City of Santa Monica Rejects JetSuiteX ‘COP Application’ for Part 135 Charter

For a month now, an air charter operator based in Irvine, CA and affiliated with JetBlue, has been selling seats online for scheduled passenger flights to begin at Santa Monica in early February. Weeks ago, the CEO of JetSuiteX, Alex Wilcox, told reporters he believes the City cannot stop this proposal. This despite the fact that the airport is crowded dangerously close to dense residential neighborhoods, and there is no indication the City is prepared with the level of crash-fire-rescue support needed for scheduled flights carrying up to 30 passengers.

Here’s a PDF of the application for a Commercial Operations Permit, signed by JetSuiteX COO Michael Bata:

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

And, here’s the City’s response letter signed by Airport Director Stelios Makrides, rejecting the application as incomplete, and requiring a valid Environmental Assessment:

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

For the past month, FAA has been suspiciously (and negligently?) quiet on this matter. What’s needed next is for FAA to break this silence and take action.

FAA is the final federal authority and routinely usurps local authority, to effectively run airports from a distance and for the industry, often with severe negative impacts upon the local community. If they are to be responsible, FAA needs to immediately issue an Interim Cease & Desist Order against JetSuiteX, Delux Public Charter, and Atlantic Aviation, to ensure no scheduled air charter operations begin at Santa Monica without all required permits. This should be easy for FAA to do; after all, FAA has recent experience issuing Interim Cease & Desist Orders related to Santa Monica.

EPA’s Online Resources

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(map and table, showing EPA’s ten administrative regions)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in 1970 “…for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.”

The effectiveness of EPA has been questioned by practically everyone; pro-commerce types swear EPA is too onerous, while pro-environment types insist EPA consistently falls short in protecting the environment.

Back in 1970, the year of the first ‘Earth Day’, our Congress was as constructively focused on environmental issues as they have ever been. Sadly, most Congress’s since have served commerce far ahead of people, passing laws, bending rules, and granting targeted exemptions that always further undermine EPA. This includes in the area of aviation impacts. Congress has consistently redistributed authority away from EPA and into FAA, on critical environmental matters including aviation noise and leaded aviation fuel. And, Congress has also consistently federalized authority; they’d rather strip local officials of their basic rights to run their local airports to serve the needs of their local community, and instead give that authority to faceless and unaccountable FAA bureaucrats.

A regulatory agency can be constrained by laws, but the most fundamental power is in information. Thus, even a defanged EPA can empower people, so that each individual can understand environmental impacts and effectively advocate for their family, to protect their environment. EPA can serve us – and they do, with work such as their ‘Citizen Science for Environmental Protection’ Program (selected content copied and archived here). But, and especially in the present political landscape, it is UP TO EACH OF US to do the work beyond the data: we have to take that data, formulate the message, and advocate the change.

So, for example, we can look at reports such as this one, showing diminished air quality and other impacts in the neighborhoods to the north of SeaTac Airport [KSEA]. We can also look at the December 2016 report done by the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy & Technology, ‘Environmental Protection Belongs to the Public – A Vision for Citizen Science at EPA’.

Where Do We Go Now?

If we take away one lesson from the politics of 2016, it should be this: a Democracy is doomed to fail, where the people are not actively engaged in the decision-making process. We cannot expect to achieve the ideals we want and need as a nation (or as a small, local community), if people do not participate. We cannot be distracted; we cannot be lazy; we must guard against the manipulation of voting data and other forms of election fraud; and, we must not allow the selective disenfranchisement that is happening due to ‘the new Jim Crow’ discriminatory laws. Similarly, we cannot expect to benefit from the sound application of science where many of our elected leaders are collaborating with lobbyists seeking to discredit science; climate change denialism is a good example of this failure.

With that in mind, there is a glimmer of hope for the new administration. The GOP has championed de-federalization and expanded LOCAL authority in all matters. Thus, it is conceivable that we may be surprised; Trump, Ryan, McConnell and others may shrewdly use aviation as an example, demonstrating how to reduce bureaucracy, save money and localize control while de-federalizing the authorities that FAA has increasingly abused.

2017-01-06: ‘Accountability Check’

Below is a sample of a recent query to FAA, and a reply by an FAA official. This example relates to NextGen impacts in western Long Island, near the [KJFK] and [KLGA] airports. The original query was directed to Carmine Gallo, FAA’s Regional Administrator, but passed on to Rick Riley at the FAA HQ Noise Ombudsman Office.

