Did a ‘Vendor Error’ Reveal FAA Arbitrariness on NextGen?

Jondi Gumz’s article in the Monterey Herald, does a very good job explaining the problems people are having with FAA NextGen, not just under south approaches to KSFO, but at major hub airports nationwide. (‘Santa Cruz, San Lorenzo Valley residents surprised by new flight path noise’, click here for the online version, click here for an archived PDF with aiReform analysis).

Here are some points from an analysis of the article:

  1. RE: how FAA’s latest action shows they CAN immediately revert to pre-NextGen routes: Think about it … if FAA is able to immediately respond to a vendor error, shifting away from the problematic and impactful NextGen SERFR arrival and back to the legacy Big Sur arrival, why is it taking so long to revert to less impactful pre-NextGen routes at other locations, such as Phoenix? Indeed, out of one side of the mouth FAA has been saying ‘it is impossible to go back’, yet here, they are proving it is absolutely possible, and being done … but only at FAA’s arbitrary discretion.
  2. RE: the explosion of complaints nationwide: It is important to understand, the flood of complaints was not so much due to the application of GPS technologies (which, in fact, have been applied for more than two decades now), but is a consequence of FAA ignoring impacts while using these technologies to increase airport capacity. In a nutshell, FAA is serving the airlines, at the expense of communities. The airlines want increased ‘runway throughput’ at selected hubs, which enables them to densely pack more arrivals into smaller time slots, which can enhance profits. FAA is reducing separation between these arrives, partially by jamming some of the flights lower, to set up parallel streams of closely-spaced arrivals. On the ground, homeowners are being inundated with near non-stop noise.
  3. RE: FAA’s mishandling of the complaints: FAA is just delaying, as that best serves the airlines. This timeline could be expedited, but even if ordered to do so by a court, FAA has shown it will delay, delay, delay. This is one of the main reasons people are so upset about both NextGen and FAA: an indifferent and arrogant bureaucracy, captured by the industry it is supposed to regulate, refuses to even acknowledge the impacts by NextGen, and then refuses to serve the people (instead of just industry). Making matters worse, we lack a functioning Congress to demand FAA clean up its act.
  4. RE: the suggestion that NextGen is ‘new’: FAA has been ‘adopting NextGen’ since roughly 2003, and has been applying the same GPS technologies since the mid-1990s;
  5. RE: the oversold alleged benefits of NextGen: three points to clarify what is quickly summarized at one paragraph of the article:
  • FAA claims that NextGen ‘shortens routes’ and ‘saves time and fuel’, but NextGen actually offers very little improvements, since ATC has been granting long direct routes for many decades now, even back to the early 1970s.
  • FAA claims that NextGen ‘allows planes to fly closer together’, and it is absolutely true that ATC is jamming flights closer together, but the NextGen technologies have little to do with this change. The change is driven instead by FAA’s willingness to accommodate airlines, by reducing spacing (while simultaneously ignoring the impacts on residents below)
  • FAA claims that NextGen ‘avoids delays caused by airport stacking as planes wait for an open runway’. Well actually, NextGen is increasing delays; FAA is overly accommodating the airlines, allowing TOO MANY FLIGHTS in small time windows via tighter spacing, which in turn is forcing ATC to impose delays during the cruise portion of the flight, upstream from the final approach.

At Sea-Tac, Enplanements (and Impacts) are up 41% in Five Years

A Port of Seattle (PoS) News Release today crows about the airport setting a new annual record with 46.9 million passengers in 2017. (click here to read an archived copy, with aiReform footnotes added). As is the pattern, economic benefits are exaggerated, while environmental impacts are completely ignored.

Back in 2010, PoS went to great expense to draft a Part 150 study. Within that document package was a 44-page ‘Aviation Activity Forecast’. The key graphs within that study are condensed into this scrollable 3-page PDF:

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

You can dive deeper, looking at an archived copy of the 44-page analysis here.

One of the most disgusting statements in the PoS News Release is the leadoff to the second sentence, a classic example of greenwashing, which reads: “Demand for air travel at Sea-Tac Airport increased 41 percent the last five years…” Let’s be clear. The good people in and around Seattle did not suddenly wake up 5-years ago and start spending more money and increasing trips out of Sea-Tac. Nor did the area population explode anywhere close to 41% in 5-years. No, this alleged ‘demand’ is engineered by two airlines – Alaska and Delta – as part of their escalation of hubbing intensity, all in pursuit of slightly higher airline profits. More people fly INTO [KSEA] without ever leaving the airport terminal, either sitting in their cramped seat of rushing to catch another plane at another gate. Lots more people – up 41% in 5-years. This is NOT increased ‘demand for air travel’. And, it also means fewer people are able to get direct flights from origin to destination, without the increasing number of detours through KSEA; in other words, everyone loses, except the airlines and the airport authority.

