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.

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.

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.

City of Phoenix Files Lawsuit Against FAA’s NextGen Implementation

Tens of thousands of Phoenix residents, and probably at least that many people in other U.S. cities, cheered today when the City of Phoenix finally announced: they have filed a civil action against FAA! Here is a portion of the text, extracted from a 3-page letter sent by City Manager Ed Zuercher to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta:

20150601..Phoenix.Mgr.E.Zuercher letter to FAA.M.Huerta, announcing NextGen Lawsuit (portion of pg2)

(click on text image to open PDF version of the full 3-page letter)

Administrator Huerta in a typical pose, selling NextGen to Congress. The guy on the right looks like him, too.

Administrator Huerta in a typical pose, selling NextGen to Congress. The guy on the right looks like him, too.

More documents will be uploaded to this aiREFORM Post as they become available.

See also… (blue dates link to online content)

6/1/2015
Petition for Review
A copy of the 4-page document filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit
6/1/2015
Phoenix Sues FAA Over Flight Path Changes
ARTICLE – By Brenna Goth, AZCentral.com (PDF copy, 2-pages)
6/2/2015
Phoenix Sues FAA Over ‘Extreme Discomfort’ from Airplane Noise
ARTICLE – Holly Yan, CNN.com (PDF copy, 3-pages)
6/1/2015
City of Phoenix Sues FAA over Aircraft Noise
NEWS RELEASE – issued by the City of Phoenix
6/1/2015
FAA Letter from Glenn Martin to Ed Zuercher
This is the letter received just prior to the decision to file the civil action.
6/1/2015
What’s Being Done?
REFERENCE – The Airport Authority has done a good job sharing documents online, via this SkyHarbor.com webpage.
6/2/2015
FRAP, Rule 15
REFERENCE – Text for Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Appelate Procedure.
6/2/2015
49 U.S. Code § 46110 – Judicial review
REFERENCE – link to code at LII, Cornell.EDU

NextGen’s Capacity Goals are Only Increasing Aviation Noise and Air Pollution…

…And FAA is Failing to Consider the Impacts on our Children.

(click on image to view original Tweet)

(click on image to view original Tweet)

FAA and the moneyed interests in the aviation industry (the airlines, the manufacturers, the employee unions, the contractors and the lobbyists) have been selling the spin for decades: that Aviation is a great economic engine. Well, if you spend a little time researching the facts, and if you recognize that the money invested in aviation-growth would have been invested creating jobs and quality of life in other areas of the economy, you will quickly see that this is just SPIN.

Propaganda. PR. No thanks, FAA, you have better ways to spend our money.

On top of that, there are negative consequences of excessive aviation development. Airport vicinities tend to be blighted for miles, even uninhabitable. A zone where, due to noise and air pollutants, people become sleep-deprived and burdened with asthma and other illnesses. Most residents are quick to move away; only the poorest remain behind, often because they cannot afford to leave.

Aviation noise is known to undermine focus and concentration, critically needed by students. And the air pollutants are connected to IQ loss in growing children. Here are links to the two articles tweeted in the photo above:

5/26/2015
The air in NYC lowers kids’ IQs
by Carl Campanile, New York Post
2/17/2015
Sharp Rise in Occupational Therapy Cases at New York’s Schools
by Elizabeth Harris, NYTimes

[REFERENCE]: Leaded AvGas

Aside

REFERENCE Links re: Leaded AvGas

CRAAP recently shared three links to articles and other reference resources on the public health issue of lead, which FAA has failed to remove from aviation fuel (AvGas). Another group, Oregon Aviation Watch (OAW), has been actively working to end the addition of lead to AvGas. For readers wanting to learn more, here are a few links:

5/15/2015
OAW Endorses Testimony in Support of Removing Lead from Aviation Fuel
Oregon Aviation Watch
3/25/2015
Pediatrician Urges EPA to Lower the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Lead
Oregon Aviation Watch
FEB 2015
Best Practices Guidebook for Preparing Lead Emission Inventories from Piston-Powered Aircraft with the Emission Inventory Analysis Tool
TRB Report 133, 47p
2/17/2015
Oregon Public Broadcasting Report on Leaded Aviation Fuel and EPA Delay of Endangerment Finding
Oregon Aviation Watch
2/12/2015
Three Articles on Leaded Aviation Fuel
Oregon Aviation Watch
OCT 2014
Quantifying Aircraft Lead Emissions at Airports
TRB Report ACRP-02-34, 218p
NOTE: if you are particularly concerned about the lead issue and interested in reviewing any of these documents, please consider drafting an analysis, outline or even an article to guest-post at aiREFORM.com. Technical consultation, advice, editing, and other support will gladly be provided by aiREFORM.

[IMPACT]: Loud in Laveen

Check out this short video, taken in a backyard southwest of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Watch and listen as back-to-back flights demonstrate the last six months of noise impact due to FAA’s NextGen implementation.When FAA turned on NextGen at Phoenix Sky Harbor [KPHX] last September 18th, community noise complaints went through the roof.20150323cpy.. KPHX Noise complaints AUG & OCT, 2014 vs 2013 Just two complaints in August rose to nearly 500 in October! Hardest hit was the historic residential communities along Grand Avenue, to the northwest of KPHX. But the noise increases were in all quadrants, because of three problematic elements within the design of FAA’s KPHX NextGen plan:

  1. FAA set up new departure procedures that mandate pilots turn at lower altitudes, much closer to the departure points.
  2. The very design of NextGen focuses routes sharply onto thin lines. Thus, traffic that was previously dispersed over many miles of slightly randomized routes is now focused over the same house, with repetitive noise events, minute after minute after minute.
  3. Tightening the turns (closer to the airport) creates compression. Because these departures are turned closer to the airport, flights under them (such as helicopters and small GA airplanes flying through) have less space to maneuver, thus tend to fly lower to the ground and closer to impacted residences.

So, Where is Laveen?

One of the impacted communities is Laveen, to the southwest of Sky Harbor. This is an area of farmlands transitioning to residential subdivisions. Under NextGen, when KPHX is in a west flow, departures toward Texas and Florida make a left turn at 1,640 feet altitude. Similarly, other departures generally east (most from New York to Atlanta, and even a few Chicago flights) usually make left turns. The problem  is, the KPHX airport elevation is 1,135 feet; thus, FAA is directing these departures to start their turns at just 500-feet above the surface (AGL). A 500-foot AGL turn is OK in many cases, but not when it points flights toward residential areas … as it does at Laveen.

Laveen Impact (FTHLS2, KATMN2 DEP FIXES)

VFR Sectional, with the three fixes and RNAV Departure legs added by aiReform.com. The fixes are DAVZZ, VANZZ, and BUNEE.

KATMN DEP showing first three fixes (Laveen, KPHX)Prior to September 18th, these departures would turn left to heading 240, then continue straight ahead until a 9-mile fix (aka 9-DME), THEN start another left turn. With FAA’s NextGen routes, flights are lower and further east (closer to KPHX), plus they start their second (southbound) turn earlier. The RNAV departures being touted by FAA are KATMN2 and FTHLS2, and both require pilots to remain at or below 8,000 feet MSL (mean sea level) until after BUNEE. As shown at right, both of these new departures are taking off, turning direct to DAVZZ, then direct to VANZZ, and then direct to BUNEE.

The change is clearly viewable in the diagram below. The letters PHX represent the airport. The red box marks the Laveen area. Blue lines represent the old departure patterns; green lines represent the new departure patterns, under FAA’s NextGen. Notice how the green routes are thin and concentrated, versus the dispersed pattern for older blue routes. Also, in the area southwest of PHX, notice how the old 240-headings to 9-DME push the departure pattern further west (and higher) versus the new NextGen routes. The new NextGen lines are green; the new NextGen program is anything but green.20141216.. KPHX Departure Route changes (p.12 of 21p RNAV_PolicyPresentation to PHX City Council)

And why did FAA implement these changes?

Well, it is this simple. FAA collects billions of dollars each year, mostly from airline passenger taxes. They want (need?) to spend these billions each year on airport expansions and technological upgrades, to support the industry. But, the overall airline system has been downsizing for more than a decade, with far fewer flights today than during the peak years of the late 1990’s. Plus, the airlines are understandably averse to spending, especially since most airlines already have (and have been using!) the basic satellite-nav technologies to gain more direct routes and better efficiencies. FAA still wants the airlines to buy more of what they do not need, so they resisted. The airlines said ‘NO’ to FAA’s early NextGen proposals. FAA had to get the airline support, so they traded away environmental impact, granting the airlines minor fuel (and cost) savings via earlier and lower departure turns. They whitewash NextGen with a flood of distorted propaganda, suggesting the technologies are new and efficient and safer. In reality, it is all just a bad and fraudulent sales job.

In the Phoenix area and in other impacted cities (Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle…), hundreds of thousands of airport neighbors will testify to the fact:

“Hey, FAA, these NextGen departures are failing!”