Airport officials at Santa Monica are in the process of creating ‘Minimum Standards for Commercial Aeronautical Service Providers. These standards can ensure that all potential operators are fairly treated when and if the airport authority denies certain operations. Last week, Airport Director Stelios Makrides issued a statement that the deadline for comments has been extended to June 21st. (click here for an archived copy)
Santa Monica is a very unique airport. It should have been allowed to close down years ago, but FAA has obstructed the will of the local community, solely to protect aviation interests who insist on using this deficient airport facility. How is it deficient? Just take a look at the satellite images and airport map, and note how closely the nearby homes and yards stand, relative to the runway. At Santa Monica, people have had their lawn furniture blown over by the blast from departing jets; REALLY!!
The runway was shortened last year, but now the City is failing to impose needed standards that block unsafe operations by jets and commercial operators. Aviation money appears to be impeding their judgment.
Santa Monica is also notable as an airport where FAA lawyers managed to convince the local elected officials to ‘settle’ legal differences with an inexplicable agreement to extend the life of the airport. Money talks, and rumor has it the elected officials were tired of spending so much money on legal services, trying to exercise their rights against FAA’s industry-serving will. You got it: our money, collected by FAA from we the taxpayers, and spent as FAA sees fit, is arbitrarily used to impede meaningful LOCAL CONTROL by compelling our own elected officials to use our money (local taxes, this time) to fight FAA in the courts.
Below is a copy of a recent letter by Gavin Scott, posted at NoJetsSMO. He summarizes what he observed at the June 5th Airport Commissioner’s Meeting. He also advocates – strongly – for people to submit their own comments right away, before the chance is gone.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
Here is a quick example of how FAA protects aviation industry players from accountability, and how the mainstream media gives FAA a pass on accountability.
WKYT is a CBS-affiliated TV station in the Lexington, Kentucky area. Residents recently became concerned about a low-flying aircraft. The TV station investigated and was able to extract from FAA that an aerial survey was being conducted. But, FAA would offer no further details. This news story then gets packaged as ‘FAA Explains why low-flying plane was spotted in multiple counties” Oh, really? That’s an ‘explanation’?
What gives here? This airspace is owned by the public. We are impacted by those who use it, and we all pay for the services of FAA, who is supposed to manage and regulate that use. More often than not, an aerial survey is nothing more than a specially rigged airplane with a vertically oriented camera capturing images while flying a tight grid pattern. The peace of those on the ground was impacted substantially, and people have a right to knowledge that far exceeds a corporate right to privacy. So, why does FAA not tell us who the aircraft operator was?
On roads everywhere, we have to have a legible license plate connected to a registered owner. In communities everywhere, commercial operators of motor vehicles are required to identify their vehicles – and they benefit by doing so, as their services are advertised ‘on the road’. This all needs to change. FAA needs to start serving THE PEOPLE – all of us, not just those ‘people’ who are LLCs and Corporations. And it all starts with transparency.
There is now a newly-completed and extensive collection of searchable/downloadable PDFs with valuable information on U.S. airports. All data was collected from online sources, either FAA or vendors who do outsource work for FAA.
Many of the tables are grouped by state and ranked by a factor such as enplanements. Alaska is top of the list, and a huge aviation state, so be sure to scroll down a few pages to see Alabama and the other states where NextGen abuses are causing so many problems (Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and Washington are good studies).
Here is a short index, with links:
FAA Enplanement Data 2004-2016 — Ranked listing of all 844 Airports with 100+ enplanements in 2016; shows enplanement figures for each airport, for each year available online-2016 (45p)
ATADS Compilation — All key data for each ATADS airport (those with FAA-ATC, contract-ATC, and some military-staffed); one page per airport shows a table for each year, from 1991-2017; also shows decline from Peak Years (533 airports)
Cargo Tonnage — FAA Tonnage Data by year, for 2003-2016, for each of 107 ranked Airports (11p)
Much more will follow, as these resources make it easier to expose how deeply FAA is captured, in service of industry players. Readers are encouraged to spend some time studying parts of this data collection; if you see something that really jumps out (for waste, abuse of authority or outright fraud by FAA) please share it on.
