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.

A Good Example of NextGen Propaganda Being Pushed by Mainstream Media

In Seattle, KOMO reporter Joel Moreno is using social media to promote a demonstrably disinformational news video. His latest is about NextGen and the Greener Skies program pushed by both FAA and Port of Seattle (POS). Click here to view Mr. Moreno’s online post, where you can click through to view the news video, as well as his tweets.

As happens so frequently these days, the reporting is superficial and pro-aviation; i.e., the reporter just pushes along the selling points they are fed by FAA and industry (airport authorities, airlines, lobbyists, etc.), while doing NOTHING to probe the accuracy of what they are telling the public. Airtime gets filled, and people get fed what the status quo wants them to think. It seems like that is all we get, these days: Propaganda, from lazy, non-reporting reporters.

Here’s one example. At the heart of his news story, Mr. Moreno states: “Implemented in 2013, Greener Skies uses satellite technology so jets make a continuous descent at low power instead of the stair-step approach used before. However, on a typical cloudy day, three out of four arriving planes go right over Beacon Hill.”

What Mr. Moreno fails to investigate are these critical questions (and answers):

  1. is this declared use of satellite technology something new, that offers any substantial improvements in efficiency? (ANSWER: no … commercial airlines have been using direct flights for nearly five decades; in fact, ATC always prefers to issue direct routes, and will do so unless there are too many flights. The only route shortening happening here is within 10-miles of the airports, via the wholesale disposal of decades-old noise mitigation agreements … and the environmental/health cost is extraordinary.)
  2. are the jets making these continuous descents at low power? (ANSWER: only in some cases … but in most cases, due to FAA allowing airlines to schedule too many arrivals, ATC is levelling off the flights … and this is intensifying impacts on neighborhoods below.)
  3. Have the so-called ‘stair-step’ approaches been reduced? (ANSWER: no …  there is no evidence that these have been reduced and, in fact, there is ample evidence they are increasing, due to too many arrivals. Bear in mind, ATC does not issue level-offs just for fun; a level-off is the easiest way for ATC to safely separate aircraft, keeping them the required 1,000-ft above the traffic below.)
  4. Has efficiency improved at SeaTac? (ANSWER: no … not if you look at the arrival ‘parking lots’ and other substantial delays ATC is imposing many times every day, often for hours on end, to try and manage the rampant airline overscheduling. Large turns, loops, and even multiple loops are issued to one flight after another, and at all four arrival gates (east of Mt. Rainier, near Glacier Peak, over Oregon, and over the Olympic Peninsula), so as to slow the arrival flows.)
  5. Was Greener Skies implemented in 2013? (ANSWER: actually, no … a lot of money and effort was expended to sell the concepts via an environmental review, but nothing was implemented. Instead, FAA and POS are using the Greener Skies ‘concept’ as cover, to implement lower/louder procedures, with turns closer to the airport, solely to accomodate schedule expansions – and increased profits – by Delta and Alaska.)

One more note, well worth emphasizing: the stair-step approaches are an absolute travesty of disinformation. FAA et al are pushing the idea that, somehow, applying what are implied as ‘new whiz-bang NextGen technologies’, ATC has discovered they no longer have to issue level-offs to arrivals. FAA and industry are collaborating to pitch this disinformation, and too many people in the general public are vulnerable to buying this pitch as fact. It is not. Looking at this graphic (included in Mr. Moreno’s article), notice the so-called ‘conventional’ approach, done in yellow. Look closely and notice there are four short level-offs on the yellow line, all well south of the stadiums, implying a quick and frantic series of crazy short level-offs then descents. Nothing like this happens, nor has it ever happened. It is shameful that FAA itself is not vehemently protesting Mr. Moreno’s use of this graphic (oh, wait, FAA helped to create that false graphic … no wonder they do not protest!).

Here’s an archived PDF copy of the news story:

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

Trump in 1988: “You’re going to be flying with something that is quality and good.”

It should come as no surprise that President Trump supports the disastrous ATC privatization proposal being pushed by Bill Shuster, A4A, and a few airlines. It’s a bad idea, all the way around. We have a hard enough time getting FAA to even listen to citizens; so, take away Congressional oversight of FAA and we’ll end up with the airlines running roughshod over any neighborhood that saves 5-seconds of flying time… even our oldest and most tranquil neighborhoods.

On the other hand, it may come as a surprise to many of us who were not paying attention 28-years ago, when Trump was in the airline business (see PDF copy of article, below). Way back in 1988 .. before Bush I was elected, before Clintons began to out-Reagan Reagan with neoliberalism, even 7-years before Bill Shuster’s dad Bud became chair of the same House Transportation Committee that Bill now chairs, …yes, the committee that wants us to privatize today.

In June 1989, Trump acquired the lucrative Eastern Shuttle, which had been the crown jewel for Eastern Air Lines. The shuttle offered hourly flights, focused on connecting Boston Logan [KBOS], LaGuardia, [KLGA], and Reagan National [KDCA] with a fleet of noise Boeing 727s. The renamed ‘Trump Shuttle’ did not last long and, today, these ‘shuttle’ legs remain a bread-and-butter profit-maker for American, Delta, and JetBlue, even while they increase the number of through-passengers (and thus flights AND neighborhood impacts), especially at LaGuardia.

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

According to Wikipedia, a syndicate of 22 banks provided a $380 Million loan. The banks took possession just 15-months later, in September 1990, when Trump defaulted on the loan.

It is almost as if Trump and FAA were born in the same litter. And here we are, 28-years later, and President Trump wants us to believe, ATC privatization will also be, “…something that is quality and good.”

Yeah…

…Right.

Those Foxes Guarding the Aviation Henhouse: One Way to Hold them Accountable

Here is an excellent example of how to nudge accountability from those who work to implement programs like NextGen (or its European twin, SESAR).

Below is a scrollable PDF with a series of tweets. The author has taken screencaps of portions of the bio for an important UK aviation official, Andy Sinclair. Mr. Sinclair is Head of Airspace Strategy and Engagement at Gatwick Airport. The screencaps appear to be from Mr. Sinclair’s online bio. Each screencap is presented along with a comment or question that encourages critical thinking about Mr. Sinclair’s background and duties, as well as how both industry and regulator appear to be so tone-deaf to the terrible impacts they are imposing.

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

We should use this strategy more in the U.S. We can hold FAA officials and airport officials accountable, if we shine a bright light on who they are, what they say, and what they’ve done. Screencaps and comments are a very efficient way to do this. We need to clearly nudge these officials toward more transparency, more accountability, and actual MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT of community members who are being increasingly impacted.

Now, just to be fair, the above is only an example. In truth, Mr. Sinclair, a former UK ATC, may be a great guy, and I hope he is. He may be doing a bang up job in his post-ATC career, which has focused on airspace design and community relations, including the engagement of residents who are concerned about Gatwick [EGKK] aviation impacts. On the other hand, he may be a jerk, cashing in on his background, with a willingness to play a role in ‘pretending’ to engage people in problem-solving; I hope he is not, and assume for now that I will find no evidence online that he is this jerk.

Bottom Line: there is a culture of corruption, common in aviation. It is reasonable for impacted people to question not only new airspace procedures, but also to question the motives behind the officials who are paid well to serve. Whether they are serving the public, or serving only the industry, is increasingly unclear. So, let’s do our best to ensure they know: they serve ‘We, The People’ (not the airlines!).

City of Santa Monica is Failing to Live Up to Consent Decree Claims and Promises

Alan Levenson has created an analysis, showing how the City of Santa Monica is failing what they promised, nearly 5-months ago. Here is a copy:

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

The largest failure identified by Alan is that nothing substantial has happened, despite the fact that ‘immediate’ action was repeatedly promised. But, there is another large failure, and even more at the heart of safety and health impacts: the Consent Decree package reveals City is not only aware that the runway violates FAA safety design standards, but the City and FAA are both perpetuating these violations until at least 2029!

To illustrate the first failure, see this copy of the City’s glowing press release, when they announced the Consent Decree on January 28th (note, too, no citizens had yet been shown any of the Consent Decree documents … that was days later). Immediate? Hardly. Trust is not earned by spending five months and getting nothing done.

On the second point, City officials want everyone to believe that this Consent Decree assures FAA runway safety standards will now be met, but this assertion appears to be a bald-faced lie. For example, see the graphic at page 20 of the 63-page Consent Decree package. This was an Airport Layout Plan (ALP), created in 1991. At the time, it was believed that more jets would use KSMO, so the ALP depicted two Runway Protection Zones (RPZs): the existing RPZ, and an expanded future RPZ. The dimensions of the RPZ trapezoid are based on aircraft performance, specifically speed and wingspan. The higher performing jets would require a longer and wider trapezoid. Unfortunately, City submitted a fuzzy and mostly illegible ALP to the Consent Decree package (so, only people with experience studying ALPs can recognize what is depicted).

To correct for City’s fuzzy ALP, here’s a sample RPZ from another airport, with a lot less jet traffic:

kuao-201205-rpz-rwy-17-on-satview-w-dimensions-showing-trees-later-removed

The green trapezoid delineates an RPZ at the north end of the Aurora Airport, near Portland, OR. This is a minimally-sized RPZ for an airport with just a few jets; the ends measure 500ft and 1010ft, and the trapezoid is 1700ft long. Note that there are no obstructions in the trapezoid, to comply with an FAA safety standard.

One of the key facts that emerged with the Consent Decree was this: both FAA and City of Santa Monica have knowingly allowed not just ‘a few’ houses and yards inside the RPZ, they have allowed fully developed residential neighborhoods! And it appears that this is not happening ANYWHERE ELSE in the United States! Furthermore, both FAA and City of Santa Monica are OK with perpetuating this safety risk (and the substantial health impacts) for 12 more years. Nothing has been done to mitigate risks and impacts upon residents actually living (and breathing, and sleeping) within either the smaller RPZ or the expanded RPZ. And, in the meantime, not only are jets increasing at KSMO, but FAA has even pretended to not notice, while scheduled commercial operations were being marketed online.

So, City of Santa Monica finally came up with a plan to shorten the runway. Are the RPZs now clear of homes, yards and other obstructions? No, there are still numerous homes in the shortened runway RPZ, too. Here is a current satellite image showing the problem on the northeast end of the airport:

A 1,700ft circle (the RPZ length used for lesser airports) has been added. The image indicates that dozens of homes (west of Westgate Ave and north of National Boulevard) remain within the new proposed RPZ.

And this does not even reflect the pollution impacts and safety risks that remain to the east of Westgate Ave, especially for the higher performance air charter flights laden with more fuel.

Clearly, Rick Cole and Ted Winterer at the City of Santa Monica need to show us graphically, and in the clearest terms:

  • precisely where are the RPZ boundaries?
  • are the dimensions appropriate to the size and scale of commercially operating aircraft at KSMO?
  • and, can you confirm that no houses are within the KSMO RPZs?

See also:

“NextGen is a Catch-Phrase, Nothing More”

Social media can be a very powerful way to start to hold aviation officials accountable. For example, aviation noise activists are using Twitter and Facebook to discuss the impacts (and how to solve them), post images and data about flights, and report what they hear back from FAA, airport authorities, or elected officials.

One recent example is a very thorough report by Liz Burn. She called in a concern and eventually got a call back from Michael Carroll, at the Port of Seattle (POS). Here is an excerpt from her post:

(click on image to view source Facebook post)

As one who has been intensively studying NextGen for a few years now, I was very impressed that, at least for one brief moment, Mr. Carroll let down his guard and told the truth: NextGen is really just a catch-phrase, a brand-name, a label. It is also, frankly, a diversion.

The collaborating partners (FAA, A4A, airport authorities, airlines, and a few in Congress like Bill Shuster) are grossly over-selling NextGen, pitching the idea that it is loaded with new, whiz-bang features (though the bulk of the features are not new and actually existed before the 2003 start of the NextGen program!). These salespersons make lots of positive noise, all the while ignoring the many negatives and also taking our eyes away from what is really happening:

  1. NextGen is the abandonment of decades-old noise abatement agreements/procedures;
  2. NextGen is the enabling of airlines to further expand hub schedules at a handful of key cities … boosting airline profits, but at great cost to people below (and, by the way, the vast majority of routes in the U.S. offer little or no competition; i.e., a study of airline service for city-pairs shows most routes are monopoly or duopoly served);
  3. NextGen is the highly impactful concentration of routes into razor-thin lines, flown more precisely by using aircraft automation, to the point that those of us living under these new routes, lose sleep and even go crazy with the repetitive noise … one flight, then another, then another, on and on …; and,
  4. NextGen is the transition from manual to automation, for both air navigation and air traffic control: i.e., NextGen is REALLY all about doing away with human control, replacing it with computer control – both on the flight deck and in the control facilities. Both FAA and airlines hope that, with further NextGen implementation, the number of ‘monitoring’ controllers can be substantially reduced, and flight decks can seat just one ‘monitoring’ pilot (instead of two pilots).

Anyway, THANK YOU Michael Carroll for letting go of the ‘collaboration script’ for that one moment and confirming: NextGen is just an oversold brand-name.


See also:

A Steep Aviation Carbon Tax Would Solve Many Aviation Impacts

Image

(click on image to view source tweet)

Aviation is heavily subsidized when Congress approves taxes on passenger tickets and air cargo, then uses those taxes to expand airports beyond what serves the local community. Congress can do better. They need to implement fees and taxes that disincentivize the excessive carbon consumption by commercial operators. Here are some of the many benefits:

  • fewer hub flights (and thus more direct flights)
  • reduced noise and air pollutant impacts, along with more sleep and preserved quality of life, in communities currently being destroyed by NextGen
  • less aviation CO2 pollution per passenger (due to shorter/direct trips replacing indirect flights via hubs)
  • reduced delays (especially at hub airports)