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.

URGENT – The SeaTac Hardstand Needs to Be Appealed by July 28th

If there is one matter that people around SeaTac Airport [KSEA] need to focus on right now, it is the urgent deadline, just over a week away, for filing an appeal at King County Superior Court. That appeal, if granted, would force review of POS’s recent SEPA ‘Determination of Non-Significance’, or ‘DNS’, for the so-called ‘Hardstand’ expansion project. What exactly is a DNS? In this case, the DNS is POS’s way of administratively declaring, “oh, we want to enable the airlines to park 6 more airplanes for handling their through-passengers, but this will not increase flights and will have no significant impacts.” Really!?! Hmmm … this determination seems to lack plausibility.

A Closer Look at the Environmental Review Process

The Port of Seattle (POS) has an environmental staff, and one of their duties is to maintain a webpage listing various projects for both NEPA (federal) and SEPA (state) environmental review. People need to understand how these processes flow, and how they are so strongly biased to enable airport over-expansion while creating an illusion that the general public was involved in the process. This Post takes a closer look at the state portion, SEPA.

So, how does the SEPA work in the State of Washington? Probably very much like what has evolved (or devolved??) for environmental review in most states. As has become a common strategy at major airports across the nation, a bunch of paperwork is created, and procedures are ‘checked off’. At the right point in time (usually, immediately after seeing that it looks like all boxes were checked), the airport authority can then simply do what they intended from the start: declare their ‘Determination of Non-Significance’, or ‘DNS’. So long as nobody finds time or money to file an appeal at the courts, it is ‘Game Over’. The airlines (served by the airport authorities) get more expansion, and more profit potential; the airport authority gets a fatter budget and more passenger fee revenues; the controllers see an increase in traffic and may finally nudge past a threshold to get a nice pay raise.

And what about the thousands more residents now awoken by night flights? Not a problem; they were determined by POS to be ‘Not Significant’. And if that seems inaccurate, well, just try to fix it!

In short, it’s a rigged system. No surprises there. So, what do we do about it? Demand the system be improved, and take action to fix what has been done wrong. We all need to get our community leaders to file appeals, before that looming deadline (July 28th).

Here’s a plausible sample letter or email, that defines the concerns we need to communicate to the City Manager and Council Members at Des Moines:

Example of letter for individual use: Request for appeal of POS’s ‘SeaTac Hardstand DNS’
The new ‘Hardstand’ capacity expansion proposal at SeaTac Airport, with all of its implications for increased aircraft support activity and toxic emissions, should be given the consideration of a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS). With all due respect, a determination of non-significance issued by the Port of Seattle does not inspire one with confidence, nor does it guarantee that this project will not further negatively impact the citizens living under and around the concentrated NextGen flight corridors.
Up to this point in time, the Port of Seattle and the FAA have been woefully lacking in following adequate procedures for public notification and transparency regarding airport expansion plans. Their preferred method of operation seems to be fast-tracking, in order to quickly implement changes while minimizing citizen opportunities for comment or input.  A full EIS performed by an impartial entity should be mandated before the Port of Seattle is allowed to proceed with any further expansion.
This airport is already overcrowded, and the schedule has been expanded too far. Please file the necessary appeal.

For reference, the table below lists archived copies of the key documents POS created; they hope to begin construction of the hardstand capacity expansion, later this year.

6/6/2017 SEPA DNS (3pg) [link] .. one odd puzzle about this DNS: it appears to cover only the so-called ‘hardstand holdroom’ building, but not the actual hardstand
6/6/2017 Checklist for SEPA DNS (22pg) [link]
6/21/2017 Comment Period Extension (1pg) [link]
7/7/2017 Final SEPA DNS (6pg) [link] .. declares 7/28 deadline to appeal for review, at King County Superior Court
7/18/2017 ADDENDUM to Final SEPA DNS (2pg) [link]

List of Amendments Submitted to House Rules Committee, for H.R. 2997

Noon on Monday was an important deadline, for the formal submission of amendments to the draft House legislation reauthorizing FAA. A flood of amendments were submitted, very many of them related to reigning in FAA’s abusive NextGen implementation. A list of 116 amendments, with summaries, was posted, and a PDF copy is archived here. One of the most important amendments was submitted by Representative Lynch (MA), calling for a National Academy of Medicine (NAM) “…expert consensus report that sets forth current scientific knowledge relating to the various health impacts of air traffic noise and pollution.” (this amendment was marked as #50, in the center column of the list).

(click on image to view source tweet)

Cindy Christiansen deserves much of the credit for this, as she has done a great job researching and focusing on a much-needed study. Below is an excerpt from her letter to Rep. Lynch, earlier this month (view archived copy here): she lays out the NextGen impacts that FAA and airport authorities continue to ignore, and not just at Boston but across the land:

“…over the last several years, the FAA has implemented NextGen technology that replaces radar navigation with satellite-based navigation systems (GPS). Now and because of the new technology, concentrated flight paths that vary by less than a few feet vertically and laterally, increased airline operations, decreased separation, and lower altitudes have created a public health crisis in communities across the country. The new navigation system was implemented without any investigation into the human capacity to withstand the concentrated and relentless aviation noise and exposure to pollution, but the evidence is there, in the peer-reviewed literature, that there are significant detrimental effects on population health that are associated with these changes. We need a National Academy of Medicine committee of experts to synthesize the evidence and to report their consensus….”

As a side note, this is one of the rare ‘studies’ that has a chance to be very quickly produced, and with meaningful positive impact. Too often, and for decades now, FAA et al have used ‘more study’ as a delay tactic, to perpetuate changes that serve airlines/industry while impacting residents. This study is quite different, and essentially will soon force FAA to acknowledge the compiled content of dozens of studies they continue to ignore. Clearly, a NAM consensus report makes good sense, and will help us to break out of this stuck cycle.

Another community up in arms against NextGen: Linthicum, MD

Image

(click on image to view source tweet)

As is the pattern everywhere, FAA’s NextGen implementation throws away the balance that previously existed between airport expansion and local quality of life. Near Baltimore [KBWI], and with FAA’s help, airline profits trump sleep and health. Click here to view an archived copy of this news article.

(kudos to Elaine Miller, at PlaneSense4LI, for tweeting this link!)


UPDATE, 7/17/2017: — The FAA/NextGen impacts around KBWI were brought up during a radio call-in show with Governor Hogan, who said: “This thing was a terrible decision in my opinion by the FAA, without really getting the proper input from the state and local authorities….” Click here for the article, or here for the 4-minute audio.

The Polis Amendment: We Need Local Control of Our Airports!

This Post is about a legislative amendment that is set for review (and hopefully will be adopted?!?) this coming week. Your support is urgently needed, to help restore local authority so that local officials can manage impacts caused by their local airports. A link to help you easily contact your elected representative and encourage their support of HR 2997, is located near the end of this Post. Here’s the background….

The Problem…

We have a problem. A BIG PROBLEM! The system of government in this nation, which was designed to empower individuals and ensure we can work together to prosper and share great lives, has become coopted. Money now controls everything. Aviation offers a concise case study of how bad this has become:

  • the ‘money’ is in the airlines, the manufacturers, the airport authorities, and the industry lobbyists; they spend this money to gain support from FAA and elected officials, to manipulate rules and procedures for their own profits.
  • all of the above have a near-total bias toward expanding airport operations, and a near-total indifference to the impacts that are destroying even historic residential neighborhoods.
  • the environmental costs are not just an inconvenience; the repetitive noise and air pollutants, now being concentrated over new ‘noise ghettoes’ below, create sleep loss, asthma, stress, heart failure, and other serious/fatal medical conditions.
  • citizens who speak up are routinely beaten down; their concerns are diminished and ignored by all authorities; pro-aviation trolls launch attacks via social media; we are led to feel we are ‘against progress’, which is so false (…in fact, we can clearly have moderation and managed impacts that still allow all the real ‘progress’ that an airport can provide – without destroying health & quality of life).
  • when we, as impacted citizens, approach elected officials, we soon learn these so-called ‘representatives’ exist only to fund their next election campaign … and so, they are nearly ALWAYS beholden to industry players; i.e., they will act empathetic and say they are concerned, but their ACTIONS achieve no resolution of our problems. Furthermore, when we look closely at the current Congress, we see that important gatekeepers, such as the Rules Committee, appear to have heavily biased memberships (which, if abused, can be used to summarily dismiss all amendments that do not serve party objectives).
  • when we approach the mainstream media, we quickly see their enormous bias … always in favor of money, always happy to pass on misinformation.
  • when we approach the courts, they too dismiss our concerns.

Given all of this, we could just consider it a lost cause, but we really must guard against that. Instead, let’s pick our strategy carefully, and coordinate our efforts. We have to do this, especially for the next generation.

The Solution…

The very heart of the solution is LOCAL CONTROL. All airports – even O’Hare and Atlanta, the two busiest in the world – ultimately serve the local community. So, why in the world would we let FAA bureaucrats in DC take away the right – and responsibility(!) – of local officials to impose curfew hours, limit operations per hour, and impose other safe and reasonable policies that properly balance airport impacts with airline profit margins? Simply, we WOULD NOT DO THIS. This has happened, only because FAA is a captured regulator; FAA is only pretending to regulate the very industry it serves. And we are the victims, the collateral damages.

This is where the Polis Amendment comes in. Jared Polis, a Congressman representing citizens near the skydiving-noise impact-zone around the Longmont airport, has been working hard to assist those impacted. They have worked for years to get cooperation from Mile Hi, but profitable tandem jumps help the Mile Hi owner, Frank Casares, to refuse to cooperate. Local elected officials feel powerless and defer to FAA, but FAA does nothing… all they want to do is enable aviation commerce, with no regard for the ‘costs’ imposed on others. And so, the problems continue. (click here to view many other aiREFORM articles about Mile Hi and impacts around Longmont)

Here are two recent graphics about the Longmont impacts:

Notice how the climbs are routinely done a few miles AWAY from the actual airport. This helps keep airport neighbors from complaining; it also dumps noise pollution on distant neighbors, many of whom are unaware why they keep hearing so many planes. (click on image to view source tweet)

The shifting of skydiving climbs away from the airport is not only a dumping of noise pollution, it is also DANGEROUS: other pilots, flying through the area, will have a much harder time spotting the skydive aircraft when they are not within a couple miles of the target airport. (click on image to view source tweet)

The Polis Amendment seeks to add text to the FAA Reauthorization Bill (HR 2997), to explicitly restore Local Control of GA Airports (i.e., at General Aviation airports that primarily serve recreational pilots). HR 2997 is also known as the ’21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act’, or AIRR, and is being pushed by Bill Shuster, along with lobbyist A4A, the airlines, and officials like Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. The ‘Reform’ part is a cruel joke; these reforms will only further empower corporate greed, while disempowering us individual citizens. The bill is working its way up to a final vote by the House. The process this week includes getting the amendment approved by the Rules Committee (probably in a meeting on Monday), then proceeding to discussion (probably Wednesday) and eventually for final debate on the House floor.

Here is a copy of the text, proposed for addition at the end of Title VI (Miscellaneous):

So, people who can see […and hear, and BREATHE(!) the impacts of unmitigated aviation…] all need to be heard this week. Contact your elected representative, and let them know why they need to support the Polis Amendment, why WE NEED to restore local control of our LOCAL airports.

This is the first step. Eventually, local control also needs to include empowering the hundreds of thousands of residents impacted under concentrated NextGen routes, to have a real voice – and the democratic authority – to impose curfews, hourly operations limits and other capacity management restrictions that best serve the local community. Every great journey starts with a single step, and local control at GA airports needs support even from those of us who live in the new noise ghettoes FAA is creating, via NextGen.

