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.

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.

Aviation Impacts are Non-Partisan

Here is a screen-cap of a thoughtful Facebook post. Susan is a ‘victim’ of TNNIS and other NextGen routes east of LaGuardia Airport [KLGA], who has worked tirelessly trying to get FAA to responsibly fulfill their role as a regulator that can mitigate environmental impacts.

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

It is important to understand that NextGen is really just about spending lots of money. The money comes primarily from airline passenger taxes and Congress, and the recipients are a small group of avionics manufacturers, as well as lobbyists (many of whom are retired FAA ‘regulators’).

In order to obtain needed funds, the Av-Gov Complex had to sell the NextGen concept to Congress. This meant building an appearance of cohesive support, including especially the airlines and labor. This they accomplished by ‘collaborating’ to produce the following strategy:

  • dupe the public (including Congress) by claiming NextGen offers something new and incredibly efficient … such as their coordinated sales pitch with graphics showing zig-zag routes that have not been commonly flown for more than five decades!
  • ignore the many examples of how no substantial efficiency gains are achieved; for example, the routine use of enroute delay vectors (which commonly more than compensate for the short time savings of low/early departure turns);
  • entice the airlines by promising the elimination of noise mitigation routes at major hub airports … allowing turns lower and closer to the runways, for both departures and arrivals;

The airlines and the controllers’ union (NATCA) could say lots about how bogus the whole NextGen sales pitch is, but their silence has been bought. Just a few years ago, NATCA was strongly critical of NextGen; today, controllers who question why the NATCA leaders are advocating ATC privatization (which is hand-in-glove with NextGen implementation) are pressured into silence. And, as for the airlines, Delta stands alone as the only major airline willing to critique the Av-Gov sales pitch.

In simplest terms, FAA is committing a fraud while diminishing quality of life at the homes of hundreds of thousands of residents. This is a ‘taking’, without just compensation. It is being done by FAA, against the People, to narrowly benefit the Av-Gov Complex.

What is Regulatory Capture?

Here is a short definition, as cleanly summarized at Wikipedia:

“…Regulatory capture is a form of political corruption that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or special concerns of interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating. Regulatory capture is a form of government failure; it creates an opening for firms to behave in ways injurious to the public (e.g., producing negative externalities). The agencies are called “captured agencies”….”

Last year, a Washington Post article by Will Baude took another look at regulatory capture, noting that the problem may in fact go further, into academia and the legal profession. Here is a paragraph from his article [PDF], where he is quoting University of Chicago economist Luigi Zingales:

“When economists talk about regulatory capture, they do not imply that regulators are corrupt or lack integrity. In fact, if regulatory capture was just due to illegal behavior, it would be easier to fight. Regulatory capture is so pervasive precisely because it is driven by standard economic incentives, which push even the most well-intentioned regulators to cater to the interest of the regulated. These incentives are built in their positions. Regulators depend upon the regulated for much of the information they need to do their job properly. This dependency creates a need to cater to the information providers. The regulated are also the only real audience of the regulators, since taxpayers have all the incentives to remain ignorant. Hence, the regulators’ on the job performance will be naturally defined with the regulated in mind, pushing the regulators to cater to the interest of the regulated. Finally, career incentives play a big role. The regulators human capital is highly industry specific and the best job for people holding that specific human capital are with the regulated. Hence, the desire to preserve future career options makes it difficult for the regulator not to cater to the regulated.”

Examples of FAA’s Regulatory Capture

FAA is a captured agency. Indeed, a careful study of FAA’s history suggests that this agency has nearly always been serving aviation interests first, frequently with complete indifference to the negative impacts upon the general public.

One early example was fifty years ago, in 1964. The Av-Gov Complex wanted to make money by developing supersonic air travel. So, they got the Military-Industrial Complex to help out, to use military aircraft to ‘test’ the impacts of sonic booms on people in Oklahoma. Very similar to how today, FAA is ‘testing’ noise impacts of their flawed and oversold NextGen technologies, in Phoenix and Flushing and elsewhere. Check out this recent article at Gizmodo.com:

An example from a few years ago is the Colgan crash in Buffalo, in January 2009. Fifty were killed in this horrific accident which plainly exposed a bucketload of failure within commercial passenger aviation: FAA’s lack of effective oversight, underpaid and chronically fatigued feeder pilots, airline deceptive marketing (e.g., Continental was selling Colgan seats as ‘Continental’ flights), and more. The regulatory capture aspect of this was well defined in a Buffalo News Op/Ed in July 2014.

