How FAA is Sabotaging the Citizen Involvement Process on ‘OAPMs’

Suppose you live in Southern California, maybe near the airport in Santa Monica. And, suppose you are highly responsible, the kind of person who doesn’t just take the time to vote but also sacrifices even more of your precious personal time to participate in important decisions by your government. You make it a habit to stay informed and involved.

One day, a news item announces that FAA has a big airspace redesign project: the SoCal Metroplex OAPM.**OAPM = ‘Optimization of Airspace & Procedures in the Metroplex’. You read the article and see that FAA has posted documents online and will have public ‘open houses’ at libraries and other locations, to answer questions and to enable citizen awareness of the proposals. At the end of the ‘open houses’, FAA has set a deadline for you to offer your concerns, suggestions, etc.

You are a busy person, with a job and a home and a family, but you nonetheless make time to do what you feel is your civic duty. You go online and find a slick webpage (created by a contractor for FAA) with an overview and more links. You click on the ‘Documents’ link and find another slick page, this one with links to 57 documents totaling 793 megabytes. Some of the links point to PDF files so large (the largest three are 70MB, 83MB, and 84MB) that you cannot even bear the long wait time to finish a download. You nonetheless wait through the slow downloads and open a few of the links.

You then wade through hundreds of pages, filled with aviation acronyms and other gobbledygook. You are bright and curious, and try your damnedest to make sense of what you are reading, and yet many pages are filled with information that appears to be completely irrelevant. Not just irrelevant to your small area of concern (how will these changes impact my home and my family, here in Santa Monica?), but even for the larger area of focus identified in FAA’s 57 online documents (the entire SoCal Metroplex, spanning from the Salton Sea to Solvang, and from Victorville to Tijuana).

You plow ahead and formulate a few questions. You attend a local Open House, where you find a team of FAA employees and aviation professionals awaits, ready to answer your questions. They eagerly focus on the claimed benefits, especially the claimed reduction in fuel consumption, but they grow quiet on some of your questions. You become perplexed when you realize: they are refusing to answer any questions related to the environmental impacts of their proposed changes. It is as if the proposal is all about enhancing capacity while blindly ignoring the environment. You depart the Open House and maybe, just MAYBE, you still have enough energy left to write and submit a comment before the deadline. Or, perhaps more likely, you simply shake your head and wonder: Why is this such a broken process?

The Laws…

Rest assured: it was never intended that the process would evolve as it has, to narrowly serve only the regulator and the regulated, at the expense of the much larger Public. And it is not you; it is the process that has gone nuts.

In the big picture, there are two fundamental elements needed for the effective functioning of Democracy and representative government:

  1. maximum informational transparency (in the timely release of quality reports and draft documents),
  2. and the assurance that individual citizens have an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the decision-making process.

To protect the people against agency regulatory capture, many federal laws have been deliberated and passed by Congress. Not least of these laws is the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The APA was passed in the 1940’s, aimed at bringing the evolving over-reach of numerous federal agencies back under control. Aimed at ensuring, no matter how simple or complex a proposed new rule was, agencies were not allowed to operate in a vacuum, and citizens were empowered to make meaningful contributions. Essentially, it is a check-and-balance; our past Congress’ passed laws that empowered our federal employees to create changes, but to protect our rights and ensure an effective process, Congress also passed laws requiring an open process engaging the public.

Wonderful concept, isn’t it? The problem, though, is this is only a ‘concept’, because in reality FAA (and more than a few other federal agencies) have slowly developed strategies for subverting the process. FAA is the regulatory agency with the authority to regulate airlines, manufacturers, and other aviation entities. But, FAA is a captured agency, and as such routinely serves the interests of the airlines and others FAA is supposed to be regulating.

