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.

Trump, Climate Change, and ATC Privatization

It was not surprising to see President Trump pull out of the Paris Agreement last week. Nor was it surprising to see how he bumbled his way through the process. This is the stuff that inspires confidence in U.S. leadership (NOT!!).

The analysis done by John Oliver is brilliant. Here is an embed of the video. He does quite a bit to explain the carbon dioxide issue, the Paris Agreement, and what is so boneheaded about what our president just did. Check it out.

Now, that was last week. What’s in store for this week? Though Comey is set to testify later in the week, we are all supposed to be watching Trump and airline CEOs ‘trumpet’ the virtues of privatizing ATC. Great idea, no? I mean, just go ahead and let the airlines dominate ATC and what could possibly go wrong?

  • Would we do better to ensure airport hub expansions are balanced with residential quality of life and health concerns? NO
  • Will local communities become more empowered to ensure their local airport best serves the needs of their local residents? NO
  • Will the airlines allow an aviation carbon-tax to follow, so that aviation’s growing contribution to the climate change problem becomes moderated? NO
  • Will airline industry CEOs take advantage of their increased power to rent-seek, sucking more money out of passengers to spend on their pet projects? YES

Nothing will happen that diminishes industry profits. Oligarchy/Corporatocracy is our stark reality today. Trump and his buddies have money to make; to hell with the future planet our grandchildren inherit.

Will FAA and Huerta Say Anything, Do Anything, to Protect THE PEOPLE?

(click on image to hear the Dr. Dao portion of Emil’s podcast )

On a Sunday before Easter, when Dr. David Dao was flying home from LA through O’Hare to Louisville, KY, he became the latest in an endless stream of victims of airline abuse. He was seated on a United feeder (Republic Airlines flight #3411) when the airline decided to bump four passengers, so four extra crew members could fly to Louisville for duty the next day. Dr. Dao, with patients to see on Monday, calmly and firmly refused to surrender his seat. The airline then called in airport security and he was forcibly removed, with his face smashed into a seat-arm, before being dragged off the plane. Dr. Dao, who escaped during the fall of Vietnam as a young adult, lost two teeth. Many passengers used their cellphones to capture shocking video of the entire debacle, and it all went viral.

Appropriately, legal counsel was engaged. A press conference was held on April 13, led by attorney Thomas Demetrio. The video is well worth a listen; here’s an embed, and a couple quotes:

At time 4:11, Demetrio states: “I have concluded the following: that, for a long time, airlines – United in particular – have bullied us. They have treated us less than maybe we deserve.”

At time 4:48, Demetrio continues: “Here’s what we want as a society: we want fairness in how people treat us, we want respect, and we want dignity. That’s it. Not a big deal. But just treat us with respect; make us feel like you really care.”

Fairness. Respect. Dignity.

What happened at Chicago, to Dr. Dao, was horrific. He was maltreated, even to the point of violence. No fairness, no respect, and no dignity. This was a gross failure, made worse by the bumbling of a profit-focused airline CEO, and enabled by a faux-regulator captured to serve only industry.

Yes, we need and deserve fairness, respect, and dignity. But, the same applies not just to our rights as passengers, but also to our rights – and responsibilities – as homeowners and employees (teachers and medical professionals, especially). We all deserve to have our environment respectfully protected, so that our families and those we serve can have the highest possible quality of life. But, today’s U.S. airline industry, collaborating with FAA, has come to a point where they routinely and aggressively abuse people, bullying passengers off flights, and destroying neighborhoods that used to be livable.

This terrible incident has unfolded in no small part because people used everyday technologies to share what the industry works hard to hide. The agency that oversees the industry has thus far said and done nothing to assure us, we are right to be shocked. Right to be shocked about the torture of Dr. Dao to accommodate crew who could have taken a company car or another flight, and right to be shocked by FAA’s wanton abuse of authority to impose NextGen impacts that are destroying neighborhoods… solely to tweak airline profits up a bit.

The balance between commerce and community is lost. It needs to be restored, immediately. If Mr. Huerta is not going to stand up and speak up about Dr. Dao’s abuse, he needs to sit down and let someone else serve THE PEOPLE.


See also:

NextGen Impacts Continue to Expand – Terrorism/Torturism?

Here’s a letter-to-editor that concisely summarizes the impacts NextGen is causing upon residents of Milton, under the arrival paths into Boston’s Logan Airport [KBOS]:

(click on image to view source Facebook post)

The problems around Boston are repeated across the nation, and they are expanding as FAA continues to push NextGen. The alleged benefits of NextGen are fraudulently overstated, while the costs are cautiously hidden. And the entire reason for FAA’s pushing NextGen?

It is not about helping the environment; that’s just a cynical façade. NextGen is solely about increasing ‘runway throughput’, by eliminating any and all barriers that reduce airport capacity as measured in arrivals per hour.

FAA is failing to serve the public because they serve only the industry. FAA refuses to manage capacity, and has stolen away the rights of local officials to mitigate impacts with curfews, flow rate restrictions, and other measures. The airlines get profits; the residents get the shaft – sleep loss, stress, and many other health impacts.

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.

FAA’s airport operations count database goes backto 1990, and 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. The first group includes (11) airline hubs that are generally not declining; the second group includes (16) airline hubs that have already declined substantially; and the third group includes (9) non-hub airports (serving primarily general aviation, aka ‘GA’). The fourth group, includes the 50 other key U.S. airports, which are slower, as none of them has ever achieved an annual average of 1,000 daily operations.

Here’s a closer analysis of the groups:

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: