SeaTac’s NorthSTAR Project: The Av-Gov Robber Barons Are on a Roll

A project ground-breaking ‘ceremony’ for a few means further aviation impact misery for many others.

SeaTac International Airport [KSEA] is currently the fastest growing U.S. commercial airport, because Delta decided to scale up a new hub in 2012. Thus, SeaTac has become a major hub for both Alaska (the dominant carrier) and Delta. The problem, though, is that this is causing the KSEA flight schedule to become over-saturated; so, ATC stretches the flight patterns, and now residents as far as 30-miles from the airport are regularly enduring long time periods with low/loud repetitive arrival noise (and, of course, the impacts go far beyond just noise: more and more people are suffering from air pollutants, increased asthma, sleep loss, stress, and more).

As is standard practice at federally-funded infrastructure ‘ceremonies’, elected officials appear; they crow about the project, emphasizing dollars and jobs while carefully NOT speaking about the adverse impacts. Here’s a short video clip posted by the Port:

In the video above, from time 0:52 to time 1:19, Senator Maria Cantwell made this comment: “As someone who just flew in this morning, and sat on the tarmac for an extra 15-minutes because we couldn’t get to a gate, I can tell you that everybody in Puget Sound has experienced the need to have more capacity at SeaTac Airport.”

One resident near SeaTac offered this reaction: “Apparently Senator Cantwell needs to make our kids sick, destroy our home value, wake us up at night, compromise safety, destroy a few cities so she doesn’t have to wait 15 minutes for a gate … I thought she represented me….”

Elected officials, including Cantwell, lose credibility when they appear at events trumpeting aviation expansion. They do it for the photo-ops and to muster up campaign funds from the aviation industry. But, as happened here, they often show they are blinded in their pursuit of that money: Cantwell was completely blind to the simple fact that the rather trivial problem she described is nearly always caused by too many flights being scheduled in too small a time window. If she and other Senators demanded that FAA manage airport capacity and impose appropriate flow-rate restrictions, nearly all of these inefficiencies would disappear. Smart people – many of whom are impacted residents – know this, but too many elected officials cannot see this because they are blinded by money.

One example is Jean Hilde, who has lived for decades in a neighborhood nearly 25-miles north of SeaTac. With the NextGen implementations and the Delta hub expansion at SeaTac, her family now must endure low/repetitive arrival noise, even at that long distance. Jean  responded to the ‘North Satellite’ expansion ceremony video clip, and summarized the larger problem nationwide, with this brilliant analysis:

(highlights added by aiREFORM)

Will we ever move beyond this cycle of serving money interests at the expense of quality of life and health? Not with this Congress, or this Administration; not so long as all that matters to those in power is serving money and being served with money.

It’s becoming an Orwellian dystopia. Check out the bizarre phrasing in this excerpt from the Port’s 2/3/2017 News Release (click here):

Is FAA’s NextGen Mess Contributing to ‘Drowsy Driver’ Accidents?

The NextGen impacts at JFK are much more than just ‘annoying noise’; they are also causing sleep loss, which cascades into accidents, sometimes fatal.

Here’s a screen-capture of a recent Facebook post by Elaine Miller, at PlaneSense4LI. Elaine’s residential neighborhood is roughly 5-miles northeast of the departure end of the KJFK runways 4. To increase operations per hour, FAA established procedures for runway 4 departures to initiate an immediate right turn, sending them low over the Malverne area. The noise repeats for hours, even days.

(screencap of Facebook post copied 2/13/2017 at 7:12AM PST)

The New York Post article shares some alarming data: in the U.S., ‘drowsy driving’ is cited as a factor in 1,400 accidents per day, and fifteen of those daily accidents produce fatalities. So, it is not surprising that the U.S. federal Department of Transportation (DoT) expends lots of time and money trying to inform regular people (like you and me) on the need to stay rested and alert. What doesn’t make sense, though, is FAA is a major component of that same DoT … and yet it is FAA that is working against DoT and causing so much sleep deprivation, by not giving a damn about the enormous negative impacts caused by repetitive airplane noise.