…And How FAA is Subverting the Laws

FAA is knowingly ‘fixing’ the outcome of the reviews for changes in airport procedures and airspace design, by using the following strategies:

  • overwhelm the individual citizen with documentation, so that it is impossible for a responsible citizen to dedicate enough of their personal time to completing a thorough review. For example, a typical airport Master Plan, even for a very insignificant rural airport with little traffic, commonly measures 300-500 pages; it is hard for even a very intelligent citizen to sort through the document, even just to establish which pages are relevant and which pages are irrelevant.
  • further overwhelm the individual citizen by expanding the scope of the changes being proposed. By doing this, even the sharpest citizen (and what are the odds they are also blessed with limitless time and obsessive research skills?) will find it impossible to produce any kind of focused, specific comments. In the example of the current SoCal OAPM, the only people who MIGHT be able to process all the data are the FAA contractors who earned millions in public funds creating that webpage with 57 links to 793 MB’s of PDF files. And, don’t forget: FAA and its contractors are all biased toward approving the proposals!
  • be selective with FAA’s answers to citizen questions. By routinely ignoring the environmental questions, the agency (and, also, the aviation professionals who are ‘collaborating ‘ with FAA in this selective ‘non-answering’ policy) will nudge concerned citizens toward self-doubt. Some may even begin to question whether they are too sensitive about a problem the so-called experts cannot even recognize.
  • drag it all out forever. Delay, and delay some more, so that the process cannot possibly engage the ongoing attention of a concerned citizen. They can come to a long series of presentations, and hear the same garbage. Each time, the citizen is allowed to express his or her concern. After doing so a few times, they may just get the intended message: “WE ARE NOT REALLY LISTENING! So, move along and shut up, and accept we will do what we want at this airport!”
  • Divide and conquer. The larger Public is horribly disserved, but FAA does their job very well (that is, their REAL job, which clearly is ‘serving aviation interests’) when they find ways to get those who question airport projects to instead fight among themselves. Even good, smart and dedicated people have their limits. Stress them with noise and leaded exhaust and jet fumes, then do little to mitigate the problems; eventually, passions will flare and more citizens will give up.

 

[QUOTE]: FAA’s Indifference to Environmental Impacts

Aside

QUOTE

“…It takes a lot to get the FAA to respond,” says Magnolia’s Robert Bismuth, a longtime private pilot himself. “The FAA has two mandates, safety and commerce, and no mandate about anybody on the ground. It traditionally hasn’t responded to noise and pollution concerns. If you want it to, you have to involve the congressional delegation…..”

– a Seattle resident, in an article about NextGen noise, posted 1/14/2013 at Crosscut.com

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FAA’s NextGen: Just like the Little Man in ‘Wizard of Oz’

20150712cpy.. OZ's little man behind curtain, FAA SpinMeisterFAA’s attitude about citizen concerns is incredibly well illustrated by a scene from the film classic, Wizard of Oz. It is a scene that illustrates how power can be just an illusion, carefully spun and projected by an agency PR machine.

Little Man (with a booming voice, amplified by whiz-bang technologies): “Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said come back tomorrow!”

Dorothy:  “If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises.”

Little Man: “Do you presume to criticize the great Oz? You ungrateful creatures. Think yourselves lucky, that I’m giving you audience tomorrow instead of twenty years from now.”

Little Man then turns to see that the dog has pulled open the curtain, showing him manipulating the controls that project the booming voice of Oz. Little Man returns to his microphone, utters a startled “Oh!!”, then broadcasts: “The Great Oz has spoken!”

Little Man then turns again and quickly pulls the curtain shut, then broadcasts: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The Great Oz has spoken!”

Finally, when Dorothy pulls open the curtain and addresses Little Man, the fact is revealed: he is just an illusion of power, bolstered by the application of whiz-bang technology.

L. Frank Baum’s book was published in 1899, and the hugely popular movie came out in 1939.

Generations later, here we are in Summer 2015. NextGen is the newest ‘whiz-bang’ technology, sold to us by an increasingly Ozian FAA. The agency spends billions collected from passengers each year, to manipulate public perception that FAA serves aviation safety (…maybe like a tick aids canine health?), and that money needs to be spent on their over-promoted ‘whiz-bang NextGen’ technologies. This same FAA also ignores (and conceals) concerns about problems created by NextGen … not just noise issues (Phoenix, Santa Cruz, Charlotte, Boston, Chicago, Queens, etc.), but even safety issues, such as apparently contributed to the recent midair collision in South Carolina.

Clearly, we need to start paying very close attention to the FAA man behind the curtain. And we need Congress to step up their game, and force FAA to clean up its act.

