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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the most consequential quote in the article?

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

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

Which airports/hubs are most monopolized?

Here are the main hubs for the four largest airlines:

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

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

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

Will hub concentration reduce over time?

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

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

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

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

1990 vs 2005 vs 2016 Operations: Exposing FAA’s Inaccurate Forecasts

While doing some online research and archiving of older FAA documents, I ran into a copy of FAA’s 1993 Aviation System Capacity Plan. (click here for an archived copy of the 389-page document). Within this document, Table A-3 offered a detailed assessment of the 100 busiest towered airports, including operations in 1990 and forecasts for 2005.

The table below was created using the 1990 operations levels and 2005 forecast data for those 100 airports. But, it goes much further. It includes the actual operations counts as they happened in 2005. AND, it includes data showing how the operations counts evolved between 2005-2016.

Take a close look. This data explains why people are suffering so much at a few key FAA airports: KSEA, KJFK, KDCA, KBOS, KSFO and others.

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

It is extremely revealing, showing how FAA consistently forecasts far beyond what would reasonably follow … almost as if the FAA forecasts are not intended to be accurate, but instead are created to sell excessive airport development while also enhancing Congressional funding support.

A more in-depth aiReform analysis follows on page two.

Is Trump ‘Reloading the Swamp’?

It is good to see Administrator Huerta move along, though it would have been much nicer to see the President fire him a year ago.

Now, as to who will be heading FAA(?)… …well, it looks like the AvGov Complex powers-that-be are not trying to change the current game plan. Here is a clip from a recent article, with a short bio of acting Administrator Dan Elwell:

“Elwell was FAA assistant administrator for policy, planning and environment from 2006 to 2008. He was Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) VP-civil aviation from 2008 to 2013 and Airlines for America (A4A) SVP-safety, security and operations from 2013 to 2015.”

For airlines and lobbyists, Elwell has all the right plumage; his record suggests he is a revolving door swamp monster, and an industry loyalist. Not likely to be focused on making FAA accountable to the thousands whose homes and health are being destroyed by NextGen.

Click here to view source article at ATWonline.com, or here to view an archived copy, with some analysis footnoted by aiREFORM.


See also:
  • 5/15/2014 – (the Federal Register revision to ATSAP that stops citizens from using FOIA to learn about aviation safety failures … signed by Mr. Huerta.)
  • 8/19/2013 – (detailed letter opposing FAA’s proposal to hide ATSAP data from the General Public (7-pages plus a 4-page attachment)
  • 4/3/2008 – (full-day congressional hearing about FAA whistleblowers, and FAA management that not only works to stop safety actions, but also works to punish the whistleblowers.)
  • 2/15/2015 – (‘What’s all the Noise about Airport Noise?’, a 7-page slideshow presentation by Mr. Burleson)
  • 1/11/2018 – (FAA’s online bio, Dan Elwell)
  • 1/11/2018 – (FAA’s online bio, Carl Burleson)

Reflections on FAA as a Faux-Regulator Serving Industry, Not the Public

At year end, we often take time to reflect. This year, let’s reflect on precisely what it means, when a U.S. federal agency is ‘captured’ by industry, so as to serve the industry instead of the larger Public. This Post will look more closely at FAA later, but for now, to help see how serious the regulatory capture problem is, let’s look at another failing U.S. federal agency: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA, just like FAA, has many responsibilities. For example, they are charged by Congress to regulate pharmaceutical companies. Additionally, Congress has funded FDA with the intent that they will be effective, working to protect public health from dangerous new drugs. One of those drugs, released two decades ago, is the addictive opioid, OxyContin. An online search reveals a jaw-dropping epidemic of addictions – and fatalities; indeed, odds are very high that everyone reading this Post knows at least one person who has been impacted by opioid addiction. Also, and not insignificantly, a deeper online research shows the fact that representatives of both major political parties have aided and abetted this epidemic, while also obstructing reforms and failing to pass overdue corrective legislation.

So, how well has FDA done their job? If agency leaders actually view their job as ‘serving customers’ such as the pharmaceutical industry, well, they’ve done a fantastic job. But, if any of us objectively assesses FDA performance from the perspective of serving the larger Public and actually protecting health, well, FDA is a total failure.

