The Congressional Process to Reauthorize FAA: Is it Just a Show, and Will it Go Far Enough?

Lots is happening in DC right now, though it is not clear if more than a few of the well-paid elected officials care enough to press through long-overdue reforms. If they fail to alter FAA’s cozy protectionism of this industry, the problems will persist: more noise (along with less sleep), more air pollutants (along with higher morbidity rates), and more rapid expansion of the greenhouse gas emissions by an industry that is the fastest growing contributor to global climate change. In time, the latter will mean loss of the polar ice (which appears to be accelerating), as indicated in this chart:

selected years added and labeled by aiREFORM (click on image to view source at NSIDC)

Note how Arctic sea ice has steadily declined in the past three decades. Losing polar ice is not a trivial matter; it will result in much higher sea levels, higher atmospheric energy and water vapor levels (stronger winds and bigger rain/snow events), and intensified weather extremes (the kind that fool trees into blooming early, only to freeze off the pollinized blossoms, killing that year’s fruit crop).

The Ball is in Your Court, Congress!

This week, the details are being deliberated in the U.S. House, and it looks like the Senate is also pressing to ‘hurry up’ and reauthorize FAA. Congress has important work to do for us in the U.S., but the consequences are global, going far beyond just us. From a climate justice perspective, the consequences are horribly unjust. Air travel and air cargo are industries that serve the wealthiest nations, but the poorest nations tend to be the most vulnerable. A nation like the U.S. can spend enormous funds elevating runways in Florida, but what is a small nation in equatorial regions to do, except simply move away? And, as the most vulnerable nations are destroyed, the global scarcity of land will only compel more instability, more refugees, and more wars.
We need to understand this now: there are real and ugly consequences for our obsessive hyper-consumption, and aviation is a big part of that bad habit. Every benefit bears a cost; the aviation-related benefits we enjoy today are at a growing cost to others on the planet … not just airport neighbors near over-developed U.S. hubs, but also communities at or near sea-level, across the globe.

Some Resources

Here are a few current documents and articles for readers to ponder:

  • HR.4, FAA Re-Authorization draft, Section-by-Section Summary – offers summaries of the many proposals, before most were either withdrawn or voted out by committee. One wonders: is there a better process for compelling a captured agency to serve THE PEOPLE, not just their industry? Is this current process rigged to empower lobbyists and opportunistic politicians? (27p, click here for archived copy)
  • HR.4, Draft Rule – take a look at the rules set up to ‘manage’ the amendment proposals and ensure the final draft serves industry. (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • UPDATE: The Dirtiest of Washington Politics? — ATC Privatization By Deception? – it was suspicious when Shuster suddenly announced abandonment of ATC privatization and his decision to not run again. Now it is back on the plate again, which begs the question: did Shuster et al decide to quit wasting effort deliberating and instead just impose their industry-serving plans? (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • Climate Change Could Increase ‘Whiplash’ Between Wet and Dry Years in California, Leading to More Disasters (click here to view source, a 4/24/2018 article at EcoWatch)

Airport Reference Materials: Annual Enplanements, ATADS Operations, Tonnage, AIP Grants, and NPIAS Lists

There is now a newly-completed and extensive collection of searchable/downloadable PDFs with valuable information on U.S. airports. All data was collected from online sources, either FAA or vendors who do outsource work for FAA.

Many of the tables are grouped by state and ranked by a factor such as enplanements. Alaska is top of the list, and a huge aviation state, so be sure to scroll down a few pages to see Alabama and the other states where NextGen abuses are causing so many problems (Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and Washington are good studies).

Here is a short index, with links:

Much more will follow, as these resources make it easier to expose how deeply FAA is captured, in service of industry players. Readers are encouraged to spend some time studying parts of this data collection; if you see something that really jumps out (for waste, abuse of authority or outright fraud by FAA) please share it on.


UPDATE, 4/13/2018: — correction to original posting… ATC staffing data was inadvertently not included. The Consolidated Airport Data for 844 Airports table has been updated, and one more table has been added (the more extensive data table showing annual ATC staffing for 263 FAA-staffed towers).

Debunked: FAA’s Latest 20-Year Forecast

It is that time of year, when FAA again parades out a 20-year forecast to prop up agency spending. These forecasts are notorious for being routinely exaggerated, i.e., robustly unrealistic, but the pro-spending bias keeps happening, since the exaggerations work well to dupe the public.

The opening line is revealing; compare this statement (“…All indicators show that air travel in the United States is strong…”) with FAA’s own data, which has been compiled into the table below.

This table shows combined total tower operations for all of the 500+ FAA and contract control towers, as documented in ATADS. Note that total operations peaked in 1999, and have fallen 26% since. The decline has gone on for decades, and has been steady; there is no concrete sign of a reversal.