[QUOTE]: The Over-Selling of NextGen

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QUOTE

“…Can we please stop calling radar “World War II-era technology” like it means something? Jet aircraft are World War II-era technology. The concrete airplanes land on is Roman Republic-era technology. The English spoken by pilots and controllers was developed a thousand years ago. If there is a real performance advantage from using a GPS-based system over a radar-based system, talk specifically about that…..”

– comment to an article blogged on 7/14/2015 at TheHill.com

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GIGO: Lessons Learned from FAA’s Bad NextGen Deployment at Phoenix

GIGO: Garbage in, Garbage out. Here is the quick definition from Wikipedia:

“…in the field of computer science or information and communications technology refers to the fact that computers, since they operate by logical processes, will unquestioningly process unintended, even nonsensical, input data (“garbage in”) and produce undesired, often nonsensical, output (“garbage out”)….”

GIGO is a very old principle in computer programming. In fact, it is so old that the concept was first discussed even before the Civil War ended! Charles Babbage, considered the father of the computer, created mechanical systems to crunch numbers and automate the textile industry, as far back as the 1820’s.

Two centuries later, in 2015, our technologies have advanced considerably, but the validity of the GIGO principle has not changed. In fact, it is becoming even more meaningful today, as ‘experts’ use GIGO to manipulate outcomes. GIGO explains how we end up with NextGen implementation debacles like the one that has destroyed quality of life in Phoenix neighborhoods for the past nine months.

FAA’s Manipulation of Phoenix NextGen

When faced with a desire to implement new NextGen departure and arrival procedures at Phoenix, FAA had a problem. The noise abatement procedures, which had evolved over many decades, called for straight-out departures over the Salt River during the predominant west flow. But, a very large number of Phoenix departures were heading for destinations to the north and east, and FAA and the two primary airlines at the airport, Southwest and USAirways, wanted earlier turns. So, to save a couple miles per flight during initial climb, FAA built a campaign around NextGen, making grandiose pro-environmental declarations when their real goal was just to bypass the environmental rules.

When exaggerated, the benefits of NextGen could be used to justify early turns, but FAA was still stuck with a time-consuming environmental review process. Following the financial collapse of 2008, there was intense pressure to find ways to stimulate the economy. Thus was created an opportunity for FAA to manipulate Congress into approving a waiver from environmental review. After a couple years of crying to Congress that ‘gosh, we are sure trying, but we just cannot speed things up’, FAA was able to slip some ambiguous language past Congress; starting in 2012, the Categorical Exclusion was allowed.

(click on image to view article online)

(click on image to view article online)

To finish setting the stage, FAA’s last important step was to ‘buy’ a support program, by hiring a cadre of ‘experts’. These are the people who hopefully would appear credible when they signed off on the FONSI’s and CATEX’s. For this, FAA tapped their deepest revenue source – the airline passenger taxes that we all pay to fly – and applied them toward a series of large NextGen implementation contracts. One of those contracts, worth $106 Million, went to SAIC, who then hired a collection of ‘Yes Men’ who would do whatever was needed to implement NextGen.

Garbage in, Garbage Out: the Phoenix CATEX Sign-Off

On June 23, 2015, Skyharbor Airport officials announced completion of an investigation into how the Phoenix NextGen departures became implemented. The officials also posted a collection of 25 supporting exhibits. One of these, Exhibit 21, measures a whopping 121Mb to present a 255-page PDF. The first 20-pages is presented below. This is the document in which Caroline Poyurs, a SAIC contractor who later hired on as an FAA ‘Environmental Protection Specialist’, signed off on a Categorical Exclusion for the PHX NextGen Departures and Arrivals. With her signature, Ms. Poyurs was essentially declaring that the impacts were not significant. Read it for yourself and just try to make sense of it.

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

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Imagine you have the job as the representative for Phoenix. You are the one and only person FAA is showing this garbage to. There are well over a dozen people in the room, and they all represent the airlines, FAA (management and union personnel from both the tower and the radar room), and FAA’s hired contractor, MITRE. They all seem to know what the plan is, and you really feel like an odd man out. Everyone else acts like the 255-page CATEX sign-off report is crystal clear, but your head is screaming, “This is garbage!” You survive the surreal meeting, take the garbage back to your cubicle, and shake your head wondering, “Do I have ANYTHING substantial to share with my supervisor?”

You don’t; FAA gave you nothing but indecipherable garbage. So, it sits on your desk, time marches on and then, one day, the shit hits the fan when FAA starts flying these impactful departures. And eventually, the blame gets pinned on you. Are you having fun, yet?

Fix this Problem now, FAA

This has gone on long enough. Southwest and USAir need to immediately reject the flawed NextGen Departures and exercise their final authority by demanding straight-out departures like they used to get. File the Silow Four, the St Johns Eight, or other non-RNAV departures, and REFUSE to fly the MAYSA Three, LALUZ Three, and other RNAV procedures.

With the next charting cycle, FAA needs to replace the flawed NextGen Departures with new procedures that use NextGen constructively, procedures that continue westbound to an appropriate distance and altitude to minimize noise impact on Phoenix residents (hint: 9DME has worked well for years). On top of that, FAA needs to become fully transparent by creating REAL documents that ensure anyone can understand their proposal, and posting these documents online, well in advance of implementation. If they had done this in the first place, we would not have this mess to clean up today.

FAA: Winging it with Arbitrary Numbers & Declarations

In a recent cartoon, the concerns of residents in the Santa Cruz Mountains area (south of the San Francisco Airport) were graphically presented by Steven DeCinzo:20150614.. Cartoon re citizens upset at FAA-NextGenHell around Santa Cruz (S.DeCinzo, SCSentinel)DeCinzo’s Op/Ed is drawing many chuckles. But, more importantly, it is not an exaggeration of how upset people are by the changes FAA has imposed. All under the guise of ‘NextGen’, in a contemporary example of aviation ‘greenwashing’.

So, why are people so upset?

Well, there is clearly the lost quality of life (sleep interruption at night, and new streams of aviation noise during many stretches of the day). But, the upset is compounded by how FAA came to impose these procedures. There was the CATEX rule (categorical exclusions), manipulated through Congress in late 2011, as a workaround that would eliminate FAA’s need to do full environmental reviews. And, there was the broad use of FONSI declarations, also as a workaround to eliminate any real environmental review.

FONSI means Finding of No Significant Impact. In July 2014, FAA declared FONSI on their NorCal OAPM (for Northern California), thus declaring their belief that nobody would be bothered by the proposed new NextGen arrival and departure procedures. Boy, were they wrong. But this is not surprising. Fact is, FAA routinely says what they need to say (not what the facts would have them say) to check off the boxes, to complete the required processes, to go forward with their plans. And, also routinely, their ‘plans’ are not to serve the airport neighbors, but to bring ‘relief’ to the airlines, so that  they are no longer burdened by pesky environmental restrictions.

Oh, and FAA is repeating the NorCal OAPM process in Southern California right now; they have published hundreds of pages of SoCal OAPM documents and plan to announce yet another FONSI in the coming months.

An Example of FAA’s Arbitrary Numbers

The NorCal OAPM paper was done by ATAC, and followed an analysis done by SH&E, in 2009, Baseline Capacity & Delay Analysis for the Primary Bay Area Airports. Here is a JPEG showing page 9 from the SH&E study: 20090925scp.. KOAK Baseline Activity Forecast thru 2035

The figures reflect actual airport operations (takeoffs and landings) for 2007, and projections for 2020 and 2035. Dark blue shows a projected slow increase in the number of passenger airline operations. Light green is air cargo. Medium blue is general aviation (GA). And, pale blue are GA ops that stay in the local pattern (mostly for flight instruction). An orange line has been added on the left side, identifying the annual itinerant operations totals at around 255,000, but projected to exceed 300,000 by 2035. The prediction was to stay flat, but instead, at the midpoint toward 2020, there has been a sharp decline to average just 170,000 operations in the past two years.

What’s shocking is that FAA pays money for these projections and uses them to justify new programs like NextGen. All while not looking at the real data. So, here is the real data, copied from FAA’s ATADS site (and with peak years highlighted):20150617cpy.. KOAK ATADS 1990-2014What the real data shows is that operations at Oakland peaked nearly twenty years ago, in the mid-1990’s. By the time the SH&E study was done, they had declined by a third, so the study projected a brief flattening and a rebound by 2035. Well, instead of a brief flattening we have seen a massive decline, and the 2014 total itinerant operations are now a 57% decline from peak year 1997. The steady downward trend shows no sign of reversing.

How does this connect back to NextGen?

When trying to justify NextGen, FAA routinely implies (and in some situations outright states) that NextGen is critically needed to increase capacity, to prepare for future demand. At airports across the nation, such as at SFO, established routes are being abruptly abandoned in favor of imposed NextGen routes. Despite the fact that these established routes had evolved slowly, sometimes over decades, to balance aviation efficiency against airport neighbor quality of life, FAA is proceeding with their wholesale abandonment.

These abandonment actions are being done as part of the NextGen implementation, and they are all predicated on the FAA belief that they are necessary, to accommodate future growth. The Oakland example shows that FAA has no real data to back that up. And, this is the case not just at Oakland, but also at the vast majority of the primary U.S. commercial airports.

What Is NextGen’s Environmental Vision?

The environmental and capacity-enhancement goals of NextGen were nicely summarized in a slideshow presentation in early 2009, ‘NextGen Environmental Issues – What Florida Airports Need to Know’. Here is page 12 from the 35-pages.
20150610scp.. p.12 of 35p 'NextGen Environmental Issues - What Florida Airports Need to Know' HMMH slideshowIn view of what has happened in the subsequent six years, NextGen is a colossal flop. A major failure, oversold with no real regard for environmental impact.

Wendell Ford’s Edsel: Many of FAA’s NextGen Dirty Tricks were Also Used in the 1990 Passage of ANCA

Here’s an interesting opinion piece done twenty-four years ago, after passage of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (also known as ‘ANCA’). It offers lots of valuable insight into how airport impact legislation ends up primarily serving the airlines, the airports, and the FAA.

At the time this legislation was passed, Congress was facing a budget crisis They abruptly resolved the crisis by passing the “Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990”. Incredibly, that budget package included three different Acts for FAA funding, two of which were aimed at aviation capacity. One was ANCA, the other was the Aviation Safety & Capacity Expansion Act of 1990.

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

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Legislation does not just appear; it happens because someone wants/needs it to happen. One difference between 1990 and 2012 is the ‘driver’. In 1990, Senator Wendell Ford was carrying water for UPS and other commercial aviation firms, who wanted to not be burdened by noise rules. In 2012, FAA was leading the charge, imposing NextGen to necessitate billions of dollars in technology upgrades, primarily as an economic stimulus program.

Our Collective ADD, and Some History on US Airways

The general public lacks awareness of major trends in U.S. aviation, not just in the past hundred years, but even in the past decade. Indeed, the current set of popular communications technologies (internet, twitter, etc.) bombard us with so much rapid information that Public memory has arguably been all but destroyed . Many of us fail to process events from mere weeks ago. So, it is not surprising that people have no idea how contentious U.S. aviation history has been, getting to where we are today, with just four remaining major U.S. airlines: American, Delta, Southwest, and United.

It does not help that all of our aviation professionals do nothing to nurture a citizenry that is vastly informed and technically savvy, empowered by knowledge. Instead, FAA, NATCA, A4A and other members of the Av-Gov Complex seem to want to keep us ignorant. So, they always tend to hand us off to technical experts, and shout off infinite acronyms as effective weapons of mass confusion. They religiously avoid talking about safety deficiencies, wasteful spending, controller errors, etc. And all this they do while speaking cheerfully, as if from a Koolaid Bowl, to promote air travel (and thus their personal paychecks and pensions).

In total, we have been collectively dumbed down; nearly all of us now suffer a substantial culturally-based Attention Deficit Disorder. This ensures that meaningful decisions by governmental agencies, such as FAA’s NextGen implementations, will continue to happen in a vacuum. It also means that most impacted people will be too flustered (or too distracted onto other life matters or by trivialities – hey, did you see the great catch by what’s his name?) to focus through repairing FAA’s damages.

US Airways: An Airline Dysfunction Case Study?

While researching a recent aiREFORM Post about FAA’s NextGen Hydra at Charlotte, NC, it became clear that a closer look at Charlotte, and the airline at the heart of the airport’s history, might help educate us all. There is much that needs to be learned….

…So, take a look at the Wikipedia page on US Airways. Especially, be sure to read their history, with bankruptcies in both 2002 AND 2004. This was one of the first major U.S. airlines to liquidate the pensions of its pilots, as they did in 2003. This is also an airline that built up a huge hub at Pittsburgh [KPIT], got the airport authority to spend billions in new facilities, then abruptly up and left when the airport authority refused their ultimatum to lower airline operating fees.

By the way, Pittsburgh is one a growing number of U.S. airports that have seen enormous federal investment, only to be abandoned by their main airline (see also Delta at Cincinnati [KCVG], American at St. Louis [KSTL], Northwest (now Delta) at Detroit [KDTW], and Continental (now United) at Cleveland [KCLE].

And on the subject of airline dysfunction, it seems notable that the newest merger – American-US Airways – is deeply at the heart of nearly all of the biggest NextGen rollout debacles: at Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, New York’s JFK, and Phoenix. This one airline, if they shook their head and said ‘NO’ to FAA’s NextGen routes, could make a hugely positive quality of life difference for hundreds of thousands of airport neighbors.

We need to know history…

…and we need to apply what we know. Otherwise, we will keep doing the same stupid things, over and over again. Money will be wasted. Neighborhoods will be ruined. And a slim few will get rich.

FAA’s NextGen Hydra: Breathing Hellish Noise-Fire Upon Charlotte, NC

Source: tabletophell.com

Source: tabletophell.com

When the noise seems to never go away, in areas where only months before there just wasn’t any airport noise, people tend to get worn out. The noise becomes an occupying force, a controlling presence. Perhaps it was after nights of enduring NextGen sleep deprivation that a retiree near Charlotte, NC began to see FAA’s NextGen as a mythical, multi-headed hydra, breathing noise-fire from Hell.

The heads of this monster are the many newly designed routes, wherein FAA is effectively mandating pilots to let the autopilot fly the airplane as soon as they lift off. In FAA’s current NextGen implementation, these automated routes are being focused by the navigational precision of new GPS technologies. The result, being ignored by FAA, is the creation of intense noise impact areas. People are speaking up, but FAA won’t listen; instead, agency spokespersons just try to drown out the popular concerns by repeating their mantra, “NextGen is needed for ‘safety and efficiency’.”

The Charlotte NextGen Hydra Looks Like This

Here’s a map showing actual flight tracks during a North Flow at Charlotte. Green lines are departures, red lines are arrivals. The pink ellipses mark the areas heavily impacted by crossing compressed routes. The airport runways are identifiable in the small area where the green lines butt into the ends of the red lines, midway between the bottom edges of the two upper pink ellipses.[KCLT] N Flow, route compilation map with pink markups

20150531cpy.. portion of Munch's 'The Scream'

(click on image to view painting in a larger window)

It is uncanny, how much this plot of FAA’s NextGen impact on Charlotte resembles the tormented subject in Munch’s priceless painting, ‘The Scream’. Priceless.

Actually, not just Priceless. Pointless too, because FAA doesn’t need NextGen to continue to manage what FAA has been telling Congress for decades is the safest and most efficient aviation system ever. So, the only valid justification for spending tens of billions to ‘upgrade’ would be to handle higher traffic levels.

Which brings us to exactly what is wrong with FAA’s NextGen (other than the wasted money): there is no capacity demand justifying NextGen.

In fact, air traffic has declined sharply in the past two decades, and FAA has produced no evidence that traffic levels will be going up any time soon. The Av-Gov Complex (FAA and their ‘collaborators’) knows this, but they remain careful not to talk about it. So, while people are upset, losing sleep, and speaking up more, FAA just continues with their mantra that NextGen as ‘critically needed for safety and efficiency’.

How Far Has U.S. Air Traffic Declined?

The key metric for assessing both airport noise impact and ATC workload is the number of airport operations (i.e., how many airport takeoffs and landings in a year). FAA’s ATADS database is maintained specifically to track this metric. According to FAA’s ATADS data for all towered airports, total U.S. airport operations peaked way back in 1999; since then, there has been a steady decline, and in 2014 total operations at ALL TOWERS were DOWN 28% from the 1999 peak.

Another way to assess growth or decline to try to justify a need for NextGen is to look at commercial operations at a subset of the largest commercial airports. FAA says that 70% of all passengers enplane at the ‘OEP-35 airports’. At these 35 major airports, ANNUAL OPERATIONS PEAKED IN 2000, AND BY 2014 HAD DECLINED 19%. [see: OEP-35 Airports (list & links) which shows trends for each OEP-35 airport]

During the 2000 to 2014 timeframe, nearly half (16) of the U.S. OEP-35 airports, declined by 21% or more. During this same time period, the U.S. population grew by 13%. Seemingly, any healthy service industry should at least keep pace with population growth. Well, of the 35 marker airports on the OEP list, only TWO beat population growth: operations at New York JFK was one (up 20%), and Charlotte was the other (up 18%).

All other of FAA’s busiest airports declined versus population, most of them substantially. The five worst case declines (and these numbers would be still lower if population growth was factored in!) happened at:

  • Cincinnati Northern Kentucky [KCVG]: down 72%
  • Pittsburgh [KPIT]: down 70%
  • St Louis [KSTL]: down 62%
  • Cleveland [KCLE]: down 61%
  • Memphis [KMEM]: down 43%

The Significance of KCLT

As noted, between 2000 and 2014 the hub airport in Charlotte, NC was one of only two major U.S. airports to grow faster than population (though it did peak in 2013, and showed a 2% decline in 2014). How did Charlotte do this? By becoming a larger hub airport, and with lots of federal subsidy. Charlotte is now a Super-Hub for US Airways, which is just now finishing its merger with American Airlines.

The [KCLT] super-hub is to American/USAirways as the Atlanta [KATL] super-hub is to Delta. Both are positioned with multiple parallel runways, and between two key major passenger markets: the north/northeastern U.S. market, and the Florida market. Their business model is simple: bring passengers in from both markets, have them ‘self-sort’ in the KCLT terminal, and send them out to their destinations. Interestingly, both the KATL and the KCLT model rely on extreme monopoly. The merged American/US Airways (and it’s subordinate feeder airlines) handled 96% of the KCLT commercial passenger operations in December 2013; that same reference month, Delta dominated KATL with 91% of all operations. [see: A Table Showing the ASPM-77 Airports (Peak Years, Traffic Declines, and Trends Toward Airline Monopolies)]

A huge environmental problem with this type of ‘Passenger Sort Facility’ is the out-scaled impact on airport neighbors. In particular, these airports have many more flights per local resident, simply because most of the flights are not scheduled to serve locals, they are scheduled to serve non-residents ‘just-passing-through’.

The impacts are intensified by airline practices. When an airline like American ‘banks’ its KCLT schedule with heavy inflows and outflows, it is going to create congestion. ATC will manage that congestion by designing routes, to proceduralize the flow, and these route designs will include holding departures to lower altitudes to avoid arrivals at higher altitudes. In some critical locations, especially where focused routes cross, neighbors have to endure nearly continuous noise for hours – or even days – at a time.

Overflights. Over and over and over again. Near constant noise. After a while, residents may start to see a Hydra.

So, Charlotte is Just One More Example, showing NextGen is Really all About CAPACITY

(Foxx, Huerta, and Calio: the program is even more off balance than the photo)

(Foxx, Huerta, and Calio: the program is even more off balance than the photo)

What it all distills down to is a reality many have recognized for a very long time. FAA is a politicized beast that extracts billions every year and has to spend that money. Furthermore, our Presidents have nearly always demonstrated a bipartisan appetite for encouraging FAA spending, often seeking to prop up local economies. Both agencies and Presidents are inclined to spend for political advantage. In these times, political advantage rests with money. So, the role of Administrator Huerta and Secretary Foxx is reduced down to being just a pair of very well-paid cheerleaders, a Congressionally-appointed lobbyist duo.

In other words, FAA is working FOR the airlines, with false cover from the RTCA committees who make ‘NextGen recommendations (and who are dominated by the airlines) to essentially eliminate all environmental restrictions that we (the people) have needed to impose on the airlines.

In Charlotte and elsewhere, NextGen is a workaround to environmental regulation. It is a wholesale discarding of decades worth of environmental balance, implemented to protect neighborhoods from commercial aviation noise. With NextGen, FAA is essentially allowing departures to immediately turn, no longer requiring straight-out climbs to altitude before turning toward their destination. And the local residents, who never had a voice in the change process, are forced to endure the NextGen Noise-Hell.