More Examples of ‘Enroute Delays’ for KSEA Arrivals

Three months ago, five arrivals to Seattle were analyzed in A Set of KSEA Arrivals Helps to Expose FAA’s NextGen Fraud. In the time since, on repeat occasions, readers have submitted other examples of more arrivals for which ATC issued substantial en route delays, sometimes with multiple loops. For example, check out the extensive work by ATC to sequence the December 7, 2015 arrival of ASA124 from Fairbanks, as shown in this FlightAware satview:

ATC issued multiple delays, including a huge loop east of Dungeness Spit, then a turn to Alki Point only to be turned downwind and extended on the downwind all the way back to Whidbey Island.

KSEA is the tiny orange text in the bottom-right corner. ATC issued multiple delays to ASA124, including a huge loop east of Dungeness Spit, then a turn to Alki Point only to be turned downwind and extended on the downwind all the way back to Whidbey Island. The same flight on Saturday 1/16/2016 was issued no delays, during a more moderate arrival flow. Click on the link to study all recent ASA124 arrivals.

Even with a new year, the pattern of en route delays to the airport at SeaTac [KSEA] continues. A particularly galling aspect of this is that both FAA and the management at this airport have expended a huge effort promoting these so-called ‘NextGen improvements’, even going so far as to over-use a ‘Greener Skies’ eco-moniker. To help reveal this propaganda, an analysis was recently done, looking closely at 25 arrivals during a half-hour-long push on the late evening of Thursday, January 14, 2016. Here is a table listing the flights, with departure airport, times, color-coded delay amounts, and time gained/lost en route:KSEA.20160114.. Data on delays related to 2120-2131 Arrival pushA more in-depth analysis was prepared for the first ten in this series of arrivals (those landing between 9:20pm and 9:31pm). A distinct pattern is apparent, revealing the following facts for how ATC is routinely issuing en route delays (which consistently cancel all NextGen time-savings, thus negating all ‘potential benefits’ being oversold to the Public and to Congress):

  1. The bulk of each route of flight is extremely direct, for both transcontinental and regional flights.
  2. During the last hour of each flight, ATC consistently delays the flight, typically with vectors or one or more ‘loops’. Delay durations of 10- or 20-minutes are common. The most common location for these delays is in the sectors at the Center/TRACON boundary.
  3. Even with these en route delays, the arriving flights are routinely subjected to additional delays, such as extended downwind legs stuck in low level flight.
  4. For each flight, any time-savings gained by early turns after takeoff is more than lost if and when ATC issues delay instructions

For the record, airlines have flown these optimized direct routes for decades, using technologies deployed more than three decades prior to FAA’s first use of the term ‘NextGen’. In other words, the ‘benefits’ FAA and others are claiming when they seek Congressional funding are a bald-faced lie, just selling again benefits that already exist.

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

FAA’s NextGen Fraud

The SeaTac airport has a triple-parallel runway configuration, oriented north-south. Thus, arrivals to KSEA will land in a NORTH FLOW or a SOUTH FLOW, depending on winds.

Like most major U.S. airports, the Seattle area has winds that are reliably consistent and, most of the time, changes are accurately predictable. This is important, as wind reliability means airspace can be designed to flow arrivals to strategically located ‘gates’ that efficiently feed arrivals into a manageable final flow.

If FAA chose to use NextGen technologies optimally, the airspace would be designed to minimize distance flown while also ensuring minimal noise and air pollution impacts, particularly on noise-sensitive areas in the airport vicinity. Airspace would also be designed so as to keep arriving flights as high as possible, and as late as possible… to minimize noise and air pollution impacts. Unfortunately, FAA is not using NextGen to accomplish these improvements: instead, FAA is using NextGen as a ‘shortcut’ to eliminate pre-existing noise-abatement procedures.

In short, NextGen is a fraud being foisted on both the People and the Congress. The alleged ‘benefits’ have been grossly oversold, and the very real impacts are routinely ignored by an agency captured in service to the industry.