Clean up your act, PoS: get the excessive growth at KSEA under control, and knock off the greenwashing propaganda, OK?

Here’s an online search worth trying: ‘Lane McFadden FAA’

Do any quick online search using these three words ‘Lane McFadden FAA’ and you will find quite a few links. Most are to articles and court activities related to petitions for review, filed by communities upset with FAA’s impacts and arrogance.

Mr. McFadden must be accomplished and well trained: he is a lawyer for the Department of Justice. But, the poor lad must have made a bad impression at DoJ, as he has been stuck for years, wheeling and dealing to get cases thrown out, and sometimes arguing before 3-judge panels, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (USCADC). Or, then again, maybe in the legal world he is a rock star for always having so much work to get paid for. At any rate, he was last seen – just last week – again trying to bail out FAA. He lost the Phoenix ‘petition for review’ last summer, and had to repeat his canister of ‘NextGen is good’ arguments all over again, this time for a similar case filed by residents being impacted by NextGen routes in and out of Washington National Airport.

Why Lane McFadden? Primarily because his name comes up in the article discussed below. But, even more, because I am sure glad I am not a DOJ environmental attorney stuck defending FAA. Too dark for my taste.

Here are archived copies for three cases: Click here for a USCADC decision that Mr. McFadden won for FAA in February 2009; click here for another he won, in June 2009; click here for the Phoenix PFR he lost in August 2017. Study them and you may just learn a LOT about how biased USCADC is, how they nearly always side with agencies and large corporations (first, they do all they can to just dump the PFR, then, if they do hear it, they strain their attention to side in favor of FAA; a real dog-and-pony show).

Now, about that article… here is a worthwhile analysis by Tony Verreos:

“This article says it took 2 years or more to get to the same Federal Appeals Court that ruled on the Phoenix case last year. No surprise the plaintiffs claim the FAA failed to give proper notice, and the FAA counters they went above and beyond the requirements.
Meanwhile – the one statistic that stands out very plainly is the growing number of complaints. It seems like wherever the FAA installs its new changes, complaints go up in multiples of double, triple, quadruple and even higher.
For all of the money wasted, and time people will never get back attending meetings they wish they never went to about jet noise and chemical pollution, the FAA still flat out refuses to change its Mission Statement to “Protecting Public Health and Safety” from Safety and Efficiency which it interprets very strictly as fuel savings while knowing full well how anti public health that is. And their claims of safety look great when you see no crashes. The safety chart does look great, but then they don’t display all the go arounds (wasting fuel and polluting our air), and the near misses which seem to be a growing number!”

Click here to view an archived copy of this Washington Post article.

BTW, Tony’s comment was posted at a new Facebook public group he recently created, STOP Jet Noise NOW! SFOAK North S.F. Bay Area.


See also:
  • 8/29/2017FAA Ordered to Vacate Their 2014 NextGen Routes in Phoenix (aiReform Post)

UPDATE, 1/24/2018: — An opinion piece was published at WaPost, and a copy is archived here. The author is Paul Verchinski, who is a member of the community roundtable for yet another airport where FAA’s NextGen mess is impacting residents: Baltimore-Washington [KBWI].

Reflections on FAA as a Faux-Regulator Serving Industry, Not the Public

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:

  • Industry becomes the primary customer. For FAA, nothing shows this failure as starkly as the whistleblower hearings held on 4/3/2008.
  • 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?

People and Communities Would Benefit, if We Disincentivized Hubs

Interesting discussion about community impacts and port authority overdevelopment at Sea-Tac [KSEA], in this Quiet Skies Puget Sound Facebook Post.

(click on image to view source Facebook discussion)

Here, one of the area residents being victimized by Sea-Tac overexpansion suggests what really is the easiest solution: spread the flights out, so people are served locally, by their own local airport.