UPDATE, 4/13/2018: — correction to original posting… ATC staffing data was inadvertently not included. The Consolidated Airport Data for 844 Airports table has been updated, and one more table has been added (the more extensive data table showing annual ATC staffing for 263 FAA-staffed towers).
Here’s a summary of some concerns opposing KSEA over-expansion, expressed by Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, at a meeting of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) executive board. Highlights and aiReform footnotes have been added. To view the three attachments in the summary, click on these links:
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
What’s Going On Here?
The pattern observed across the nation is that decision-making behind airport expansions is intentionally dispersed and distorted, so as to create plausible unaccountability for all involved officials. In this example, the industry (especially Delta and Alaska airlines, the two major hub players at KSEA) are getting FAA assistance to push through even more hub development, with two regional authorities offering cover: Port of Seattle, and Puget Sound Regional Council. It needs to be understood that both of these regional authorities are heavily biased toward commerce; they have no meaningful concern for impacts in residential communities, as evidenced by non-mention of these growing problems in Lance Lyttle’s POS slideshow.
What is the Biggest Distortion?
Lance Lyttle’s slideshow, especially the part pretending that the expansion is serving local demand. Quite the opposite, the two major hub airlines are simply adding supply and scheduling huge numbers of passengers THROUGH KSEA, to boost their profits. People in and around Puget Sound have not and will not massively increase their alleged ‘demand’ for air travel, as Mr. Lyttle is implying (i.e., the 41% growth in enplanements in just 5-years is almost entirely to serve people outside Puget Sound). Again, the expansion is solely for airline benefit, and entirely at a cost to local community health and quality of life.
Why is aiReform.com Archiving These Documents?
These documents are being archived to encourage people to study them, and to ensure the records remain available to future airport impact victims who may seek to study the past. It is hoped that this archiving will help people to become more effective in advocating for balance, to protect their homes and communities. Readers are invited to send their comments and reviews to aiReform, which may be included in Updates to this Post.
Do any quick online search using these three words ‘Lane McFadden FAA’ and you will find quite a few links. Most are to articles and court activities related to petitions for review, filed by communities upset with FAA’s impacts and arrogance.
Mr. McFadden must be accomplished and well trained: he is a lawyer for the Department of Justice. But, the poor lad must have made a bad impression at DoJ, as he has been stuck for years, wheeling and dealing to get cases thrown out, and sometimes arguing before 3-judge panels, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (USCADC). Or, then again, maybe in the legal world he is a rock star for always having so much work to get paid for. At any rate, he was last seen – just last week – again trying to bail out FAA. He lost the Phoenix ‘petition for review’ last summer, and had to repeat his canister of ‘NextGen is good’ arguments all over again, this time for a similar case filed by residents being impacted by NextGen routes in and out of Washington National Airport.
Why Lane McFadden? Primarily because his name comes up in the article discussed below. But, even more, because I am sure glad I am not a DOJ environmental attorney stuck defending FAA. Too dark for my taste.
Here are archived copies for three cases: Click here for a USCADC decision that Mr. McFadden won for FAA in February 2009; click here for another he won, in June 2009; click here for the Phoenix PFR he lost in August 2017. Study them and you may just learn a LOT about how biased USCADC is, how they nearly always side with agencies and large corporations (first, they do all they can to just dump the PFR, then, if they do hear it, they strain their attention to side in favor of FAA; a real dog-and-pony show).
Now, about that article… here is a worthwhile analysis by Tony Verreos:
“This article says it took 2 years or more to get to the same Federal Appeals Court that ruled on the Phoenix case last year. No surprise the plaintiffs claim the FAA failed to give proper notice, and the FAA counters they went above and beyond the requirements.