The Incredible Shrinking NAS (…that FAA & the Av-Gov Complex Don’t Talk About)

A new year is upon us and it is clear that forces in Washington, DC are carefully applying pressure. The current deadline for renewing FAA’s budget authorization is in March. So, the lobbyists, many of whom receive FAA paychecks every two weeks, are coordinating their daily efforts, with two goals in clear focus:

  1. they hope to aid the airlines in achieving even higher profits by accelerating and expanding their ongoing NextGen implementation debacle; and,
  2. they hope to further insulate FAA – and the industry – from accountability.

They are aiming to accomplish these two goals by getting elected officials to remove ATC from FAA (creating a sort-of privatized entity run largely by the so-called ‘stakeholders’), and by getting Congressional authorization to spend more on NextGen. The lies and misstatements used to justify their targets are many and frequent … and increasingly egregious. For example, out of one side of the mouth, they boast how incredibly safe the U.S. commercial aviation system is; then, out of the other side of the same mouth, the cry about how absolutely critical it is that we invest billions in Public money to ‘modernize’ the ATC system.

As another example, the NextGen-&-Privatization ‘collaborators’ are repeatedly shouting a false claim that our National Airspace System (NAS) is limited by serious ‘capacity issues’. Here are four snippets from online articles:20160109scp.. four samples of propaganda on Capacity need for NextGen

These snippets hammer home the idea we are maxing out, needing to extend capacity. But, the data shows a very different reality: that air traffic operations peaked in the late 1990s and have since declined substantially. Frankly, the ONE REAL capacity issue impacting the system of U.S. airports is that FAA refuses to impose rational capacity management controls. Instead, FAA sits back and lets the airlines routinely over-schedule at even the most capacity-sensitive airports. FAA does this because airlines want to maximize profits, and this captured agency does everything it can to not impede that airline objective. And the controllers union (NATCA) goes along with this charade, because the flight proceduralization being imposed via NextGen means they do much less real work while continuing to collect some of the highest paychecks in all of Federal civil service.

So, here is some hard data…

The PDF file below was compiled using FAA’s own data from their ATADS/OPSNET webpage. Annual totals for each year from 1990 through 2014 were compiled, for all 516 airports that submitted data into the 2014 ATADS database. The ‘Peak Year’ was identified for each airport. Data for both the Peak Year and Calendar Year 2014 was then refined into the presentation, and statistics were added to show key change parameters: changes in total annual operations, as well as itinerant air carrier (ITIN-AC) and itinerant air taxi (ITIN-AT) operations. (NOTE: this pair of parameters accurately reflects passenger flights, and also reflects how the airlines changed their mix of aircraft sizes between the larger AC fleet and the smaller AT fleet). Additional parameters include local operations (primarily flight training), and VFR operations (primarily general aviation). Some color-coding has been added, to aid in identifying trends (mostly downward) and airport types (three types stand out: primarily commercial air passenger airports, vs. primarily instructional airports, vs. primarily GA airports).

One of the most shocking realities illuminated by this 64-page spreadsheet is how far downward the aviation industry has declined, in terms of the need for ATC services. Specifically, of the 504 airports in this PDF file for which ATADS data shows a ‘change’ in annual operations (i.e., takeoffs and landings), the trend is overwhelming downward:

  • the average 2014 traffic for all 504 airports is 45% below Peak Year.
  • even the strongest performers, the current top-ten airports in terms of daily traffic counts, had declines in 2014 that measured 12% below Peak Year.
  • the average 2014 traffic for the top 30 airports (an accurate indicator of traffic demands by the commercial passenger aviation sector) is 21% below Peak Year.
  • the average 2014 traffic for the top 100 airports (the busiest 3% of airports on FAA’s list of 3,300+ NPIAS airports) is 31% below Peak Year. Please note, this list of the top 100 airports is a very accurate indicator of traffic demands by the entire aviation system, as these airports produce nearly all commercial passenger flights and enplanements.
  • the average 2014 traffic for the top half of the 504 airports is 38% below Peak Year.
  • the average 2014 traffic for the bottom half of the 504 airports is 52% below Peak Year.
This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

Not only is there no pressing need for NextGen to alleviate capacity issues, but, in fact, the data shows an industry in a steep and prolonged decline. Put it this way: if the U.S. commercial aviation sector was to make a truthful presentation seeking venture capital, they would have zero success, because the charts show steady decline and no reliable growth. Given other major trends (downsizing of the U.S. middle class, growing wealth inequality, and fossil-fuel-related Climate Change impacts, for example) it appears increasingly improbable that commercial passenger aviation will change into a ‘growth’ industry.

