“NextGen is a Catch-Phrase, Nothing More”

Social media can be a very powerful way to start to hold aviation officials accountable. For example, aviation noise activists are using Twitter and Facebook to discuss the impacts (and how to solve them), post images and data about flights, and report what they hear back from FAA, airport authorities, or elected officials.

One recent example is a very thorough report by Liz Burn. She called in a concern and eventually got a call back from Michael Carroll, at the Port of Seattle (POS). Here is an excerpt from her post:

(click on image to view source Facebook post)

As one who has been intensively studying NextGen for a few years now, I was very impressed that, at least for one brief moment, Mr. Carroll let down his guard and told the truth: NextGen is really just a catch-phrase, a brand-name, a label. It is also, frankly, a diversion.

The collaborating partners (FAA, A4A, airport authorities, airlines, and a few in Congress like Bill Shuster) are grossly over-selling NextGen, pitching the idea that it is loaded with new, whiz-bang features (though the bulk of the features are not new and actually existed before the 2003 start of the NextGen program!). These salespersons make lots of positive noise, all the while ignoring the many negatives and also taking our eyes away from what is really happening:

  1. NextGen is the abandonment of decades-old noise abatement agreements/procedures;
  2. NextGen is the enabling of airlines to further expand hub schedules at a handful of key cities … boosting airline profits, but at great cost to people below (and, by the way, the vast majority of routes in the U.S. offer little or no competition; i.e., a study of airline service for city-pairs shows most routes are monopoly or duopoly served);
  3. NextGen is the highly impactful concentration of routes into razor-thin lines, flown more precisely by using aircraft automation, to the point that those of us living under these new routes, lose sleep and even go crazy with the repetitive noise … one flight, then another, then another, on and on …; and,
  4. NextGen is the transition from manual to automation, for both air navigation and air traffic control: i.e., NextGen is REALLY all about doing away with human control, replacing it with computer control – both on the flight deck and in the control facilities. Both FAA and airlines hope that, with further NextGen implementation, the number of ‘monitoring’ controllers can be substantially reduced, and flight decks can seat just one ‘monitoring’ pilot (instead of two pilots).

Anyway, THANK YOU Michael Carroll for letting go of the ‘collaboration script’ for that one moment and confirming: NextGen is just an oversold brand-name.


See also:

Newsday’s Editorial Board is All Wrong on Privatizing ATC

In an editorial opinion, Newsday‘s Editorial Board is helping to push the illusion that privatizing ATC will help. They are all wrong.

Newsday is a daily paper on Long Island. They have been at the epicenter of impacts from two major U.S. airports: Kennedy [KJFK] and LaGuardia [KLGA]. Newsday has published plenty of citizen letters to the editor, expressing concerns about how FAA and NextGen are impacting their neighborhoods. Newsday reporters have also done a lot of groundwork, talking to people and writing up articles.

But, apparently, the top people who run the daily news show at Newsday are aligned with the money that buys ad space, so they tweak the news to help steer readers toward supporting bad ideas, like ATC privatization.

How far do they go to manipulate us? Well, here’s a screencap of two comments to a Facebook Post about this latest Newsday article:

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

Here’s an airchived copy of the Editorial Board opinion, with aiREFORM rebuttal footnotes:

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

Trump, Climate Change, and ATC Privatization

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

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

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

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

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

FAA Forms Workgroups to solve their ‘People Problems’

FAA has a problem, and like any over-matured and sclerotic agency, they have their solutions. Not clean solutions that actually FIX THE PROBLEM, but dirty solutions to serve the agency/industry interests while disempowering people.

FAA’s failing NextGen implementations are destroying long-established residential communities across the nation. People are standing up, speaking louder and louder, and connecting and organizing. So, how does FAA propose to deal with this problem?

Form workgroups.

