Airport Noise Complaint Systems are Broken, Need to be Replaced

For years, you live happily in your home – raising kids, adding on, gardening, studying the birds, and relaxing in the yard. Then, one day, a heartless FAA and a soulless airport authority ‘collaboratively’ impose new routes and ever-expanding flight schedules, taking away your peace and relaxation. Whether it is the repetitive noise pattern of a NextGen RNAV procedure, or the interminable drone of a skydive plane circling to jump altitude, the impact is real and destructive to both health and quality of life.

There has to be balance between aviation commerce and residential quality of life. According to decades worth of Congressional actions, this balance is supposed to exist, and FAA is supposed to protect people. But, this is not happening, because this federal agency is captured: FAA SERVES ONLY AVIATION COMMERCE.

What can be done? Any good person – homeowner, caregiver, parent, teacher, community official, whatever your role in this world – should take action. We should see it as our duty to take action, but the current system is broken. In fact, the system has evolved to thwart citizen engagement, in three ways:

  1. first, the airport authorities have made the noise complaint filing process incredibly onerous. They arbitrarily require the citizen to tabulate all sorts of details onto clunky forms.
  2. then, the airport authorities throw out nearly all the data and create condensed periodic reports (typically monthly or quarterly), but the reports tend to fail to assess the real impacts. A huge effort by many citizens, and almost no effort by the airport authorities. It is as if the process is intended to be a black-hole for complaint data.
  3. and finally, the ultimate proof of failure: the impacts continue unabated. In fact, in most cases, the impacts are getting worse each year.

So, for the current noise complaint system, the net result is to simply burn out citizens … to condition them to not complain. We should be good and responsible, taking action to protect family and community, but instead, many of us just give up. In today’s world, where distraction is the go-to weapon for perpetuating status quo inequities, we often become obsessive about something else – shopping, sports fanaticism, online gaming, or even recreational mind alteration. So much for quality of life.

Noise Complaint Systems are Evolving

Here are two noise complaint systems, the old and the new:

The Old: an onerous online form that compounds the initial noise injury by arbitrarily forcing citizens to waste time compiling excessive data that the airport authority already has. (click on image to view source)

The New: a 1-click system that collects complaints, researches, submits the complaint to the airport authority, and compiles data. (click on image to view source)

Looks like a no-brainer. The airnoise solution is a vast improvement, a step in the right direction.

What We All Need from Noise Complaint Systems

First and foremost, we need to be heard. The impacts are real, and we should be empowered to document the extent of these impacts, so that a responsible authority can work with us to resolve these impact problems. But, we also need to be protected from retaliation for exercising free speech complaint rights.

In short, our airport noise complaint systems need to:

  • compile all complaints, including repeat complaints from the same household (it makes no sense that, after one noise event, a citizen should be assumed to be immune from further noise impacts!);
  • generalize the complaint location, such as to the nearest cross-street, to protect the identity of the complainant;
  • share the generalized data ONLINE so that all can review the data, objectively. After all, this is what transparency and Democracy are all about: ensuring all have a voice and are empowered to apply their individual intelligence to meaningfully contribute to problem-solving.
  • smartly process the complaint data, to go beyond the shallow compilations FAA and airport authorities produce. Create the valuable analyses that can guide us all to seeing the obvious real solutions. Now, not years from now.

Santa Monica Update: Air Quality Study Needed, During Runway Closures

In the U.S., one of our greatest advocates for resolving aviation impacts is Marty Rubin. Marty has been fighting the right fight for decades now, against a city (Santa Monica) whose elected officials appear to be corrupt to no end (…well, most of them; a few have been great!). His website, CRAAP, recently forwarded the posting below, which is a blogpost by staff at Mike Bonin’s website.

For those not in the LA area, here’s the deal: this airport is run by the City of Santa Monica, but has HUGE impacts upon people who reside in homes outside the City’s boundaries … in old and very established residential communities like West LA. In a just world, a higher level regulator, such as FAA, would guard against gains for some with uncompensated losses for others. But, here in West LA, FAA is failing their role. In these neighborhoods, even beautiful homes are subjected to aviation fumes and jet blast, with homeowner’s having no evident right to fix these impacts. Why? Because of FAA’s refusal to serve EVERYONE, not just the aviation industry! But, then again, this is what we expect from a captured regulator.

Here is a copy of the blog and Councilmember Bonin’s letter to the Santa Monica City Council. (click here to view the source)

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


See also:

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.

FAA Ordered to Vacate Their 2014 NextGen Routes in Phoenix

After three years of misery and sleep loss, residents in the Phoenix area may finally see some relief. This Judgment was just announced:Using the only legal recourse available to those impacted by FAA’s NextGen implementations, both the City of Phoenix and historic neighborhoods filed a Petition for Review at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. FAA lawyers, aided by attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice, delayed and wrangled for dismissals. It took nearly two years to get the case argued; that happened on March 17, before Judges Griffith, Rogers, and Sentelle. (Click here to go to the USCADC website, where you can read the bios for each judge.)