How is FAA Exacerbating this Problem?

FAA wants Congress to fund billions for NextGen, in no small part because this latest ‘campaign’ gives FAA something to do and creates internal promotion opportunities. But, Congress will never approve the proposal if the corporate stakeholders who fund their reelection campaigns are opposed. So, FAA has struck a deal with the airlines: if the airlines buy in to promote NextGen (or, at least not speak against it), the agency will work to help the airlines maximize runway throughput. This means the airlines will be able to schedule more flights, thus ensuring that at major hub airports like JFK, both the arrival streams and the departure streams become nonstop.

Now, get this: the NextGen sales pitch is centered on the environment – i.e., reducing CO2 emissions by minimizing time spent with engines idling, either while awaiting takeoff at the departure airport, or while on extended approach to the destination airport. But, FAA’s part of the deal – not pushing back when the airlines schedule too many flights – guarantees enormous inefficiencies. And, of course, these delays cascade into other airports, affecting the whole nation. Clearly, FAA could do much better. But the agency can’t, because they have sold out to serve only aviation money, not the People (you and me) who pay for this system.

The Net Result: more sleep loss, contributing to more accidents by drowsy drivers. FAA could fix this problem, if they would do their TRUE job and actually manage airport capacity.

Genesis and the Story of the SERFR Arrival (according to FAA)

…But the Community continued to cry out in ever greater numbers.

And their complaints numbered in the thousands,

and then tens of thousands,

and then hundreds of thousands.

***

Crying out in a loud voice they said
Oh Lord, remove this plague of noise and pollution from above our heads.”
And the FAA said:
“For sooth. This has not happened before within our short memories. Why did the communities never before complain?”
And the Air Traffic Control angels replied saying:
Verily, the number of aircraft popping out of our bottom in ancient times were few. But now the number doth wax greatly.

A brilliant and humorous analysis of how FAA failed to serve the people impacted by NextGen arrival changes, feeding San Francisco [KSFO] from the south. The technical details presented in this are also impressive, and quite informative for anyone burdened with the health and quality-of-life costs imposed by FAA’s worsening NextGen implementation debacle.

Great work is being done by some very talented people at Sky Posse Los Altos.

Created by Ron Rohde, with Sky Posse Los Altos. Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

One Table Shows the Reality of NextGen

Here’s some data to ponder as we start into a new year: a table, showing commercial operations at each of FAA’s OEP-35 airports, from 2007 onward.

Focus first on the pink column, three columns from the right edge; the airports are ranked in descending order, by the percent decline in annual operations, comparing 2015 with 2007.

Note that the largest declines, at Cincinnati [KCVG], Cleveland [KCLE], and Memphis [KMEM] are huge: down 61%, 53%, and 43% respectively. Note also, the declines are even larger when you compare Total Annual Operations in 2015 vs the various historic peak years for each OEP-35 airport, in the two columns on the far right; for these figures (which include general aviation and military operations data), all airports have declined, ranging from 74% to 2% and averaging 24%.

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

Three facts stand out from this table, and they all strongly contradict the sales pitches that FAA and industry have been collaborating on the past few years:

  1. Note the bright green line across the table. Just under it are five airports: Charlotte [KCLT], Reagan National [KDCA], Miami [KMIA], Seattle [KSEA] and San Francisco [KSFO]. These are the only five of the OEP-35 airports that recorded an increase in commercial operations from 2007 to 2015; i.e., 6 out of 7 OEP airports SLOWED substantially while the national population grew.
  2. The airport identifiers marked in a dark-red background color are the airports that in 2016 had extensive noise complaint histories (documented online, and in the mainstream media) related to route concentrations under NextGen. Routinely, FAA has imposed these routes without adequate public review, abusing the ‘categorical exclusion’ process. Numerous legal actions have resulted.
  3. For all OEP-35 airports combined, commercial operations have steadily declined 11% from 2007 to 2015, nearly every year. This is industry contraction. And furthermore, the vast majority of U.S. commercial airports peaked in the 1990s, some more than two decades ago!

