It is good to see Administrator Huerta move along, though it would have been much nicer to see the President fire him a year ago.
Now, as to who will be heading FAA(?)… …well, it looks like the AvGov Complex powers-that-be are not trying to change the current game plan. Here is a clip from a recent article, with a short bio of acting Administrator Dan Elwell:
“Elwell was FAA assistant administrator for policy, planning and environment from 2006 to 2008. He was Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) VP-civil aviation from 2008 to 2013 and Airlines for America (A4A) SVP-safety, security and operations from 2013 to 2015.”
For airlines and lobbyists, Elwell has all the right plumage; his record suggests he is a revolving door swamp monster, and an industry loyalist. Not likely to be focused on making FAA accountable to the thousands whose homes and health are being destroyed by NextGen.
Click here to view source article at ATWonline.com, or here to view an archived copy, with some analysis footnoted by aiREFORM.
5/15/2014 – (the Federal Register revision to ATSAP that stops citizens from using FOIA to learn about aviation safety failures … signed by Mr. Huerta.)
8/19/2013 – (detailed letter opposing FAA’s proposal to hide ATSAP data from the General Public (7-pages plus a 4-page attachment)
4/3/2008 – (full-day congressional hearing about FAA whistleblowers, and FAA management that not only works to stop safety actions, but also works to punish the whistleblowers.)
2/15/2015 – (‘What’s all the Noise about Airport Noise?’, a 7-page slideshow presentation by Mr. Burleson)
At year end, we often take time to reflect. This year, let’s reflect on precisely what it means, when a U.S. federal agency is ‘captured’ by industry, so as to serve the industry instead of the larger Public. This Post will look more closely at FAA later, but for now, to help see how serious the regulatory capture problem is, let’s look at another failing U.S. federal agency: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
FDA, just like FAA, has many responsibilities. For example, they are charged by Congress to regulate pharmaceutical companies. Additionally, Congress has funded FDA with the intent that they will be effective, working to protect public health from dangerous new drugs. One of those drugs, released two decades ago, is the addictive opioid, OxyContin. An online search reveals a jaw-dropping epidemic of addictions – and fatalities; indeed, odds are very high that everyone reading this Post knows at least one person who has been impacted by opioid addiction. Also, and not insignificantly, a deeper online research shows the fact that representatives of both major political parties have aided and abetted this epidemic, while also obstructing reforms and failing to pass overdue corrective legislation.
So, how well has FDA done their job? If agency leaders actually view their job as ‘serving customers’ such as the pharmaceutical industry, well, they’ve done a fantastic job. But, if any of us objectively assesses FDA performance from the perspective of serving the larger Public and actually protecting health, well, FDA is a total failure.
Patrick Radden Keefe recently wrote an article in The New Yorker, The Family That Built an Empire of Pain (click here to view the source article online; click here to view an archived and annotated version of the same article). Below is an excerpt that summarizes how Oxycontin legal actions are evolving; this particular excerpt primarily quotes Mike Moore, a former Mississippi State Attorney General:
… Ten states have filed suits, and private attorneys are working in partnership with dozens of cities and counties to bring others. Many public officials are furious at the makers of powerful painkillers. Prescriptions are expensive, and taxpayers often foot the bill, through programs like Medicaid. Then, as the ruinous consequences of opioid addiction take hold, the public must pay again—this time for emergency services, addiction treatment, and the like. Moore feels that the Sackler family, as the initial author and a prime beneficiary of the epidemic, should be publicly shamed. “I don’t call it Purdue. I call it the Sackler Company,” he said. “They are the main culprit. They duped the F.D.A., saying it lasted twelve hours. They lied about the addictive properties. And they did all this to grow the opioid market, to make it O.K. to jump in the water. Then some of these other companies, they saw that the water was warm, and they said, ‘O.K., we can jump in, too.’ ” There may be significant legal distinctions between a tobacco company and an opioid producer, but to Moore the ethical parallel is unmistakable: “They’re both profiting by killing people.” …
FAA as Faux-Regulator
So, how does studying this opioid epidemic, and Mr. Keefe’s article, help us to better understand FAA’s failure? Simply by showing a near-perfect analogy for the many signs of regulatory capture. Here is a short list of discernible failure patterns, the ‘symptoms’ of regulatory capture:
Money trumps health and environment; the faux-regulator enables industry to advance corporate profits, by assisting in expansions and system redesigns that invariably bear an enormous cost on environment, health, and local (usually residential) quality of life.