Note also a paragraph deep in the FAA news release, justifying further expansion of infrastructural spending, on the weak FAA assumption that total airport operations will rise 19% in the next 20 years (from 51.0 million in 2018 to 60.5 million in 2038). Think about it; airport operations cannot even keep up with the positive growth rate of our national population. The data is clear: this industry has been declining. And, yes, the new forecast truly is based on FAA’s ‘assumption’, that a downward-flat trend for two decades will suddenly inflect upward.

While you critically study FAA’s news release, 24-page Forecast, and Fact Sheet (archived copies at the three links), ponder these notes:

  • The RPM metric is not a valid metric for industry growth. As the few remaining airlines continue to adjust schedules with increased hub concentration, passengers end up flying LONGER flights with added legs (origin-to-hub-to-destination, and even origin-hub1-hub2-destination, instead of origin-direct-destination). This increases RPM totals. If a routing via the Atlanta hub adds 24% to the total flight distance, RPMs also increase by 24%. The fastest growing hub right now is Seattle; when Delta sells tickets for passengers between California and the Midwest or East Coast, more and more itineraries end up flying via KSEA. Likewise, as FAA continues to over-accommodate airline excessive hubbing on the East Coast, we will see RPM increases on trips to the West Coast out of Boston, the NYC airports, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Reagan National.
  • Here’s another piece of spin, from the fifth paragraph of the News Release: “Air Traffic Modernization is rapidly moving towards satellite navigation technologies and procedures which will continue to allow enhanced navigation for more aircraft….” The truth is, there has been no rapid modernization because most of the GPS system was implemented in the mid-1990s! Also, the so-called ‘enhanced navigation’ is potentially a valuable improvement, but it is consistently rendered worthless by FAA’s failure to manage capacity, such as by imposing hourly flow limits. In other words, so long as FAA continues to allow airlines to over-schedule at a handful of airline-chosen hubs, ATC will have to continue to issue delays … as we routinely see at KBOS, KJFK, KLGA, KDCA, KSEA, and elsewhere. Using online flight tracking programs, we see thousands of delays everyday, in the form of gate holds, long taxi-out times due to congestion, turns and loops during the enroute/cruise segment, extended patterns to sequence arrivals via radar vectors, and long taxi-in times due to congestion. If FAA does not change their strategy, these delays will only grow.
  • The news release notes that there were 840.8 million domestic enplanements in 2017. If we fly a nonstop ticket from our origin to an airport destination, it will count as one enplanement, but ONLY if it is a direct nonstop flight. If we fly via a hub, or a series of stops, the number of enplanements increases (one enplanement per takeoff segment). Thus, a figure of 840.8 million enplanements in 2017 sounds like a big number, but actually means no more than 420.4 out-and-back ‘trips’. With more data, we could establish an estimate that is likely even fewer than 300 million actual full ‘trips’ per year, once we factor out extra trip legs (such as via hubs).
  • The news release also cites a 1.7% annual growth rate estimate for domestic enplanements, but how much of this will be due to increased hubbing? Even the simplest hub-related flights (e.g., outbound routed origin-HUB-destination, and return trip routed destination-HUB-origin) tallies four enplanements, which is roughly double the national annual average. If Delta, JetBlue, and others intensify hubbing, we can end up with an annual growth rate far exceeding the national population growth rate. But, with more hubbing, this would actually be less energy-efficient; lengthened flight distances and more stops would INCREASE fossil fuel consumption, having an even higher impact on climate and communities.
  • On average, U.S. citizens fly less than one commercial passenger air trip per year. And, importantly, some of us travel a whole bunch, many times per week. So, in this annual forecast, we really need FAA to go deeper with the data and attempt to accurately define just how elite air travel is. What percentage of our national population did not fly at all in 2017? And what is the trend year to year; are more people responding to climate change concerns by electing to travel less, or not at all? It could actually be that airlines serve an elite few U.S. citizens, more so than the larger ‘general public’. Considering the intensive fuel consumption (and impacts, upon climate change as well as health and neighborhood quality of life), it would be an appropriate national policy to stop subsidizing this industry and shift costs away from communities and onto the airlines and passengers; it would also be an appropriate national policy to impose a fee structure that discourages excessive flying by one passenger (e.g., no tax on the first two roundtrips per year, a steep tax for the third thru fifth roundtrip each year, and a very steep tax for subsequent roundtrips).
  • Aviation is the most intensive fuel-consumption activity in our modern lifestyle. It has enormous negative impacts, not only upon climate change, but also upon public health and neighborhood quality of life. Efforts to increase airport capacity do not reduce these impacts; they INCREASE these impacts.
  • Near the bottom of the news release, a paragraph glows about how this annual forecast is the ‘industry-wide standard’. More accurately, this annual forecast is a propaganda tool issued by a captured regulator, in collaboration with industry players and their lobbyists. It is disinformational, an improper use of public monies.

First StART Meeting at KSEA: Great Write-up by David Goebel

The first StART Meeting was held at KSEA, on February 28th. Vashon Island activist David Goebel posted a great write-up at the NORNP.org website (click here for aiRchived copy). It also is clear that Sheila Brush asked some great questions, to try and help Port of Seattle (PoS … perfect acronym, no?!?) officials drill down into the real impacts of this major airport, which appears stuck in a mode of selling out to profit-seeking by Alaska and Delta airlines.

As I understand his story, it was around two decades ago that David purchased land near the north end of Vashon Island, hoping to enjoy the bucolic setting a ferry ride away from the city. Those dreams crashed when FAA implemented the HAWKZ arrival and accommodated Delta’s hub development, creating nearly nonstop arrival streams at lower altitudes. There are many nice places to call home, around Seattle, but sadly airline over-accommodation is destroying them.

David offered this closing comment:

“…something that struck me as sadly ironic is that it was really quiet in the conference room; I didn’t hear any planes. This is in stark contrast to my cabin on Vashon Island, where as often as every two or three minutes they drown out all the sounds of nature, destroying the reason I moved there 20 years ago…..”

See also:
  • PoS StART webpage – link
  • 2/28/2018 – POS’ Agenda for StART meeting (link for archived copy)
  • 2/28/2018 – Lance Lyttle’s 22-pg slideshow for StART meeting (link for archived copy)

FEB 25-27: Aviation Noise & Emissions Symposium, at Long Beach, CA

Every year, industry representatives (including FAA and the lobbyists, of course!) meet at around this time, for the ‘Aviation Noise & Emissions Symposium’. The event is traditionally held in the Palm Springs area, but is at Long Beach this year.

On the following page, aiReform has produced a table listing the attendees as listed at the event website. An effort has been made to identify which attendees are there on behalf of their local impacted airport, as well as to identify the industry players, lobbyists, and regulators. It appears that more than half of attendees are industry/regulatory.

Some of the attendees are actual activists who have fought against growing impacts under FAA’s defective NextGen program, or caused by excessive aviation operations. Other attendees include local citizens who may or may not care much, but were selected by the airport authority and/or local political officials, to fill a spot in an oversight group. It might be constructive if attendees and/or readers of this Post will submit further information, to clarify who the real hard-working activists are. Likewise, it would be interesting to learn more about the many companies and regulatory officials in attendance. For example, Lourdes Maurice is listed representing a company; formerly, she was a high-ranking FAA official, in charge of environmental issues. This appears to be yet another example of FAA-industry revolving doors.

Lastly, it would be valuable to hear from the activist-participants. Did they find this event helpful and informative, or did they instead feel it was just a dog-and-pony-show aimed at gaining their support of further aviation growth? Were the presenters sincerely interested in managing and reducing impacts, or just yes-men, passing along the industry sales pitches?

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

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

Here are some points from an analysis of the article:

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

JFK: Evidence of FAA & PANYNJ Failure to Manage Capacity & Delays

The two screencaps below look at the ten most congested airports in 2000, as well as the airports for which the most money was spent expanding infrastructure between 1988 and 2002. They are screencaps from slides #17 and #19 of A Historical and Legislative Perspective on Airport Planning & Management, a January 2002 presentation by Alexander T. Wells & Seth B. Young.

In a normal economic environment, actions are taken to mitigate problems. Delays are one such problem. If the aviation sector behaved rationally, regulators (in this case, FAA) and operators (both airports and airlines) would make adjustments to reduce delays, even more so because the delays at the largest hub airports cascade into more delays at other airports.

The data in this January 2002 presentation shows that FAA and airport authorities are not acting rationally to reduce delays and are, in fact, doing exactly the opposite of what they need to do. That is, instead of scaling back excessive operations at the most congested airports, they are doubling down, spending even more money to enable even more over-scheduling (and congestion/delays) by the major airlines.

A look at the major airports serving the NYC-Philadelphia area is revealing. The four main airports all rank in the top-10 delay airports for 2000:

  • Newark (EWR, United hub): ranked #1
  • LaGuardia (LGA): ranked #2
  • Kennedy (JFK, major hub for American/Delta/JetBlue): ranked #5
  • Philadelphia (PHL, American hub being scaled down): ranked #7

The worst-case example is JFK. The role of this airport has always including serving as a major international hub, but, with the formation of JetBlue, a substantial amount of domestic hub traffic has been added. The airlines make higher profits when they increase hub through-traffic, but airline pursuit of higher profits is supposed to be balanced against impacts such as more noise pollution, more air pollution, and more surface road congestion. The airport authority (PANYNJ) and federal regulator (FAA) are supposed to ensure this balance, but they fail; unfortunately, both FAA and PANYNJ are instead focused solely on serving airline profits, and are thus blinded from seeing the impacts, such as under the JFK Arc of Doom.