You can judge for yourself … how well did the FAA official do in the reply?

  1. Did he or she answer any questions?
  2. Did he or she inform and educate?
  3. Did he or she clarify who is accountable, or did he or she identify who is responsible?
  4. Did he or she go a step further and identify the problem, then take action to actually FIX THE PROBLEM?
  5. …or, did he or she just return a mumbo-jumbo form letter response, with added platitudes and pro-aviation propaganda, while obscuring accountability and kicking the can down the road?

View copies at these links: Query, Reply. Here’s how the impacted homeowner judged Mr. Riley’s email reply:

We need our questions answered from the FAA &/or the PA and we need them now!! No more shifting blame. Someone needs to take responsibility!!

One Table Shows the Reality of NextGen

Here’s some data to ponder as we start into a new year: a table, showing commercial operations at each of FAA’s OEP-35 airports, from 2007 onward.

Focus first on the pink column, three columns from the right edge; the airports are ranked in descending order, by the percent decline in annual operations, comparing 2015 with 2007.

Note that the largest declines, at Cincinnati [KCVG], Cleveland [KCLE], and Memphis [KMEM] are huge: down 61%, 53%, and 43% respectively. Note also, the declines are even larger when you compare Total Annual Operations in 2015 vs the various historic peak years for each OEP-35 airport, in the two columns on the far right; for these figures (which include general aviation and military operations data), all airports have declined, ranging from 74% to 2% and averaging 24%.

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

Three facts stand out from this table, and they all strongly contradict the sales pitches that FAA and industry have been collaborating on the past few years:

  1. Note the bright green line across the table. Just under it are five airports: Charlotte [KCLT], Reagan National [KDCA], Miami [KMIA], Seattle [KSEA] and San Francisco [KSFO]. These are the only five of the OEP-35 airports that recorded an increase in commercial operations from 2007 to 2015; i.e., 6 out of 7 OEP airports SLOWED substantially while the national population grew.
  2. The airport identifiers marked in a dark-red background color are the airports that in 2016 had extensive noise complaint histories (documented online, and in the mainstream media) related to route concentrations under NextGen. Routinely, FAA has imposed these routes without adequate public review, abusing the ‘categorical exclusion’ process. Numerous legal actions have resulted.
  3. For all OEP-35 airports combined, commercial operations have steadily declined 11% from 2007 to 2015, nearly every year. This is industry contraction. And furthermore, the vast majority of U.S. commercial airports peaked in the 1990s, some more than two decades ago!

WIth the new year, we’ll see a new adminstration and changes at FAA and DoT. Don’t be fooled by the impending onslaught of yet another round of propaganda. The U.S. NAS is operating at far below historic peaks and continuing to trend downward. Growth is rare, and limited to key airports where airlines are concentrating flights into superhubs that severely impact local quality of life. The only true beneficiaries of NextGen and ATC privatization are industry stakeholders (especially the airline CEOs, FAA officials, lobbyists, and manufacturers, plus a few elected officials), who will narrowly share the profits while completely ignoring the larger environmental costs.

We don’t need oversold technology fixes pitching RNAV and RNP solutions that have been used for decades; technologies that could and would serve us all beautifully, if FAA would assert its authority with balance, and manage capacity at the largest U.S. hub airports. We need airports to serve communities while being truly environmentally responsible. And for that to happen, we need a new era of transparency and accountability at FAA. We need reform.

[KJFK]: PlaneSense 4 LI’s Latest Letter sent to Carmine Gallo, Seeking Relief

Elaine Miller’s letter lays out the facts about the ongoing and expanded Noise Hell, brought by FAA & NextGen (and sustained by the failure of elected officials to demand reform at FAA). This is a growinng problem, not just at Malverne (which is hit by KJFK ‘Arc of Doom’ arrivals to runways 22 and KJFK Runway 4 departures using the DEEZZ4 RNAV DEP and the JFK3 DEP, as well as Localizer arrivals to KLGA Runway 31), but across the nation.

Categorical Exclusions were a bad idea. They enabled FAA to approve more operations, at lower altitudes, closer in to the runways, and with excruciating repetition. Frankly, these past few years, FAA’s failed performance is serving only airline profits … and at great cost to the People. A change is long overdue.

Here’s a copy of the latest letter sent to Carmine Gallo, Regional Administrator for FAA’s Eastern Region:

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

Skycatcher Failed to Catch On

Other Posts have pointed out how many aspects of U.S. aviation have been in decline for decades, yet are not talked about: TRACON operations, commercial flight operations, ASPM-77 airport operations, airline fuel consumption, the shrinking NAS, for example … all have seen substantial declines for nearly two decades. Now, here’s a similar Post, focused on General Aviation – the manufacture of small planes for recreation, small business use, etc.

In the latest sign of how far U.S. general aviation has fallen, Cessna has decided to destroy the unsold inventory of it’s model ‘Cessna 162 Skycatcher’. Within the details of this story, there is a lot to be seen about how the political system serves money and special interests, while impeding changes that would best serve everyone. All the posturing on Capitol Hill, the new laws to incentivize sales and prop up an industry in decline, the indifference as U.S. manufacturers moved production overseas to cheapen their labor costs, the false boosterism of how great aviation is for the economy … and yet it all came down to just a sad story about the recycling of some very expensive airplane pieces.

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

Scheduled Charter Jets at Santa Monica: ‘Are You Kidding Me?’

Recent news articles report that a charter operator hopes to start flying 30-seat Embraer E135 jets on scheduled flights out of Santa Monica [KSMO]. Rumor has it they are already selling tickets. This sounds crazy, because there is no evidence that the operator has first obtained an approval for these operations, at an airport that appears to not conform with FAA’s runway safety design standards, as required for this type of operation and aircraft.

FAA requires airports to provide emergency equipment and design elements that will adequately protect the public. A first step in this process is to assess the airport and assign an Airport Reference Code, or ARC. The ARC is defined by the size and speed of the most demanding aircraft to use the airport at least 500 times in a year. The Embraer E135 has a maximum takeoff weight nearly 42,000 pounds, a 67 feet 9 inch wingspan, and an approach speed around 130 knots. FAA considers the E135 to be a ‘C-II’, and the airport has to be designed accordingly.

For safety, all airports have a defined Runway Protection Zone (RPZ), typically a set of trapezoidal areas delineated reference the approach end and departure end of the runway. The RPZ for a C-II airport, as would serve the E135, can be seen on airport master plans across the nation, and measures 500ft and 1000ft on the ends, by 1,700ft long. An RPZ is ideally OWNED by the airport authority, and is to be clear and level to accommodate errant flights; the ONLY structures allowed are those necessary for the airport, such as lighting and navigational aids.

Just to get an idea of how incompatible and unsafe the KSMO runway geometry is, here is a trio of satellite images. The first is a screencap showing the approach end of KSMO Runway 21, with a thin red 500ft circle added, centered on the end of the runway; lots of houses, and yet the full C-II RPZ extends roughly 1,400ft further to the east!

ksmo-20161221scp-apch-end-rwy-21-w-500ft-radius-into-surrounding-homes

Bing satellite view with 500ft radius circle added. It strongly appears that, if FAA were to serve the entire Public (not just the airport operators who are enabled by FAA’s shoddy performance), FAA would not allow scheduled E135 flights at KSMO without first buying out hundreds of homes and moving Bundy Drive far to the east.

The second screencap of a satellite view shows what the same 500ft circle looks like at Hayward [KHWD], where the nearest homes are approximately 800ft from the end of the runway. Notice how wonderfully clear, flat and open the area is, to safely contain any accidents that can and do happen … and notice the contrast with KSMO.khwd-20161221scp-apch-end-rwy-28l-w-500ft-radius-nearest-home-800ft

The third image shows what FAA wants – (and what the Public needs!) – at all certified airports: runways away from homes, with full RPZs. This example shows the Tallahassee, FL airport [KTLH] in comparison with KSMO; both at the same scale, one airport on wide open flat land, the other airport wedged in between mature residential neighborhoods.ksmo-20161221scp-satview-comparison-ksmo-v-ktlh-bing-comSo, an air charter operator may already be selling tickets for scheduled jet flights out of KSMO, and the FAA is saying nothing.

Are you kidding me!?!!!!!?!

Where is the safety regulation here? Where is the application of all the Airport Design standards in Advisory Circular AC 150/5300-13A? Doesn’t FAA have to ensure Part 139 is followed for these 30-seat charter flights?