Consequences of failures are eventually lethal. FDA failures fuel a rise in addictions and overdoses; FAA failures sustain sleep-deprivation that cause most of today’s multi-fatal commercial accidents, such as Colgan-Buffalo, Comair-Lexington, and UPS-Birmingham.
Consequences of FAA failures also extend to the corruption of a culture that we are repeatedly and fraudulently told is ‘all about safety’, when the full record shows it is anything but. For example, the agency’s use of ATSAP to hide ATC safety data from the general public; the agency’s inability to see the enormous impacts imposed by NextGen changes and hub expansions; the agency’s wanton denial of obvious performance failures (such as the controller error at Santa Monica, or the rash of near-collisions at San Francisco); and of course the war against whistleblowers (those rare few inside FAA, who choose to speak up to correct the cultural failures, only to suffer retaliation).
Key personnel within the faux-regulator end up serving only industry, often via a revolving door. In the Oxycontin story, the key FDA regulator was earning his federal pay and building his eventual federal pension when he signed off on the fraudulent Oxycontin marketing plan; just two years later, he worked for Purdue! The same pattern happens repeatedly at FAA, all the way to the FAA Administrator position (e.g., when Marion Blakey retired, she immediately became head of a major aviation lobby firm).
The legal system becomes a third-party tool, used to maximize corporate advantage, an additional ‘enabler’. Both industry players and faux-regulator officials posture around threats of legal actions by industry, using this pattern as a hammer to force changes that accommodate industry, at the expense of the larger Public.
To protect industry greed, and to ensure the legal system will enable these failures to persist, a heavy budget is allocated to lawyers who self-enrich with what is effectively a ‘license to lie and deceive’. Not just industry-paid lawyers, but also agency lawyers, paid for by the people.
If and when manipulation of the legal system appears likely to fail, especially if the case is headed for trial, a ‘settlement’ suddenly appears. ALWAYS, this last-ditch legal maneuver protects both industry and faux-regulator from any accountability, by sealing records that were about to become a part of the public record, records that would among other things reveal how badly agency officials have failed. And, routinely, the so-called ‘settlement’ will include language that shuts out third parties (such as actual communities, or victim families) from future legal action.
Can This be Fixed?
Yes, it’s all fixable. And really not that difficult to do, so long as people demand performance from both agency and elected officials. The first step, though, is obvious: we have to accept that FAA, FDA and other agencies are broken, serving as faux-regulators, enabling industry players to evolve in ways that are truly destroying homes and people. Perhaps with a new year, we can get to work?
Click here to read an archived copy of the 12/21/2017 Mountain News article by Heidi Fron (or click here to view the source article), and be sure to read the two ‘open letters’ seeking to fix these NextGen abuses! Both Jim Price and David Caine did a great job defining the impacts and articulating the need for FAA to revert to the less-impactful, pre-NextGen routes.
Here’s an embedded video of a TV news story that discusses the Lake Arrowhead impacts:
Seven months later and there has been no improvement. Just like we’ve seen around the nation: Delay – Delay – Delay.
As one more resource, click here for a brief analysis of the role of Ontario’s airport, and how NextGen changes are expanding the impacts at what is generally a fairly sleepy airport with a pair of huge runways.
To Understand NextGen, Just Follow the Money
There is nothing complicated about FAA and NextGen. Just follow the money, and recognize that FAA does not serve the people, they serve the industry, providing cover for wholesale environmental abuses that are destroying community quality of life as well as the health of many people. Very many people at FAA benefit immediately, and in retirement (with higher pensions, plus consulting or FAA-contractor gigs), with NextGen implementation. The benefits for the environment are effectively nil, and in many cases the net result is an INCREASE in impacts, solely to help the airlines shorten the flight by a minute or two.