How bad is the failure by FAA/PANYNJ regarding JFK? Well, notice the last column in the table below.Of the top-ten delay hubs in 2000, only two have seen positive average annual growth in operations, from 2000 to 2017. By far, the largest average growth is at JFK, averaging 1.5% annual growth in operations. Compare that with Philadelphia, which has averaged a 1.3% annual decline in operations. Is the Philadelphia population shrinking while the NYC-area population is exploding, to explain these two trends? No. These trends – and the subsequent impacts – are due to airline scheduling, motivated by airline profits. Philadelphia is scaling down because American absorbed US Airways, and since then, American has been shifting schedule capacity AWAY from PHL and TOWARD JFK, LGA, and DCA (yet another high-impact airport).

Clearly, if FAA wanted to take a decisive action in 2018, to reduce delays, that action would focus on managing capacity, such as by imposing flow rate reductions at JFK, EWR, and LGA. It would also focus on encouraging airlines to shift capacity back to PHL, DTW, PIT, CVG, CLE and other airports that are operating far below what they were designed to serve.

Ponder this fact, too: how is it that when we look at a top-ten list of delay airports from 18-years ago, we see that 80% of those airports have since scaled down while most populations have grown? How is it we are told by FAA and industry that airports and aviation are economic gold-mines, and yet this alleged booming industry is declining nearly everywhere? How much of the FAA/industry sales pitch is hot air and propaganda? Is there anything we are told by these players that reflects reality and nurtures an informed public process, serving everyone and not just corporate interests?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

1990 vs 2005 vs 2016 Operations: Exposing FAA’s Inaccurate Forecasts

While doing some online research and archiving of older FAA documents, I ran into a copy of FAA’s 1993 Aviation System Capacity Plan. (click here for an archived copy of the 389-page document). Within this document, Table A-3 offered a detailed assessment of the 100 busiest towered airports, including operations in 1990 and forecasts for 2005.

The table below was created using the 1990 operations levels and 2005 forecast data for those 100 airports. But, it goes much further. It includes the actual operations counts as they happened in 2005. AND, it includes data showing how the operations counts evolved between 2005-2016.

Take a close look. This data explains why people are suffering so much at a few key FAA airports: KSEA, KJFK, KDCA, KBOS, KSFO and others.

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

It is extremely revealing, showing how FAA consistently forecasts far beyond what would reasonably follow … almost as if the FAA forecasts are not intended to be accurate, but instead are created to sell excessive airport development while also enhancing Congressional funding support.

A more in-depth aiReform analysis follows on page two.

Is Trump ‘Reloading the Swamp’?

It is good to see Administrator Huerta move along, though it would have been much nicer to see the President fire him a year ago.

Now, as to who will be heading FAA(?)… …well, it looks like the AvGov Complex powers-that-be are not trying to change the current game plan. Here is a clip from a recent article, with a short bio of acting Administrator Dan Elwell:

“Elwell was FAA assistant administrator for policy, planning and environment from 2006 to 2008. He was Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) VP-civil aviation from 2008 to 2013 and Airlines for America (A4A) SVP-safety, security and operations from 2013 to 2015.”

For airlines and lobbyists, Elwell has all the right plumage; his record suggests he is a revolving door swamp monster, and an industry loyalist. Not likely to be focused on making FAA accountable to the thousands whose homes and health are being destroyed by NextGen.

Click here to view source article at ATWonline.com, or here to view an archived copy, with some analysis footnoted by aiREFORM.


See also:
  • 5/15/2014 – (the Federal Register revision to ATSAP that stops citizens from using FOIA to learn about aviation safety failures … signed by Mr. Huerta.)
  • 8/19/2013 – (detailed letter opposing FAA’s proposal to hide ATSAP data from the General Public (7-pages plus a 4-page attachment)
  • 4/3/2008 – (full-day congressional hearing about FAA whistleblowers, and FAA management that not only works to stop safety actions, but also works to punish the whistleblowers.)
  • 2/15/2015 – (‘What’s all the Noise about Airport Noise?’, a 7-page slideshow presentation by Mr. Burleson)
  • 1/11/2018 – (FAA’s online bio, Dan Elwell)
  • 1/11/2018 – (FAA’s online bio, Carl Burleson)