Is FAA Failing in Their Safety Oversight of Allegiant Air?

On May 11th this year, we were deeply embroiled in the election primaries, with growing evidence that the U.S. election system is in a flat-line failure mode. So, it is not surprising that the 20-year anniversary of the ValuJet crash in the Everglades might have gone unnoticed, at least by some of us.

The crash took 110 lives, and deeply scarred thousands more. The investigation of the crash exposed cultural failures at FAA, and led DoT Inspector General Mary Schiavo to abruptly resign in July of that year (she was THAT disgusted with the inside politics and cover-up, not just by FAA but by the White House, too). The crash and victims were recalled in a Miami Herald article. Subsequent news articles this year have looked at Allegiant Air, noting its many connections back to ValuJet, and presenting evidence that FAA is AGAIN being lax in safety oversight.

Below is a recent news article, critical of both Allegiant and FAA. In the pages that follow, aiREFORM provides an archived collection of articles and other documents related to Allegiant Air. The records are presented in chronological order on the following pages, mostly as scrollable PDF files.

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

[KSMO]: Are FAA Attorneys Bluffing on their ‘Cease & Desist Order’?

The fight in Santa Monica continues to heat up. City officials have labored for nearly four decades, and patiently endured one FAA delay tactic after another, in their quest to assert local control so they can best manage their local airport. Now, an official at FAA Headquarters in Washington, DC, has issued an ‘Interim Cease and Desist Order’. For what it’s worth, here is a copy of the City’s official response:

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(text of email by City officials; minor edits may have been added, but only to clarify)

The Order appears authoritative and very threatening, but a closer inspection suggests it is just another bluff by an out-of-control federal agency. Here’s the closing declaration, at page five of FAA’s 15-page document, signed by Kevin Willis, an FAA Director at the Office of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis, on 12/12/2016:

(click on image to view an archived copy of FAA's entire 15-page 'Cease & Desist Order' package)

(click on image to view an archived copy of FAA’s entire 15-page ‘Cease & Desist Order’ package)

‘Cease & Desist’ … hmm, my first thought was, roughly,

“…where does FAA have the authority to issue a ‘Cease & Desist Order’, intervening in the relationship an airport authority has with an airport tenant? I mean, by this logic, FAA should also have the right to dictate all sorts of airport management details, not at all related to aviation safety.”

Evidence That This is Just a Bluff

FAA’s authority to issue the Order is cited as footnote one, on the bottom of page 1 which reads: “This Order is issued pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 46105 and 14 CFR § 16.109.” So in the probably 100-200 man-hours that went into drafting this Order, FAA’s legal team offered not one but two cites. But, is either cite valid?

I’ll lead off with the second cite. According to GPO’s eCFR website, FAA’s second cite DOES NOT EXIST. I.e., per the screencap below, 14 CFR § 16.109 is a ‘reserved’ section of the CFR framework, meaning there is no language to be consulted.

20161213scp-2-images-showing-part-109-reserved-gpo-ecfr-14cfr

Two screen-captures by aiREFORM, from the current/valid electronic CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) website. These show that there is no valid 14 CFR section 109.

And note, too, this is NOT an out-of-date version; the GPO website declares this eCFR is current as of 12/12/2016 … the same date as Mr. Willis’s signature!

And now let’s consider the other cite. FAA cited 49 U.S.C. § 46105, but their error is immediately revealed by simply reading the language of the law. The actual section contains these words: “…a regulation prescribed or order issued by (…) the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration with respect to aviation safety duties and powers designated to be carried out by the Administrator (…) takes effect within a reasonable time prescribed by the (…) Administrator.”

Note the qualifier, “…with respect to aviation safety duties and powers designated…” FAA’s current action against Santa Monica has nothing to do with ‘aviation safety duties’, and FAA’s legal team has failed to actually cite any real authority. If you want to look even further, see this archived PDF copy of the entire Chapter 461, which contains all sections, from 46101 through 46111. It is a searchable copy, so it is easy to quickly establish: Chapter 461 contains neither the term ‘cease’ nor the term ‘desist’, and the cited § 46105 contains no real authority.

Now, just to be clear, I am not a lawyer. BUT, as a forced-to-retire FAA ATC whistleblower, I have plenty of experience with FAA’s bluff and bluster. FAA pays plenty for their hundreds of inside attorneys, and these civil servants are expected to distort and deceive at will, in support of the true and not-so-ethical FAA mission. If my quick legal assessments are flawed, please show me my error. And if they are not flawed, clearly, it is time for FAA to get off their bureaucratic butts and let the People in Santa Monica get on with owning AND controlling their local airport.


UPDATE, 12/20/2016: — a week has passed and nobody has yet provided even a flimsy legal basis for FAA’s administratively issuing an ‘Interim Cease & Desist Order’ against the City of Santa Monica. The most substantial response I have yet seen was sent by Chris Harshman, and a screencap is provided below:

ksmo-20161220at1641scp-wow-email-from-c-harshman-packetlaw-comHere’s what I sent back to Chris:ksmo-20161220at1728scp-reply-email-to-c-harshmanChris did make one good point in his email. He identified my error in interpreting the CFR nomenclature. The Code of Federal Regulations are an extremely deep and tangled set of rules. When I researched my blogpost, I could not find a 14 CFR § 16.109 and ended up finding a list that looked like it was regarding 14 CFR § 16.109, but was actually declaring that 14 CFR Part 109 was reserved. The online version is viewable here (and I archived a copy, all 31-pages, here).

Of course, we also have the problem that the preamble for the 31-pages of 14 CFR Part 16 says that “…provisions of this part govern all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proceedings involving Federally-assisted airports….” This strongly suggests that Part 16 cannot be applied against Santa Monica, because Santa Monica dropped their addiction to airport federal assistance many decades ago.

Thankfully, all of this confusion is easily solved. We just need FAA to start serving ALL OF US, not just the elite aviation interests. Airports serve communities, not businesses; airport impacts need to be properly balanced against health, residential quality of life, and other issues. Attorneys can help make this happen… IF they choose to serve more than just the mighty dollar.

FAA Continues their NextGen Disinformation

At FAA’s ‘Optimization of Airspace & Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM)‘ webpage, which is marked as last modified on 6/27/2016, there is a link to a video uploaded to FAA’s YouTube page. As has been the practice for FAA and others trying to dupe the Public into buying NextGen, the video is filled with disinformation.

Here’s an example. The two images below are screencaps, showing consecutive slides in FAA’s video, at times 1:07 and 1:13. The first is a satellite view of a hilly, minimally developed and predominantly forested land area; the second is a blue graphic with FAA’s splashy declarations alleging ‘transformative’ benefits of NextGen.

20160627scp-rnav-vs-conventional-zigzag-navigation-faa-lying-to-sell-nextgen-at-time-1m07s-of-4m45s-video

(a fraudulent and intentionally deceptive image provided by FAA, at time 1:07 in the video)

20160627scp-rnav-vs-conventional-zigzag-navigation-faa-lying-to-sell-nextgen-blueframe-at-time-1m13s-of-4m45s-video

No explanation is necessary, but what the hell. Lies annoy me, so I love to skewer them with facts. Here goes… the satellite view presents the direct green line and a zigzag red line route. The clear intent of this green vs red graphic is to impress upon us that our commercial airliner will become amazingly more efficient if, via NextGen, we let them fly those direct ‘greenlines’.

The problem is, it is utter bullshit. Our commercial passenger planes have been flying direct routes (the equivalent of these greenlines) for more than four decades. Thus, this graphic implies a change that will not happen, an alleged benefit never to be gained.

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June 2014: Huerta hawking NextGen in Houston)

And, furthermore, study that satellite view. It’s fuzzy, but it offers enough detail, including roads and granularity related to both vegetation and topography, that anyone who studies aerial imagery can see: this land area is no more than 10- or 20-miles across. A commercial jetliner would NEVER be able to fly the red zigzag route as the turns are far too tight. But, of course, that does not stop FAA from pushing this kind of NextGen disinformation. All for the money.

And think this one step further: as stated by FAA,  those red lines represent a ground-based route; thus, there have to be navigational stations at the locations where the red lines bend. Out in the middle of this area of hills and hollers. Yeah, right. I wish FAA would show more respect for our intelligence, and for our money.

Michael Huerta: you’ve been FAA Administrator through all of this. Are you going to tell your FAA employees to clean this up, or are you just going to leave the NextGen mess for the next Administrator?