Take Action, Please!

Please contact your elected representative. Here’s a handy link to identify your rep:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

For further information, please see this petition at Change.org. This is an excellent petition, laying out the goals for resolving all sorts of aviation impacts across the nation. The petition proposes the following seven elements for the 2017 FAA Reauthorization, now being considered by Congress:

  1. Update noise metrics used to evaluate significant exposure.
  2. Require environmental impact reviews prior to flight path changes.
  3. Mandate a robust and transparent community engagement process, including pre-decisional public hearings, for any new or modified flight paths or “flight boxes.”
  4. Restore local control over airport operations.
  5. Remove the FAA from oversight of environmental quality and public health.
  6. Mandate robust data collection and analysis of aviation noise and other pollutants near airports.
  7. Ban flights over and within 2 miles of designated noise sensitive areas.

Is FlightAware Collaborating with FAA to Misinform the Public?

Here’s a JPEG compilation showing a classic example of misinformation by the flight tracking website, FlightAware; this shows Seattle [KSEA] flights, on a nice summer Sunday morning:

Note the substantial enroute delays issued by ATC, to the stream inbound over Oregon, and the trans-Pacific arrivals over Olympic National Park.

Of course, this screencap also shows the massive failure that NextGen is, in terms of reducing delays. Simply: no technologies, no new systems, can correct the delays that happen, when FAA refuses/fails to stop the commercial airlines from scheduling too many flights.

For context, please understand that these websites (another is FlightRadar24) get their data from FAA and process it. They produce a great product, that helps us all to see when various flights will arrive (so we can pick up a loved one), but also help us to view how the whole ATC system works. What they should NOT do, though, is help FAA pass on false information. In this example, with a 1,500ft cloud layer, FlightAware is passing on the false claim that departures are being delayed. Ponder these facts:

  1. The arrivals were also being delayed, and quite substantially … look at those turns over Oregon and the Olympic Peninsula! So, why did FlightAware fail to mention arrival delays in their alert, too? Is it because FAA pretends these enroute delays do not matter?
  2. These delay alerts appear to be triggered by FAA reports; i.e., it would make no sense for websites to post a delay, if it had not been officially declared and defined by an FAA source.
  3. Notice the delay alert adds departure delays are ‘increasing’. This implies the low clouds are changing, yet they are not really changing… if anything, the clouds are rising higher, as the fair-weather summer day advances. So, is the cause of these delays the clouds, or simply TOO MANY DEPARTURES SCHEDULED?
  4. When KSEA is in a north flow, the departures would quickly be climbing into clouds as they approach Boeing Field. So, in a north flow, the departure flow rate could be reduced significantly, by a 1,500ft cloud deck. But, this is south flow, so the departures are all far from Boeing Field, no potential conflict.

It is bad enough that FAA is a captured agency, serving aviation money with no real concern for impacts upon people. But, the situation is made worse by false information – propaganda if you will: when FAA feeds erroneous delay causes to the online flight tracking sites, they then pass this misinformation onward, to further deceive the public.

This type of ‘collaboration’ needs to end. FAA needs to reform, to become an accountable, transparent, and truthful servant TO THE PEOPLE, and truly regulating the industry. To achieve this, Congress needs to dump the bad idea of ATC Privatization, and our elected reps need to DEMAND FAA clean up its act!

KSEA North Flow Arrivals: How Federal Way Residential Communities are Impacted

Here’s an example flight, showing how FAA/ATC chooses to accommodate airline profits ahead of citizen impacts. In this case, ATC controls a North Flow arrival from Alaska, to land on Runway 34L at SeaTac [KSEA]:

Assorted online images showing the arrival satview and data for Alaska Flight 914, Anchorage-Seattle, landing at 11:22AM on Friday, 7/14/2017. Notice how, as the arrival approached the south end of Vashon Island, ATC issued a left turn, which created low-altitude noise impacts on the north shore area of Federal Way / Dash Point. Notice also, the incredibly straight route for most of the flight; this shows, the ‘direct route’ efficiencies proclaimed as a key NextGen selling point in fact already exist! (source: FlightAware)

And, here’s a VFR sectional (aviation chart) that enables us to precisely identify distances ‘on final’, from the approach end of the runway at KSEA:

A screencap showing the ASA914 route superimposed on a VFR sectional. Note the gridlines on the VFR sectional; the tick-marks on the vertical gridlines are one statute mile apart. Red lines and tags have been added to this image, marking 5-mile, 10-mile, and 15-mile distances on a final to land Runway 34L. Contrary to Port of Seattle claims in the past, Runway 34L has become the primary landing runway at SeaTac, when in North Flow. (source: FlightAware)

The Problem:

Air traffic controllers (ATCs) generally do not factor environmental impacts into their control decisions. So, if an arrival lined up on the NextGen RNAV route over Vashon Island sees the airport on a clear day, if other traffic allows, ATC will be inclined to turn that arrival early, to line up onto a short final. In this example, that early turn happened because ATC saw enough space to safely issue the early turn, ahead of the next arrival. This arrival turned final near 279th. The consequences include an adverse impact upon thousands of homes, because early turns need to be much lower, to make the descent to the landing runway.

The Solution:

ATC needs to fully incorporate community concerns into their standard operating procedures.

For noise mitigation, and to protect residential communities, turns should be conducted no closer than to a 10-mile final. In this example, a turn to a 10-mile final (near Wild Waves) would occur over industrial/commercial properties at the Port of Tacoma, thus would potentially impact thousands fewer homes.

To the left, see an example of a later flight that was kept higher and, turned onto final at a distance of approximately 14-miles: Xiamen Air Flight #845, a Boeing 788, from Shenzhen, China (near Hong Kong).

UPDATE: Shuster & A4A’s House Legislation, Aiming to Privatize ATC

The next step in the legislative process happens later today. In the House, the Appropriations Committee’s THUD Subcommittee (Transportation, Housing & Urban Development) does a bill markup hearing. It is set to start at 7:00pm (though, it may have a slightly different start time, as it needs to follow a voting process). Click here to access the webcast.

As background material, the House (led by Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chair Bill Shuster) is pressing to privatize ATC. There is substantial opposition. In the House, most significant opposition has been voiced by the ranking Democratic Party committee member, Representative Peter DeFazio (OR). Mr. DeFazio has deep knowledge of the issues, as he has formerly chaired the Aviation Subcommittee. However, given the vast division in the House today, even the best reasoning is simply outnumbered. So, the proposal advanced out of the Subcommittee, and then was approved by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee on June 8th.

The Senate, on the other hand, continues to oppose the privatization concept. So, at this time, there are two different legislative proposals moving forward, the main difference being the inclusion of ATC privatization in the House version, but the exclusion of ATC privatization in the Senate version. Logically, if two versions pass, this will all end up in conference, where a lot of wheeling and dealing will happen. Strategically, Shuster and the Av/Gov Complex players (which includes FAA, though of course at this stage of the process, FAA Adminsitrator Huerta and the agency are very careful to ‘look’ like they are neutral!) will throw bones to selected parties, to gain just enough support to pass their proposal. They’ll also try to conflate; e.g., people upset about cramped seating will feel pressured to allow ATC privatization, if that is what they must do to pass language mandating wider seats and longer seat pitch. It’s crazy; it’s stupid; but this is how the dysfunction goes, every year … and it is only getting worse.

Here are a couple video news clips. Amy Goodman, at Democracy Now, offers an excellent review of Trump’s endorsement of the proposal to privatize ATC, announced on Monday June 5th. The video includes a lengthy interview of Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights.

In another excellent video clip, the same subject is covered by Thom Hartmann, at The Big Picture. He interviews economist Dr. Richard Wolff.

FAA and Port of Seattle: Leading Us in a Global ‘Race to the Bottom’

Rose Bridger’s latest paper takes a close look at Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Practically speaking, SEZs are an evolved form of entities such as the Port of Seattle, which was a special authority created by the state of Washington, when the Port District Act was passed back in 1911. These entities are designed to empower players who are wealthy and politically connected, while also insulating these players from both accountability and transparency. SEZs are typically supported by governments, and these days often are done in ‘public-private partnership’ with multi-national corporations.
SEZs generally subsidize the major players with:

  • …use of state authority to sieze lands – frequently productive farmland; this is part of the global land-grabbing phenomenon that is displacing rural and indigenous people.
  • …public funding of infrastructure, including airport construction, utilities and surface transportation networks.
  • …allocation of land and other essential resources; and,
  • …of course, generous tax breaks.

Across the globe, thousands of airport-linked SEZs have been developed. These are a form of deregulation targetted at benefitting big-business, and they frequently seed rampant cronyism. The rates and laws within SEZs differ from the surrounding areas; tax breaks and other incentives aim to narrowly benefit investors, while simultaneously aiding the incumbency of elected officials. However, due to weak linkages with the host economy, the benefits of SEZs often fail to extend beyond the boundaries of the designated enclaves. Also, foregone tax revenues put a strain on local government coffers. Non-resident investors take advantage of these tax breaks, but often eventually relocate to alternative sites offering even more generous perks. When this happens, the SEZs languish as useless white elephants. And the impacts upon local residents tend to be negative and extreme: destroyed communities, blighted ‘noise ghettoes’, sleep loss and stress, and diminished health caused by aviation air pollution.

Here’s a PDF copy of Rose’s latest paper (23-pages):

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

In her conclusion, Rose notes:

“New airport linked economic zones bring the short-term certainties of massive government expenditure on infrastructure and lucrative contracts for construction firms….”
“Airport-linked economic zones accelerate the global ‘race to the bottom’ by providing geographically defined areas where deregulation and tax breaks, to serve the interests of big business, are maximised. The new economic zones must also be viewed within the context of broader economic justice concerns of tax breaks for aviation set to benefit investors, in particular the almost universal tax exemption of aviation fuel for international flights. Allocation of land assets to airports for generation of non-aeronautical revenue is another form of subsidy. Monetisation of airport land banks is accelerating worldwide as aerotropolis style development gathers pace.”

A Tutorial: How You Can Use Online Resources to Identify and Study Flights Impacting Your Home

Many of us are too keenly aware of the destruction being done to residential neighborhoods, by excessive flight scheduling at the few U.S. airports where airlines are expanding their hubs. To protect homes and health, more of us are now forced to fight with FAA and airport authorities, asking for information and filing our concerns and complaints. This fight is generally made more difficult by one of FAA’s ugliest habits: their tendency to impede real education of citizens who are impacted by aviation.

Sadly, FAA et al tend to bury us with acronyms that cause eyes to glaze over. They try to dazzle us with vague technical references, hoping we become so overwhelmed by the details that we just have to step back and let the experts work this all out. They do not want us to know, of course, that the experts are routinely being compensated by FAA and/or industry, which of course biases their ‘expertise’ with a pro-aviation slant.

And so, there is a need for us to cultivate our own expertise. Fortunately, the internet offers very many resources, not just for research but also for helping one another. 

Here’s a tool that can help. The scrollable PDF below can be downloaded and shared, and it can be viewed offline. It presents an example of how one online flight tracking website (in this case, FlightAware) can be used to gather more information about impacting flights. The links within the PDF are all active.

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

Please use this tutorial. Learn, research, and share, so others can benefit from your research; so we can precisely present the data needed to compel FAA and your local airport authority to end the excessive impacts. Airports need to serve the local community first, not the airlines and their failed regulator.