Patrick Radden Keefe recently wrote an article in The New Yorker, The Family That Built an Empire of Pain (click here to view the source article online; click here to view an archived and annotated version of the same article). Below is an excerpt that summarizes how Oxycontin legal actions are evolving; this particular excerpt primarily quotes Mike Moore, a former Mississippi State Attorney General:

… Ten states have filed suits, and private attorneys are working in partnership with dozens of cities and counties to bring others. Many public officials are furious at the makers of powerful painkillers. Prescriptions are expensive, and taxpayers often foot the bill, through programs like Medicaid. Then, as the ruinous consequences of opioid addiction take hold, the public must pay again—this time for emergency services, addiction treatment, and the like. Moore feels that the Sackler family, as the initial author and a prime beneficiary of the epidemic, should be publicly shamed. “I don’t call it Purdue. I call it the Sackler Company,” he said. “They are the main culprit. They duped the F.D.A., saying it lasted twelve hours. They lied about the addictive properties. And they did all this to grow the opioid market, to make it O.K. to jump in the water. Then some of these other companies, they saw that the water was warm, and they said, ‘O.K., we can jump in, too.’ ” There may be significant legal distinctions between a tobacco company and an opioid producer, but to Moore the ethical parallel is unmistakable: “They’re both profiting by killing people.” …

FAA as Faux-Regulator

So, how does studying this opioid epidemic, and Mr. Keefe’s article, help us to better understand FAA’s failure? Simply by showing a near-perfect analogy for the many signs of regulatory capture. Here is a short list of discernible failure patterns, the ‘symptoms’ of regulatory capture:

  • Industry becomes the primary customer. For FAA, nothing shows this failure as starkly as the whistleblower hearings held on 4/3/2008.
  • Money trumps health and environment; the faux-regulator enables industry to advance corporate profits, by assisting in expansions and system redesigns that invariably bear an enormous cost on environment, health, and local (usually residential) quality of life.
  • Consequences of failures are eventually lethal. FDA failures fuel a rise in addictions and overdoses; FAA failures sustain sleep-deprivation that cause most of today’s multi-fatal commercial accidents, such as Colgan-Buffalo, Comair-Lexington, and UPS-Birmingham.
  • Consequences of FAA failures also extend to the corruption of a culture that we are repeatedly and fraudulently told is ‘all about safety’, when the full record shows it is anything but. For example, the agency’s use of ATSAP to hide ATC safety data from the general public; the agency’s inability to see the enormous impacts imposed by NextGen changes and hub expansions; the agency’s wanton denial of obvious performance failures (such as the controller error at Santa Monica, or the rash of near-collisions at San Francisco); and of course the war against whistleblowers (those rare few inside FAA, who choose to speak up to correct the cultural failures, only to suffer retaliation).
  • Key personnel within the faux-regulator end up serving only industry, often via a revolving door. In the Oxycontin story, the key FDA regulator was earning his federal pay and building his eventual federal pension when he signed off on the fraudulent Oxycontin marketing plan; just two years later, he worked for Purdue! The same pattern happens repeatedly at FAA, all the way to the FAA Administrator position (e.g., when Marion Blakey retired, she immediately became head of a major aviation lobby firm).
  • The legal system becomes a third-party tool, used to maximize corporate advantage, an additional ‘enabler’. Both industry players and faux-regulator officials posture around threats of legal actions by industry, using this pattern as a hammer to force changes that accommodate industry, at the expense of the larger Public.
  • To protect industry greed, and to ensure the legal system will enable these failures to persist, a heavy budget is allocated to lawyers who self-enrich with what is effectively a ‘license to lie and deceive’. Not just industry-paid lawyers, but also agency lawyers, paid for by the people.
  • If and when manipulation of the legal system appears likely to fail, especially if the case is headed for trial, a ‘settlement’ suddenly appears. ALWAYS, this last-ditch legal maneuver protects both industry and faux-regulator from any accountability, by sealing records that were about to become a part of the public record, records that would among other things reveal how badly agency officials have failed. And, routinely, the so-called ‘settlement’ will include language that shuts out third parties (such as actual communities, or victim families) from future legal action.