As for the NextGen technology, well, the alleged technology changes are just a fraudulent sales pitch, oversold by FAA employees all too eager to knowingly dupe Congress and the rest of us, too. The 12/18/2017 flight mentioned by David Caine is a prime example of this fraudulent sales pitch. This cargo Boeing 767 took off from the UPS headquarters at Louisville, KY, then flew essentially a straight line (great circle route) to pick up the EAGLZ Arrival into Ontario. Here’s a screencap showing the whole route, as well as the altitude and speed profile: (source: FlightAware)
People need to understand this fact: essentially all U.S. commercial flights (cargo, as well as passenger) have been able to do these long great circle routes since the 1970s. Even before the 1970s, inertial navigation systems enabled these routes, and since then, there has been a long series of technological advances that included a heavy emphasis on aviation use of GPS navigation in the 1990s.
Think about it this way: what exactly is the efficiency gain for this particular flight, KSDF-KONT, that FAA can offer UPS? The route is already as direct as can be. The only efficiency gains are minor shortcuts for UPS, but at great cost to residents, both those near the airport in Louisville, and those under the Ontario [KONT] arrival track. People in Lousville [KSDF] suffer because ATC allows (actually, directs!) UPS to short-cut their turns right after takeoff; people at Lake Arrowhead are awakened unnecessarily because ATC allows (again, actually directs!) UPS to fly a more direct and lower ‘finish’ into KONT.
By the way, this is the case for most all commercial flights within the U.S.: so long as traffic congestion is not a factor (and congestion is not a problem for cargo flights that take off around 4AM, a key reason why the industry focuses on night flying), the system is already very efficient. The delays NextGen is supposed to help reduce happen when the airlines over-expand at a handful of hubs, and schedule far too many flights, solely to build profits. And, if we have learned anything from studying the multiple NextGen debacles, it is that these alleged ‘transformational changes’ do NOTHING to resolve airline congestion. Indeed, congestion will only be reduced if/when FAA reclaims its role as a regulator, not just an industry cheerleader/enabler.
We are told NextGen is ‘transformational’, with implications of great efficiency gains. That’s BULLSHIT! The ONLYbenefits are to the aviation operators and FAA personnel, while real people are bearing ever increasing costs.
And a Closing Question
Why are FAA’s controllers and managers complicit in this fraud? Well, more planes in their airspace eventually help air traffic controllers (ATC) to nudge total workloads (and the number of sectors and controllers at that ATC facility) to the next pay level. When controllers see nice pay raises, management gets raises, too. Ultimately, for all of them, retirement pensions rise, too. Paradoxically, per controller productivity (number of flights handled per hour, per controller, for example) continues to decline, and work complexity continues to be reduced by more and more automation. Despite all this, FAA pay and benefits continue to grow. Go figure.
‘ILA’ sounds like it has potential to be extremely boring, but from what people are saying around Sea-Tac Airport (KSEA), we all need to know what an ‘InterLocal Agreement’ is, and how much harm it can do. Some are saying that the latest ILA draft is yet another bad act by the Port of Seattle: spending taxpayer money to BUY silence from the tiny few elected officials who otherwise could do the most to help mitigate growing airport impact problems.
In this example, a new ILA has been drafted to expedite further growth of the airport and operations. It was drafted by a ‘JAC’ (Joint Advisory Committee), which is a team of five officials, two representing the Port of Seattle (aka POS, operator of KSEA) and three from the city of SeaTac (which essentially surrounds the POS properties). Of course, it is easy to see the push for an ILA comes entirely from POS; we would never see a small community approach an airport authority and ‘ask’ for an ILA. And, when dealing with POS, the relatively inexperienced officials at SeaTac just cave in when monetary treats are offered; money is the drug, and nobody fails to see who is the dealer and who is the addict.
An Analysis by aiReform
A few hours were spent studying the ILA draft, and comments/highlights were added; all of this is viewable in the scrollable PDF below.
One predominant concern is that an ILA appears to be a way for an airport authority to sidestep addressing problems, such as happen related to over-expansion at KSEA. Instead of meeting with impacted area residents and solving problems – finding the right balance between air commerce and local health and quality of life – POS chooses to ‘pay off’ local elected officials, buying their cooperation. Then, if/when local residents go to their elected body for help, well, that’s been cut off by the ILA.
Another general concern is how the city is enabling POS to entirely self-regulate, in exchange for annual cash payments; not too hard for POS to do, since they collect property taxes from residents throughout the Seattle area. Also, with the intended expedited processes, the window for citizen input is essentially shut tight; just not enough time for you or me to read a draft and submit a meaningful concern or suggestion.
In a democratic society, it almost feels like an ILA should be illegal. Federal agencies like FAA should be pressing for rules that protect people against the excesses of ILA’s such as this one. Not surprisingly, FAA remains mute; after all, they serve the airlines first.
People need to take a close look at this, identify what fails, and demand better governance. Airports should serve communities, not airlines.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
This Post looks at data in two online documents, presenting further evidence of the ‘Greener Skies’ fraud that FAA, Port of Seattle, and industry players are foisting on the Public. For all intents and purposes, this is the same fraud being pushed throughout the U.S., and by industry and Congress as well, under the NextGen label.
Projected average day fuel burn on approaches, with no change: 2.64M lbs
Projected average day fuel burn WITH RNAV/RNP changes: 2.61M lbs.
These figures were presented in units (pounds) that make the numbers impressively ‘bigger’, but also make it harder to intuitively comprehend. To correct this, the figures are converted in this table (to gallons, then to annual consumption):
Fuel burn (lbs)
Converted to gallons
Gallons per year
So, the proposal is expected to achieve a savings of 1.6 million gallons annually … at an airport that sold 487.1 million gallons that year. In other words, this proposed savings is less than one third of one percent of total fuel sold at Sea-Tac. Now, to the airlines, this (~0.3%) translates to more profits; indeed, the two dominant players at KSEA, Delta and Alaska, might each save around $1,000,000 per year in fuel. But, the costs shifted onto neighborhoods and health far exceed these added corporate profits.
A little deeper research reveals another interesting fact: the alleged fuel savings of Greener Skies are massively dwarfed by annual increases at an airport scheduling more arrivals than the gates can handle. Here’s the data, from page 18 of the 2016 Annual Report for ‘Sea-Tac Fuel Facilities LLC’, showing year-to-year changes far greater than the comparatively measly 1.6 million gallons saved:
1.6M as a percentage…
57.7 (a 12% increase)
2.8% of increased consumption
41.5 (an 8% increase)
3.9% of increased consumption
The improvements are nothing when compared to the consumption growth trend. Here’s a chart showing the trends, in both annual fuel consumption and annual operations: And, here’s an analogy: imagine the public view if we were funding a drug-treatment program that was successfully helping 3% of addicts while the number of addicts was growing at such a huge rate. Would we smile if, for every three treatment successes, there were 97 new addicts? Of course, we would not. Only an idiot (or a con-artist) crows ‘success!’ about a failure.
Three realities stand out from this:
The enormous sums spent pitching Greener Skies and eventually signing off on the proposal were all framed around being pro-environment. It was a massive marketing/propaganda campaign to get out into the communities, present alleged benefits, pretend to engage people to ‘help’ identify and resolve problems, all while parading the idea that FAA, POS and industry care deeply about the environment, air quality, climate change, etc. And yet, these numbers show clearly: there were to be no meaningful environmental improvements. FAA, POS and industry players all knew this fact, even before the Greener Skies briefings and publications that wrapped up in 2012. They also knew (and still know!) that this was all just a big dog-and-pony show, funded by the people and served onto the people.
A full five years after the FONSI signoff, FAA’s controllers at Seattle TRACON are not even using the RNP procedure down the center of Elliott Bay that was the key component of Greener Skies, the one element supposed to enable the bulk of the environmental benefits. It is as if the entire Greener Skies public engagement process was just an exercise in propaganda.
The figures presented in the 2012 Greener Skies EA may not even reflect reality. Look closely. The data source documents used in this Post, when combined, show FAA/POS claimed that 487.1 million gallons of jetfuel were pumped in 2014, while also claiming 141.7 million gallons were consumed by west side arrivals on the short descending flight portions between the arrival gates (HAWKZ to the southwest, and MARNR to the northwest). Carefully note, these estimates were ONLY for west side arrivals, and did not look at fuel consumption for east side arrivals. Now, here’s the problem: these portions of these flights are the most fuel-efficient phases for each flight, and are allegedly flown at or close to engine-idle; these portions also represent a small fraction of total flight distance. And yet, the numbers used to calculate potential fuel savings declare the fuel consumption on these relatively short descending flight segments represent nearly a third of the fuel pumped at Sea-Tac? And, bear in mind, Sea-Tac is a major international hub, serving flights across the Pacific Ocean and to Europe. It defies logic; there is no plausible explanatio. FAA and POS need to confirm the numbers, and they need to explain: how is it that the airlines operating in and out of Sea-Tac can allegedly burn so much fuel on these arrivals yet so little fuel on climbouts and enroute to and from all other airports around the world?
Greener Skies was (and still is) both a fraud and a side-show ‘act’, using erroneous estimates while pretending to create benefits that STILL do not exist! And the impacts, using the questionable numbers provided by PoS/FAA, are astounding: they are saying, in 2014, arrivals to Sea-Tac consumed 2.6 million pounds of jetfuel PER DAY while on approach, creating noise and air pollution that we are all supposed to ignore.
2/25/2011 – ‘Greener Skies Project’ presentation by Doug Marek (FAA, 11-pages)
11/01/2012 – GreenerSkies, Final Environmental Assessment Documents, archived at aiREFORM
Whether they are locals or vacationers, people have a hard time enjoying the beaches of Northwest Florida, when overrun by helicopters. They also wish FAA would serve THE PEOPLE, not just the aviation interests.
Below, Jack Simpson notes that this is probably the most boring column he has yet written, but his annoyance with FAA is crystal clear. This meeting could have been held anywhere, and about so many similar situations involving FAA. The federal agency with all the power to manage U.S. aviation is instead in the business of enabling abuse by aviators, who profit while diminishing local quality of life. Through it all, FAA employees pretend they can do nothing about it. And notice, too, FAA using the same old trick: put the burden on the citizens to comply with onerous requirements, reporting details that often are impossible to compile.
This article was about helicopters, but the same framing could also represent a community impacted by NextGen, skydiving, air tours, etc.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
Here’s an analysis/rebuttal of a Steve Forbes USAToday Op/Ed, about NextGen and ATC Privatization. Mr. Forbes repeats the common NextGen lies, using few words to present the current ATC system as archaic, inefficient and overdue for reform. He misses on all points, but does a great job passing along the frauds FAA and industry have been spinning to us, in recent years. Frankly, this Op/Ed has the feel of one of those sleazy ‘advertorials’ that have become the mainstay of post-“1984” journalism, in our national “Animal Farm.”
Although Mr. Forbes twice ran for President and is a successful businessman, he appears to fall into the same trap as President Trump: both men totally fail to go beyond the fraudulent sales pitch by FAA/industry; both show a wholesale acceptance of the FAA/industry propaganda, with no critical analysis.
In endorsing either NextGen or ATC privatization, both men are wrong.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
Good to see that, after a year of horrible missteps, the City of Santa Monica appears to be setting up an environmental study, to be done during the 10-day airport closure in mid-December. Here is an archived copy of the news article (or click here to view the source article):
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
In the past, assessments done during airport closures have shown dramatic air quality improvements, suggesting clearly that local resident concerns go WAY BEYOND ‘annoyance’ (that was the word used by FAA’s community liaison person, in dismissing concerns by long-time residents of western Long Island). And, Marty Rubin looks to be wise to reserve judgment; too often, these studies get hijacked and watered down, so let’s hope Paulson is involved and credible data is collected.
In a big city, we all expect noise. But, the most responsible among us also expect to do all they can to minimize the impacts and manage how we live with it, so that children can learn, homes can be enjoyed, nature can be heard, and we all can get daily sleep. The importance of sleep to New York City is reflected in the following education module:
(click on image to view source)
BTW, one of the key advocates for ‘noise-management-sanity’ in the NYC area is Dr. Arline Bronzaft. See two of her archived articles, spanning TWO DECADES(!), at these links:
For years, you live happily in your home – raising kids, adding on, gardening, studying the birds, and relaxing in the yard. Then, one day, a heartless FAA and a soulless airport authority ‘collaboratively’ impose new routes and ever-expanding flight schedules, taking away your peace and relaxation. Whether it is the repetitive noise pattern of a NextGen RNAV procedure, or the interminable drone of a skydive plane circling to jump altitude, the impact is real and destructive to both health and quality of life.
There has to be balance between aviation commerce and residential quality of life. According to decades worth of Congressional actions, this balance is supposed to exist, and FAA is supposed to protect people. But, this is not happening, because this federal agency is captured: FAA SERVES ONLY AVIATION COMMERCE.
What can be done? Any good person – homeowner, caregiver, parent, teacher, community official, whatever your role in this world – should take action. We should see it as our duty to take action, but the current system is broken. In fact, the system has evolved to thwart citizen engagement, in three ways:
first, the airport authorities have made the noise complaint filing process incredibly onerous. They arbitrarily require the citizen to tabulate all sorts of details onto clunky forms.
then, the airport authorities throw out nearly all the data and create condensed periodic reports (typically monthly or quarterly), but the reports tend to fail to assess the real impacts. A huge effort by many citizens, and almost no effort by the airport authorities. It is as if the process is intended to be a black-hole for complaint data.
and finally, the ultimate proof of failure: the impacts continue unabated. In fact, in most cases, the impacts are getting worse each year.
So, for the current noise complaint system, the net result is to simply burn out citizens … to condition them to not complain. We should be good and responsible, taking action to protect family and community, but instead, many of us just give up. In today’s world, where distraction is the go-to weapon for perpetuating status quo inequities, we often become obsessive about something else – shopping, sports fanaticism, online gaming, or even recreational mind alteration. So much for quality of life.
Noise Complaint Systems are Evolving
Here are two noise complaint systems, the old and the new:
The Old: an onerous online form that compounds the initial noise injury by arbitrarily forcing citizens to waste time compiling excessive data that the airport authority already has. (click on image to view source)
The New: a 1-click system that collects complaints, researches, submits the complaint to the airport authority, and compiles data. (click on image to view source)
Looks like a no-brainer. The airnoise solution is a vast improvement, a step in the right direction.
What We All Need from Noise Complaint Systems
First and foremost, we need to be heard. The impacts are real, and we should be empowered to document the extent of these impacts, so that a responsible authority can work with us to resolve these impact problems. But, we also need to be protected from retaliation for exercising free speech complaint rights.
In short, our airport noise complaint systems need to:
compile all complaints, including repeat complaints from the same household (it makes no sense that, after one noise event, a citizen should be assumed to be immune from further noise impacts!);
generalize the complaint location, such as to the nearest cross-street, to protect the identity of the complainant;
share the generalized data ONLINE so that all can review the data, objectively. After all, this is what transparency and Democracy are all about: ensuring all have a voice and are empowered to apply their individual intelligence to meaningfully contribute to problem-solving.
smartly process the complaint data, to go beyond the shallow compilations FAA and airport authorities produce. Create the valuable analyses that can guide us all to seeing the obvious real solutions. Now, not years from now.