress to fund billions for NextGen, in no small part because this latest ‘campaign’ gives FAA something to do and creates internal promotion opportunities. But, Congress will never approve the proposal if the corporate stakeholders who fund their reelection campaigns are opposed. So, FAA has struck a deal with the airlines: if the airlines buy in to promote NextGen (or, at least not speak against it), the agency will work to help the airlines maximize runway throughput. This means the airlines will be able to schedule more flights, thus ensuring that at major hub airports like JFK, both the arrival streams and the departure streams become nonstop.

Now, get this: the NextGen sales pitch is centered on the environment – i.e., reducing CO2 emissions by minimizing time spent with engines idling, either while awaiting takeoff at the departure airport, or while on extended approach to the destination airport. But, FAA’s part of the deal – not pushing back when the airlines schedule too many flights – guarantees enormous inefficiencies. And, of course, these delays cascade into other airports, affecting the whole nation. Clearly, FAA could do much better. But the agency can’t, because they have sold out to serve only aviation money, not the People (you and me) who pay for this system.

The Net Result: more sleep loss, contributing to more accidents by drowsy drivers. FAA could fix this problem, if they would do their TRUE job and actually manage airport capacity.

With FAA, ‘Collaboration’ is Just a Slick Euphemism for ‘Propaganda Campaign’

Time and again this year, the mainstream media has been shown to be fully collaborating with those they report on, thus effectively serving not as objective journalists but as servant propaganda agents. We’ve seen this in politics (yes, 2016 has been a big and very troubling year!), and we’ve seen it in the lobbying efforts of certain industries, aviation included.

The key to these propaganda campaigns is to ALWAYS frame the message (using carefully selected keywords), and coordinate the delivery of information. In the context of our U.S. Congress, in its present and ongoing state of oligarchy-serving dysfunction, it is critical that opposition voices are tamped down; that is, it would be problematic if any of the aviation stakeholders spoke up against the objective. So, within the group of stakeholders/players who are coordinating the propaganda campaign, each must find an aspect of the program that serves their own narrow interests, and accept that personal benefit as sufficient for their agreement to remain quiet about aspects they dislike. This is precisely what has evolved with NextGen and ATC Privatization; this is how we end up with the air traffic controllers’ union, NATCA, doing a reversal this year and now declaring that union leaders are onboard with both proposals.

The current propaganda campaign for the U.S. aviation system focuses on two things:

  1. ATC privatization – the ‘real goal’ is to further insulate this safety/regulatory function from accountability and transparency, making it that much harder for impacted citizens to resolve aviation-related problems. Many in industry like this idea, for obvious reasons (it creates ‘business opportunities’); top officials at NATCA see a chance to remove controllers from federal salary caps and the age-56 mandatory retirement, so thousands of the most senior controllers today would earn more than $180,000 per year (and build much larger retirement pensions).
  2. NextGen investment – as happens with most matured agencies, there is a constant need to project a message that helps the agency mission appear relevant and worthy of further funding. So, every few years, FAA dreams up a way to spend money, coordinates with ‘stakeholders’ to ensure their non-opposition, then carefully maneuvers Congress, seeking billions for a new so-called ‘transformative’ program. It is all smoke-and-mirrors and pork, benefitting not just industry players but also FAA officials who retire, collect pensions, and become consultants and lobbyists for those same industry players.

Any effective propaganda campaign requires consistent and frequent restatement of key bits of disinformation. I.e., if you repeat a lie long enough, it effectively becomes fact. This truism is understood and abused by both major political parties in the U.S., just as it is understood and abused by accountability-averse agencies, FAA included. So, what are the key bits of disinformation FAA is using…?

