The Fraudulent ‘Greener Skies’ Salespitch at Seattle

A recent pair of articles by Dominic Gates, at the Seattle Times, draws attention once again to the collaborated fraud known as ‘Greener Skies’.

Fraud is not too strong a word. Both FAA and Port of Seattle (POS) knew that the Elliott Bay arrival route would not be usable, and would not deliver any improvements on efficiency or impacts, so long as the airport had more operations than the runways can handle. They knew, but they coyly avoided discussing this fact. Nor have they addressed this problem. Instead, both FAA and POS have pretended they can do nothing to stop the massive growth that has beset KSEA since 2012. The net result is a community burdened with growing costs – declined health, diminished quality of life, and destroyed environments (for wildlife as well as for people), all solely to accommodate excessive hub growth by both Alaska and Delta.

Here are some randomly chosen insights into the history of this fraud, including screencaps of various documents.

(1) KSEA Annual Operations Data: Let’s start by looking at FAA’s ATADS data, showing the official operations count per year, from 1991 through 2017. Peak year was 2000, and operations bottomed out in 2012. Delta announced a new hub in 2012 and, after a short lag to shift their airline resources, KSEA saw huge growth in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Growth slowed in 2017 but is on target to be approximately 6% this calendar year. Notice the two columns on the left, marked ‘AC’ and ‘AT’; AC is air carrier (larger commercial planes), while AT is air taxi (which FAA has formerly used to identify Horizon Q400’s and other smaller commercial planes). There is a distinct shift away from AT to AC, as noted by Gates in his recent articles, but that shift is not as significant as the fact that airline hubbing is causing huge increases in operations per hour, for the two largest airlines at KSEA. Notice also that, from 1998 onward, KSEA is basically a commercial-only airport, with less than 1% of operations flown by military or general aviation.

(2) 2018 operations prediction: based on monthly operations counts, using FAA ATADS data, 2018 is on target to reach approximately 439,400 operations. This is a 6% increase year-over-year, and a 42% increase from the bottom year 2012. In other words, since Delta announced their hub development at KSEA, both Alaska and Delta have ramped up annual operations so that the total operations per day averages 42% more than it did in 2012, just six years ago. That is an average annual growth rate of 7%, far exceeding population growth or economic growth in the Puget Sound area.

(3) An Earlier Prediction, the Part 150 study: this was completed in October 2013, though oddly it uses old historical operations data, only through 2008. See image below; the blue line shows the chosen forecast for total operations; the red line, added by aiREFORM, shows actual growth trends, keyed to FAA’s ATADS figures for 2012 and 2018.
Now, think about this: between the peak in 2000 and the bottom in 2012, did the Seattle economy and population tank? No. Did Puget Sound area per capita demand for air travel drop by 30%? No, not at all. And, between 2012 and 2018, has Puget Sound area population and economy seen growth anywhere near 42%, averaging 7% growth per year? Again, of course not, nowhere near that strong.

So, what is going on here? Why are the annual ops at KSEA growing so fast? The answer is simple: since 2012, two airlines (Delta and Alaska) have been feverishly adding capacity to route more and more passengers – and flights – through Sea-Tac. Both FAA and POS have the data that will show this reality, how a higher percentage of passengers ‘enplaned’ at KSEA are actually just pass-through-passengers, who never even leave the airport terminal. Both FAA and POS are careful to avoid releasing this data, because industry does not want citizens empowered with hard data. Operations and impacts are expanding way beyond population and economic metrics. This is solely to serve airline profit margins. If FAA and POS would start serving the people, too, we’d be better empowered to bring this injustice back to a reasonable balance.

(4) FAA Spin, promoting ‘Greener Skies’ in June 2012: here is a recent screencap (made on September 22) of an FAA webpage crowing over ‘great success’ with Greener Skies… the plan that cost millions to develop and promote, yet it was never implemented (now 6 years later).Notice an important fact: FAA first posted this in June 2012, and they actually updated the content in late August 2018. FAA is ignoring the important reality, that Greener Skies was never implemented. No mention, in FAA’s recent update, of the fact that FAA is not even using Greener Skies. Will anyone at FAA be held accountable for this disinformation failure? Of course not.

(5) The Greener Skies EA: signed off by Elizabeth Ray, on 10/31/2012, here is a screencap noting FAA’s conclusion of ‘no significant impacts’. Notice how the EA predicted a 30.7% increase in annual ops by 2023. Well, we are now way past that. We are on target for a 42% increase by the end of 2018; five years earlier than 2023, and we are already a third higher than the original long-term prediction. Also, understand this: this EA was not about creating ‘efficiencies’; this EA was aimed at removing procedures that protected people and the environment, to increase CAPACITY.Wow. Just, wow. Do we need any further evidence of how tone-deaf FAA is to the impacts caused by excessive hub development? Is there a better piece of evidence showing FAA’s regulatory capture?

(6) FAA Spin, One Week After Signing off the EA: here’s a screencap of how FAA again claimed ‘great success’ on Greener Skies, published in FAA’s ‘FY2012 Performance and Accountability Report’, on 11/9/2012, a week after the EA was signed off:There is zero evidence that FAA has achieved ANY of the claimed benefits. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence (especially looking at enroute delays at cruise altitudes on arrival streams, and at departure delays, and even at arrivals stuck waiting for a gate to become available) that efficiency has plummeted. And, of course, there is enormous evidence that people on the ground below are impacted immensely, by both arrivals and departures.

FAA Investigates: Police Helicopter ‘Crashing’ of a Football Tailgate Party

Who’s idea was it, anyway, to use a helicopter to fly over tailgating crowds ‘to make crowd announcements’?

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

OK, let’s suppose a nearby nuclear reactor is melting down, say Three Mile Island (though I understand, yes, it is not actually near the stadium Lot 23 area for Penn State football games!). But, just to put this in perspective, would it be a good idea for a helicopter pilot with an announcement system to swoop down very low over a crowd to issue an urgent message aimed at triggering an immediate orderly evacuation? Well, yes and no. First, how likely is it the announcement will not be heard over the ‘whop whop’ roar of the helicopter? And, second, how smart is it to apply this level of intervention, this form of technology, to potentially trigger a stampede? If there is an urgent need for people to vacate an area, sending in a helicopter at tree-top level or even lower is like throwing gas onto a fire. Not a good idea.

Now, is it surprising that this pilot flew so low, endangering so many people? No, not at all. FAA’s regulations for Minimum Safe Altitude (officially known as FAR 91.119) are carefully worded so as to exempt helicopters from the ‘1,000-ft above’ requirement that all fixed wing aircraft have to comply with. Well, sort of. The ambiguity within FAR 91.119 creates a barn door wide enough to fly a helicopter through … or, at least, it creates opportunities for FAA to justify taking no enforcement actions. The key phrase within FAA 91.119 is this:

“(Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below) … an altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.”

Check out the videos online, by tailgaters at this Penn State incident. How was this helicopter going to safely execute an emergency landing without actually crushing or chopping people and ‘property’ below in the congested, open air assembly of tailgaters? And, when the impact causes fuel to burst out and ignite, how does the PA State Police mitigate the ‘undue hazards’ of being burnt to death?

Let’s put this in FAA’s perspective: aviation is good, people are dumb, and we, as the federal ‘regulator’ with sovereign authority for all things U.S. aviation, do everything we can to grow aviation commerce and allow even stupid aviation activities.

  • From FAA’s perspective, why not allow the use of helicopters swooping low and back-and-forth to herd wild horses or cattle … or PEOPLE?
  • From FAA’s perspective, why not ignore the obvious hazard and imprudence of using helicopters for drying cherries, or suspending enormous brush-trimming devices? Why not also ignore the ‘candy drops’ and ‘turkey drops’? After all, candy drops help sell aviation to kids, the same way turkey drops and heli-hunting sell aviation to, well, redneck yahoos … so, both are best ignored, right? [Check out this Heli-hunting video. with two shooters on the left side of a low-flying Robinson R44. Try to estimate the altitude, but try not to ponder too hard the possibility that any human or animal (a dog or livestock?) might be within the aerial hunt zone.]

  • From FAA’s perspective, why not pretend to care about safety – better yet, make ‘safety’ our most over-used word – by creating rules such as FAR 91.119 but carefully including enough ambiguity to ensure every errant pilot can walk away from enforcement – that is, so long as they are not killed by their own stupidity? Did you know: the FAR 91.119 language protects persons and property ‘ON THE SURFACE’, but the pilot (a person) and aircraft (a form of property) are NOT ‘on the surface’, and are therefore disposable?
  • From FAA’s perspective, why not perpetuate a convenient privilege for those people who choose aviation as their hobby or profession? Why not continue FAA’s ongoing failure to meaningfully investigate and enforce violations of FAR 91.119 and other FARs? After all, we wouldn’t want to dampen demand for flying, would we?

It amazes me that FAR 91.119 is so riddled with ambiguity, almost as much as it amazes me that FAA does not really give a damn about enforcing safe practices … at least not when they interfere with the expansion of air commerce. In this context, I suspect FAA will do nothing to correct the excesses that happened with the state police helicopter, at the Penn State tailgate last Saturday.

FAA investigates? We all have our doubts.

Airline Consolidation: Just Like the Banks?

A friend shared an article that included a variation of this diagram about bank consolidation.
Notice the pattern: banks consolidated from 37 in 1994, to 19 in 2001, to 11 in 2005, and to only 4 in 2009. Banks became less accountable and more inclined to gouge customers for absurdly high ‘fees’ (e.g., stuff like $31 for each ‘overdraft’ debit card usage, even for $1 or $5 purchases … they offered so many conveniences, but not the easy service of automatically alerting customers and rejecting the debit request at the point of sale). The greed-driven policies at the consolidated banks eventually created a financial meltdown. They were labeled ‘too big to fail’, so as to justify the enormous bailout by federal officials, using public funds. Our public funds, used to reward the overpaid bank greedsters.

It struck me that the diagram looks just like what has happened with U.S. airlines, where today the vast majority of passengers are ‘served’ by only six airlines and the so-called ‘regional’ feeders they contract with. Our final six are American, Delta, Southwest, United, Alaska and JetBlue.

If there is one big trend that we can all agree is happening in the U.S. and across the planet, it is industry consolidation and globalization. The gap between big and small, and the fraction controlled by big, just keeps growing. We now have fewer (but larger) banks, grocers, hospitals and immediate-care chains, gas stations, telecom providers, etc. It is also reflected in the widening wealth gap between the 1% and the 99% … and, again, not just in the U.S., but also in corrupt banana republics and across the globe.

We only hope that this trend is not driven by corruption even in nations like the U.S. We only hope that, if in fact this trend is as unsustainable as it appears to be, the ‘market correction’ will be peaceful and not too painful. Are we becoming the biggest Banana Republic in the history of the world? We only hope not.

Yesterday’s SkyJustice Phone Conference

The featured speaker at the 9/29/2018 Sky Justice National Network monthly phone conference was Jim Spensley. Airline and airport consolidation was front and center. A few of the many interesting points discussed included:

  1. The ‘final-6’ airlines are consolidating their schedules into fewer (but larger) hubs; i.e., while a few airports are seeing growth in annual operations counts, most airports have declined substantially for decades now. [for data, see the aiREFORM analysis at this 1/17/2018 Post (1990 vs 2005 vs 2016 Operations: Exposing FAA’s Inaccurate Forecasts), and see also this 10/23/2017 aiREFORM Post (NAS Annual Ops Have Declined for Decades Now, And NextGen Is Just Hype)]
  2. Most commercial service airports within the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) offer monopoly or near-monopoly service; i.e., the predominant pattern is either only one airline offers direct service between two airports, or one airline has strong dominance on that airport-pair. This pattern appears to be an antitrust collusion between airlines; it also appears that federal regulators, including DoT, DoJ and FAA, are willingly not acting to end this antitrust collusion. [see this 2014 aiREFORM analysis (A Table Showing the ASPM-77 Airports – (Peak Years, Traffic Declines, and Trends Toward Airline Monopolies)]
  3. While the general public assumes there is an economy of scale that lowers unit costs and thus causes ticket prices to go down at larger hub airports, the opposite appears to be happening. Two key reasons are:
    1. the monopoly power held by the hub-dominant airline enables them to get away with setting much higher prices; this is especially true on those feeder routes to/from cities served by no other airlines.
    2. the airport authority accumulates an enormous debt burden for massive airport infrastructure expansion, all of which is predicated on continued unsustainable growth rates. In other words, a balloon is inflated, catalyzed by FAA grant funding and laws that incentivize hub concentration, and the balloon becomes primed to burst. The sudden popping of an airport hub balloon can be triggered by a general economic downturn, or it can happen if/when the hub-dominant airline arbitrarily decides to move to another airport; a prime example is the former Delta hub near Cincinnati [KCVG].
  4. There are other, environmental costs associated with these consolidated hubs, borne by residents and other ‘non-airport stakeholders’, but both FAA and airport authorities work hard to ignore and even deny these costs. The consolidation of flights into fewer but larger hubs causes more noise impacts (both persistent and repetitive noise patterns), more air pollution (thus more health costs), more destruction of residential neighborhoods and communities due to ‘land-grabbing’ by the airport authority, etc.
  5. One of Jim’s key points was that the airport authority has considerable power to set policies, to choose to NOT expand excessively … but the airport authorities tend to be beholden to the airlines, especially the hub-dominant airline. Why would someone like the Port of Seattle, PANYNJ, or Massport be so subservient to the hub-dominent airlines? It all comes down to money, needed to expand plans (and annual bonuses, in some cases), and also needed to pay off past and future development debt. The fear of an abrupt airline departure – like Delta did at KCVG, American did at KSTL, and United is now doing at KCLE – creates a peonage, rendered on a massive scale.

Solutions?

So, who can solve the growing impact problems caused by airline consolidation and hub concentration? If both FAA and airport authorities are effectively captured, serving industry, we can expect they will continue to play a good-cop-bad-cop game, passing citizens back-and-forth to each other while offering no answers and no solutions. This is where we are today. It is why we depend even more on our elected officials. Especially in Congress, we need them to change the laws; take back what was taken from the people in the 1990 passage of ANCA [see this 6/9/2015 aiREFORM Post (Wendell Ford’s Edsel: Many of FAA’s NextGen Dirty Tricks were Also Used in the 1990 Passage of ANCA)]; restore local control, to include ensuring local residents have power over their airport authority; even, impose a steep carbon tax on aviation fuel, so that excessive airline hubbing is disincentivized.


See also:

Who is to Blame – and Who Can Fix – the Impacts Around U.S. Hub Airports?

Are the SAMP Open Houses Really Just ‘Propaganda Events’?

I attended a ‘Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) scoping Open House last night, for one of the fastest-growing commercial airports in the U.S.: Sea-Tac, serving the Seattle and Puget Sound [KSEA]. There is a lot to report, but even more, a lot to think about, especially this: what can I say to empower other impacted citizens so they can be as effective as possible when attending these events?

As a retired FAA employee (an air traffic control whistleblower, no less) who spent a full career working within the FAA culture and then embarked on a decade of research on how the FAA work culture has performed while implementing NextGen, I may have some insights to share. One of those insights is simply this: from what I saw at Highline Community College, on September 10th, these Port of Seattle (aka, POS) scoping Open Houses are not even a dog-and-pony-show; they are just occasions for industry players to check off a list pretending to engage citizens, while also spewing out their pro-aviation propaganda. And, just to be clear, this is not an aberration; this is par for the course, as it has been for at least a decade; at nearly all of our airports, when public forums related to environmental impacts and master plans and such are held, they have generally devolved into just a gamed process, a charade … which is why lots of people choose not to attend. [NOTE: they want more of us to not attend, which is itself the imperative defining why YOU MUST ATTEND, if you care about your home and health!]

What To Expect When You Attend

A common event design is to set up a signup area and feed the ‘signed-in guests’ into the next room, where they can sequentially (or randomly) view a series of whiteboards. Each whiteboard represents an element of the review process, such as ‘noise’ or ‘air quality’ or ‘water quality’. Now, ideally, each whiteboard actually displays some valuable information – perhaps a design, a satellite view, a table, a list of project elements, etc. Well, that is the ideal. At the POS Open House last night, more than half the whiteboards were, well, just empty white boards. Nada. Zilch. In fact, the only area where they had consistently replaced the blank whiteboards was at the front end: the first half dozen were a blatant effort to dupe us into thinking the Seattle economy and the Seattle population were ‘demanding’ the growth in air travel. The very first whiteboard had some words laying out this spiel, and included a list of prominent Seattle-area businesses, including Costco, PACCAR, Amazon, etc. So, we are supposed to start to see, ‘gee, if Sea-Tac does not expand, maybe these big companies will leave town’. (hint: they likely will not and in fact, if things decline and they do, most of us will applaud their riddance) Two whiteboards later was a very deceptive graph with a green line and a blue, showing population growth as well as airport passenger growth. More about that graph later in this Post.

Another thing you will notice is there are LOTS of smiley-faced people wearing event badges and standing in front of the display boards. As you talk to them and ask questions, you will start to establish that most of them are employed by the Port of Seattle, but that also, quite a few are either FAA or contractors. Everyone of these people owe their income (and eventual retirement) to this industry, and as such it is not surprising that they come across as ‘all for expansion and just plain unable to understand how bad the impacts are on residents under the new concentrated flight paths. I also noticed that, by 7:30pm (2-hours into the 3-hour event), there were practically no residents left, but maybe 30- or even 40+ badge-wearing staffers standing around in front of all the whiteboards.

I found it disturbing, trying to communicate with these people on a human-to-human level. They come across as machines, rigidly focused on the industry-serving goal, which in this case is to spend billions of dollars expanding Sea-Tac’s airport facilities, to serve the demand generated by two dominant airlines, Alaska and Delta. Ask any of these people a hard question and their pat answer is to remind you, they are only here tonight to help you formulate your question so that you can submit it to the ‘scoping process’. Well, that in itself is bullshit, and here is why. For each of these people (some would accurately note they are in fact parasites feeding off the power and money of the aviation-government complex), their first and foremost reason for getting paid to stand in front of the display boards and greet you is to ease your acceptance of the fact they are going to ram this expansion project onto you and your home. They are there to help you believe the distortions behind the expansions.

These staffers were sized up perfectly with this famous quote:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

This quote was by Upton Sinclair, back in the 1930s. Click here for a Post showing an example of how FAA, all the way to the top, could not understand an obvious controller safety error at a California airport … and know, too, these things happen surprisingly frequently.

One of Their Distortions is the So-Called ‘Demand’ Myth

OK, here is a copy of the graph mentioned earlier, at the front end of the area filled with whiteboards and staffers:

This is the demand graph POS displayed last night, although this is an online copy as displayed at a POS event in July. Interestingly, POS decided to remove the headline last night, perhaps because they know it is utterly false; just look at how passenger growth vastly outstrips population growth, with the green line CROSSING the blue line. So, although the headline was not displayed last night, nonetheless staffers were using this graphic and making comments, over and over again, to push the false perception that ‘demand’ at Sea-Tac is driven by Puget Sound area population growth. Such is not the case; AIRLINES DEFINE DEMAND, by scheduling in pursuit of higher profit margins.

You are supposed to believe that all of this Sea-Tac expansion is driven by market demand. This is false. The true demand is from the two major hub operators at Sea-Tac, Delta and Alaska. Each impacted citizen needs to understand the passenger airline business model. They make profits best when they route as many people as possible through the hub airports, where those people may never even leave the plane, or may exit one plane only to board another. The airport becomes a Grand Central Station for airline passengers, and the surrounding communities must bear an extremely intensified impact in added noise, added air pollutants, and overall diminished health and quality of life. This is what accounts for the bulk of the enormous growth at Sea-Tac since Delta announced a new business plan in 2012, with a new hub at Sea-Tac (operations grew 31% from 2012 to 2017, and have climbed 5.6% so far this calendar year). And, this is what is trashing lives under intensified and concentrated NextGen routes feeding in/out of KBOS, KDCA, KORD, KCLT, KSAN, KPHX, KSFO, and elsewhere.

Here’s another ponderous point on this graph, and something I asked to a few staffers last night (BTW, I never got a good answer): where did they get their population numbers? Using their numbers, for the 2017-2027 decade, the average annual growth is just 0.6%; umm, the entire U.S. averages closer to 1% annual population growth, and Seattle is bragged about (by people at POS, FAA, etc., no less!) as being a booming place (for population as well as economics). So, they created this graphic using data that does not come close to tracking the reality as measured right now. Indeed, Puget Sound Resource Council (PSRC) published a report ‘way back in August’ noting Puget Sound’s population is growing at a 1.5% annual rate. IMHO, the lack of diligence behind these graphics is shameful.

Frankly, if the Port of Seattle was sincere in defining this demand, they would do the hard work of accurately assessing precisely how many users of this airport are actually THROUGH-PASSENGERS, who fly in but then fly out, never even leaving the airport terminal. The best these connecting passengers will do to ‘boost’ the Puget Sound economy is waste away a few hours between flights, perhaps buying coffee or some fish and chips. Yet, because these two major airlines make substantial profits by offering these flight connections at Sea-Tac, there is much pressure on Port of Seattle (and FAA) to accommodate this airline demand. This is spun to us as ‘market demand’, which clearly it is not.

Let’s be clear: airline demand is not the same as market demand. The display boards referencing market demand are implicitly stating that you and I, as customers, define ‘demand’ for commercial aviation useage at Sea-Tac. We do not. The airlines define demand, and both the airport authority (POS) and the federal regulator (FAA) expend great effort to accommodate whatever air commerce asks for. Sadly, they do so while increasingly ignoring the real and growing impacts upon actual human lives.

Why is This Demand Myth Important?

It is extremely important, simply because the entire SAMP proposal is anchored on the idea their is real ‘demand’ creating a dire need to invest in these expansion proposals. Generally, where there is a desire to expand an airport (and, always, this expansion is simply to give more capacity to the dominant airline), there is a tendency for the data to be exaggerated to justify that investment. Thus, if and when any of us actually does the deeper research to see what FAA has forecast, we see an astonishing pattern of forecasts WAAYYYY over what history subsequently produces in real data. And, at events like the Open House last night, staffers are conveniently overlooking a shocking reality that they seem incapable of digesting: that, in the U.S., with the sole exception of a handful of airports where FAA and airport authorities are overly accommodating to enable the creation of ‘super-Hubs’ for near-monopoly airlines, operations have been flat and declining for decades.

The Demand Myth needs to be exposed and crushed. Read more at these earlier Posts:

What We Each Need to Do at These Open Houses

Yes, absolutely, you should submit comments (though you should also make your own copy or get POS to let you have a copy, so you have more tools to hold POS accountable with the comments you have provided). But, there is a lot more that can and should happen at each community event. Here are some suggestions:

  1. From the git-go, understand it is OK that you are not an expert, just an impacted citizen. As such, it is THEIR responsibility to help with the technical heavy-lifting.
  2. With the first note in mind, ask questions and DEMAND real answers. Then, ask harder questions. Follow through. Make these staffers serve you; after all, per NEPA, that is precisely what they are supposed to be doing at each such event, when they field your questions.
  3. With your questions, try altering your approach. For example, try to appeal to this aviation professional (the staffer there to talk with you) human-to-human; try to establish if they have the capacity to actually recognize the impacts their work is having upon you and your neighbors; try to see if they might possibly have the strength of character to speak up against the prevailing current within a culture that is biased toward commerce and against people.
  4. Think outside the box. For example, last night, it fit well to ask them if they agree that Sea-Tac is operating beyond its design capacity (they all felt it was not … tell that to those being delayed on arrivals, and those waiting for long periods after landing, needing a gate to open up). Ask them, would it help if Delta and Alaska voluntarily reduced their schedules by say 20% during certain peak hours? Ask them who has the authority to manage capacity at Sea-Tac … what can POS do, what can FAA do? Ask them, especially if they are a POS employee, have they ever advocated on behalf of impacted citizens, and will they serve the people (not just the airlines) by advocating for people in the future? Think national-scale and ask them, if Sea-Tac were to impose real capacity management, would these constraints really have an adverse impact on the entire national airspace system, or would they actually just nudge airlines like Delta and Alaska to increase schedules elsewhere, and not abuse Seattle with far too many flights?
  5. Always, ALWAYS, keep it clearly in your focus: the staffer you are speaking with works for you (in theory) and at that precious moment while you are chatting, you are the most powerful representative of humanity to assist him/her in learning their need to advocate for people first, ahead of industry players. Help them to see beyond the corrupted culture in which they are trapped solely for a paycheck.

Part 2: “It is like being broken up with on a Post-It note”

More details to ponder about FAA’s latest tantrum: their refusal to communicate with Marylanders because the good Governor has filed a legal challenge against FAA. Sheesh.

Washington Post followed up on the Baltimore Sun news story. (click here for the source article, click here for an aiRchived version) The piece was by Michael Laris. There is a common and consistent problem with articles by the mainstream media, including Washington Post. In the middle of this article, a paragraph implying NextGen benefits is inserted, but none of the alleged benefits are supported by any real data. That is to say, the suggestion of addressing congestion fails against the reality that total airport operations (takeoffs and landings) at the main passenger airline airports have actually declined 14% between 1989 and 2017; in other words, the only ‘congestion’ is accommodation of airlines who ‘demand’ that a select few airports become superHubs. (click here for a 3-page PDF analysis; the combined data showing the 14% decline is at the bottom of page 3) And, as for efficiency, the only ‘gains’ are potentially realized by subverting the environmental review process (e.g., liberally applying the CatEx) to impose highly impactful routes with turns lower and closer to airport runways.; in other words, FAA is orchestrating a wholesale dismissal of environmental concerns.

There’s another important detail to consider, about the Baltimore-Washington airport. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), Southwest is by far the dominant airline at KBWI, with nearly 69% of passengers. (click here for BTS website, click here for an aiRchived copy of the KBWI airport report) So, if FAA imposes changes that increase both impacts and airline profit margins, Southwest is the key player who could, in a very neighborly way, advocate on behalf of impacted residents. When is the CEO of Southwest Airlines going to stand up and protect community quality-of-life and health, by telling FAA to fix these new routes? If Southwest did this, they would stand to build even greater customer loyalty. That, coupled with their near-monopoly at KBWI (and dozens of other U.S. airports, BTW!), is always a good business move.

“It is like being broken up with on a Post-It note”

Alternatively, it is like the spoiled brat kid who, seeing his failure to get his way, abruptly takes his toys and leaves the sandbox.

Yes, this is today’s FAA.

A few years ago, FAA implemented NextGen changes that are destroying neighborhoods under heavily travelled repetitive flight segments. When people in Maryland had enough, they organized. Part of their organization was to accept FAA’s preferred process, creating a community roundtable, filled with concerned volunteers.

Now, the game plan for roundtables (and other aviation citizen-committees) includes lots of rigging. Be sure their work product conforms with what FAA/industry want to see. Assert some control. For example, FAA and the airport authority make sure plenty of pro-aviation participants ‘volunteer’ to be a part of the group. Also, the agendas for at least a year are stacked with sleep-inducing program scraps, long and boring sessions sharing koolaid glasses filled with technobabble and irrelevant metrics like ‘dNL’. Despite these shenanigans, most groups do seat at least one or two real activists. The kind who will not and do not give up. And, as happened in Maryland, sometimes real support is gained from local and state elected officials.

So, what’s going on here? Just another FAA temper tantrum. This time because the good Governor and his Attorney General took FAA to court, to protect Maryland’s people.

What’s the shortest way to spell ‘spoiled brat kid’? I’d try “F-A-A”.

Click here for the original Baltimore Sun article.

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

Now, how about a few questions:

  1. At what level of FAA was this decision made? This is a heavily top-down bureaucracy, to the point where a Deputy Regional Administrator doing as Ms. Stanco did was only following orders. So, how about if FAA produces all the records that flesh out why this decision was made, and who really made it?
  2. What level of outrage will we see from our federal elected officials? Will any of them demand FAA end their tantrum? Will any of them demand full transparency and accountability, including production of all records (see #1 above)?
  3. When will our Congress step up and do their job, serving the people? When will local communities become re-empowered, to the point where they can manage capacity at their local airport, guarding against excessive airline hubbing and scheduling?

Seeking Quiet Sleep at Lake Arrowhead

Activist David Caine has written a letter to Dennis Roberts (FAA Regional Administrator for the Western Pacific Region) and David Abney (CEO at UPS). It was published online at Mountain News. Here’s an aiRchived copy of David’s letter:

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

Ontario is a cargo hub in the eastern part of the LA Basin. UPS flies numerous flights into KONT each day, as does FedEx. Well, the problematic ones are the typical ten large arrivals between 1AM and 5AM on most days. These two big operators (the duopoly cargo haulers in the USA) like to operate at night, when there is less air traffic. They get more direct routes from ATC, and they typically push the engines to ‘scream’ across the sky. But, if ATC does not care to protect those sleeping below, the direct routes and screaming engines cause many below to be rudely awoken.

This is a classic example of why people need FAA to perform for the entire nation, not just for commercial aviation concerns. This is why the current situation, with FAA clearly a captured regulator and tone-deaf to citizen impact concerns, is failing all of us. The impacts at Lake Arrowhead were covered before in this aiREFORM Post.

Dennis Roberts is the latest person to serve as FAA’s Western Pacific Regional Administrator. He gave a presentation ‘explaining’ what FAA might do to reduce the impacts. A new arrival route, JCKIE1 STAR, was explained, too. A lot of techno-mumbo-jumbo, but when promises are not kept, it only makes FAA look that much worse.

Can we just be allowed to enjoy our homes and get some sleep??!??

NextGen CONTINUES to be FAA’s Carte Blanche for Serving Industry

Late last year, an excellent article by Barbara Castleton was added here, in the ai-Rchives. A couple weeks ago, quite a few people started sharing this article at various social media sites related to airport impacts.

The November 2017 aiREFORM Post included a scrollable PDF copy, with footnotes added. Well, six months later, we decided to take a fresh new look at Barbara’s article, relate it to what FAA has done since, and create a new version, with new footnotes added. Of course, we did NOT look at the old footnotes until everything was finished. It is interesting to see how little has changed, and yet, too, how much more clearly the NextGen impact issues appear to be coming into a sharp focus.

Click on this link to view the Post from last November; click on the black pop-out button on the scrollable PDF below (upper right corner) to read the latest analysis:

The Impacts Are Not Due to ‘Customer Demand’, They Are Due to ‘Industry Greed’

SeaTac [KSEA] has been the fastest growing U.S. commercial airport in recent years, largely due to a 2012 decision by Delta to build a hub there. Here’s a JPEG showing KSEA annual operations and trends for each year, from 1991 through 2017:

(click on image to view the source table, which includes FAA ATADS data for 533 U.S. airports)

The data clearly reflects the operational history of KSEA. This is an airport where there was a former near-monoploy by Alaska Airlines, which is now expanding into a duopoly, with TWO airlines using it for hub operations. Notice the growth in flight numbers after 2012, following the Delta business decision. But notice also how operations at this airport declined by nearly a third, from 2000-2012. Think a bit about these sizable ups and downs: do they reflect strong swings in the local economy and population, or do they merely represent airline business decisions?

Now, ponder this concept, too: does ‘consumer demand’ drive airline business actions, or do airline business actions drive consumer demand? Is it fair to say that the entire goal of airline marketing is to stimulate more consumer demand, and ever-higher passenger mileage consumption?

Ask yourself this: regarding the demand for flying in the Seattle area (…and this is an attractive area, which has drawn many new residents from around the world), did ‘consumer demand’ DECLINE that much during the 2000-2012 timeframe, and has ‘consumer demand’ for flying by Seattle-area residents grown as massively as airport operations after 2012? In other words, is it inappropriate and misinformational for airlines, the Port of Seattle, and FAA to declare that ‘passenger demand’ is driving the current impactful hub growth, when the true driver is ‘corporate/airline demand’? Check out this screencap from page 8 of a recent FAA document (FAA’s CATEX… more about that later in this Post). If you spend any time looking at press releases by airlines and the Port of Seattle, you will find the same misrepresentations consistently repeated, all aimed at tricking readers into believing ‘consumer demand’ is driving this growth. Wouldn’t it be more accurate and truthful for the industry players to precisely attribute these hub operational changes to airline corporate decisions? Shouldn’t they instead brag about their marketing savvy and their ability to manipulate consumers, to create higher (or lower) rates of consumption? Should the industry players be more transparent, noting how when assets are reallocated from a declining hub to their latest new hub, we end up with economic decline and stagnation in the former?

The bottom-line is this: some airports grow excessively, while other airports seemingly whither away. Further evidence and examples can be viewed at the full 1991-2017 data collection for all tower airports (533 different airports, in this table). Do your own analysis for your own region, but be sure to take a closer look at the airports within the rustbelt centered on Ohio … from Detroit to Buffalo to Pittsburgh to Memphis to St. Louis and back to Detroit. Within this large region, at even the busiest airports, operational declines have averaged well over 50% from peak traffic years. And, many airport hubs have been outright abandoned.

What gives here?

Under the hub-and-spoke business model, commercial passenger operators maximize profits if they theoretically fly an infinite number of passengers into a hub airport at the same moment, have the passengers instantly sort out gate-to-gate into all the parked airplanes, and then depart all at the same instant. Of course, airports cannot be this efficient, and safety rules restrict aircraft flow rates, as both arrival and departure streams typically require around one minute spacing between consecutive flights. So, the next best thing for the airport and airlines (but certainly NOT for sleep-deprived and lung-impacted residents in the airport community!) is to tweak the rules in a way that maximizes ‘runway throughput’.

An example of this rule-tweaking is the use of diverging departure headings. At SeaTac, FAA took this to an extreme when they imposed routine 90-degree left turns immediately after takeoff, for Horizon Q400 turboprops heading south during North Flows. These departures impacted residents in Burien, the community at the northwest corner of KSEA. After concerns were raised (including legal engagement), FAA backed down early last year, removing an automated turn coordination from the tower-TRACON letter of agreement (also known as the ‘SEA-S46 LOA’). That should have been the end of this, right? Well, it was not. Instead, under new Regional Administrator David Suomi, FAA spent more than a year internally discussing and drafting papers to reinstate automated turns over Burien. The culmination of all that FAA effort (and, yes, we all paid for it!) is a 51-page CATEX document titled “Categorical Exclusion for Letter of Agreement Update to Automate a 250° Westerly Turn for Southbound Turboprops When Seattle – Tacoma International Airport is Operating in North-Flow Between the Hours of 6 am and 10 pm.” Read that title to yourself again, slowly and carefully, and try to make sense of it. All of this is just to formalize a written agreement between the tower and the radar controllers, so that the turns are automated, instead of coordinated verbally (push a button down, state a few words, and get concurrence … typically takes 2-3 seconds total) on a case-by-case basis. And, the automation discards the safety element of a diligent analysis of the traffic picture for each coordination event. Anyway, here is a copy of FAA’s PDF:

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

Like its title, this document is a doozy. Spend a little time studying it and you will see the extremes FAA goes to so as to enable excessive airport expansion. Page after page, lacking in substance, heavy on repetitive ‘safety’ and ‘efficiency’ soundbites, none of which are substantiated. If a particular detail or two really grab you, and you have an insight or a question, please email the aiREFORM administrator so we can share that on (odds are high, if you read something as puzzling or shocking, others will read it the same way, too). And, by the way, don’t waste your time trying to search this FAA PDF, because FAA scanned it to be unsearchable. I.e., although this captured agency claims to be engaging the community on matters such as early turns over Burien, in truth they are knowingly reducing the value of tools (such as this 51-page CATEX document) that concerned citizens need to carefully study). This trend, away from searchable PDFs, has been observed in FAA’s FOIA responses; whereas in the past nearly all PDF FOIA response documents were searchable, in time nearly all have become non-searchable.

The Dark Side of So-Called ‘Collaboration’

When two parties conspire in a way that adversely impacts a third party, we have collusion. In an age of propaganda, when collusion happens between aviation parties such as FAA, airport authorities, and airlines, they just call it ‘collaboration’. The true and unspoken purpose of their so-called ‘collaboration’ is to achieve a consistency in their soundbites. The early turns over Burien are an example of this ‘collaboration’. Another example is how these same players routinely claim the excessive growth at SeaTac is to meet customer demand. The short answer to that claim is, well, ‘Bullshit!’. Frankly, ‘demand’ is just a lame and misrepresentative excuse; the real cause of extreme over-expansion at airports is greed by the aviation players. And let’s be clear: it is not just the airlines, but also the airport authorities and the FAA. There is plenty of collusion to go around.

Here’s some data that proves the above point. It offers data from three Delta hub airports that have been scaled down, and shines a light on the downsizing of aviation in Middle America:

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

Conclusion:

This data reflects the harsh reality that today, in the U.S., FAA serves the airlines with a propaganda line, trying to sucker taxpayers into believing passenger demand creates impact problems at places like Seattle, Boston, Long Island, Maryland, and Charlotte. This is blatantly false, and most people at FAA know this. Hub concentration is NOT driven by consumer demand; no, airline greed is driving hub concentration, at great cost to local communities.

Congress needs to demand FAA serve all of us, not just the airlines and airport authorities. FAA is out of control and needs to be reigned in, and must not be allowed to continue operating as the captured regulator it has become.

We Can Have No Accountability Without Transparency

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.