Can This be Fixed?

Yes, it’s all fixable. And really not that difficult to do, so long as people demand performance from both agency and elected officials. The first step, though, is obvious: we have to accept that FAA, FDA and other agencies are broken, serving as faux-regulators, enabling industry players to evolve in ways that are truly destroying homes and people. Perhaps with a new year, we can get to work?

FAA’s ‘Noise Portal’: A good idea, or a way to shut down Noise Complaints?

Last November, FAA filed a statement in the Federal Register, seeking comments from the general public about a proposal for FAA to create a new ‘Noise Portal’. on the surface, it seems like a good idea, though only a good idea if FAA actually intends to collect complaints and take action to address them. But, it also seems like a TERRIBLE IDEA, if FAA’s actual intent is to force the general public to use only FAA’s ‘Noise Portal’ to pigeon-hole their growing concerns.

Here is one of the public comments, submitted by a citizen impacted near Sea-Tac:

“15 minutes per complaint????
FAA is not a regulatory agency, its a shill for the airline industry. By making it so long to file a complaint, it is just further stifling the public interest. This is ridiculous, clearly a blatant attempt to silence dissent.”

Here is a letter by the interim Executive Director at Port of Seattle. He makes some fairly good points, though those of us who know how unresponsive POS has been to area noise concerns will shake our heads, knowing there is plenty of POS hypocrisy at play here. Anyway, here is a copy of the letter, followed by a copy of a short point-by-point analysis by aiREFORM…:

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

…and, here’s the point-by-point analysis of Mr. Soike’s letter to FAA:

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

Click here for an archived copy of the Federal Register filing, or click here to view the source at Federal Register, which includes a link to view comments. Try and make sense of this, if you can; it appears that FAA employee Barbara Hall has a job filing multiple items with Federal Register, to solicit public comments. Oddly, though, the public comments appear to be batched together into one folder at web location, thus combining an unmanageable diversity of public comments.

FAA/Industry’s Own Data Exposes ‘Greener Skies’ as an Environmental Fraud

This Post looks at data in two online documents, presenting further evidence of the ‘Greener Skies’ fraud that FAA, Port of Seattle, and industry players are foisting on the Public. For all intents and purposes, this is the same fraud being pushed throughout the U.S., and by industry and Congress as well, under the NextGen label.

The data are at:

  1. Projected average day fuel burn on approaches, with no change: 2.64M lbs
  2. Projected average day fuel burn WITH RNAV/RNP changes: 2.61M lbs.

These figures were presented in units (pounds) that make the numbers impressively ‘bigger’, but also make it harder to intuitively comprehend. To correct this, the figures are converted in this table (to gallons, then to annual consumption):

Fuel burn (lbs) Converted to gallons Gallons per year
No Change 2,640,000 388,200 141.7M
‘Greener Skies’ 2,610,000 383,800 140.1M
Difference: 30,000 4,400 gal/day 1.6M gal/year

So, the proposal is expected to achieve a savings of 1.6 million gallons annually … at an airport that sold 487.1 million gallons that year. In other words, this proposed savings is less than one third of one percent of total fuel sold at Sea-Tac. Now, to the airlines, this (~0.3%) translates to more profits; indeed, the two dominant players at KSEA, Delta and Alaska, might each save around $1,000,000 per year in fuel. But, the costs shifted onto neighborhoods and health far exceed these added corporate profits.

A little deeper research reveals another interesting fact: the alleged fuel savings of Greener Skies are massively dwarfed by annual increases at an airport scheduling more arrivals than the gates can handle. Here’s the data, from page 18 of the 2016 Annual Report for ‘Sea-Tac Fuel Facilities LLC’, showing year-to-year changes far greater than the comparatively measly 1.6 million gallons saved:

  Gallons Consumed Year-to-year Change 1.6M as a percentage…
2014 487.1M
2015 544.8M 57.7 (a 12% increase) 2.8% of increased consumption
2016 586.3M 41.5 (an 8% increase) 3.9% of increased consumption

The improvements are nothing when compared to the consumption growth trend. Here’s a chart showing the trends, in both annual fuel consumption and annual operations: And, here’s an analogy: imagine the public view if we were funding a drug-treatment program that was successfully helping 3% of addicts while the number of addicts was growing at such a huge rate. Would we smile if, for every three treatment successes, there were 97 new addicts? Of course, we would not. Only an idiot (or a con-artist) crows ‘success!’ about a failure.

Three realities stand out from this:

  1. The enormous sums spent pitching Greener Skies and eventually signing off on the proposal were all framed around being pro-environment. It was a massive marketing/propaganda campaign to get out into the communities, present alleged benefits, pretend to engage people to ‘help’ identify and resolve problems, all while parading the idea that FAA, POS and industry care deeply about the environment, air quality, climate change, etc. And yet, these numbers show clearly: there were to be no meaningful environmental improvements. FAA, POS and industry players all knew this fact, even before the Greener Skies briefings and publications that wrapped up in 2012. They also knew (and still know!) that this was all just a big dog-and-pony show, funded by the people and served onto the people.
  2. A full five years after the FONSI signoff, FAA’s controllers at Seattle TRACON are not even using the RNP procedure down the center of Elliott Bay that was the key component of Greener Skies, the one element supposed to enable the bulk of the environmental benefits. It is as if the entire Greener Skies public engagement process was just an exercise in propaganda.
  3. The figures presented in the 2012 Greener Skies EA may not even reflect reality. Look closely. The data source documents used in this Post, when combined, show FAA/POS claimed that 487.1 million gallons of jetfuel were pumped in 2014, while also claiming 141.7 million gallons were consumed by west side arrivals on the short descending flight portions between the arrival gates (HAWKZ to the southwest, and MARNR to the northwest). Carefully note, these estimates were ONLY for west side arrivals, and did not look at fuel consumption for east side arrivals. Now, here’s the problem: these portions of these flights are the most fuel-efficient phases for each flight, and are allegedly flown at or close to engine-idle; these portions also represent a small fraction of total flight distance. And yet, the numbers used to calculate potential fuel savings declare the fuel consumption on these relatively short descending flight segments represent nearly a third of the fuel pumped at Sea-Tac? And, bear in mind, Sea-Tac is a major international hub, serving flights across the Pacific Ocean and to Europe. It defies logic; there is no plausible explanatio. FAA and POS need to confirm the numbers, and they need to explain: how is it that the airlines operating in and out of Sea-Tac can allegedly burn so much fuel on these arrivals yet so little fuel on climbouts and enroute to and from all other airports around the world?

CONCLUSION:

Greener Skies was (and still is) both a fraud and a side-show ‘act’, using erroneous estimates while pretending to create benefits that STILL do not exist! And the impacts, using the questionable numbers provided by PoS/FAA, are astounding: they are saying, in 2014, arrivals to Sea-Tac consumed 2.6 million pounds of jetfuel PER DAY while on approach, creating noise and air pollution that we are all supposed to ignore.


See also:
  • 2/25/2011 – ‘Greener Skies Project’ presentation by Doug Marek (FAA, 11-pages)
  • 11/01/2012 – GreenerSkies, Final Environmental Assessment Documents, archived at aiREFORM

Another Area Impacted by FAA Indifference: the Beaches of Destin, Florida

Whether they are locals or vacationers, people have a hard time enjoying the beaches of Northwest Florida, when overrun by helicopters. They also wish FAA would serve THE PEOPLE, not just the aviation interests.

Below, Jack Simpson notes that this is probably the most boring column he has yet written, but his annoyance with FAA is crystal clear. This meeting could have been held anywhere, and about so many similar situations involving FAA. The federal agency with all the power to manage U.S. aviation is instead in the business of enabling abuse by aviators, who profit while diminishing local quality of life. Through it all, FAA employees pretend they can do nothing about it. And notice, too, FAA using the same old trick: put the burden on the citizens to comply with onerous requirements, reporting details that often are impossible to compile.

This article was about helicopters, but the same framing could also represent a community impacted by NextGen, skydiving, air tours, etc.

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

ATC Is Not the Real Cause of Airline Delays…

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

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

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

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

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