WIth the new year, we’ll see a new adminstration and changes at FAA and DoT. Don’t be fooled by the impending onslaught of yet another round of propaganda. The U.S. NAS is operating at far below historic peaks and continuing to trend downward. Growth is rare, and limited to key airports where airlines are concentrating flights into superhubs that severely impact local quality of life. The only true beneficiaries of NextGen and ATC privatization are industry stakeholders (especially the airline CEOs, FAA officials, lobbyists, and manufacturers, plus a few elected officials), who will narrowly share the profits while completely ignoring the larger environmental costs.

We don’t need oversold technology fixes pitching RNAV and RNP solutions that have been used for decades; technologies that could and would serve us all beautifully, if FAA would assert its authority with balance, and manage capacity at the largest U.S. hub airports. We need airports to serve communities while being truly environmentally responsible. And for that to happen, we need a new era of transparency and accountability at FAA. We need reform.

Answers Needed in Santa Monica

For safety and efficiency, we have design standards. Thus, we do not allow school playgrounds to overlap into highways, and we require freeway onramps to be constructed within specs such as gradient, lane curvature, pavement width and quality, signage and markings, etc.

Aviation is no different. In fact, design standards at airports are even more critical, due to higher speeds and larger fuel quantities. A case in point is the last major fatal accident at Santa Monica, on September 29, 2013.

ksmo-20130929-c525-crash-while-landing-rwy21-fig-22-from-video-study-distance-groundspeed-on-satview-ntsb

(yellow marks show aircraft position during the crash sequence; large numbers show the groundspeed decreasing from 83 knots to 51 knots at impact; smaller numbers show net distance from runway threshold)

Four died when a Cessna 525 jet, while landing on Runway 21, swerved to the right and collided with a hangar near the west end of the airport. 20130929pic.. C525 crash at KSMO, ramp & smoke plumeThe accident investigation by NTSB failed to establish exactly what happened, though analysis of personal electronic devices did indicate a large dog was allowed to ride unrestrained in the jet’s cabin (could a dog cause this much loss-of-control?). So, all we know is that a local businessman who would fly almost every week between his homes in Santa Monica, CA and Sun Valley, ID, lost control during an otherwise normal landing.

This brings us back to the concept of safety design standards. If you or I are driving down a rural arterial – say, a regular old 2-lane paved highway, and right at the 55mph speed limit – we might suddenly swerve if a tire blows. Design standards exist to ensure we have a ‘clear zone’ so that our ‘errant vehicle’ can be brought to a stop without hitting a fire hydrant, a railroad trestle, a restaurant, or other object that could increase the odds of fatalities and/or serious injuries. By design, we want our ‘errant vehicle’, be it a car or an airplane, to have room to slow down and stop, with nobody getting hurt. With more room, there would not have been four fatalities on 9/29/2013; it would have instead been ‘a close call’, and likely would have triggered a decision by some of the lucky survivors to fly less. The Cessna 525 accident at Santa Monica turned out badly because the jet collided with a hangar built relatively close to the runway. After the accident cleanup, satellite images indicate that the hangar (as well as connected hangar structures, damaged by the fire) was rebuilt. It is not clear whether these structures should have been rebuilt, just as it is not clear if they were allowed to be too close to the Santa Monica runway prior to the accident. But, looking at other U.S. airports, there is evidence that a serious safety design oversight is being perpetuated at Santa Monica.

For example, consider Cobb County, GA [KRYY]. This airport, north of Atlanta near Kennesaw, also has a single runway and a ‘C-II’ Airport Reference Code (the same ARC needed for E135’s to fly scheduled charter service, as JetSuiteX proposes in early 2017).

kryy-20161230scp-alp-w-portion-of-runway-marked-up-for-rofas

(portion of the KRYY Airport Layout Plan. Red ellipses added, to identify the 400ft ROFAs, parallel to the north and south of the runway centerline. Not that the current hangars are much further than 400ft distant from the runway.)