And the latest example is the ongoing NextGen implementation debacle. The use of GPS satellite signals for air navigation began in earnest in 1994. FAA spent a decade fine-tuning their funding proposal, then finally got Congress’ blessing (i.e., funding authorization) in 2003. They spent a few more years lining up needed support from their employee unions (NATCA, PASS), and also made deals with airline and manufacturer stakeholders to get their ‘collaboration’. All of this meticulous groundwork by FAA was to ensure none of the stakeholders would oppose what FAA was preparing to take to Congress. With that done, in early 2012, FAA got Congress to pass ambiguous legislation that waives the longstanding requirement to conduct public environmental review of new air traffic routes. Which brings us to today’s NextGen mess.

FAA has done years of hard work for the airlines (and for the manufacturers who are raking in $billions$ for new systems and mandated products). And the result? Thousands of residents in communities across the country have risen loudly AFTER FAA has imposed new, noise-impactful NextGen routes. Astonishingly, even after local officials and senior Senators send written appeals to FAA, all FAA does is delay fixing the problems created by NextGen; in fact, they salt the fresh wounds by continuing to aggressively sell NextGen as ‘green’, and by conducting months and years of ‘studies’.

Just like in 1964.

FAA imposes an impact, and then they waste airline passenger taxes to spend years inconclusively ‘studying’ the impacts.

It seems that, at FAA, regulatory capture is more than just a phenomenon: it is an entrenched culture.

See also… (blue dates link to online content)

10/5/2012
Aviation Impacts & FAA’s Regulatory Capture: the Reasons the aiReform.com Website was Created
Early post from the first month of aiREFORM.com, with a deeper look at FAA history and citing numerous examples of FAA’s Regulatory Capture.

2015: A Record Year for Arctic Ice Melt?

The two graphs below are produced by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, in Boulder, CO. The full graph is updated daily, and can be viewed (and customized) at the NSIDC website. In this Post, aiREFORM has selected the record-low years (2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015), and zoomed in to create detailed screen-captures, presented below to allow a closer analysis. Continue reading

NextGen Derailed: Here is What NextGen was SUPPOSED to be in late 2004

Sometimes, when a program is failing to meet targets, it is a good idea to pause and evaluate the history. For NextGen, a good question is: What was the original expectation, and how has that evolved over time?

Taking just a few minutes to research this question, it quickly becomes clear that FAA has spent a lot of time and money ‘selling’ NextGen, and one unfortunate element of that sales job has been to sacrifice local airport environment to gain needed ‘stakeholder’ support from the airlines. I.e., FAA has thrown away residential quality of life near major airports in Phoenix, Boston, New York, Charlotte and elsewhere, by knowingly ignoring obvious adverse noise impacts. They are giving the airlines what they want (slightly shorter flights) via very concentrated NextGen departure routes with early turns.

The extent of FAA’s NextGen failure will eventually become clear, supplanting the positive spin that FAA, NATCA, A4A and other so-called ‘collaborating stakeholders’ have carefully delivered since 2003. In time, it will become clear that certain human habits and political realities are behind the REAL NextGen, including:

  • FAA has a very long history of collecting airline passenger fees and applying these taxes to perpetually upgrade ATC equipment. Similar to the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned about. Every year, hundreds of millions are spent on new contracts for hardware, software and services.
  • FAA and the handful of firms who win FAA’s contracts are strongly motivated to impose new programs, simply because they want the money. They have zero incentive for cost savings, because their paychecks are directly connected to the NextGen program. The bigger the program, the bigger the individual paycheck.
  • NextGen Benefits will be (and have been) grossly exaggerated; NextGen costs and deficiencies will be (and have been) routinely understated and/or concealed.
  • It is irresponsible, disingenuous,  and absolutely ludicrous for FAA to encourage the media to paint a picture of an archaic ATC system in desperate need of an upgrade.
  • DON’T BLAME CONGRESS  for the FAA-related legislation they pass. The precise language within NextGen legislation, such as the ambiguous Section 213 passed in early 2012, did not originate with Congress; it was pieced together by FAA and their principal clients, the airlines and manufacturers. When Congress passed the ambiguous language in 2012, FAA then chose to take full advantage of the ambiguity and misapply ‘Categorical Exclusions’ to ignore the public; i.e., it was FAA’s knowing choice to impose environmentally impactful departures, such as the MAYSA and FTHLS departures at KPHX and the TNNIS departure at KLGA.
  • DO BLAME CONGRESS for their failure to compel FAA to clean up the mess they have made with the NextGen rollouts. It appears they are too beholden to the moneyed interests that fund their reelection campaigns. Sadly, we no longer expect assertive constituent services, but instead have come to expect our elected officials to fall into two groups: those who stay quiet, and those who grandstand on the issue to generate voter support (but it is just grandstanding, and the problems never get solved). We have also come to expect that what officials say to cameras generally is not consistent with what they do out of view.
  • Follow the money and it is hard to see otherwise: our aviation system, like our political system, is broken; it primarily serves money, with generally no regard for the concerns of the average citizen.

Originally, Noise REDUCTION was Part of the NextGen Plan!

NextGen first took form in late 2003, when Congress passed the ‘Vision 100 – Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act’. At Section 709 of the legislation (see page 95 of the PDF copy), Congress ordered FAA to form the Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO) for NextGen implementation. Amazingly, the plan first articulated by Congress in 2003 included the environment. At paragraph (c) of Section 709, Congress listed the seven goals they expected FAA to pursue. Here is a screen capture of a portion of Section 709, with the noise impact goal highlighted: 20031212scp.. Noise reduction goal (from Sec.7, PL 108-176)If FAA was applying Goal #7, we would not have KPHX departures inundating Grand Avenue and Laveen with noise, as they have been since September 18th. Nor would we have the TNNIS departure being used so destructively off of La Guardia. But we do have these impacts, and FAA plans more.

NextGen Technologies go Back 40+ Years

Instead of honoring the intent Congress had stated in Goal #7, FAA is doubling down with their spin job. They, and the other stakeholders, carefully coordinate their statements to dupe the larger public into believing that NextGen is transformational, a collection of amazing and new technologies.

It is important to understand that these satellite positioning technologies have actually been around for a long time. The U.S. GPS system dates back to the 1970’s for military use, but was made available for civilian use in 1995. It was eight years later (in 2003) that FAA got Congress to initiate NextGen, and another eight years later (in early 2012) that FAA got Congress to accelerate implementation of their ‘new’ NextGen plan, with ambiguous language that FAA then used to bypass environmental review.

And, yes, all of that legislation was drafted by FAA, principally to serve the industry players, especially the airlines and the avionics manufacturers.

12/12/2004: The First NextGen Report

One of the other actions Congress ordered in late 2003 was for FAA to report back “…not later than one year after the date of enactment of the Act.” Exactly one year after enactment, on 12/12/2004, FAA published a 41-page paper, JPDO’s ‘Next Generation Air Transportation System Integrated Plan’. The report includes more than a dozen references to managing noise. Here is a link to a PDF copy; to aid in an efficient review, yellow highlighting has been added to all references to ‘Noise’.

And, here is a screen-cap of the ‘abstract’ of JPDO’s ‘Next Generation Air Transportation System Integrated Plan’. The text was essentially extracted from the ‘Executive Summary’ (see pages 4-5 of the PDF copy).

Abstract : The United States has been at the forefront of aviation since the day the Wright Flyer made its historic 12-second flight. Since then, Americans have become the most mobile society on Earth. Imagine, though, what would happen to our economy and quality of life if we could no longer depend on air transportation for overnight delivery or we could no longer depend on arriving when we need to arrive? The U.S. air transportation system as we know it is under stress. The demand for air transportation**This was written at the end of 2004. Ten years later, at the end of 2014, total scheduled commercial domestic passenger departures have been steadily declining year after year, and are down 19% since 2004. is outpacing our ability to increase capacity in our airports. Operating and maintenance costs of the air traffic system are outpacing revenues and the air carrier industry is going through significant change. The terrible events of September 11, 2001, radically altered our country and they exposed a new impediment to the future of the air transportation industry. New security requirements are significantly impacting costs and the ability to efficiently move people and cargo. In addition, the growth in air transportation has provoked community concerns over aircraft noise, pollution, and congestion that affect our ability to respond adequately or rapidly enough to our changing world. Now imagine an alternative world where a traveler or shipper determines departure and arrival times instead of being confined to a predetermined schedule. Imagine a hassle-free travel experience where safety and security measures, ticketing, and baggage checks are all transparent as the traveler or package moves easily through the airport and on and off the aircraft. Think of the possibilities if owning a recreational plane, micro-jet, or a share of a jet capable of flying in nearly all weather conditions were affordable to more Americans. Imagine improved individual and community quality of life in a world with less aircraft noise and emissions pollution, even as significant increases in air transportation occur.

See also:

New Global Group Opposes ‘Aerotropolis Schemes’

Anyone who has been employed in aviation or studied aviation history knows that airports, airlines and manufacturers rely heavily on political support and governmental subsidy. In fact, a whole new industry has developed in recent decades to feed this relationship. Just like the scandalous ‘banksters’ who created new ways to steal money, today we have many opportunists who set up various airport schemes so they can get rich quick. They scheme to connect private money and public authority, mutually benefitting all involved parties — but, not the citizens. They dress it prettily as a ‘collaboration’. Always, the promoters are careful to present only the positive spin, while knowingly staying quiet about the negatives.

This works fine (not for us, but for the schemers) when people lack critical thinking skills, or when they are too tired (or too burned out or too busy or too distracted) to participate candidly in public decision-making. So, we are lucky that some critical thinkers care enough to speak up, and to form new groups like the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM).

Aerotropolis is the aviation equivalent of Walmart. Each new project is conceived in a boardroom, then implemented with a mountain of financing and political leverage. Sometimes, darker tactics are deployed (e.g., kickbacks, bribes, threats, etc.). Once the development is done, you have a monstrous economic engine quickly draining the life out of hundreds of older family businesses (and, often doing so while receiving huge tax waivers and other public subsidies). Sure, the new monster creates a few new jobs (after destroying more than a few old jobs), but the new jobs tend to be mostly at the lower end of the wage spectrum.

Just as with other self-serving, cronyistic adventures, with airport projects a scant few get filthy rich. And, what do the locals get?

  • it is not uncommon for tens of thousands of families to be forcibly displaced. And aviation abuses eminent domain everywhere — not just in the darker ‘less democratic’ corners of the world, but increasingly in the hollowed-democracy heartlands of even the most advanced economies.
  • farmland and natural habitat is destroyed, along with other declines in environmental quality. There is the air pollution and noise pollution that will always be associated with fossil-fuel-powered aviation (and worse yet for our climate future, each aerotropolis is consciously designed to maximize the rate of human consumption of fossil fuels). There is the land pollution via pesticides to ‘efficiently’ manage ‘wildlife hazards’, followed by wholesale killing when that fails. And, there is the use (and misuse) of de-icing and other aviation chemicals.
  • there is the loss of former open space when huge acreages become fenced off. On the other hand, locals get to ‘look at’ miles of this fenced-off open space every workday, during long drive commutes from their distant ‘almost-affordable’ residences.
  • whatever control the locals had BEFORE the project, once it is built, the locals almost ALWAYS lose that control. The corporations (and captured faux-regulators like FAA) take over, operating out of view.

And someday, if the distant Board and CEO decide to nudge a different profit margin, they may just move on to a greener taxbreak pasture. This has happened many times in aviation. Cincinnati ([KCVG] … thanks, Delta!), St. Louis ([KSTL] … thanks, American!), and Pittsburgh ([KPIT] … thanks, USAirways!), are three extreme examples. And it continues in a more subtle form today, as operations are increasingly concentrated into a dozen or so fortress hubs. We are now down to the ‘final four’ (American-USAirways, Delta-Northwest, Southwest, and United-Continental), and FAA looks the other way while airline officials carefully coordinate schedules to avoid any real competition.

Here are two PDF’s from the new organization. Scroll through the first window to see the invitation to join GAAM, written by Anita Pleumarom in Thailand. Scroll through the second window to read an analysis of the impacts caused by the Aerotropolis projects, written by ‘Plane Truth’ author Rose Bridger.


See also:

“Unfit for Flight” news investigation wins the NPF ‘Feddie’ Award

National Press Foundation recognized Thomas Frank for his USA Today investigative series about aviation fatalities and regulatory capture.

A non-profit foundation, NPF cited Mr. Frank for his “extraordinary investigation” in his series, ‘Unfit for Flight’, which appeared in June. He was given the ‘Feddie’ award, recognizing that his writing helps to show how federal policy affects local government. Judges were also impressed with how the presentation of the  news series “…effectively uses the techniques of digital journalism: video, animation and responsive design. This is modern journalism at its best.”

The series revealed how design defects have been allowed to persist in private airplanes and helicopters for decades, often because of cover-ups by manufacturers. The stories also showed how National Transportation Safety Board crash investigations often overlook the causes of aircraft crashes and deaths, and how the Federal Aviation Administration allows brand-new aircraft to be manufactured under safety regulations that are decades old, thus perpetuating known design flaws.

Boeing Slows 787 Production Rates, to Catch Up with ‘Traveled Work’

Boeing reacted with aggressive denial of charges in the recent news investigation about the 787 Dreamliner, Broken Dreams: The Boeing 787. One charge that nobody even tries to challenge, though, is that this new aircraft has been chronically plagued with delays, even before the first prototype was ready to fly.  The delays have continued in recent months.20140918cpy.. B787's on KPAE FlightlineA new airliner is large, thus difficult to hide … and made even more difficult when ‘spotters’ are avidly pursuing their hobby. Every day, these guys watch out for new aircraft and then share their photos online. The ramp area at Paine Field in Everett is loaded with lots of 787’s, each of which will quickly be flown off when all work is finished. These aircraft are a huge investment; thus, the airlines have no interest in letting them sit for extra days at the factory ramp.

Evidently, Boeing is doing so much ‘Traveled Work’ in recent months that the local paper reports total production is down. Furthermore, some Boeing workers are sharing ‘anonymously’ that they had to work 10- and 12-hour days and on Saturdays, to fix problems. Overtime in Boeing factories is not uncommon, but workers say their workload this time has been greater than usual. The workers have to answer anonymously, because Boeing forbids its workers from speaking publicly about the program.

Here is an excerpt from one of the many insightful comments, responding to the article:

“The FAA needs to send real inspectors, from Washington D.C., not the good ol’ boys that are stationed in the area, and do a complete investigation of the program from the bottom to the top. Come talk to the hourly guys that are doing the work BEFORE they talk to the top brass. They would pull the PC700 on the 787 program in a NY minute. It is funny that the quality of work on the Everett Flightline is great at the north end, Stall 101 and 102 being the best, and by the time one gets to Stalls 108 through 201, ….they all wear hockey helmets and the product shows!”

see also:

The John Woods Whistleblower Case

20140909.. John Woods pic from AlJazeera article
At 32-minutes into Broken Dreams: The Boeing 787, the cameras reveal Starkville, Mississippi and then focus in on the story of Whistleblower John Woods. An expert in the manufacturing of composites for aviation, Mr. Woods spoke up for safety at the South Carolina Boeing plant … and he was soon fired. Click on the YouTube display below, and the video will start at the point in the video where Mr. Woods’ story begins.

Mr. Woods was employed in the private sector, but his story is entirely representative of what happens to FAA air traffic controllers, inspectors, and others who similarly speak up for safety. The fact that he is an older employee with many decades of experience is also notable; often, when FAA retaliates against their own employees, they do so to pressure them into early retirements. The pattern is this:

  1. Employee responsibly speaks up about a safety issue.
  2. The Employer is threatened, and retaliates, eventually firing employee.
  3. Employee files a Whistleblower case to higher authorities, such as to FAA’s Office of Audit & Evaluation (Clay Foushee, manager).
  4. After a lengthy delay, the higher authority concludes nothing can be substantiated and drops the case.

In the end, and often after years of delay, all the Whistleblower case processing gives the Agency or company exactly what they want and need: a cleansing of those ‘problem employees’ who have the audacity to speak up for safety. And the dismissed employees? They are each left trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered life.