Nearly six months later, finally, the Judges issued their decision: for the people, and against the FAA. Here’s a copy:

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

The Opinion found that FAA was arbitrary and capricious, and in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Department of Transportation Act, and the FAA’s Order 1050.1E.

This Decision deserves careful study by all of us who are increasingly impacted, across the nation, by FAA’s brutally impactful NextGen implementations. City officials and airport authorities need to take notice: quit telling everyone that nothing can be done; instead, start advocating for health, quality of life, and real local control at these airports.


See also:

UPDATE, 8/30/2017: — Peter Dunn’s Analysis – a condensed review, posted at the Fair Skies Nation Facebook page (Boston area); click here for the source, or here for the archived copy.

UPDATE, 9/1/2017: — see the analysis written by Steve Edmiston (click here for the source, or here for the archived PDF); Steve is a Seattle-area attorney, and a lead activist seeking to correct the over-expansion of the Sea-Tac Airport [KSEA].

UPDATE, 9/5/2017: — yet another excellent analysis, this one blogged by Kevin Terrell (click here for the blog source, or here for the archived PDF). Kevin resides in an area impacted by the Delta hub at Minneapolis- St. Paul [KMSP]. Kevin’s activism has included creation of an outstanding series of educational videos that explain aviation noise while also illuminating FAA’s total failure to manage the noise impacts.

Did This Letter Motivate Huerta’s Response to Governor Hogan?

Activists in Maryland shared a copy of this letter, another excellent effort by their Governor, Larry Hogan.

(click on image to view archived copy of full letter)

Essentially, the Governor sent a letter on May 11, pressing FAA to take actions to reduce impacts on constituents under flight paths for both Reagan National [KDCA] and Baltimore-Washington [KBWI]. Nearly three months after sending his letter to Michael Huerta, and having gotten no reply, Governor Hogan followed up with a letter to the Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao. Here’s an excerpt:FAA’s reply letter, dated 8/3/2017, is here. That is, if you can even call it a reply.

FAA has a shameful record of not just blowing off everyone – even Governors! – but also engaging in obfuscation to frustrate activists. This pattern of failure needs to end.

President Trump: You Need to Fire Michael Huerta

Whatever happened to draining the swamp? Is there any agency more dysfunctional, more corrupt and more locked into serving industry cronies than the FAA, the faux-regulator headed by Administrator Huerta?

Here’s the latest example of how out of control this agency has become, and how badly Mr. Huerta fails at leading long overdue change. Back in early May, the Governor of Maryland wrote an excellent letter (view a copy here), pressing FAA to bring relief to thousands losing sleep and health under NextGen routes. It took nearly three months for Mr. Huerta to finally send a response letter. The long delay was not necessary to do any difficult analysis or produce any changes. No, nothing was analyzed, and nothing was changed; the long delay was just to waste time. In fact, Huerta’s letter was chock full of platitudes and unsupported sales pitches. Here’s a PDF copy of the entire letter, showing portions with footnoted analysis added by aiREFORM:

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

Enough is enough. Huerta’s belated reply letter is garbage: a classic example of what we would expect from an agency head who views the airlines as his ‘customers’, not the regulatory subject for the rigorous regulations FAA fails to write and fails to apply. Through the botched NextGen implementation, Mr. Huerta’s agency has also become a case study in ‘runaway captured regulators’. FAA is a perfect target for sweeping reforms. If President Trump wants to do good while throwing fire and fury, he should direct his energies domestically. Cleaning up FAA can set the example for how all federal agencies need to be trimmed back to a focused mission and restrained from federal over-reach, while becoming massively transparent and accountable.

It’s an easy call: fire Michael Huerta, and make FAA serve the people, first.

The Third Head of the NextGen Hydra: How FAA is Jamming Arrivals Closer Together

Three months ago, the ‘Dissecting NextGen’ presentation was made in Des Moines, to help people better understand the impacts of NextGen around Sea-Tac International Airport [KSEA]. Included within that presentation was discussion of ‘Hub Concentration’ and ‘Route Concentration’, as two of the main changes that are causing NextGen impacts. Well, continued research in the past months has revealed a third head to this monster: efforts by FAA to alter rules, to reduce spacing between arrivals, even setting up side-by-side arrivals to closely-spaced parallel runways.

FAA is using two main strategies to reduce arrival spacing:

  • Wake Recat: short for ‘wake recategorization’, this is the reduction of minimum safe distances behind larger aircraft that create wakes. Without getting into too much detail, a series of fatal accidents decades ago forced FAA to impose longer distances between successive flights on the same route, called ‘wake turbulence separation’. But, in time, with pressure to remove capacity limitations, the rules are being modified to shorter distances.
  • Simultaneous Dependent Approaches to Closely Spaced Parallel Runways (CSPR): many of the main hub airports rely on use of parallel runways that are spaced even less than half a mile apart. ATC can accommodate a lot of flights on/off parallel runways, primarily by using one runway to land and the other to takeoff. But, when weather deteriorates, especially if visibility is reduced or the ceiling (altitude of lowest cloud layer) gets to be too low, capacity plummets. So, FAA has been working with airlines to develop new ATC procedures that allow flights to be spaced much closer together when set up for landing on two or more parallel runways. [click here to view archived copies showing the evolution of FAA Order JO7110.308B since 2008]

What’s Bugging People?