Boston & NextGen: The Impacts Continue Unabated

“…part of a congressionally mandated, nationwide program ‘that is modernizing the nation’s air traffic control system to make it even safer, greener, and more efficient’….”

– FAA spokesperson Jim Peters

When it comes to spin and propaganda, the most dangerous FAA employees are the mouthpieces: the FAA Administrator (and a few lesser officials who speak at industry luncheons, conferences, conventions and other events), and the public affairs ‘spokespeoples’ (sic). People like Jim Peters, quoted above, in this recent Boston Globe article about NextGen and noise impacts.

click on the image below to view a copy of the article in a scrollable PDF file…

Saying the right thing (and ONLY the right thing!) is critical, to pull off intended manipulated outcomes. So, there is an emphasis on creating and using key phrases, repeated over and over again – quite similar to the manipulative methods we see employed by candidates and their spin-meisters, during major elections. In fact, most FAA employees are strongly conditioned to say nothing, and defer to the mouthpieces. Even written correspondence routinely has to pass through a hierarchy of multiple desks, with everyone initialing off in the ‘grid’ on the cover page. Call it what it is: a culture of fear.

This latest Boston Globe article is fairly good, as it does lay out the problems created by NextGen. But, as is so common, it also provides FAA/industry with a chance to further promote, by inserting pro-NextGen phrases. Here is a table listing the pro-NextGen points, included within this Boston Globe article:

Page 1, paragraph 1: “… and the agency responsible for the decrease energy-saving policy…”
Page 1, paragraph 2: “… FAA has said the Next/Gen satellite-based navigation system is designed to decrease jet fuel consumption and increase safety by making the sky routes more efficient.”
Page 2, paragraph 7: “…Lynch said he understood that the new flight paths increased fuel efficiency and “the industry is probably saving a lot of money by having these planes fly the optimum route…”
Page 2, paragraph 9: “FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the flight paths are part of a congressionally mandated, nationwide program “that is modernizing the nation’s air traffic control system to make it even safer, greener, and more efficient.”
Page 2, paragraph 10: “He said the program reduces air traffic delays and cuts the amount of fuel used by aircraft, and as a result reduces carbon emissions into the atmosphere.”
Page 2, paragraph 11: “The FAA is working with Massport and the Logan Airport Community Advisory Committee to develop a runway-use system that will provide relief from noise while adhering to FAA safety and operational requirements, Peters said.”
Page 2 paragraph 12: Massport spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan: “The airport and the FAA have worked together to reduce noise in communities, and we will continue to do so.”

Note that these alleged benefits, none of which are proven true, originated with the FAA/industry ‘collaboration’, aimed at dressing up NextGen and selling it to Congress and the general public. Just a lot of unsubstantiated greenwash, paid for using the billions FAA takes from airline passengers each year. And the alleged cooperation, between FAA and the airport and community groups? Routinely, this is just a show, done for appearances, not to solve real problems. Articles such as this show that FAA is a failing agency, out of control and serving only the industry it refuses to regulate.

Finally! … a Fair Article about NextGen Impacts!

QUOTE

“…Over and over again, it’s like a stab in your brain….”

– a resident of Palo Alto, describing FAA’s NextGen Impact on her home

Thank You, Los Angeles Times, for your article about FAA’s NextGen impacts in the Bay Area. You got it right.

There are many articles being published about these NextGen impacts nationwide, particularly at Phoenix, at Boston, and around New York City’s LaGaurdia and JFK airports. This article did not go so far as to reveal the NextGen fraud FAA is pulling, with their greenwashing the public and manipulating Congress to spend billions, but it is truly one of the best articles yet. The reporter actually looked into the situation and compiled her own story, instead of lazily posting the pre-spun talking points that FAA and the industry provide. And, critically, the article was published without being re-spun by editors catering to FAA/industry money and power … a democracy-killing problem at most of today’s news outlets.

With their botched NextGen implementations and tone-deaf arrogance, FAA is making itself the poster child of failed federal agencies. A captured agency, serving only the industry they were created to regulate, while also destroying quality of life for the masses. This must end. We are long overdue for real FAA reform, with full accountability and transparency.

A short video, posted by Save Our Skies Santa Cruz, showing the impact on people, south of San Francisco…

Another Example of FAA Misdirecting Its Abundant Resources

(click on image to view original article at AOPA.org)

(click on image to view original article at AOPA.org)

In early 2012, within the same congressional legislation that enabled FAA to impose impactful NextGen routes without meaningful environmental review, FAA was directed to accelerate ‘integration of unmanned aerial vehicles’ into the National Airspace System. Deadlines were set, and FAA has consistently failed these deadlines, but FAA did eventually get around to creating some rules. FAA also created an exemption process, enabling so-called ‘commercial operators’ to proceed without compliance to the new rules.

FAA has since granted more than a thousand exemptions (searchable list of 1,451 exemption entries, with links to PDF copies). Each exemption has required dozens of hours of work on both ends of the process: the applicant (or their well-paid attorney) has to create typically 20-50 pages of documentation, and FAA lawyers and others then spend dozens of hours reviewing the application and drafting a ‘decision’ filled with boilerplate that typically runs 8-10 pages long. Generally, the exemptions require flight no higher than 400-feet above ground level, and the operator must have earned a costly FAA pilot certification. In many cases, FAA has also submitted the exemption applications for publication in the Federal Register, in accordance with the NPRM rulemaking process.

One of the latest FAA exemption approvals goes to Peter Sachs, a Connecticut attorney developing a specialty in unmanned flight. Here, he was granted approval to fly a paper airplane with a tiny propeller … so long as he uses an FAA-licensed pilot to perform the flight and flies low to the ground. Just a paper airplane, which clearly could have no significant impact on any real aircraft.

Perhaps a more intelligent FAA rule (and one that would provide lots of relief from aviation noise) would be to mandate all manned aircraft minimize flight time below say 2,500-feet above ground level (AGL), and do all level cruising flights at no less than 2,500-feet AGL.

For the record, FAA’s current helicopter rules essentially allow helicopter pilots to cruise right at ground level, and fixed-wing planes are legal at just 500-feet above ‘uncongested’ terrain and 1,000-feet above ‘congested terrain’ (whatever those terms mean). Furthermore, the rules promulgated by FAA at FAR 91.119 are loaded with loopholes that render them entirely unenforceable; for example, ANY pilot can justify low flying, simply by claiming he or she needed to be at that altitude to transition to or from their cruising altitude.

It seems rather incredible that this much busywork should go into creating rules, yet the rules are so arbitrary that the agency quickly grants rule exemptions to well over a thousand applicants. And all of this fuss over objects (radio-control models, and even paper airplanes now!) that just four years ago were considered ‘recreational’. One has to question just how intelligent a rule is, when thousands of exemptions are promptly issued. Imagine if our state DMV’s arbitrarily issued 30mph maximum speed limits for our cars, then granted tens of thousands of waivers, each accompanied with a tiny decal to go onto our cars. Yes, it would be absurd and expensive, but it sure would keep lots of state DMV employees busy.

The same appears to be the case at FAA. Wouldn’t it be nice if FAA redirected their personnel resources, aiming them instead at…

  • … resolving noise issues,
  • … reducing GA accident rates,
  • … improving helicopter fuel tank ruptures (and other serious airworthiness problems), and
  • … correcting the employee fatigue issues that continue to haunt pilots and controllers?

FAA could do so much more, if it chose to serve the People, not just the industry players.

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

Aside

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.

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.