SeaTac’s NorthSTAR Project: The Av-Gov Robber Barons Are on a Roll

A project ground-breaking ‘ceremony’ for a few means further aviation impact misery for many others.

SeaTac International Airport [KSEA] is currently the fastest growing U.S. commercial airport, because Delta decided to scale up a new hub in 2012. Thus, SeaTac has become a major hub for both Alaska (the dominant carrier) and Delta. The problem, though, is that this is causing the KSEA flight schedule to become over-saturated; so, ATC stretches the flight patterns, and now residents as far as 30-miles from the airport are regularly enduring long time periods with low/loud repetitive arrival noise (and, of course, the impacts go far beyond just noise: more and more people are suffering from air pollutants, increased asthma, sleep loss, stress, and more).

As is standard practice at federally-funded infrastructure ‘ceremonies’, elected officials appear; they crow about the project, emphasizing dollars and jobs while carefully NOT speaking about the adverse impacts. Here’s a short video clip posted by the Port:

In the video above, from time 0:52 to time 1:19, Senator Maria Cantwell made this comment: “As someone who just flew in this morning, and sat on the tarmac for an extra 15-minutes because we couldn’t get to a gate, I can tell you that everybody in Puget Sound has experienced the need to have more capacity at SeaTac Airport.”

One resident near SeaTac offered this reaction: “Apparently Senator Cantwell needs to make our kids sick, destroy our home value, wake us up at night, compromise safety, destroy a few cities so she doesn’t have to wait 15 minutes for a gate … I thought she represented me….”

Elected officials, including Cantwell, lose credibility when they appear at events trumpeting aviation expansion. They do it for the photo-ops and to muster up campaign funds from the aviation industry. But, as happened here, they often show they are blinded in their pursuit of that money: Cantwell was completely blind to the simple fact that the rather trivial problem she described is nearly always caused by too many flights being scheduled in too small a time window. If she and other Senators demanded that FAA manage airport capacity and impose appropriate flow-rate restrictions, nearly all of these inefficiencies would disappear. Smart people – many of whom are impacted residents – know this, but too many elected officials cannot see this because they are blinded by money.

One example is Jean Hilde, who has lived for decades in a neighborhood nearly 25-miles north of SeaTac. With the NextGen implementations and the Delta hub expansion at SeaTac, her family now must endure low/repetitive arrival noise, even at that long distance. Jean  responded to the ‘North Satellite’ expansion ceremony video clip, and summarized the larger problem nationwide, with this brilliant analysis:

(highlights added by aiREFORM)

Will we ever move beyond this cycle of serving money interests at the expense of quality of life and health? Not with this Congress, or this Administration; not so long as all that matters to those in power is serving money and being served with money.

It’s becoming an Orwellian dystopia. Check out the bizarre phrasing in this excerpt from the Port’s 2/3/2017 News Release (click here):

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

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

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

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

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

How is FAA Exacerbating this Problem?

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

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

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

Genesis and the Story of the SERFR Arrival (according to FAA)

…But the Community continued to cry out in ever greater numbers.

And their complaints numbered in the thousands,

and then tens of thousands,

and then hundreds of thousands.

***

Crying out in a loud voice they said
Oh Lord, remove this plague of noise and pollution from above our heads.”
And the FAA said:
“For sooth. This has not happened before within our short memories. Why did the communities never before complain?”
And the Air Traffic Control angels replied saying:
Verily, the number of aircraft popping out of our bottom in ancient times were few. But now the number doth wax greatly.

A brilliant and humorous analysis of how FAA failed to serve the people impacted by NextGen arrival changes, feeding San Francisco [KSFO] from the south. The technical details presented in this are also impressive, and quite informative for anyone burdened with the health and quality-of-life costs imposed by FAA’s worsening NextGen implementation debacle.

Great work is being done by some very talented people at Sky Posse Los Altos.

Created by Ron Rohde, with Sky Posse Los Altos. Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

EPA’s Online Resources

20170108scp-epa-regions

(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.

[MISCELLANY] 1978-10-21: Comments by Harry Chapin, Near the End of his Concert

Harry Chapin was not just a great performer (check out the extent of audience participation he achieves in this benefit concert!), but a passionate advocate for reforms in U.S. food & hunger policy. An hour and a half into his performance in Passaic, NJ, right after singing his signature song ‘Taxi’, he takes a short break at time 1:29:00 to discuss the reasons behind his efforts to lobby change in Washington, DC.

It is amazing to listen to his words, and to recognize how little has changed in nearly forty years; or, perhaps, how much worse our politics have become in less than four decades. And it’s not just the decline in Congressional ethics; it is also the decline in our individual ability to advocate — to care about an issue, to focus on that issue, and to persist in getting those in power to fully address the issue. Click on the image below to go to the start of his speech.

(click on image to view concert video, at start of his speech)

(click on image to view the concert video)

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTO Finding: Boeing’s 777 Project was Illegally Subsidized by State Legislature

LeehamNews.com does a great job covering the commercial aviation manufacturing industry, especially the often complex politics surrounding Boeing in the U.S. versus Airbus in the E.U. The latest blogpost, ‘Airbus, Boeing claim victory in today’s WTO ruling over Washington State tax breaks’, goes deep into the WTO panel report that was just issued today: ‘Dispute Settlement – Dispute DS487, United States — Conditional Tax Incentives for Large Civil Aircraft’. Essentially, WTO found Boeing’s 777 project was illegally subsidized by tax incentives created by the state legislature, in House Bill ESSB 5952. That legislation, passed in November 2013, was aimed at securing local jobs, thus improperly favoring the local economy.

This subject area is a bit off-topic for aiREFORM but worth archiving here, as it sheds further light on the extent of subsidy that props up aviation. We often hear that airports and aviation are huge catalysts for local economic development. Well, it turns out, this line is just more spin to dupe elected officials and citizens into accepting the latest aviation development scheme. In most examples, subsidies such as the huge tax reductions and tax credits given to Boeing, come with substantial costs elsewhere. Two key areas where the costs are transferred elsewhere:

  1. somebody has to pay the taxes that are excused when legislators offer sweet deals to large corporations; that burden falls more heavily on the regular Joe taxpayers, the ones raising families, for example.
  2. when jobs are sucked up into concentrated mega-factories, like the new wing production plant in Everett (at KPAE), those jobs no longer exist dispersed over numerous smaller communities. Time and again, those small communities start to shut down and become economic wastelands with relic facilities now standing silent.

When viewed objectively the ‘net economic benefit’ becomes just a wash, really nothing to get excited about.

Much like our federal laws have enabled banks to concentrate and become ‘too big to fail’, laws related to aviation have enabled airlines, airports, and manufacturers to concentrate, becoming ‘too big to function without imposing excessive impacts’. These impacts need to be objectively addressed, not glossed over because they do not conform to a propaganda campaign. Congress has failed us big time, these past few decades, and the trend does not look promising.


UPDATE, 11/29/2016: — Two months ago, WTO made a similar finding, but precisely opposite, finding illegal subsidies of Airbus by the EU. There is an apparent history of legal busy-bodies doing a huge amount of work and rendering critical decisions, but in the end taking no real action to change anything. This pattern is much like we see with FAA’s faux-regulation of aviation interests.
The documentation is deep, but a fascinating read. There is much to be learned about the politics (and complete absence of free and open markets) in aviation, by looking at related articles and past WTO actions. See, for example:
  • 9/22/2016 – a 574-page report issued by WTO, in response to the United States’ complaint against the European Union (EU)
  • 9/22/2016 – 154-page Addendum to the above report. See in particular the Executive Summaries submitted by the two parties.
  • 9/22/2016 – LeehamNews Post summarizing the report issued by WTO.
  • 11/29/2016 – 154-page Addendum to the above report. See in particular the Executive Summaries submitted by the two parties.