An Outstanding Investigative Series on Allegiant Failures and FAA Hiding Those Safety Issues From the Public

If you are increasingly concerned that FAA appears to be just a hack, a faux-regulator that does not really serve the people but instead enables the industry … you need to read these articles.

If you have felt yourself doubting the veracity of an FAA high official, as they spew glowing pro-NextGen claims while dodging the enormous failures and impacts (like David Suomi, at the Port of Seattle on 4/25/2016; to see the video, click here, then select the April ‘video’ tab, and ‘Item 3c – Briefing’ under the 4/25 meeting) … well, you need to take a look at these articles.

This is where agency corruption goes beyond being an annoyance, to become downright dangerous.

When the Nut is Not Secured…

This photo was shot during an investigation after an Allegiant MD80 was forced to do a high speed aborted takeoff. The castellated nut at the center of the photo has a twisted safety wire, to prevent the nut from detaching. The near-accident was caused by failure to secure the nut, creating a jammed elevator.

Despite FAA and industry efforts to confuse us all, this is not rocket science.

Given the speed and power in aviation, it is absolutely critical that parts not ‘come apart’ while operating.

So, what happens when aircraft mechanics fail to include a cotter pin or safety wire, as in the photo at right? Well, in this example, a hundred or so aircraft occupants are damned lucky they did not end up dead in a post-impact fire in Las Vegas. What exactly happened? While accelerating for takeoff, the nose lifted up on its own and the crew suddenly discovered they had zero elevator control. They cut the power to bring the nose back down and, luckily, had enough runway remaining to come to a safe stop and taxi back to the gate.

…Safety Eventually Breaks Down

This particular incident has far bigger repercussions. It was one of many incidents that caught the attention of Nathaniel Lash and other reporters, who did an outstanding investigative series, published by the Tampa Bay Times. Here are links to archived PDF copies of the three articles:

The third piece just came out, and it includes an interesting twist. It appears that FOIA was used, and that FAA heavily redacted their response documents. A formal appeal was filed and, eventually, an appeal response letter was sent back by FAA, denying the request to reveal the redactions. BUT… a fully unredacted copy was enclosed with the appeal response! So, now we can see what FAA chose to initially redact (which itself can be extremely revealing).

Was the fully unredacted report enclosed by accident? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it was enclosed by someone who had seen too much. FAA employees are real people, often feeling trapped in a corrupt and soulless bureaucracy, and silenced by the fear of losing their paycheck. Sometimes real people become sick and tired of all the lying and propaganda, and feel it is their duty to bypass the corrupt intentions of higher FAA officials; sometimes they make little ‘mistakes’ with big consequences. Lucky for all of us, not all FAA employees are afraid of the agency’s ‘culture of fear’. Some really do blow the whistle, and sometimes they do this in very subtle ways.

Also, for those who really want to dive deep, check out the 27-page unredacted report.

Earthen EMAS: How to Make the Most of the KSMO Consent Decree

What is going on in Santa Monica? Is the City honoring the will of the people who rejected massive campaigning by aviation lobbyists, and resoundingly approved Measure LC back in 2014? Or, is the City pulling a fast one on its people?

(click on image to view an aiREFORM Post about the accident and the lack of runway safety areas at KSMO)

Increasingly, it looks like the City is pretending to care about the lead, the particulates, the noise, and the obvious health impacts, yet is doing nothing to correct these problems.

Then, too, there is the problem of airport proximity to dense residential properties; airport neighbors have actually had lawn furniture blown over by the blast behind jets taking the runway; the smell of jet exhaust is a regular occurrence in backyards, where children play.

The fiery crash of an arriving bizjet back in 2013 killed four, but would have been far worse if that volume of jet fuel had ignited while crashing through the houses within the designated Runway Protection Zones (RPZs). Yep, although RPZs are supposed to be vacant land, hundreds of houses exist in the trapezoidal spaces at the ends of the Santa Monica runway; both FAA and the airport authority – the City – are going to be held accountable and found totally liable, if and when a crash happens in the RPZs.

The Consent Decree itself is suspect … no, doubly suspect. The City had a solid legal case, Nelson Hernandez had been insisting to noise activists that there were no discussions toward settlement, and yet City suddenly gave away all their advantage and caved to FAA pressures … AND Chamber of Commerce pressures, … and wealthy jet owner and wealthy airport users’ pressures. Twelve more years were added, with no guarantee of eventual airport closure. The only ‘gains’ received by the City were the right to shorten the runway, from 5,000-ft to 3,500-ft. The shortening was supposed to be immediate; rational people assumed it would take at least a few weeks or months to formally shorten the runway on paper, and add some surface markings. Instead, this process is being badly bungled, and is really calling to question, the integrity and intent of City Manager Rick Cole and key personnel such as Mr. Hernandez. Here are some examples of their bungling:

  • on 4/25, a meeting was held to share options for how to shorten the runway. The only options offered were to shorten it by clipping 750-ft off each end, or to shorten it by removing the bulk of the 1,500-ft from the west end. There was no option offered to remove 1,500-ft from the east end, which would best serve the most impacted airport neighbors (because the airport is nearly always in a west flow, the engine runups and idling by bizjets and charter jets nearly always happen on the east end; the jets often fly out IFR, thus have to wait until ATC can alter the LAX flow, to safely allow the SMO departures … so the jet idling can go on for a long time; also, the predominant winds push the concentrated pollutants to West LA, just east of the airport).
  • the meeting invitations went out only to the so-called ‘stakeholders’: pilots, airport operators & tenants, and other aviation folk. The local non-aviation community was not invited.
  • eventually, the local non-aviation community found out. Understandably, they felt slighted. Trust in Rick Cole and Nelson Hernandez has plummeted.
  • now, tonight, the Airport Commission meets, to consider the limited options, which reportedly carry an extraordinary $6 Million price tag, mostly just for adding paint to pavement!
  • It’s as if the goal is to so frustrate activists that they just give up (but they can’t: the stakes are too high, when you are fighting for health!).

So, that’s how bad it is. Now, if the City really cared to resolve decades-old airport problems, what would they have immediately embarked on after finalizing this Consent Decree?

  1. as a first step, declare the closure to become effective at the earliest allowable date. If any operators of the airport need more than 3,500-ft of runway, they would have a reasonable time window to depart, but after the closure date, that option would no longer exist.
  2. designate a runway portion for the initial closure. This does not have to be the final closure portion, but it does have to be designated. The surface markings have to be added, and the ATC procedures modified, to make it illegal for any flight to use this runway portion except in an emergency. Thankfully, the surface markings and modified ATC procedures are not a large or expensive task, and are easily completed.
  3. simultaneous with the above, define a full set of runway shortening options. The present set is woefully deficient. A full set would include at least three final runway positions, where the final runway portions to be closed would be all at the east end, all at the west end, or equally on both ends of the runway.
  4. a second set of ‘options’ – and equally important for addressing airport impacts – is what to do with the closed runway portions. Are they to be maintained, to enable longer takeoff or landing distances for larger bizjets, or are they to be declared unusable? So, this second set of options should consider removal of the asphalt versus painting the asphalt, and should also consider how the surface of the former runway sections are to be finished and maintained (grass, sand, or ??).
  5. if the goal is to maximize safety and minimize environmental impacts by bizjets and charter jets, the solution should be to discourage use of the airport by jets. Therefore, it would be a no-brainer to tear out the asphalt and create an earthen EMAS – perhaps sand, or perhaps just compacted soil seeded to grass, as is found at most airports. A small jet, aborting a takeoff or with a brake failure on arrival, would have its speed safely arrested in the overrun area; larger charter jets would simply avoid SMO, using longer runways in less impacted communities instead. LAX, for example, which has a brand new VIP terminal aimed at serving elite charter clients.
  6. for the record, FAA’s version of EMAS is very expensive. A specially formulated ‘crushable concrete’ is poured, and the cost to repair is also very high. Not just for actual accidents, but also when a pilot blunders and accidentally taxis onto it, as happened at Burbank with a private jet carrying baseball player Alex Rodriguez, in October 2006.

The Santa Monica Airport should have been closed decades ago; that it has not yet closed testifies not only to the power of the aviation lobby and the depth of FAA’s corruption in serving that lobby, but also to the lack of will (and intentional deception?) by City officials. From a distance, it is hard to watch this play out and not wonder, who’s getting paid off with what? Is Santa Monica just a wealthier version of the Bell, CA scandal?


UPDATE, 5/3/2017: — a petition for writ of mandate was filed by two citizens, seeking to have the Consent Decree declared null and void, on grounds that it was negotiated in violation of open records laws; see 98-page PDF copy here.

An Email Exchange with David Suomi, Again Shows FAA’s Bureaucratic Indifference

David Suomi, Deputy Regional Administrator for FAA’s Northwest Mountain Region

On 4/25/2017, FAA regional officials David Suomi (pronounced ‘Sue Me!’) and Steve Karnes spent an hour giving a rosy NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle Commissioners. A citizen audience was present and listened attentively, waiting for the chance to have their precious three minutes, to ask questions at the end.

As the presentation closed, and the Commission invited citizens to come to the mic, Mr. Suomi and Mr. Karnes suddenly stood up and said they had to leave, to attend to prior commitments. Pleadings from the crowd asked them to stay, but they packed their things and quickly, quietly departed. A half hour later, one of the citizens had to leave while the last few citizens were making their comments into the record. She saw Mr. Suomi and Mr. Karnes as she left; they were standing just outside the door, around the corner.

So, in total, although Mr. Suomi collects a very substantial federal paycheck in a job intended to serve the nation (not just the industry they pretend to regulate), he spent an hour selling a program that is causing substantial damages, even health problems, for many citizens. And, when done with that dog-and-pony show, it is not surprising that he would see no problem with his refusal to listen to and answer those citizen questions.

It is in this context that the following is shared. Two days after FAA’s NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle, a citizen sent this email to Mr. Suomi:

The email exchange is revealing. Here is Mr. Suomi’s reply, still locked in to selling NextGen and refusing to even acknowledge the growing impacts. Many of Mr. Suomi’s statements are rebutted, with a series of footnotes by aiREFORM.

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

An Example of FAA’s Illegible Orders … Is There a Reason they are Mostly Incomprehensible Garbage?

The day after the Fight the Flight forum, one of the local impacted citizens shared her concerns about research she was doing, to learn about the problems. She provided a link to FAA’s 19-page Desk Reference for Noise and Noise-Compatible Land Use. Here is her comment:

People all across the nation run into this problem when trying to take care of their family and community. FAA creates a problem by enabling excessive airport expansion, and by forcing the abandonment of noise abatement procedures. When our best citizens then take their valuable time to learn and be heard, to fix the new problem,  they run into FAA’s next wall: the concealment of valuable information. Sometimes the concealment is simply by refusing to talk, as happened when David Suomi and Steve Karnes left ‘early’ after their 4/25/2017 NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle Commissioners; other times it is by FAA’s wasting taxpayer money, creating voluminous and byzantine standards and illegible procedural documentation.

One of the roles aiREFORM tries to serve is to archive the documents that are relevant to aviation impacts. A new Reference webpage has been created, with archived copies of the Desk Reference as well as the full Current Order and full Previous Order. Click here to view it, and download any copies that may be helpful in your local fight for quality of life.

Also, a request: if anyone finds they are doing some deeper analysis of these documents, creating a thorough outline or notes just to REALLY know this material (or to precisely define FAA’s failures), please consider sharing your work back; we can make a PDF of that and share it online, too, to help others.

NextGen Impacts Continue to Expand – Terrorism/Torturism?

Here’s a letter-to-editor that concisely summarizes the impacts NextGen is causing upon residents of Milton, under the arrival paths into Boston’s Logan Airport [KBOS]:

(click on image to view source Facebook post)

The problems around Boston are repeated across the nation, and they are expanding as FAA continues to push NextGen. The alleged benefits of NextGen are fraudulently overstated, while the costs are cautiously hidden. And the entire reason for FAA’s pushing NextGen?

It is not about helping the environment; that’s just a cynical façade. NextGen is solely about increasing ‘runway throughput’, by eliminating any and all barriers that reduce airport capacity as measured in arrivals per hour.

FAA is failing to serve the public because they serve only the industry. FAA refuses to manage capacity, and has stolen away the rights of local officials to mitigate impacts with curfews, flow rate restrictions, and other measures. The airlines get profits; the residents get the shaft – sleep loss, stress, and many other health impacts.

Wall Street Journal Passing On FAA’s ‘Fake News’ About NextGen

FAA and other industry players have been using some incredibly phony sales pitches for well over a decade now, in their coordinated effort to sell NextGen as ‘transformational’. One of those false pitch points is the claim that NextGen will do away with commercial flights flying zig-zag routes across the nation, from one electronic navaid to the next. Readers are led to believe that today’s air navigation is constrained by these locations, and a lot of people get fooled, simply because the vast majority of us are not trained and employed in a way that would cause us to know better. Well, today’s air navigation is NOT constrained that way, and frankly has not been so constrained for many decades. Even as early as the 1970s, entire airline fleets were configured for direct navigation using inertial navigation systems, followed by many new and improved systems including Omega, Loran, GPS, etc.

It’s a fact, and an embarrassment on FAA, that for each of the airspace redesigns in recent years, FAA and contractors have created thousands of pages of slick documentation… and every documentation package, for each airspace redesign, has at least one copy of this image (or a close variation):

The graphic clearly implies that ‘current’ navigation is via zigzags over navaids. All you have to do is study actual flight routes, at a website like Flightaware. Everyday, multiple websites upload data for tens of thousands of U.S. commercial flights; for each of those days, you could spend a week or longer reviewing every individual flight history, and chances are you would NOT find even one flight wasting time and energy on navaid-to-navaid zigzags.

So, it looks like all that propaganda is now taking a big victim: even the esteemed Wall Street Journal now believes we need NextGen to advance us past airplanes that ‘bounce from one radio point to the next…’!

Check out their March 22nd opinion piece, archived below with aiR footnotes added:

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


See also:

MHFC: Technology and Design Achieve Nothing When Too Many Flights are Scheduled

An incredible airshow: Michael Huerta’s Flying Circus.

20160408.. Michael Huerta's Flying CircusIn service to the airlines, FAA has carefully worked to bypass environmental review procedures while also embarking on a scheme to abandon wholesale decades worth of noise mitigation procedures. In their effort to increase ‘throughput’, turns are being made lower and closer to the airports, for both departures and arrivals. This would reduce fuel consumption by a small amount, but the savings are routinely more than lost when excessive airline scheduling necessitates that ATC must issue delay turns (even entire delay loops) during the enroute/cruise portion of the flight.

It is really a circus. Controllers work harder, and pilots also work harder. Airline profits tweak slightly higher while many airports downsize and more flights become concentrated into a handful of superHubs. More delays are incurred, and repetitive-noise-pattern impacts increasingly damage neighborhoods that previously had no aviation noise issues. And what do FAA regulators do about it? Nothing. They just retire, take their pension, and sign up to work for the industry and as lobbyists.

An SFO arrival from Puerto Vallarta, on January 9th.

This Analysis looks at how NextGen fails at one of the few emerging superHubs: San Francisco [KSFO]. Here’s a screencap showing extensive delays ATC issued to an Alaska Boeing 737, during a January 9th evening arrival. Take a close look and you’ll see: the flight crew was issued vectors to fly a large box, then a smaller loop, then sent northwest for further descent and sequencing back into the arrival flow near Palo Alto.

Altitudes have been added to this graphic, so you can better estimate the impacts upon residents below, especially while ATC was routing the flight at the lower altitudes, from Pescadero to Portola Valley to Palo Alto and on to the landing.

An SFO arrival from Puerto Vallarta, on 3/10/17.

This is the type of inefficient maneuvering that happens everyday. Massive backups can be triggered by incidents that cause temporary runway closures or weather problems, but most of the time, these inefficiencies happen when too many flights are scheduled too close together, all because FAA refuses to properly manage arrival rates.

On days when there are not too many arrivals, this same flight normally looks like the example to the left: a direct route and a steady rate of descent, from Santa Cruz to where they turn final at the Bay, just west of the Dumbarton Bridge. This type of efficiency can become a reliable norm, but only if FAA goes one step further and imposes programs to stop airlines from exceeding workable airport arrival rates. Sadly, under NextGen, FAA is doing precisely the opposite: giving the airlines the sun and the moon, and all the stars if they have to, so long as the airlines will not oppose the expensive boondoggle that NextGen is. FAA wants Congress to throw more money at the agency, and that won’t happen, unless all the Av-Gov players ‘collaborate’ and act unified behind the NextGen fraud.

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.