Although most airports continue to be far below historic traffic levels, there are a dozen or so main hub airports where the ‘Final Four’ airlines (American, Delta, Southwest and United) schedule excessively. These are the airports where people are upset. They are seeing more flights, and they are seeing/hearing flights that are lower, often slower, seemingly louder (which is a given, for lower flights), and often turning closer to the airport than ever before. They are also seeing surges of flights — both departures and arrivals, in rapid succession, sometimes even side-by-side. It is scary to some, and deeply disturbing to many. Even retired air traffic controllers cannot believe what they are seeing. It is as if these few airports have acquired a meth or steroid addiction.

Authorities insist nothing has changed, but they are totally wrong. Well, not just wrong: they are lying, and they know it. At these few hub airports (Sea-Tac is the one growing the most in recent years, due to Delta’s 2012 decision to create a new hub), traffic volume is up, especially during the surges that happen in relation to expanded hubbing. But, there are also forces that are pushing arrivals closer to the ground. For example, with wake recat, the key thing to understand about aircraft wakes is they descend; i.e., the hazard that can flip a smaller airplane slowly drifts downward toward the ground, so ATC works hard to keep the trailing aircraft at least slightly above the leading aircraft. But, if ATC is trying to bring both aircraft in to land, on parallel runways, than ATC needs to push the lead aircraft down lower ASAP. Why? Because, if the lead aircraft is not descended low enough, the trailing aircraft will end up too high, unable to finish the approach. This results in a go-around, which carries higher risks and makes both flight crews and ATC do a lot more work.

An Example: A 13-hr Arrival Stream to Runways 4L & 4R at Boston

Boston offers an example of how badly communities are being impacted. Here, we have densely populated communities and a dominant regional airport, [KBOS], that effectively monopolizes commercial aviation.  Three airlines schedule excessively at KBOS: JetBlue, American, and Delta. JetBlue is the dominant hub airline with a schedule that generates a large number of through-passengers (thus imposing much larger impacts on the area, to accommodate the added flights).

To gain airline support for NextGen, or at least to ensure the airlines will not oppose NextGen (which would kill FAA’s chances of getting Congressional funding), FAA has sold out on their responsibilities to protect communities and the environment. FAA has apparently told the airlines that they can expect increased runway throughput, which FAA will achieve by abolishing all noise mitigation procedures and creating new flight procedures that turn lower and as close as possible to the runways. NextGen is being used as a decoy or cover; by claiming NextGen is all new and fancy, FAA tricks everyone – including Congress – into not noticing that what is REALLY happening is simply the wholesale abandonment of FAA’s past responsibilities to protect the environment and community health. And, by the way, NextGen is NOT all new and fancy; most of it has existed and been used for decades; the alleged benefits are just a fraudulent sales pitch.

Clearly, when you study what FAA has imposed at ALL NextGen airports, the game plan is to maximize runway throughput. This accommodates the ideal all airlines want: unrestricted scheduling to tweak profits higher using expanded hub operations. So, with this in mind, at an airport like Boston, FAA focuses on using the combination of runways with the highest capacity per hour, which at Boston is to have arrivals land on the parallel runways 4L and 4R. Just like happens when new freeway lanes are added, the airlines are quick to eat up the increased capacity; supply defines and expands demand. At Boston, FAA is now heavily relying on 4R and 4L to ‘accommodate’ the expansion by JetBlue, Delta and American. So much for quality of life under the intensified approach corridor. Milton does not really need to get sleep, do they???

A recent 13-hr arrival stream to Boston’s 4L and 4R

And, of course, FAA applies the same strategy at all airports where airlines want to expand hub-related profits: they use runway combinations that maximize capacity, even if wind and other factors might argue against these decisions. It’s called ‘choosing runways to traffic’, and it’s a way to be overly accommodative to airlines.

The result is streaming arrivals: nearly nonstop impacts on the ground, one arrival after another after another, sometimes even paired arrivals that are nearly side-by-side. As shown in this table, summarizing arrivals per hour on the intensified approaches to Boston’s runway 4L and 4R, the impact is relentless. Note the busiest hours are non-stop, averaging as little as 1.2-minutes between flights. [click here to view the entire stream in a data table]

And, adding insult to injury, when people notice and ask what has changed, both FAA and the airport authority (Massport, in this example) play with them: they say nothing has changed.

How Do We Kill This Monster?

FAA is simply out of control. And, Congress is doing squat to correct this problem. We need leaders in Congress to:

  1. demand that FAA serve the people ahead of the corporations, and this requires an emphasis on both transparency and accountability;
  2. demand that FAA cease spending our money to propagandize for the industry; this regulatory capture has gone on far too long;
  3. pass legislation that strongly disincentivizes airline hubbing – one of the simplest changes would be to formulate a new set of fees and taxes, the heart of which should be a very steep aviation fuel tax;
  4. and, pass legislation that restores local control, so that local communities have a real voice, and can impose reasonable curfews and capacity limits, and can say ‘NO!’ to airport over-expansion.

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.