So, how do we make this change? The key to getting there includes changing the current system of fees/taxes to economically disincentivize hubs. For example, the U.S. Congress and FAA need to do three things:

  1. end ticket charges (especially the PFCs) that incentivize airport over-development. With airport PFCs, FAA/DoT collects billions of dollars each year, which are then reallocated into airport development projects. Much of this money goes to rural airports with nearly zero traffic (such as the recent debacle at Mora, MN), and the funds are generously doled out with near-zero local matches required. Airports like Sea-Tac are thus motivated to develop far beyond what the actual airport property and surrounding neighborhoods can stand.
  2. impose a steep carbon tax with at least half of revenues going away from aviation, such as to high speed rail. Indeed, the aviation sector provides an excellent opportunity to trial such a tax, while also funding new programs that are far more energy-efficient.
  3. establish a user fee system based on two key factors: direct-miles (between origin airport and destination airport), and aircraft seating capacity. Apply this fee system to all commercial flights (passenger and air cargo) as well as to all higher performance aircraft (e.g., bizjets, and flights by fractionally-owned aircraft). Thus:
      • for any origin-destination pair, a 200-passenger jet would pay twice the fee as a 100-passenger jet, and a 400-passenger jet would pay 4-times as much.
      • a 30-passenger bizjet would pay the same aviation user fee, whether it is chartering one elite passenger of 28, whether it is flying IFR (in the ATC system) or just out on a high-performance VFR hop.
      • passenger ticket fees/taxes would be proportional to itinerary distance. E.g., a passenger ticket from Seattle to Boston via Atlanta would pay 25% higher fees due to 25% higher distance (2,712 NM through ATL versus 2,161 NM direct SEA-BOS); likewise, a SEA-LAX-BOS itinerary would pay 43% higher fees than a direct SEA-BOS itinerary (hubbing via LAX, in this example, increases distance flown from 2,161 NM to 3,091 NM).
      • and, of course, this all would apply to commercial helicopters, too. A helicopter doing an urban air tour, or a helicopter charter hop from KSMO to Staples Center, would pay the fee, subject to a hefty minimum user fee per operation.
      • similarly, it would apply to commercial skydive operators, whose noisy aircraft would also be subject to a hefty minimum user fee per operation.

This simple set of proposed fees/taxes would not only reduce hub pressure at places like KSEA, KJFK, KCLT, KPHX, and KBOS; it would also all but eliminate system delays, and reduce environmental impacts. Plus, this system would strongly incentivize the airlines to offer more direct flights. This would mean less travel time for the consumers who fund this system, and would be a Win-Win for nearly everyone. The only losers would be the airlines and airport authorities who have gone too long, abusing too many, under the current flawed fee/tax system that maximizes consumption.

Just one thing is required: an elected Congress willing to work together, to order FAA reform: to totally revamp the fee/tax system, replacing it with only a carbon tax and a direct-miles fee.

Is Common Sense Creeping Back at Santa Monica?

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.

We should start educating youngsters early on about the dangers of noise

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:

And let’s be careful to never forget: it is not just the noise, but the pollutants, too. The toxins we breathe near airports, as well as the rapidly growing aviation contribution to global warming.


UPDATE, 11/17/2017: — Another excellent reference resource is the Noise Awareness webpage, at GrowNYC.org:

(click on image to view source webpage, at grownyc.org)

…Martin Rubin and Jack Saporito helped identify this activism resource … THANKS!

 

WaPost OpEd: “For the Love of Earth, Stop Traveling”

An opinion piece in the Washington Post lays out the simple answers: air travel consumes far too much energy, creates far too much environmental damage, per person. Good points.

The simple solution is for more of us to voluntarily travel, a lot less. The government would help, a lot, if they would impose a very steep aviation carbon tax, with all revenues going to reducing other personal taxes and/or funding far more energy-efficient transportation modes, to replace the energy-efficiency of aviation.

Check out this archived opinion piece, as well as the telling reader comments.

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

Airport Noise Complaint Systems are Broken, Need to be Replaced

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Santa Monica Update: Air Quality Study Needed, During Runway Closures

In the U.S., one of our greatest advocates for resolving aviation impacts is Marty Rubin. Marty has been fighting the right fight for decades now, against a city (Santa Monica) whose elected officials appear to be corrupt to no end (…well, most of them; a few have been great!). His website, CRAAP, recently forwarded the posting below, which is a blogpost by staff at Mike Bonin’s website.

For those not in the LA area, here’s the deal: this airport is run by the City of Santa Monica, but has HUGE impacts upon people who reside in homes outside the City’s boundaries … in old and very established residential communities like West LA. In a just world, a higher level regulator, such as FAA, would guard against gains for some with uncompensated losses for others. But, here in West LA, FAA is failing their role. In these neighborhoods, even beautiful homes are subjected to aviation fumes and jet blast, with homeowner’s having no evident right to fix these impacts. Why? Because of FAA’s refusal to serve EVERYONE, not just the aviation industry! But, then again, this is what we expect from a captured regulator.

Here is a copy of the blog and Councilmember Bonin’s letter to the Santa Monica City Council. (click here to view the source)

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


See also: