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.
The two screencaps below look at the ten most congested airports in 2000, as well as the airports for which the most money was spent expanding infrastructure between 1988 and 2002. They are screencaps from slides #17 and #19 of ‘A Historical and Legislative Perspective on Airport Planning & Management’, a January 2002 presentation by Alexander T. Wells & Seth B. Young.
In a normal economic environment, actions are taken to mitigate problems. Delays are one such problem. If the aviation sector behaved rationally, regulators (in this case, FAA) and operators (both airports and airlines) would make adjustments to reduce delays, even more so because the delays at the largest hub airports cascade into more delays at other airports.
The data in this January 2002 presentation shows that FAA and airport authorities are not acting rationally to reduce delays and are, in fact, doing exactly the opposite of what they need to do. That is, instead of scaling back excessive operations at the most congested airports, they are doubling down, spending even more money to enable even more over-scheduling (and congestion/delays) by the major airlines.
A look at the major airports serving the NYC-Philadelphia area is revealing. The four main airports all rank in the top-10 delay airports for 2000:
- Newark (EWR, United hub): ranked #1
- LaGuardia (LGA): ranked #2
- Kennedy (JFK, major hub for American/Delta/JetBlue): ranked #5
- Philadelphia (PHL, American hub being scaled down): ranked #7
The worst-case example is JFK. The role of this airport has always including serving as a major international hub, but, with the formation of JetBlue, a substantial amount of domestic hub traffic has been added. The airlines make higher profits when they increase hub through-traffic, but airline pursuit of higher profits is supposed to be balanced against impacts such as more noise pollution, more air pollution, and more surface road congestion. The airport authority (PANYNJ) and federal regulator (FAA) are supposed to ensure this balance, but they fail; unfortunately, both FAA and PANYNJ are instead focused solely on serving airline profits, and are thus blinded from seeing the impacts, such as under the JFK Arc of Doom.
How bad is the failure by FAA/PANYNJ regarding JFK? Well, notice the last column in the table below.Of the top-ten delay hubs in 2000, only two have seen positive average annual growth in operations, from 2000 to 2017. By far, the largest average growth is at JFK, averaging 1.5% annual growth in operations. Compare that with Philadelphia, which has averaged a 1.3% annual decline in operations. Is the Philadelphia population shrinking while the NYC-area population is exploding, to explain these two trends? No. These trends – and the subsequent impacts – are due to airline scheduling, motivated by airline profits. Philadelphia is scaling down because American absorbed US Airways, and since then, American has been shifting schedule capacity AWAY from PHL and TOWARD JFK, LGA, and DCA (yet another high-impact airport).
Clearly, if FAA wanted to take a decisive action in 2018, to reduce delays, that action would focus on managing capacity, such as by imposing flow rate reductions at JFK, EWR, and LGA. It would also focus on encouraging airlines to shift capacity back to PHL, DTW, PIT, CVG, CLE and other airports that are operating far below what they were designed to serve.
Ponder this fact, too: how is it that when we look at a top-ten list of delay airports from 18-years ago, we see that 80% of those airports have since scaled down while most populations have grown? How is it we are told by FAA and industry that airports and aviation are economic gold-mines, and yet this alleged booming industry is declining nearly everywhere? How much of the FAA/industry sales pitch is hot air and propaganda? Is there anything we are told by these players that reflects reality and nurtures an informed public process, serving everyone and not just corporate interests?
A Port of Seattle (PoS) News Release today crows about the airport setting a new annual record with 46.9 million passengers in 2017. (click here to read an archived copy, with aiReform footnotes added). As is the pattern, economic benefits are exaggerated, while environmental impacts are completely ignored.
Back in 2010, PoS went to great expense to draft a Part 150 study. Within that document package was a 44-page ‘Aviation Activity Forecast’. The key graphs within that study are condensed into this scrollable 3-page PDF:
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
You can dive deeper, looking at an archived copy of the 44-page analysis here.
One of the most disgusting statements in the PoS News Release is the leadoff to the second sentence, a classic example of greenwashing, which reads: “Demand for air travel at Sea-Tac Airport increased 41 percent the last five years…” Let’s be clear. The good people in and around Seattle did not suddenly wake up 5-years ago and start spending more money and increasing trips out of Sea-Tac. Nor did the area population explode anywhere close to 41% in 5-years. No, this alleged ‘demand’ is engineered by two airlines – Alaska and Delta – as part of their escalation of hubbing intensity, all in pursuit of slightly higher airline profits. More people fly INTO [KSEA] without ever leaving the airport terminal, either sitting in their cramped seat of rushing to catch another plane at another gate. Lots more people – up 41% in 5-years. This is NOT increased ‘demand for air travel’. And, it also means fewer people are able to get direct flights from origin to destination, without the increasing number of detours through KSEA; in other words, everyone loses, except the airlines and the airport authority.
Clean up your act, PoS: get the excessive growth at KSEA under control, and knock off the greenwashing propaganda, OK?
Airline stocks have been tanking lately, in no small part due to strategy shifts by United. In a nutshell, United is trying to design a broad restructuring of its three domestic-focused hubs in Chicago, Denver and Houston. Why? Because this trio of domestic hubs “…has profit margins that are 10 percent below the inland domestic hubs operated by American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc….”
The situation is discussed in this Bloomberg article (click here to view source, or view the archived PDF copy below).
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
What is the most consequential quote in the article?
“As part of its strategy, United is boosting connections in its three mid-continent hubs by an average of 17 percent by adjusting its flight schedules, a process it’s completed in Houston and will commence in Chicago next month.”
In this one quote, United is making it clear that, for all major U.S. hubs, traffic growth is NOT about customer demand; it is airline schedule tweaking, to increase profits, that is causing the huge impact increases at major hubs, especially at KBOS, KJFK, KDCA, and KSEA.
Which airports/hubs are most monopolized?
Here are the main hubs for the four largest airlines:
- American: Charlotte [KCLT], Dallas-Ft Worth [KDFW], Miami [KMIA], and Philadelphia [KPHL]
- Delta: Atlanta [KATL], Minneapolis St Paul [KMSP], and Salt Lake City [KSLC]
- United: Cleveland [KCLE], Washington-Dulles [KIAD], and Houston [KIAH]
- Southwest: Baltimore [KBWI], Dallas-Love [KDAL], and Chicago-Midway [KMDW]
Most other major airports are either smaller market and dominated by Southwest, or they are duopoly hubs. Four duopoly hubs that stand out are:
- Denver [KDEN] – Southwest and United
- Chicago O’Hare [KORD] – American and United
- Phoenix [KPHX] – American and Southwest
- Sea-Tac [KSEA] – Alaska and Delta
Will hub concentration reduce over time?
No, not likely at all. The level of industry scheduling collusion, and the absence of real regulatory oversight, ensure this trend toward hub concentration will continue to intensify. As an example, look at the hub concentrations for 2013 data, at this aiReform Post. Note that nothing has changed: at the bulk of these 77 airports, monopolies and duopolies have only strengthened in the past four years.
Thank you, newyork.cbslocal.com, for giving coverage to the abuses under the Arc of Doom. Here’s an embed for their recent 2-minute+ news video:
The root problem is a captured federal agency (FAA) that has working with lobbyists and the airlines to slowly make a disaster for airport neighbor communities; they have created new regulations and technologies being used to channel flights into narrow and repetitive routes. Meanwhile, and with intent, they are ignoring impacts upon people.
This problem can be fixed. Residents could see very substantial relief if FAA/Congress worked to take away incentives that airlines like Delta and JetBlue use, to fly ever-larger number of passengers THROUGH the congested NYC airports. This hubbing practice adds a sliver more to airline profits, while immensely amplifying noise and air pollutant impacts. Address the flawed incentives, and you trim away the excessive flights. If FAA cannot do this on their own, Congress needs to step up and force FAA to do it.
One of the documents that contains data/info useful to airport impact activists is the Airport Competition Plan. These documents, typically 200-pages or larger, have to be produced by major airports where more than 50% of passenger travel is handled by two or fewer airlines.
In Seattle, Alaska has had a near-monopoly for passenger travel in/out of [KSEA] (note: both Alaska and Horizon hub out of KSEA, but Horizon is an Alaska subsidiary, thus the two are effectively one airline). Back in 2012, when Delta announced a new KSEA hub, it also meant that Alaska would get some competition. BUT… even with many more flights (and impacts!) resulting from the Delta hub expansion, the actual competition is not substantially improved. At this point in time we have an effective ‘near-duopoly’ in which Alaska and Delta each share a few routes, while each also monopolizes many other routes; and, meanwhile, most of the other airlines hold monopoly or duopoly shares in nearly all other routes.
Competition? No, not really!!
POS’s Link is Flawed, Fails to Provide the Latest Competition Plan Update
Evidently, POS complied with requirements and created their first Competition Plan, approved by FAA’s Elliott Black on 8/22/2014. Well, they were required to complete an update, and there is a link that allegedly offers concerned citizens a PDF of the Update. Unfortunately, the link does NOT provide that document, and instead goes to FAA’s approval letter. So, aiReform has contacted POS by phone, and is seeking to have this link error corrected.
Here are links to archived copies of correspondence and the approved first Competition Plan, including correspondence between Elliott Black (FAA) and Mark Reis (POS):
- 6/13/2014 – Airport Competition Plan (218p)
- 8/22/2014 – FAA Response letter to POS, approving Competition Plan (4p)
- 9/16/2014 – POS Response letter to FAA, re Competition Plan (2p)
- 11/17/2014 – FAA Response letter to POS, re Competition Plan (1p)
— Perhaps due to the phone inquiry from aiReform, POS has updated the Competition Plan webpage. The link is corrected, and they also added another link, to a PDF of the DEC-2017 Competition Plan Update. Two more documents are now added to this ai-Rchive:
…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 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.
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!
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.
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.
Three months ago, the ‘Dissecting NextGen’ presentation was made in Des Moines, to help people better understand the impacts of NextGen around Sea-Tac International Airport [KSEA]. Included within that presentation was discussion of ‘Hub Concentration’ and ‘Route Concentration’, as two of the main changes that are causing NextGen impacts. Well, continued research in the past months has revealed a third head to this monster: efforts by FAA to alter rules, to reduce spacing between arrivals, even setting up side-by-side arrivals to closely-spaced parallel runways.
FAA is using two main strategies to reduce arrival spacing:
- Wake Recat: short for ‘wake recategorization’, this is the reduction of minimum safe distances behind larger aircraft that create wakes. Without getting into too much detail, a series of fatal accidents decades ago forced FAA to impose longer distances between successive flights on the same route, called ‘wake turbulence separation’. But, in time, with pressure to remove capacity limitations, the rules are being modified to shorter distances.
- Simultaneous Dependent Approaches to Closely Spaced Parallel Runways (CSPR): many of the main hub airports rely on use of parallel runways that are spaced even less than half a mile apart. ATC can accommodate a lot of flights on/off parallel runways, primarily by using one runway to land and the other to takeoff. But, when weather deteriorates, especially if visibility is reduced or the ceiling (altitude of lowest cloud layer) gets to be too low, capacity plummets. So, FAA has been working with airlines to develop new ATC procedures that allow flights to be spaced much closer together when set up for landing on two or more parallel runways. [click here to view archived copies showing the evolution of FAA Order JO7110.308B since 2008]
What’s Bugging People?
Although most airports continue to be far below historic traffic levels, there are a dozen or so main hub airports where the ‘Final Four’ airlines (American, Delta, Southwest and United) schedule excessively. These are the airports where people are upset. They are seeing more flights, and they are seeing/hearing flights that are lower, often slower, seemingly louder (which is a given, for lower flights), and often turning closer to the airport than ever before. They are also seeing surges of flights — both departures and arrivals, in rapid succession, sometimes even side-by-side. It is scary to some, and deeply disturbing to many. Even retired air traffic controllers cannot believe what they are seeing. It is as if these few airports have acquired a meth or steroid addiction.
Authorities insist nothing has changed, but they are totally wrong. Well, not just wrong: they are lying, and they know it. At these few hub airports (Sea-Tac is the one growing the most in recent years, due to Delta’s 2012 decision to create a new hub), traffic volume is up, especially during the surges that happen in relation to expanded hubbing. But, there are also forces that are pushing arrivals closer to the ground. For example, with wake recat, the key thing to understand about aircraft wakes is they descend; i.e., the hazard that can flip a smaller airplane slowly drifts downward toward the ground, so ATC works hard to keep the trailing aircraft at least slightly above the leading aircraft. But, if ATC is trying to bring both aircraft in to land, on parallel runways, than ATC needs to push the lead aircraft down lower ASAP. Why? Because, if the lead aircraft is not descended low enough, the trailing aircraft will end up too high, unable to finish the approach. This results in a go-around, which carries higher risks and makes both flight crews and ATC do a lot more work.
An Example: A 13-hr Arrival Stream to Runways 4L & 4R at Boston
Boston offers an example of how badly communities are being impacted. Here, we have densely populated communities and a dominant regional airport, [KBOS], that effectively monopolizes commercial aviation. Three airlines schedule excessively at KBOS: JetBlue, American, and Delta. JetBlue is the dominant hub airline with a schedule that generates a large number of through-passengers (thus imposing much larger impacts on the area, to accommodate the added flights).
To gain airline support for NextGen, or at least to ensure the airlines will not oppose NextGen (which would kill FAA’s chances of getting Congressional funding), FAA has sold out on their responsibilities to protect communities and the environment. FAA has apparently told the airlines that they can expect increased runway throughput, which FAA will achieve by abolishing all noise mitigation procedures and creating new flight procedures that turn lower and as close as possible to the runways. NextGen is being used as a decoy or cover; by claiming NextGen is all new and fancy, FAA tricks everyone – including Congress – into not noticing that what is REALLY happening is simply the wholesale abandonment of FAA’s past responsibilities to protect the environment and community health. And, by the way, NextGen is NOT all new and fancy; most of it has existed and been used for decades; the alleged benefits are just a fraudulent sales pitch.
Clearly, when you study what FAA has imposed at ALL NextGen airports, the game plan is to maximize runway throughput. This accommodates the ideal all airlines want: unrestricted scheduling to tweak profits higher using expanded hub operations. So, with this in mind, at an airport like Boston, FAA focuses on using the combination of runways with the highest capacity per hour, which at Boston is to have arrivals land on the parallel runways 4L and 4R. Just like happens when new freeway lanes are added, the airlines are quick to eat up the increased capacity; supply defines and expands demand. At Boston, FAA is now heavily relying on 4R and 4L to ‘accommodate’ the expansion by JetBlue, Delta and American. So much for quality of life under the intensified approach corridor. Milton does not really need to get sleep, do they???
And, of course, FAA applies the same strategy at all airports where airlines want to expand hub-related profits: they use runway combinations that maximize capacity, even if wind and other factors might argue against these decisions. It’s called ‘choosing runways to traffic’, and it’s a way to be overly accommodative to airlines.
The result is streaming arrivals: nearly nonstop impacts on the ground, one arrival after another after another, sometimes even paired arrivals that are nearly side-by-side. As shown in this table, summarizing arrivals per hour on the intensified approaches to Boston’s runway 4L and 4R, the impact is relentless. Note the busiest hours are non-stop, averaging as little as 1.2-minutes between flights. [click here to view the entire stream in a data table]
And, adding insult to injury, when people notice and ask what has changed, both FAA and the airport authority (Massport, in this example) play with them: they say nothing has changed.
How Do We Kill This Monster?
FAA is simply out of control. And, Congress is doing squat to correct this problem. We need leaders in Congress to:
- demand that FAA serve the people ahead of the corporations, and this requires an emphasis on both transparency and accountability;
- demand that FAA cease spending our money to propagandize for the industry; this regulatory capture has gone on far too long;
- pass legislation that strongly disincentivizes airline hubbing – one of the simplest changes would be to formulate a new set of fees and taxes, the heart of which should be a very steep aviation fuel tax;
- and, pass legislation that restores local control, so that local communities have a real voice, and can impose reasonable curfews and capacity limits, and can say ‘NO!’ to airport over-expansion.