But, within the May 2016 KRYY Airport Layout Plan (ALP), it is declared that FAA requires an 800ft wide ‘Object Free Area’ (OFA), thus 400ft either side of the runway centerline. kryy-20161230scp-alp-portion-of-runway-data-table-declaring-ofa-distancesNote, too, that on the ALP, the airport authority declares they are conformant with the OFA distance requirement, a point that is reinforced by online satellite images.

kryy-20161230scp-satview-of-airport-vicinity

The satellite image further illustrates yet another stark contrast with Santa Monica: look at all the wide open space, not just to enable a safe conclusion to an errant flight, but also to minimize noise and pollutant impacts on airport neighbors (it appears there are no residences close to KRYY; just a rock quarry, office parks, and highways).

So, what’s going on here? Why is FAA allowing and funding airport expansion near Atlanta with safety design standards that appear to be routinely ignored in Santa Monica?

A Few Simple Questions

Here are four questions that both FAA and the City of Santa Monica need to answer, prior to allowing JetSuiteX to begin scheduled 30-passenger charter flights out of Santa Monica:

  1. prior to the accident, what was the distance between the south edge of the destroyed hangar and the runway centerline? Was this distance in compliance with FAA’s design standards for this particular runway?
  2. after the accident, did FAA and City confer as to the wisdom of rebuilding these hangars? Did this reconstruction require FAA to issue a specific exemption from runway setback requirements, so the new structures could continue to penetrate the runway safety areas and obstruction free areas?
  3. given the absence of functional Runway Protection Zones (RPZs) at Santa Monica, was either FAA or City proposed banning jets to mitigate risks? In particular, with roughly 270 residences standing inside the standard RPZ boundaries, where is there ANY FORM of ‘protection’ being achieved?
  4. regarding JetSuiteX, a recent news story includes this line: “We’ll begin operating whether we get permission or not,” Wilcox said. “We can use the existing facilities at the airport.” Has either FAA or the City confirmed this cowboy assertion? Has either FAA or City (hopefully BOTH!) taken immediate action to inform Mr. Wilcox of his errant views and the reality that safety dictates he will NOT operate until both the City and the FAA are assured his scheduled charter flights can meet basic safety standards?

‘Fly Now, Grieve Later’ – a Report About Aviation’s Climate Change Impact (47p)

QUOTE

“…Most senior members of the aviation industry do not refute the need to cut emissions, but seek to persuade governments that air travel should be given special treatment….”

– Brendon Sewill, in Chapter One of ‘Fly Now, Grieve Later’

Click here to read the original blog post, or here for an archived PDF copy.


See also:

[KSMO]: No Runway Protection Zones, in Stark Contrast with Other Airports

kuao-201205-rpz-rwy-17-on-satview-w-dimensions-showing-trees-later-removed

The green trapezoid delineates an RPZ at the north end of the Aurora Airport, near Portland, OR. This RPZ, similar in size to what is needed to accommodate charter jets at Santa Monica, measures 500ft by 1010ft by 1700ft long. As is the case nearly everywhere, all obstructions were removed from this RPZ: there are no structures within the trapezoid, and the lines of trees have all since been removed (not even stumps are allowed… they are considered too dangerous).

A Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) is a trapezoidal space, positioned at the ends of all runways, designed to create a safety buffer for when aircraft fail to stay on the runway. Santa Monica has no meaningful RPZs. In fact, despite lots of searching, I have not been able to find any other U.S. airport with hundreds of homes standing inside the RPZ. The vast majority of U.S. airports have ZERO homes standing inside the RPZs.

This graphic illustrates where the Santa Monica RPZs would be, if FAA applied its safety standards there:

ksmo-20161223-rpzs-rwys-3-21-v2-labels-added

In contrast with the RPZ at KUAO, these safety areas at Santa Monica have hundreds of houses. (click on image for larger view)

Nationally, FAA has generally done a good job on RPZs; they have defined the dimensions, and they have firmly and consistently guided airport authorities to comply with these design standards that are needed to protect pilots, paying passengers and airport neighbors. FAA has thus secured safety control at essentially all airports, but NOT at Santa Monica. There, a close inspection of the RPZs shows approximately 270 homes exist in the Santa Monica RPZs that are frankly nonexistent. Here are larger images:ksmo-20161223-500x1000x1700l-rpz-sw-of-rwys-3-21 ksmo-20161223-500x1000x1700l-rpz-ne-of-rwys-3-21Nice homes, in a beautiful area with the finest weather, yet these people endure air pollution, noise pollution, and the constant fear of an off-airport crash. This makes no sense, and it does not have to be this way.

How Does Santa Monica Compare With Other Airports?

The PDF below presents a compilation of satellite views, comparing airport RPZs for Santa Monica with thirteen other airports in five western states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada). Each of the airports selected for comparison is noted for heavy use by air charters and private bizjets. Two especially notable conclusions from this analysis are:

  1. homes are virtually never allowed to stand within RPZs, as it is just too dangerous. So, why hasn’t FAA either bought out the homes in the Santa Monica RPZs or, far more pragmatically, simply shut down jet operations there?
  2. if FAA shut down jets at Santa Monica, the capacity to absorb them at larger and safer airports in nearby Van Nuys [KVNY] and Burbank [KBUR] is enormous. As is typical throughout the U.S., both of these airports were built to accommodate traffic levels that have since declined by half.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

[KSEA]: One Way FAA can Use NextGen to Optimize Noise Mitigation

Here’s a tip for how to very effectively expose FAA’s NextGen failure: study how ATC handles arriving flights during low-traffic time periods. For example, at the SeaTac Airport [KSEA], where Delta’s decision to start up a new hub in 2012 is causing substantial growth in annual airport operations, the arrivals stay busy through most of the day, but there are a few hours each night when you can find only one arrival being worked. So, the question is, what is the shortest arrival routing ATC will issue when working a single, all-alone arrival, and how does that arrival route change with the addition of more arrivals?

When you study the empirical flight data, you quickly find the answers, and they consistently show: FAA’s largest impediment to system efficiency is simply TOO MANY FLIGHTS. In other words, if FAA really cared to optimize safety and efficiency, they would focus on managing capacity, keeping operations per hour below thresholds that precipitate delays and congestion.

Consider a Recent Arrival: United 505 from Denver

One example of this was United 505, which arrived after 2AM on Tuesday, December 20th. First, notice the overall flight on the satellite view below: as has been the case for many decades, they flew a straight line from Denver, with no zig-zags. Notice, too, that the only significant distances were added at Denver and at Seattle, as needed to accomplish transition to and from the enroute portion of the flight.
ksea-20161220at0229scp-ual505-arr-f-kden-crossover-s-of-ksea-for-elliott-bay-to-s-flow

How Can FAA Better Use the NextGen Technologies?

ksea-20161220scp-optimized-route-and-profile-over-elliott-bay-to-s-flow-vfrsectional-marked-up

(VFR sectional with a red curve added, depicting an optimized noise mitigation approach over Puget Sound and Elliott Bay. Crossing altitudes at 8000ft and 3000ft are added, red text on green background.)

The residents of Seattle are lucky to have a large water body that aligns well with their main commercial airport. But, the basic design elements needed to optimize noise mitigation were not fully considered when FAA was selling NextGen. Key design elements should have included:

  1. keep the arrivals high as long as possible. (way back in the 1970s, FAA actually had a noise mitigation program called ‘Keep em High’!)
  2. for the final ten miles, set up each arrival for a continuous rate of descent, optimally at around 300-ft per mile flown. (thus, arrivals should be designed to cross a fix at roughly ten-miles from the runway end, and 3,000ft above airport elevation)
  3. for the distance from 20-miles to 10-miles from the runway end, design a higher rate of descent, perhaps 500-ft per mile flown. (thus, arrivals would descend from 8,000ft above airport elevation to 3,000ft above airport elevation, during this 10-mile portion of the arrival; with this design, commonly used flight automation systems would enable pilots to easily comply with the designed optimized descent profile and route)
  4. plan to have ATC accomplish sequencing, spacing and speed management to the point where the final 20-miles of the approach begins. (in this case, roughly mid-channel over the Vashon ferry route, at an altitude nominally 8,000 feet MSL)