Just to be clear, the ‘problem’ FAA wants to ‘deal with’ is not the NextGen failures but the PEOPLE who are organizing. If their message gains traction, the People might actually get a few in Congress off their butts, demanding (and I mean REALLY DEMANDING!) that FAA fix this mess. The right steps are obvious:

  • demand Huerta step down (he has disserved the larger Public under two administrations, and is clearly just an industry hack);
  • revert the problematic NextGen implementations to pre-NextGen routes;
  • legislate a robust local democratic voice so that local citizens are able to decide what curfews and operational restrictions are needed to best serve their local community (i.e., the airport should be THEIR LOCAL AIRPORT, not a fortress for a major airline);
  • legislate reforms that disincentivize hubbing, so the airlines will instead offer more direct routes and a better/fairer distribution of airport impacts, equitably using hundreds and thousands of under-utilized airports instead of just a dozen evolving superHubs.

Why does FAA like to form workgroups? Simply because they are ‘manageable’. Each workgroup first creates an illusion of citizen involvement. But, the membership consistently includes industry ‘stakeholders’, who dutifully steer the work process – and infuse delays when the work product is going in the wrong direction. Plus, even the most ardent and effective aviation impact activists are human, thus susceptible to feeling a lot more accepting of the impacts because they are now an elite citizen representative.

Here’s an example of a new workgroup related to Baltimore [KBWI]. They appear to be very well focused on fixing the problems, but are running into an intransigent FAA. The Facebook group, Save Milton Skies, shared a link to this article, which is archived below. Rebuttal comments have been added by aiREFORM. It is a good article, overall, though it again demonstrates how FAA’s salespitch elements are readily incorporated into the final news article.

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

See also:

Live Today: Yet Another Dog-and-Pony Show

Bill Shuster is at it again: trying to ramrod the massive giveaway of the U.S. ATC system to private interests, dominated by the four remaining major airlines (American, Delta, Southwest, and United). Today’s dog-and pony show includes Paul Rinaldi, president of the controllers’ union NATCA. Why would NATCA want privatization? Primarily for selfish money reasons. ATC has a mandatory retirement age of 56, and the lifting of this age-limit will greatly enhance the already quite substantial retirement pensions for those like Rinaldi who are imminently eligible to retire. The new ‘ATC Inc.’ would also have plenty of freedom to payback Rinaldi and other retiring controllers, who will be able to supplement fat federal pensions (those will be sustained, after all) with very rich consulting work. And where will all the money come from to do this? You, and me. Air travelers will still pay large fees and taxes, which will be collected as if they are a federal tax, but will be spent by a private entity, controlled by the airlines.

FAA and their Av-Gov Complex partners will call this ‘collaboration’; rational people will shake their heads and say, No, this is crony capitalism. On steroids.”

Here is a link to the livestream, which supposedly can also be used to watch the video later, starting at 10AM EDT: https://youtu.be/h6XTbApeO-M

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

KDCA NextGen Impacts May Trigger Yet One More Legal Action Against FAA

FAA is presently being sued by groups across the nation, due to their botched NextGen implementation. It looks like another lawsuit may be initiated, seeking relief for residents in Bethesda, MD. See the Bethesda Magazine article (archived copy below, in a scrollable PDF).

Essentially, what is happening is FAA is tweaking upward the number of operations handled at Washington National Airport [KDCA], to enable four airlines (American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest) to schedule heavier arrival and departure pushes. To facilitate this, FAA got Congress to pass legislation in early 2012 that eliminated the requirement to do real environmental assessments (this is the infamous ‘CATEX’ issue; click here to see documentation of a CATEX example impacting residents near LaGuardia).

Using CATEX to approve and implement NextGen procedures has turned out to be a huge failure. The root failure is that FAA’s DNL noise metric does not capture the very real and damaging noise impacts caused by repetitive flights passing one after another at low altitudes, using automation to track the same narrow path. This narrow route concentration is very clearly indicated in the graphics, within the article below. The repetitive noises go on for days and even weeks on end; people suffer sleep loss and elevated blood pressure, and some may be going crazy, but their problems are all dismissed by FAA. Oddly, FAA insists that by averaging those weeks over the entire calendar year, no damages are done ‘on average’. This is sort of a variation of a bad strategy for abating pollution: “the solution to pollution is dilution.”

The graphics in this article appear to depict the pre-NextGen and post-NextGen departure tracks. Montgomery County is concerned about the intense concentration for north flow departures heading northeast to NYC and Boston, etc.; the NextGen RNAV departure begins a right turn over the RNAV fix named ALEEX (Cabin John Parkway and I-495), then passes DOGUE (roughly 2-miles NW of the Mormon Temple), inundating North Bethesda. Similarly, residents in the Fort Hunt neighborhoods of Virginia are impacted, because the new RNAV departure procedure in south flow turns west at lower altitudes, roughly two miles north of Mt. Vernon … instead of climbing another couple miles southbound over the Potomac River. Again, all to save the airlines a smidgeon of money, while shifting a heavier noise and pollutant cost onto previously peaceful residential communities. The people below are frustrated not just because the noise pattern persists for hours on end (and can repeat each day for weeks on end), but also because they are trying to squeeze accountability out of one of the most intransigent and insensitive federal bureaucracies ever to exist: today’s FAA.

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

The Larger Picture

On a national scale, FAA is facilitating hub concentration (see this aiReform Post). Each of the hub-growth airports is also not just seeing a larger number of flights, but the flights are serving a higher percentage of through-passengers, who never even leave the airport terminal. And, for each of these few growing hub airports, other airports are in sharp decline. So, as KDCA grows, there is a shift of flights away from Washington-Dulles [KIAD] and Baltimore-Washington [KBWI]; Dulles is now down 47% from peak traffic year (2005), and BWI is now down 23% from peak traffic year (2001). This is precisely the problem that is growing at a tiny few other major U.S. hub airports, such as Seattle [KSEA] (where Delta is rapidly expanding its schedule) and at both Kennedy [KJFK] and LaGuardia [KLGA] in the New York City area. The KSEA hub expansion is diminishing Portland [KPDX] (down 31% from peak traffic year 1997) and Salt Lake City [KSLC] (down 30% from peak traffic year 2005). In the NYC area, Southwest is expanding while gutting service at Islip [KISP] (down 48% from peak traffic year 2000) American expansion has all but eliminated the use of Pittsburgh [KPIT] as a hub (down 69% from peak traffic year 1997); Delta expansion has all but eliminated the use of Cincinnati [KCVG] as a major airline hub (down 73% from peak traffic year 2004).

NextGen route concentration, caused by autopilot use of RNAV routes, is a serious impact that FAA chooses to totally ignore. Think about it: wherever you live, chances are that any aircraft flying through is not noticeable so long as it is roughly 2-miles or more away from directly overhead. In the case of Bethesda, the pre-NextGen dispersal of departures meant each resident below was subjected to randomized and irregular noise events; but, post-NextGen, the noise events are concentrated and repetitive, like a Chinese dripping water torture.

An 1860 photograph of an actual water torture, used by prison authorities to drive Sing Sing prisoners insane. (source: The Burns Archive, via Wikipedia)

Of course, this picture reflects the attitudes and values of our nation in 1860. Today, we have technologies that can benefit us, enhancing quality of life … but only if we manage them intelligently.


See also:

Wall Street Journal Passing On FAA’s ‘Fake News’ About NextGen

FAA and other industry players have been using some incredibly phony sales pitches for well over a decade now, in their coordinated effort to sell NextGen as ‘transformational’. One of those false pitch points is the claim that NextGen will do away with commercial flights flying zig-zag routes across the nation, from one electronic navaid to the next. Readers are led to believe that today’s air navigation is constrained by these locations, and a lot of people get fooled, simply because the vast majority of us are not trained and employed in a way that would cause us to know better. Well, today’s air navigation is NOT constrained that way, and frankly has not been so constrained for many decades. Even as early as the 1970s, entire airline fleets were configured for direct navigation using inertial navigation systems, followed by many new and improved systems including Omega, Loran, GPS, etc.

It’s a fact, and an embarrassment on FAA, that for each of the airspace redesigns in recent years, FAA and contractors have created thousands of pages of slick documentation… and every documentation package, for each airspace redesign, has at least one copy of this image (or a close variation):

The graphic clearly implies that ‘current’ navigation is via zigzags over navaids. All you have to do is study actual flight routes, at a website like Flightaware. Everyday, multiple websites upload data for tens of thousands of U.S. commercial flights; for each of those days, you could spend a week or longer reviewing every individual flight history, and chances are you would NOT find even one flight wasting time and energy on navaid-to-navaid zigzags.

So, it looks like all that propaganda is now taking a big victim: even the esteemed Wall Street Journal now believes we need NextGen to advance us past airplanes that ‘bounce from one radio point to the next…’!

Check out their March 22nd opinion piece, archived below with aiR footnotes added:

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


See also:

The 8.5-hour Speech by Bernie Sanders, Way Back in December 2010

This website campaigns for reform at FAA, but frankly, the need for reform goes much further. Indeed, it is not hard to recognize that FAA is simply one more failed and over-matured bureaucracy, a representative example demonstrating the fatal epidemic destroying civil service and governance in what we still oddly call ‘The United States’.

We went through quite a shitstorm in 2016, at many times quite beyond bearable. It is hard to say if anything has since settled down, but at least we did survive the transition in January, and a new administration is hard at work, serving the nation. Or, at least, serving the elites they aim to serve in our nation. But let’s be very clear: this pattern, of focused service (and subsequent disservice to all others) is a bipartisan malignancy. Our rapid and accelerating descent toward division and disunity is fueled not just by conservatives, but by liberals, too. Consistently, and for decades now, the majority has been repeatedly screwed over by an oligarchy fronted with bipartisan elites.

Whether you were for Trump or Hillary last year, it really does not matter. We all had our reasons to vote for or against each candidate. Some of us are a bit more awake now, after last year, while others are a bit more entrenched with head-in-sand. We got what we deserved, subject to the limitations and corruptibility of a program that would embarrass Democracy aspirants in even the tiniest and most backward nations. We could fix this, but that requires will and leadership, two qualities sorely lacking in the duopoly status quo.

We had choices outside the duopoly, and a Senator from Vermont was one of them. So, please consider spending some time watching this video and/or reading the transcript, from the 8.5-hour filibuster speech by Bernie Sanders, long, long ago.


And, here’s a scrollable PDF of the text (the video begins after the first transcript paragraph):

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

Working to Solve the Problems Created by NextGen

There is a new Chair for the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, actually two: Representatives Tom Souzzi (pronounced “swah’-zee”) and Eleanor Holmes-Norton were elected as co-chairs, to replace Representative Grace Meng.

Both Souzzi and Meng are from the NYC area, serving Queens and Nassau County. This is where the Caucus originated in 2014, primarily to address NextGen impacts. Essentially, health and quality of life are being destroyed in dozens of suburban neighborhoods, under arrival and departure paths for both LaGuardia [KLGA] and Kennedy [KJFK] airports.

Representative Souzzi spoke during Members’ Day, to the House Committee on Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee. Here is a link to the start of his statement, which presents many of the concerns of his impacted constituency. The statement is very thorough (click here to view a PDF of the prepared statement). In less than 6-minutes, he offers the following key takeaways:

  1. the impacts are national
  2. FAA and airport authorities routinely dismiss concerns without due consideration
  3. FAA is failing to recognize that this is an objective problem harming human health
  4. health studies are needed to compel action by FAA

Impacted residents asked aiReform to prepare an analysis, to help sharpen the focus on what the NextGen issues are and how they can be fixed. After a lot of discussion and review, the following document was created:

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


See also:
  • NATCA’s Position on NGATS-NextGen –  (9/8/2005) the position by NATCA, stated by Doug Fralick at a conference: “…the real limiting factors are runway capacity and weather, no fancy en route automation system is going to change that fact.” Note that he refers to NGATS, not NextGen, as this marketing term had not yet been created.
  • 2005 Annual Performance Report – (March 2006) the first appearance of the brandname ‘NextGen’, in a glossy annual report for 2005, pitching great progress by the air traffic organization (ATO). Note that both FAA Administrator Blakey and ATO COO Chew prominently push the ‘NextGen’ moniker in their letters. Note also that many technical advances are claimed, yet Shuster, A4A, and complicit media hacks are all routinely pressing the idea FAA is using technology from World War II.
  • DoT-IG-Dobbs report to a Congressional committee, hearing re NextGen – (July 25, 2006) this DoT-IG report assesses NGATS but makes no reference to ‘NextGen’. Evidently, although Blakey and ATO started pushing the NextGen brandname in March, as long as four months later other entities such as the Inspector General had not yet adopted the term.
  • AIRR: Going Nowhere (while Shuster schleps in Florida!) – (2/24/2016) aiReform Post, at the end of the last big push for ATC privatization and accelerated NextGen funding
  • FAA’s Refusal to Manage Airport Capacity – (1/7/2017) aiReform Post offering a closer analysis

2016 ATADS Data Posted, Shows U.S. Air Traffic Activity Remains Severely Depressed Overall

FAA has posted the official traffic counts for calendar year 2016, so another analysis can be done to see how much aviation activity has declined in the U.S. This analysis is important as it fully debunks – using FAA’s own data, no less – one of the core lies being used by FAA and others while trying to sell both ATC privatization and NextGen: the false claim that air traffic is ‘increasingly congested’.

The reality is quite the opposite: the U.S. aviation system is shockingly decongested, with activity depressed far below levels two decades ago. At the vast majority of airports with ATC (and these are the airports with reliable traffic counts), operations (landings and takeoffs) are down 30%, 40% even more than 70% from peak traffic years. There is a large ‘dead-zone’ of vastly underutilized airport infrastructure across the heart of the nation, most of it abandoned by FAA and the airlines; it stretches from St. Louis to Memphis to Pittsburgh to Detroit and on to Kansas City, coinciding with much of the region that tipped the election to Donald Trump. The ‘reliever airports’ developed by FAA in the 80’s and 90’s are relieving nothing. Indeed, these airports are increasingly serving only an elite few, as FAA continues to direct air passenger taxes toward expanding and maintaining these facilities. This is a classic example of the masses paying to subsidize those who least need a subsidy … primarily to enable elites to zip about in their private jets or via expensive air charter services, staying away from the TSA hassles while using their own network of smaller secured airports.

The database is searchable via the ATADS-OPSNET webpage. For this analysis, the annual operations data was compiled for 86 airports, including all of the ‘ASPM-77’ airports and nine other airports that have previously been studied by aiREFORM. It is reasonable to assume that FAA’s ASPM airport list essentially includes all of the most significant commercial airports, accounting for over 99% of all routes flown for both passengers and cargo. That said, the list is also a bit odd for the airports it does not include, most of which were busy GA training fields in 2016, such as: Deer Valley, AZ (DVT, with 370K ops in 2016), Centennial, CO (APA, with 332K ops), Daytona Beach, FL (DAB, with 307K ops), and Sanford, FL (SFB, with 289K ops).

The 86 airports are divided into four groups below. The first three groups comprise the 36 busiest U.S. airports since 1990; i.e., these are the 36 airports known to have had at least one year averaging 1,000 operations per day, in the historical record going back to 1990. These 36 airports are broken into three groups: airline hubs that are generally not declining, airline hubs that have already declined substantially, and non-hub airports serving primarily general aviation (GA). The fourth group, includes the 50 other key U.S. airports, though these are slower, as none of them has ever achieved an annual average of 1,000 daily operations.

This First Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the eleven primarily-commercial airports that show sustained performance. For 2016, two of these airports were in their peak year (SFO and JFK); the nine other airports each declined no more than 13% from peak year operations levels. These airports have the following characteristics:

  1. each of these airports had a Peak Year in their history, with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations; only MCO (Orlando) did not sustain that performance in 2016.
  2. notice that each airport is nearly pure commercial traffic; at each of these airports, 95% to 99% of operations are air carrier or air taxi.
  3. notice also, each airport had less than 5% local traffic (most had zero local pattern operations).
  4. these airports tend to be major ‘hubs’, where the airlines schedule more flights than are needed to serve the local community; thus, noise and pollution impacts on neighborhoods are increased, so that the airlines can bolster profits by accommodating many ‘through-passengers’.
Airport 2016 Total Operations 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
ATL (Atlanta, GA) 898,356 99% 2007 991,627 -9%
ORD (Chicago, IL) 867,635 99% 2004 992,471 -13%
LAX (Los Angeles, CA) 696,890 96% 2000 783,684 -11%
DEN (Denver, CO) 572,520 99% 2010 635,458 -10%
CLT (Charlotte, NC) 545,742 95% 2013 557,955 -2%
JFK (Queens, NY) 458,707 98% 2016 458,707 0%
SFO (San Francisco, CA) 450,391 97% 2016 450,391 0%
EWR (Newark, NJ) 431,214 97% 1997 467,443 -8%
SEA (Seattle, WA) 412,170 99% 2000 445,677 -8%
LGA (Flushing, NY) 374,487 98% 2006 406,211 -8%
MCO (Orlando, FL) 323,914 95% 2007 367,860 -12%
average change: -7%

The Second Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the sixteen primarily-commercial airports that have NOT shown sustained performance. A quick review of this group shows:

  1. each of these airports had a Peak Year in their history, with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations; in 2016, nine of the airports sustained that performance (though with an average decline of 25% from Peak Year), while seven of the airports now average below 1,000 ops/day (with an average decline of 50% from Peak Year).
  2. notice that, as with the first group, each airport had less than 5% local traffic, and each airport is predominantly commercial. I.e., air carrier and air taxi traffic accounts for 85% to 99% of total operations; twelve airports were 90% or higher commercial, and only Honolulu (HNL), Washington-Dulles (IAD), Pittsburgh (PIT) and Salt Lake City (SLC) had less than 90% commercial traffic.
  3. these airports tend to be lesser ‘hubs’, former hubs, or non-hubs.
  4. the bottom five airports [Washington-Dulles (IAD), Memphis (MEM), St. Louis (STL), Pittsburgh (PIT), and Cincinnati (CVG)] illustrate the consequences of wholesale hub abandonment by airlines. In each case, a dominant airline typically was having difficulty getting tax or labor concessions from the community, so they chose to abandon billions of dollars worth of terminal, runway, and other infrastructure, in the pursuit of marginal profits.
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DFW (Dallas – Ft Worth, TX) 672,748 99% 1997 934,624 -28%
LAS (Las Vegas, NV) 535,740 92% 2006 619,474 -14%
IAH (Houston, TX) 470,780 98% 2007 603,641 -22%
PHX (Phoenix, AZ) 440,643 95% 2000 638,757 -31%
MIA (Miami, FL) 414,234 95% 1995 576,936 -28%
MSP (Minneapolis – St Paul, MN) 412,898 97% 2004 540,727 -24%
BOS (Boston, MA) 395,811 96% 1998 515,788 -23%
PHL (Philadelphia, PA) 394,022 96% 2005 536,153 -27%
DTW (Detroit, MI) 393,427 98% 1999 559,548 -30%
SLC (Salt Lake City, UT) 320,259 85% 2005 455,214 -30%
HNL (Honolulu, HI) 305,608 80% 1992 403,708 -24%
IAD (Washington-Dulles, VA) 292,124 87% 2005 553,021 -47%
MEM (Memphis, TN) 224,883 90% 2003 402,362 -44%
STL (St Louis, MO) 190,517 95% 1995 517,961 -63%
PIT (Pittsburgh, PA) 141,630 89% 1997 457,732 -69%
CVG (Cincinnati, OH) 137,225 95% 2004 515,851 -73%
average change: -36%

The Third Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the nine busiest general aviation airports that historically had a Peak Year with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations. Only one of these airports has shown a sustained performance: Deer Valley (DVT), a major training airport in the Phoenix area. A quick review of this group shows:

  1. only one of these airports has more than 36% commercial (air carrier and air taxi) operations; five of the airports have less than 25% commercial operations.
  2. the outlier is Oakland (OAK), which is a unique airport that has historically operated as two separate airports, even with separate ATC towers. It has served as a major hub for Southwest on the east side of the Bay Area, but aside from that is essentially a non-hub.
  3. even with major training airports (which often cater to students from around the world), the decline in operations is profound. For Florida, the two listed airports averaged a 22% decline; for California, the four listed airports averaged a 52% decline from Peak Year.
  4. when airport flight schools import students, the flight school expands profits while airport neighbors endure substantially higher impacts; not just noise, but also air pollutants, including toxic exhaust from the leaded fuel still used in most small airplanes and helicopters. This is a serious issue for airport neighbors, in terms of both health and quality-of-life. Hillsboro, OR (HIO) is another example (see further down, in the Fourth Group); here, the Hillsboro Aero Academy gets cover from the Port of Portland and FAA while imposing their impacts.
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DVT (Phoenix, AZ) 370,034 65% 2006 406,507 -9%
APA (Englewood, CO) 332,111 47% 1998 466,267 -29%
DAB (Daytona Beach, FL) 307,333 47% 36% 2001 373,812 -18%
SNA (Santa Ana, CA) 300,354 30% 36% 1991 569,241 -47%
LGB (Long Beach, CA) 294,886 52% 1994 488,313 -40%
SFB (Sanford, FL) 289,312 55% 36% 2001 397,557 -27%
OAK (Oakland, CA) 222,799 15% 67% 1999 524,205 -57%
VNY (Van Nuys, CA) 213,566 31% 1999 598,564 -64%
BFI (Seattle, WA) 169,641 26% 1994 422,804 -60%
average change: -39%

The Fourth Group (below) provides a ranked listing of fifty additional airports, none of which has had Peak Year traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations (at least not since 1990). A quick review of this group shows:

  1. these airports tend to be either minor commercial hubs heavily dominated by one airline, or general aviation airports.
  2. the extent of decline is again profound, averaging 38% for the whole group.
  3. The one most significant outlier in this list is Bellingham, WA (BLI). Here, we have an airport near the Canadian border, catering to passengers who cross the US-Canada border to catch cheaper flights. When the Canadian ATC system was privatized, a schedule of steep fees and taxes was imposed to generate needed revenues. Niche airlines like Allegiant took advantage of this, offering scant flight schedules (often just one or two trips per week) out of airports within a few hours’ drive of Canadian residents. Impacted communities include: Bellingham, Flint, Toledo, Niagara Falls, Ogdensburg, Plattsburgh, Burlington, and Bangor. The result, again, was airline profits and a tiny few local part-time jobs, with uncompensated aviation impacts on airport neighbors.
  4. Washington-Reagan (DCA) is an emerging hub. Here, we have a major commercial airport near the Capitol, growing quickly and increasingly impacting neighborhoods, but its growth comes from the downsizing of two other DC-area airports; i.e., both Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Baltimore-Washington (BWI) are declining as their seat capacity and operations are shifted closer in to the nation’s capitol.
  5. Dallas-Love (DAL) is another emerging hub. In this case, we have an airport for which FAA and Congress imposed restrictions, way back in the 1960s, to prop up the new major hub at DFW. Those restrictions ended a few years ago, so now Southwest is busily growing their DAL schedule to destinations previously not allowed. [Interestingly, the same pattern of lifted restrictions applies to the DC area; when federal funds were used in the 1960s to develop IAD, restrictions were imposed on DCA, but now that the restrictions are lifted, IAD is being largely abandoned.]
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DCA (Washington-Reagan, VA) 299,670 98% 2000 342,790 -13%
FLL (Ft Lauderdale, FL) 290,239 87% 2005 330,967 -12%
ANC (Anchorage, AK) 279,861 68% 1997 318,080 -12%
MDW (Chicago, IL) 253,046 85% 2004 339,670 -26%
BWI (Baltimore-Washington, MD) 248,585 94% 2001 323,771 -23%
PDX (Portland, OR) 227,709 90% 1997 329,790 -31%
DAL (Dallas, TX) 224,193 73% 2000 256,787 -13%
HOU (Houston, TX) 202,106 71% 1997 262,892 -23%
HIO (Hillsboro, OR) 197,763 58% 2008 260,957 -24%
SAN (San Diego, CA) 196,935 95% 1995 245,280 -20%
BNA (Nashville, TN) 194,758 80% 1993 315,049 -38%
RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC) 193,453 73% 2000 296,434 -35%
AUS (Austin, TX) 192,032 68% 2003 222,100 -14%
TPA (Tampa, FL) 189,682 88% 2000 278,632 -32%
TEB (Teterboro, NJ) 177,606 42% 2000 282,847 -37%
HPN (White Plains, NY) 164,511 43% 1999 222,274 -26%
SAT (San Antonio, TX) 164,393 66% 1998 273,345 -40%
IND (Indianapolis, IN) 162,294 90% 2000 259,860 -38%
SJC (San Jose, CA) 160,509 79% 1991 340,875 -53%
SDF (Louisville, KY) 156,200 91% 1994 184,653 -15%
SJU (San Juan, PR) 154,727 89% 2000 236,903 -35%
PBI (West Palm Beach, FL) 144,527 58% 1993 233,558 -38%
TUS (Tucson, AZ) 137,561 22% 37% 2005 284,555 -52%
OGG (Maui, HI) 136,654 85% 1999 188,387 -27%
MSY (New Orleans, LA) 134,263 90% 1994 175,493 -23%
ABQ (Albuquerque, NM) 133,828 10% 55% 2002 254,568 -47%
BUR (Burbank, CA) 132,391 21% 48% 1991 224,033 -41%
ISP (Islip, NY) 124,164 47% 2000 238,239 -48%
MCI (Kansas City, MO) 122,844 97% 1999 219,956 -44%
CLE (Cleveland, OH) 118,653 92% 2000 331,899 -64%
MKE (Milwaukie, WI) 113,715 87% 1999 221,866 -49%
SMF (Sacramento, CA) 111,187 91% 2007 180,037 -38%
JAX (Jacksonville, FL) 103,788 70% 1999 161,539 -36%
BUF (Buffalo, NY) 97,605 16% 72% 2000 165,334 -41%
OMA (Omaha, NE) 96,275 71% 1999 188,216 -49%
BDL (Windsor Locks, CT) 94,812 81% 1999 183,444 -48%
BHM (Birmingham, AL) 94,401 53% 1991 180,961 -48%
ONT (Ontario, CA) 91,671 80% 1994 159,895 -43%
BLI (Bellingham, WA) 84,600 32% 29% 2000 89,730 -6%
RSW (Ft Myers, FL) 79,151 89% 2005 96,148 -18%
OXR (Oxnard, CA) 74,151 55% 1993 137,933 -46%
BTV (Burlington, VT) 71,133 26% 37% 1991 123,146 -42%
PVD (Providence, RI) 70,088 17% 62% 1999 156,366 -55%
PSP (Palm Springs, CA) 55,919 55% 2002 109,509 -49%
MHT (Manchester, NH) 55,537 73% 1993 116,272 -52%
DAY (Dayton, OH) 51,854 76% 1991 189,896 -73%
SWF (Newburgh, NY) 43,851 21% 26% 1999 168,603 -74%
SLE (Salem, OR) 34,646 32% 2007 101,800 -66%
RFD (Rockford, IL) 34,356 21% 30% 1991 114,593 -70%
GYY (Gary, IN) 25,844 31% 1995 64,725 -60%
average change: -38%

Overall, ATADS data shows the ASPM-77 airports increasing commercial operations by 2%, from 2015 to 2016. But, the total remains 14% below system peak year (2000) and below annual totals for all years from 1993 through 2011. And, most importantly, if you separate out the main airports the few major airlines are increasingly focusing on, the operations at all other commercial airports are routinely down 30% or more from peak years. What we are watching is a slow reconfiguration by the airlines, to rely on roughly a dozen main ‘superHub’ airports, while gutting and even abandoning service at hundreds of communities.


See also: