A Victory for the People: Shuster is Scrapping A4A’s ATC Privatization Scheme

Yesterday, Congressman Bill Shuster, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced he is abandoning his multi-year push (going back to at least 2015) aimed at privatizing the U.S. ATC system. The idea was sold as a way to remove roughly 35,000 employees from federal service, but many saw that in fact, the idea was just a way to give more leverage to the airlines and other corporate interests.

This is a big victory for all of us who want FAA to stop being a captured agency, a faux-regulator that fails to serve people while serving only aviation commerce.

Below is an archived compilation of various news articles with the announcement. The actual Press Release has not yet been posted at Congressman Shuster’s website.

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


See also this earlier aiReform content:

KSEA: Beacon Hill’s Fight for Health & Quality of Life

Archived copy of a good article, shared at Facebook, with some footnoted analysis by aiReform. This may help define what we need from our elected officials, to reclaim long-needed local control, so our airports are in balance with our local communities.

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

Is Trump ‘Reloading the Swamp’?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAA as Faux-Regulator

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

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

Can This be Fixed?

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

ATC Is Not the Real Cause of Airline Delays…

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how to fix our air-traffic control problems – (NOT!!)

Here’s an analysis/rebuttal of a Steve Forbes USAToday Op/Ed, about NextGen and ATC Privatization. Mr. Forbes repeats the common NextGen lies, using few words to present the current ATC system as archaic, inefficient and overdue for reform. He misses on all points, but does a great job passing along the frauds FAA and industry have been spinning to us, in recent years. Frankly, this Op/Ed has the feel of one of those sleazy ‘advertorials’ that have become the mainstay of post-“1984” journalism, in our national “Animal Farm.”

Although Mr. Forbes twice ran for President and is a successful businessman, he appears to fall into the same trap as President Trump: both men totally fail to go beyond the fraudulent sales pitch by FAA/industry; both show a wholesale acceptance of the FAA/industry propaganda, with no critical analysis.

In endorsing either NextGen or ATC privatization, both men are wrong.

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

Thanksgiving, 2017: Three Graphics That Say a Lot

Here are three graphics: the first posted by airline lobbyist A4A, the second posted by FAA, and the last shared online at the Facebook site, Plane Sense 4 Long Island. Note the conflicting data from FAA and the lobby; note also the noise and air pollutant impacts on communities, such as under the JFK Arc of Doom, or under the narrow NextGen flightpaths in and out of KBOS, KCLT, KLAX, KPHX, KSEA, and other airports.

The airline lobby says 28.5 Million ‘passengers’ are forecast… (click on image to view source)

…but FAA says 3.95 Million will fly for Thanksgiving. That’s a lot less than the 28.5 Million claimed by A4A. (click on image to view source)

I have to wonder: why such a huge discrepancy, 3.95 Million vs 28.5 Million? Well, the 28.5 Million figure was produced by the airline lobby, and released in a press package on November 1st. It looked suspicious then. And, as is to be expected for a lobbyist (or a captured regulator!), the spin felt aimed at helping us all believe air travel is incredibly popular. But, it is just spin, and quite deceptive. For example, what is a ‘passenger’, and how do they measure ‘passengers’? Is it each person counted only once, whatever their full travel itinerary flown, or is a person who flies 4 legs to get to dinner listed as ‘4 passengers’? Are flights via airline hubs subject to double- or even triple-counting, toward the 28.5 Million figure? Such accounting methods would rapidly inflate towards an absurd 28.5 Million figure. Most likely, FAA’s figure is reasonably correct, and represents the number of outbound and return seats, related solely to Thanksgiving trips; thus, a more accurate A4A infographic would have declared that 7.9 million seats will be filled in 2017 for Thanksgiving travel (the math: 2x 3.95M).

So, assuming that FAA’s figure is fairly accurate, what does this figure mean? I.e., why is air travel so elite, even in the United States? Think about it. This is the biggest family holiday of the year. The national population is now 326.3 Million (per the Census Bureau population clock). Here, FAA, the U.S. federal authority on aviation, claims only 1.2% of our citizens use aviation to travel for Thanksgiving? Seems mighty small … but it is probably fairly accurate (and FAA has the data, so they should know). Plus, notice the figures for automobile travel: 45.5 Million (i.e., 13.9% of us will travel by car, 11.5-times as many as who will air-travel this holiday).

Regarding the third graphic… how about those residents losing their minds (and sleep) under the nonstop aircraft streams? This problem is much worse in 2017 than it was in, say 2007. What changed? The two key changes are implementation of NextGen, and packing flights in closer using the reduced separation standards of Wake Recategorization (aka ‘wake recat’). Oddly, FAA/industry are always pitching NextGen, but they both cautiously stay quiet about wake recat; this is odder, still, because the NextGen pitch is far more fraudulent, thus should be the angle they stay quiet on. Anyway, these two changes together reflect an unspoken mission shift at FAA: this agency not only does not understand the dire need to allow a local voice to moderate air commerce in and out of their local airport, but now, FAA is fully in service to the airline industry, enabling these excessive and growing impacts.

The Bottom Line: What’s more important: rising airline profit margins, or families seated together, in the homes they worked to buy and build and maintain, so that they can relax for a day of shared gratitude?

What’s more important? Hell, this is a no-brainer; it sure is NOT airline profit margins.

…Jana Chamoff Goldenberg‎ posted the great graphic at Plane Sense 4LI (can we credit the artist, too?) … THANKS!

Unfriendly Skies: Forty Years of Airline Deregulation Failure

An excellent analysis was sent to the aiReform administrator, along with this email comment:

“This is the best article I have seen in a VERY long time about the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the traveling public, airline deregulation.”

 

He’s right. David Dayen did a fantastic job writing “Unfriendly Skies: It’s time to admit that airline deregulation has failed passengers, workers—and economic efficiency.”

A paragraph from the opening page of the article.

Mr. Dayen points out the role of all politicians, at both political extremes, in passing the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978; he debunks the myth of lower costs and higher efficiencies that actually did not happen, and shows evidence of FAA’s expanding regulatory capture; he also bears down on how the airline industry is a microcosmic example of the rise of oligopolies, that change processes and markets for their narrow benefit while imposing great costs onto many of us.

Click here to view Mr. Dayen’s source article at American Prospect, or click/scroll below to read a PDF archived copy with aiREFORM annotations.

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

NAS Annual Ops Have Declined for Decades Now, And NextGen Is Just Hype

One of the most frustrating and damnable aspects of today’s FAA is their manipulation of data, to steer public opinion toward more aviation expansion. This propagandistic phenomenon has worsened in the last decade. Sometimes, to get to the facts, you have to dive deep and find what FAA wrote long ago. Here is an example…Let’s go back to early 2001.

(click on image to view archived copy of entire FAA report, from April 2001)

Here’s a screencap from April of that year, FAA’s 125-page NAS Capital Investment Plan 2002-2006. This one small screencap offers some unvarnished statements about capacity and delays (and the whole document contains many, MANY more!):

  • “Currently, traffic at the 25 busiest airports exceeds their practical capacity by about 1 million operations a year.”
  • “Either demand is reduced, or capacity expanded to bring the NAS into balance. It is normal to experience some delay in the NAS, the challenge is to manage excessive delay.”
  • RE: 15 new runways scheduled to open in the next five years: “If all of these runways are built as scheduled, they will add about 1.4 million operations a year in capacity.”

OK, so let’s take a closer look. First, let’s look at FAA’s ATADS data, the most precise database available for studying operations at all FAA and contract control towers in the U.S. Here’s a table created for the ‘top 25’ airports; in this case, the 25 busiest OEP-35 airports in calendar year 2000:What does this show? It shows a critical reality: this aviation system is NOT expanding, is NOT becoming increasingly complex, and in fact has been down-sizing for nearly two decades. In other words, the expensive changes that industry and FAA are pitching so aggressively are NOT needed, and serve only to further line the pockets of the cronies they advocate for. (…which, of course, is why they are advocating!)

Now, let’s take another look at those quotes above, and let’s do the math. Those 25 busiest airports were allegedly exceeding practical capacity by ‘about 1 million operations’ annually. The totals in the table above (use the ‘TOTALS’ column, not the ‘Commercial’ column, because that is the number that matters to define ATC workload) show 13.4 Million operations in 2000. Thus, this FAA document suggests the ‘practical capacity’ of the top 25 airports in 2000 was 12.4 Million annual operations. By 2016, three key forces (airline consolidation, hub realignment, and economic normalization) had reduced total ops to 11.1 Million annual ops, well below the alleged ‘practical capacity’. While total annual operations at the top 25 airports are down 17% (from 2000 to 2016), the only airports bucking this trend are the ones where airlines insist on over-scheduling. In other words, their pursuit of profits is the root cause of daily system delays, it also is the primary source for massive impacts upon neighboring residential communities, such as near KJFK, KCLT, and KSFO.

Note, too, that actual capacity has increased substantially (which, of course, reduces ATC complexity), with the construction not only of the ‘15 new runways’ by 2006, but the many other new runways between 2006 and 2017.

As a side note, ponder this: notice the green background stats in the table above. These are the very few airports where operations have actually increased from 2000 to 2016. Most people would assume automatically, Charlotte was tops, because of American’s massive expansion there to create a super-Hub. They would be wrong. In fact, Kennedy airport in NYC beat out Charlotte. FAA and PANYNJ accommodations to JetBlue, Delta and American are the reason that the western half of Long Island is constantly inundated with long and low arrival conga lines into JFK. The 28% increase is quite impactful.

CONCLUSION: when Bill Shuster et al stand before press cameras or preside at hearings where they pitch NextGen and ATC privatization, they are out of touch and, frankly, pitching a fraud. They should instead be focusing on managing hub capacity, imposing limits at the most congested hub airports, so that the entire system can achieve higher efficiencies and lower impacts.

NextGen: “A Virtual Highway, and the Traffic Never Stops”

A good opinion piece related to NextGen impacts (and ongoing FAA failures) near the Baltimore-Washington Airport [KBWI]. This airport serves as the hub for Southwest, in the DC area (NOTE: the two other major airports serving the DC area are Dulles [KIAD] and Reagan National [KDCA]; United hubs at KIAD, and American dominates at KDCA]. There is some misinformation in the Op/Ed, as happens in a world run by money and set on crafting and pitching propaganda, but they also make some great points.

Here is an archived copy, with aiREFORM footnotes added:

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