Interestingly, this proposal is quite similar to one of the approaches that FAA designed and implemented, the RNAV (RNP) Z Runway 16R Approach:ksea-20161204cpy-rnav-rnp-z-rwy16r-ifr-plate
For years, in an extended and heavily-coordinated pitch to sell the NextGen program in Seattle, FAA and others pushed the idea that all arrivals from the west side (from California, Oregon, Hawaii, coastal BC & Alaska) would be routed inbound over Elliott Bay during the predominant south flow landings at SeaTac. This was a good idea, but FAA did not go far enough. I.e., when FAA designed this approach procedure, they focused solely on the portion from the middle of Elliott Bay to the runway; they should have also focused on how each flight would get to that point in Elliott Bay (look for ‘SEGAW’ in the plate above). A truly optimized approach would define fixes and precise altitudes, starting between the fix VASHN (on the approach plate above) and the Fauntleroy ferry dock; such an optimized approach would route each arrival over-water and eventually over the vicinity of the stadiums, and would include speed and altitude profiles easily achieved by today’s air carrier fleet. Note that the profile view for the current deficient approach procedure (above) starts at fix WOTIK, which is at a 6-mile final and well south of Spokane Street.

Exposing a NextGen Fraud: the so-called ‘Conventional’ ZigZag Routes

It is quite clear that, with the election results and the imminent White House occupancy change, coordinated efforts are ramping up to try and push through the latest pet projects: ATC privatization, and accelerated NextGen funding. These efforts are sourced in some backroom ‘collaboration’ between top-level FAA officials, key aviation leaders in Congress, and the industry (the airlines, the manufacturers, and the lobbyists).

As has always been the pattern, the Av-Gov Complex will knowingly lie to sell their schemes. One of the most graphic lies of the present cycle is variations of this graphic:

201106scp-conventional-vs-rnav-vs-rnp-faa-zigzag-graphic-at-pg7-of-satnavnews_summer_2011

This misleading graphic is liberally posted in news articles, FAA reports, etc. It implies that today’s air navigation systems are primitive, needing to upgrade via a progression from zigzag routes (left image) through RNAV routes and eventually RNP routes. An important fact being hidden, though, is that RNAV and RNP routes already exist, as they have for years. (SOURCE: pg.7 of FAA’s SatNav News, Summer 2011 edition)

Time and again, this image is pushed to help brainwash the Public (and especially Congress) to believe the current ATC system is incredibly archaic and shockingly inefficient, with flights zigging and zagging all across the continent. They pitch NextGen as ‘transformative’, while ignoring and concealing the facts that:

  1. commercial passenger flights have been flying mostly direct flights for decades, and thus these graphically presented zigzags are a complete lie;
  2. RNP & RNAV procedures have been available and usable by these flights for roughly two decades, and thus the whiz-bang NextGen changes are not really changes (we can accomplish the expensive NextGen goals by smartly using what we already have); and,
  3. an entirely new class of delays has been recently invented – enroute delays, at altitude; typically 100-200-miles from the destination airport, these are used to smooth out arrival surges because FAA refuses to restrict appropriate arrival rates to accommodate known airport capacity limits.

FAA et al need to be called out on this misinformation. It turns out, you will find two versions of this deceptive diagram in Chapter One of nearly every recently completed ‘Environmental Assessment’ for various airspace changes around the nation. Here are some examples, from recent OAPMs (Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex); look at the identical content in any of these cookie-cutter documents, at these pages:

  1. June 2013: Draft EA for DC OAPM (216p; see pages 6 and 14 in chapter one, marked pages ‘1-6’ and ‘1-14’)
  2. March 2014: EA for Atlanta OAPM (122p; see pages 1-6 and 1-14)
  3. July 2014: Final EA for NorCal OAPM (134p; see pages 1-5 and 1-11)
  4. December 2014: Draft EA for Charlotte OAPM (118p; see pages 1-5 and 1-11)
  5. August 2016: Final EA for SoCal OAPM (144p; see pages 1-6 and 1-12)