  1. use the words ‘increasingly congested’ … even when you know it is just a bald-faced lie (see the data analysis within the Post, The Incredible Shrinking NAS … that FAA & the Av-Gov Complex Don’t Talk About; on average, for the 504 U.S. airports with control civilian control towers, annual operations are now down 45% from the peak years at each airport. DOWN 45% … but does the mainstream media tell us this statistic?
  2. distract the citizens with snazzy graphics and jargon that pretends to be selling something new and incredible [even when the actual change is minimal to none]
  3. tack on the latest buzzwords, such as ‘transformative’, ‘collaborative’, and of course ‘NextGen’.
  4. make sure it appears that the message is organic, authentic, and sourced NOT in the agency (FAA) but in the real world (the airlines, the airline lobby, the unions, the manufacturers). [again, this is just illusion… there is a huge amount of coordination going on behind the scenes, with FAA and the other parties very carefully designing the campaign, and orchestrating who says what and when]

Here’s a recent example: a news article with warm and fuzzy airport growth hopes at the St. Paul Downtown Airport [KSTP], near Minneapolis. This is an airport catering primarily to elite personal and business travel, such as using charter bizjets. The airport management expects roughly a hundred elite sport fans to use KSTP in early 2018, for their flight to watch the Super Bowl. The article more than implies that the airport is a money-generator. But, as shown in this aiREFORM analysis, and as is so typical across the nation, annual operations at this airport peaked in 1990 and have since declined 70%. The federal monies spent there are essentially maintaining infrastructure that is increasingly underused.

So, when you read articles such as this, be sure to consider the long history of spin and propaganda by FAA and other Av/Gov Complex players.

Aviation Impacts are Non-Partisan

Here is a screen-cap of a thoughtful Facebook post. Susan is a ‘victim’ of TNNIS and other NextGen routes east of LaGuardia Airport [KLGA], who has worked tirelessly trying to get FAA to responsibly fulfill their role as a regulator that can mitigate environmental impacts.

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

It is important to understand that NextGen is really just about spending lots of money. The money comes primarily from airline passenger taxes and Congress, and the recipients are a small group of avionics manufacturers, as well as lobbyists (many of whom are retired FAA ‘regulators’).

In order to obtain needed funds, the Av-Gov Complex had to sell the NextGen concept to Congress. This meant building an appearance of cohesive support, including especially the airlines and labor. This they accomplished by ‘collaborating’ to produce the following strategy:

  • dupe the public (including Congress) by claiming NextGen offers something new and incredibly efficient … such as their coordinated sales pitch with graphics showing zig-zag routes that have not been commonly flown for more than five decades!
  • ignore the many examples of how no substantial efficiency gains are achieved; for example, the routine use of enroute delay vectors (which commonly more than compensate for the short time savings of low/early departure turns);
  • entice the airlines by promising the elimination of noise mitigation routes at major hub airports … allowing turns lower and closer to the runways, for both departures and arrivals;

The airlines and the controllers’ union (NATCA) could say lots about how bogus the whole NextGen sales pitch is, but their silence has been bought. Just a few years ago, NATCA was strongly critical of NextGen; today, controllers who question why the NATCA leaders are advocating ATC privatization (which is hand-in-glove with NextGen implementation) are pressured into silence. And, as for the airlines, Delta stands alone as the only major airline willing to critique the Av-Gov sales pitch.

In simplest terms, FAA is committing a fraud while diminishing quality of life at the homes of hundreds of thousands of residents. This is a ‘taking’, without just compensation. It is being done by FAA, against the People, to narrowly benefit the Av-Gov Complex.

The Original NextGen RNP Approach Is Now More Than Twenty Years Old!

NextGen is a label, a brand name if you will. The name was created by FAA and industry more than a decade ago. The product this brand name is attached to is essentially an evolved technology system for air traffic control and navigation that reduces the jobs of controllers and pilots to one of monitoring what the automation is doing. That is to say, under NextGen, the flight procedures become so precisely proceduralized (defining exact altitudes, lat/long positions, and speeds) that pilots will not want to try and hand-fly the procedure as doing so would risk a violation… so they let the airplane computers do the actual flying.

For the entire last decade, FAA and industry (with a LOT of help from Congressional insiders like Bill Shuster) have been carefully coordinating what is effectively a propaganda campaign, and they keep pressing Congress with the idea that NextGen is something new. It is not. As far back as 1994, Alaska Airlines was allowed to develop the first RNP approach, at Juneau, where difficult weather and nearby mountainous terrain made FAA unable to develop approach procedures landing to the west (i.e., to Runway 26).

What Alaska did was apply pre-existing technologies built into their Boeing aircraft. As noted in a Spring 2008 article by David Nakamura in Boeing’s ‘Aero’ magazine“…all Boeing commercial airplanes manufactured since the 1980s include RNAV capabilities … Boeing began implementing RNP on airplanes in 1994 … (and) as of 2000, every Boeing commercial airplane included RNP capability.” Research Airbus and you will find a similar timeline for these new technologies. By the way, one of the principle authors of this Boeing article, David Nakamura, is a very significant person in the evolution of NextGen. He chaired the Performance-based Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee (PARC) and authored a 4/21/2009 letter to Margaret (Peggy) Gilligan, an FAA Associate Administrator. Read the letter carefully to learn the strategies for NextGen implementation, as they existed more than seven years ago, in early 2009.

In other words, the airlines have had the capability of flying NextGen-type departure and arrival procedures for roughly two whole decades. In that timeframe, at the 35 primary U.S. airline airports (the OEP 35), the number of airline operations has declined by more than 20%. This has not stopped FAA from spinning the ‘new technology’ idea into billions of dollars worth of Congressional funding authorizations that in reality have produced little meaningful change from what Alaska started doing in the mid-1990s.

The Juneau RNP Runway 26 Approach

For reference, here are a couple maps (with links) showing the geography at Juneau.

(click on image to view source map at Bing)

(click on image to view source map at Bing)

(click on image to view source VFR sectional at FlightAware)

(click on image to view source VFR sectional at FlightAware)

Interestingly, a PDF copy of the approach procedure cannot be found online. Although Alaska has an ‘OK’ from FAA to fly this approach, it would appear that none of us are allowed to see what that exact procedure is; i.e., FAA considers the approach to be ‘proprietary’ for Alaska Airlines. Nonetheless, we can see what the approach looks like thanks to these two videos; the first is a video by Alaska of a passenger arrival during ‘nice’ weather, and includes use of a heads-up display and checklists; the second is what appears to be a very well-made simulation created by a gamer.

United Airlines at Dulles: Yet Another Example of Corporate Welfare?

The airlines offer an extraordinary example of how the playing field has become increasingly tipped, to favor money, corporations, and the politically connected. In this example, the Washington, DC area is served by three commercial airports: Baltimore-Washington [KBWI], Dulles [KIAD], and Reagan National [KDCA]. As is common at all major U.S. airports, there is little actual price competition at each airport, with each location dominated by one or two major carriers. So, travelers to the DC Metropolitan area via Southwest use KBWI, those flying United use KIAD, and those flying American use KDCA. The data for December 2013 shows Southwest flies 81% of KBWI flights, United flies 91% of KIAD flights, and American flies 56% of KDCA flights.

This airport dominance is problematic for local communities. It puts the non-resident airline corporate officials in a strong bargaining position to compel elected officials to create huge subsidies. The taxation system underlying U.S. commercial airlines and airports is such that, if an airline abandons a hub, the local economic impact can be severe. See for example the dramatic declines in airport operations when major airlines ‘moved on’ from former major hubs: USAir in Pittsburgh [KPIT], by Delta in Northern Kentucky [KCVG], by American in St. Louis [KSTL], and by United in Cleveland [KCLE].

In this case, elected officials are saying they believe United might leave Dulles, so they must give United lots of money. Well, think about that for a moment: if United left Dulles, where would they go? They certainly would not base at KBWI, and compete against Southwest. And trying to relocate to KDCA would be all but impossible, due to capacity limits. So, would United want to leave the entire DC metropolitan market? Would one of the four major U.S. commercial carriers be able to run a real airline without serving the lucrative market that feeds elected officials, lobbyists and aggrieved citizens to the nation’s capitol? Of course not. In other words, United was not going anywhere, and the huge subsidy being trumpeted by McAuliffe, Kaine, and others is nothing but another example of massive corporate welfare.

(click on image to read source article and reader comments, at Washington Post)

(click on image to read source article and reader comments, at Washington Post)

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

Debunking the Latest ATC-Privatization & NextGen Spin, this time by Economist.com

The members of the Av-Gov Complex just will not give up. And who is the Av-Gov Complex? The congressional committee leaders, the FAA officials, the lobbyists, the airlines, the unions, and the manufacturers. And, the media that is always happy to create ‘news stories’ that help to nudge the public toward demanding the latest wasteful schemes, NextGen and ATC privatization.

20160210.. Shuster looks & acts a lot like 'Peter Griffin' on Family Guy

The key Congressional proponent of AIRR is Bill Shuster. He chairs the Committee where he introduced AIRR; he also has both professional and personal relationships with top Airlines for America  officials, including both A4A CEO Nick Calio and  A4A VP of Government Affairs Shelley Rubino. a lobbyist known to be his girlfriend.

The AIRR proposal and NextGen funding are wrong and wasteful, yet the Av-Gov players continue to try and sell AIRR. They continue to wastefully spend aviation taxes, excess airline profits, and scarce Congressional time and energy.  As a result, Congress continues to fail to serve, and is not solving other more critical problems while wasting our money.

Just as the WikiLeaks emails showed how DNC ‘collaborated’ with the mainstream media to suppress the Bernie Sanders campaign and guarantee the election of the establishment’s choice (the amazingly flawed candidate, Hillary Clinton), so too the Av-Gov Complex players are getting help from our news sources. This time they have gone international, to the well-respected Economist magazine. Sadly, Economist has produced a story loaded with utterly false and misleading content. The article is below, with footnote rebuttals by aiREFORM.com. And, links to other Posts and materials are included at the bottom of this Post.

We need to be done with these two terrible ideas. NextGen and ATC Privatization are wasteful deadends that offer no substantial solutions and in fact create larger problems (especially the privatization plan). They are being offered solely to feather the nests of the Av-Gov Complex players, and to further diminish accountability by U.S. aviation regulators and the ATC system.

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


See also:

House Subcommittee on Aviation to Hold 6-15-2016 Hearing on ATC Issues

The House Subcommittee on Aviation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), will hold a hearing next week to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic controller hiring, staffing, and training plans and related issues. Here is a portion of the press release, including times and a list of the four witnesses:20160615scp.. 'FAA’s Air Traffic Controller Hiring, Staffing & Training to be Focus of Hearing' (portion of House Aviation Subcomm Press Release)


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under Chair Bill Shuster, has been pushing hard to privatize ATC. Although most controllers are opposed, the NATCA leadership has been offering testimony and news stories that are aimed at getting Congressional approval of ATC privatization. One of the witnesses is Paul Rinaldi, head of NATCA, who has been pressing an absurd point, claiming ATC is using archaic technologies including ‘paper strips’. Another witness, Randy Babbitt, was forced to resign from his position as FAA Administrator when he failed to report an alcohol/driving charge after a Christmas party in 2011; after his abrupt resignation, he was quickly hired by Southwest Airlines.


Below are scrollable PDF files listing the committee members. These may be helpful for identifying speakers during the proceedings. They also can be used to study how powerful Congressional committees are structured, and how severely gerrymandered their districts tend to be (to ensure their reelection).

Click on either of the two images below for a scrollable view; red shows republican members (R) PDF file, blue shows democrat members (D) PDF file.
Aviation Subcommittee members are marked with a blue box around their name. Click on the PDF links to download either list.


UPDATE, 6/15/2016 at 12:23 EDT: — The hearing ended at 12:19. Random notes are viewable on page 2 of this Post. Additional updates will follow.