Meanwhile – the one statistic that stands out very plainly is the growing number of complaints. It seems like wherever the FAA installs its new changes, complaints go up in multiples of double, triple, quadruple and even higher.
For all of the money wasted, and time people will never get back attending meetings they wish they never went to about jet noise and chemical pollution, the FAA still flat out refuses to change its Mission Statement to “Protecting Public Health and Safety” from Safety and Efficiency which it interprets very strictly as fuel savings while knowing full well how anti public health that is. And their claims of safety look great when you see no crashes. The safety chart does look great, but then they don’t display all the go arounds (wasting fuel and polluting our air), and the near misses which seem to be a growing number!”
Click here to view an archived copy of this Washington Post article.
8/29/2017 – FAA Ordered to Vacate Their 2014 NextGen Routes in Phoenix (aiReform Post)
UPDATE, 1/24/2018: — An opinion piece was published at WaPost, and a copy is archived here. The author is Paul Verchinski, who is a member of the community roundtable for yet another airport where FAA’s NextGen mess is impacting residents: Baltimore-Washington [KBWI].
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:
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?
Click here to read an archived copy of the 12/21/2017 Mountain News article by Heidi Fron (or click here to view the source article), and be sure to read the two ‘open letters’ seeking to fix these NextGen abuses! Both Jim Price and David Caine did a great job defining the impacts and articulating the need for FAA to revert to the less-impactful, pre-NextGen routes.
Here’s an embedded video of a TV news story that discusses the Lake Arrowhead impacts:
Seven months later and there has been no improvement. Just like we’ve seen around the nation: Delay – Delay – Delay.
As one more resource, click here for a brief analysis of the role of Ontario’s airport, and how NextGen changes are expanding the impacts at what is generally a fairly sleepy airport with a pair of huge runways.
To Understand NextGen, Just Follow the Money
There is nothing complicated about FAA and NextGen. Just follow the money, and recognize that FAA does not serve the people, they serve the industry, providing cover for wholesale environmental abuses that are destroying community quality of life as well as the health of many people. Very many people at FAA benefit immediately, and in retirement (with higher pensions, plus consulting or FAA-contractor gigs), with NextGen implementation. The benefits for the environment are effectively nil, and in many cases the net result is an INCREASE in impacts, solely to help the airlines shorten the flight by a minute or two.
As for the NextGen technology, well, the alleged technology changes are just a fraudulent sales pitch, oversold by FAA employees all too eager to knowingly dupe Congress and the rest of us, too. The 12/18/2017 flight mentioned by David Caine is a prime example of this fraudulent sales pitch. This cargo Boeing 767 took off from the UPS headquarters at Louisville, KY, then flew essentially a straight line (great circle route) to pick up the EAGLZ Arrival into Ontario. Here’s a screencap showing the whole route, as well as the altitude and speed profile: (source: FlightAware)
People need to understand this fact: essentially all U.S. commercial flights (cargo, as well as passenger) have been able to do these long great circle routes since the 1970s. Even before the 1970s, inertial navigation systems enabled these routes, and since then, there has been a long series of technological advances that included a heavy emphasis on aviation use of GPS navigation in the 1990s.
Think about it this way: what exactly is the efficiency gain for this particular flight, KSDF-KONT, that FAA can offer UPS? The route is already as direct as can be. The only efficiency gains are minor shortcuts for UPS, but at great cost to residents, both those near the airport in Louisville, and those under the Ontario [KONT] arrival track. People in Lousville [KSDF] suffer because ATC allows (actually, directs!) UPS to short-cut their turns right after takeoff; people at Lake Arrowhead are awakened unnecessarily because ATC allows (again, actually directs!) UPS to fly a more direct and lower ‘finish’ into KONT.
By the way, this is the case for most all commercial flights within the U.S.: so long as traffic congestion is not a factor (and congestion is not a problem for cargo flights that take off around 4AM, a key reason why the industry focuses on night flying), the system is already very efficient. The delays NextGen is supposed to help reduce happen when the airlines over-expand at a handful of hubs, and schedule far too many flights, solely to build profits. And, if we have learned anything from studying the multiple NextGen debacles, it is that these alleged ‘transformational changes’ do NOTHING to resolve airline congestion. Indeed, congestion will only be reduced if/when FAA reclaims its role as a regulator, not just an industry cheerleader/enabler.
We are told NextGen is ‘transformational’, with implications of great efficiency gains. That’s BULLSHIT! The ONLYbenefits are to the aviation operators and FAA personnel, while real people are bearing ever increasing costs.
And a Closing Question
Why are FAA’s controllers and managers complicit in this fraud? Well, more planes in their airspace eventually help air traffic controllers (ATC) to nudge total workloads (and the number of sectors and controllers at that ATC facility) to the next pay level. When controllers see nice pay raises, management gets raises, too. Ultimately, for all of them, retirement pensions rise, too. Paradoxically, per controller productivity (number of flights handled per hour, per controller, for example) continues to decline, and work complexity continues to be reduced by more and more automation. Despite all this, FAA pay and benefits continue to grow. Go figure.
This Post looks at data in two online documents, presenting further evidence of the ‘Greener Skies’ fraud that FAA, Port of Seattle, and industry players are foisting on the Public. For all intents and purposes, this is the same fraud being pushed throughout the U.S., and by industry and Congress as well, under the NextGen label.
Projected average day fuel burn on approaches, with no change: 2.64M lbs
Projected average day fuel burn WITH RNAV/RNP changes: 2.61M lbs.
These figures were presented in units (pounds) that make the numbers impressively ‘bigger’, but also make it harder to intuitively comprehend. To correct this, the figures are converted in this table (to gallons, then to annual consumption):
Fuel burn (lbs)
Converted to gallons
Gallons per year
So, the proposal is expected to achieve a savings of 1.6 million gallons annually … at an airport that sold 487.1 million gallons that year. In other words, this proposed savings is less than one third of one percent of total fuel sold at Sea-Tac. Now, to the airlines, this (~0.3%) translates to more profits; indeed, the two dominant players at KSEA, Delta and Alaska, might each save around $1,000,000 per year in fuel. But, the costs shifted onto neighborhoods and health far exceed these added corporate profits.
A little deeper research reveals another interesting fact: the alleged fuel savings of Greener Skies are massively dwarfed by annual increases at an airport scheduling more arrivals than the gates can handle. Here’s the data, from page 18 of the 2016 Annual Report for ‘Sea-Tac Fuel Facilities LLC’, showing year-to-year changes far greater than the comparatively measly 1.6 million gallons saved:
1.6M as a percentage…
57.7 (a 12% increase)
2.8% of increased consumption
41.5 (an 8% increase)
3.9% of increased consumption
The improvements are nothing when compared to the consumption growth trend. Here’s a chart showing the trends, in both annual fuel consumption and annual operations: And, here’s an analogy: imagine the public view if we were funding a drug-treatment program that was successfully helping 3% of addicts while the number of addicts was growing at such a huge rate. Would we smile if, for every three treatment successes, there were 97 new addicts? Of course, we would not. Only an idiot (or a con-artist) crows ‘success!’ about a failure.
Three realities stand out from this:
The enormous sums spent pitching Greener Skies and eventually signing off on the proposal were all framed around being pro-environment. It was a massive marketing/propaganda campaign to get out into the communities, present alleged benefits, pretend to engage people to ‘help’ identify and resolve problems, all while parading the idea that FAA, POS and industry care deeply about the environment, air quality, climate change, etc. And yet, these numbers show clearly: there were to be no meaningful environmental improvements. FAA, POS and industry players all knew this fact, even before the Greener Skies briefings and publications that wrapped up in 2012. They also knew (and still know!) that this was all just a big dog-and-pony show, funded by the people and served onto the people.
A full five years after the FONSI signoff, FAA’s controllers at Seattle TRACON are not even using the RNP procedure down the center of Elliott Bay that was the key component of Greener Skies, the one element supposed to enable the bulk of the environmental benefits. It is as if the entire Greener Skies public engagement process was just an exercise in propaganda.
The figures presented in the 2012 Greener Skies EA may not even reflect reality. Look closely. The data source documents used in this Post, when combined, show FAA/POS claimed that 487.1 million gallons of jetfuel were pumped in 2014, while also claiming 141.7 million gallons were consumed by west side arrivals on the short descending flight portions between the arrival gates (HAWKZ to the southwest, and MARNR to the northwest). Carefully note, these estimates were ONLY for west side arrivals, and did not look at fuel consumption for east side arrivals. Now, here’s the problem: these portions of these flights are the most fuel-efficient phases for each flight, and are allegedly flown at or close to engine-idle; these portions also represent a small fraction of total flight distance. And yet, the numbers used to calculate potential fuel savings declare the fuel consumption on these relatively short descending flight segments represent nearly a third of the fuel pumped at Sea-Tac? And, bear in mind, Sea-Tac is a major international hub, serving flights across the Pacific Ocean and to Europe. It defies logic; there is no plausible explanatio. FAA and POS need to confirm the numbers, and they need to explain: how is it that the airlines operating in and out of Sea-Tac can allegedly burn so much fuel on these arrivals yet so little fuel on climbouts and enroute to and from all other airports around the world?
Greener Skies was (and still is) both a fraud and a side-show ‘act’, using erroneous estimates while pretending to create benefits that STILL do not exist! And the impacts, using the questionable numbers provided by PoS/FAA, are astounding: they are saying, in 2014, arrivals to Sea-Tac consumed 2.6 million pounds of jetfuel PER DAY while on approach, creating noise and air pollution that we are all supposed to ignore.
2/25/2011 – ‘Greener Skies Project’ presentation by Doug Marek (FAA, 11-pages)
11/01/2012 – GreenerSkies, Final Environmental Assessment Documents, archived at aiREFORM
Whether they are locals or vacationers, people have a hard time enjoying the beaches of Northwest Florida, when overrun by helicopters. They also wish FAA would serve THE PEOPLE, not just the aviation interests.
Below, Jack Simpson notes that this is probably the most boring column he has yet written, but his annoyance with FAA is crystal clear. This meeting could have been held anywhere, and about so many similar situations involving FAA. The federal agency with all the power to manage U.S. aviation is instead in the business of enabling abuse by aviators, who profit while diminishing local quality of life. Through it all, FAA employees pretend they can do nothing about it. And notice, too, FAA using the same old trick: put the burden on the citizens to comply with onerous requirements, reporting details that often are impossible to compile.
This article was about helicopters, but the same framing could also represent a community impacted by NextGen, skydiving, air tours, etc.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
The NextGen impacts at Vashon Island, under the HAWKZ RNAV arrival route, are terrible. This early-November presentation shows much has been learned by pushing past the roadblocks, getting the data, and framing the problems. Just 15 slides, and far more informative than the dog-and-pony shows FAA, POS and other ‘aviation stakeholders’ produce. Excellent work by David!
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
Especially, look at the slide on page 10. Flights are now substantially lower over Puget Sound than they were, prior to the start of HAWKZ. The plan was to turn them down the center of Elliott Bay (the core idea in the Greener Skies program), thus there was a need to jam them lower and sooner. But, Elliott Bay is almost never used, because congestion at SeaTac is simply too high; instead, the lower and slower (and thus louder!) flights just cruise on north, burying Queen Anne, Ballard, Shoreline, Edmonds, and sometimes even Everett with more repetitive noise.
Ponder this, too: why are FAA and POS failing to locate HAWKZ arrivals mid-channel, between Three Tree Point and Vashon Island? Might it have something to do with the number of FAA/POS families living along the shorelines west and north of Burien? This could easily be done, using GPS waypoints that can minimize impacts on neighborhoods. NextGen technologies can be used to improve the environment, not just destroy communities in the name of air commerce.