A Tutorial: How You Can Use Online Resources to Identify and Study Flights Impacting Your Home

Many of us are too keenly aware of the destruction being done to residential neighborhoods, by excessive flight scheduling at the few U.S. airports where airlines are expanding their hubs. To protect homes and health, more of us are now forced to fight with FAA and airport authorities, asking for information and filing our concerns and complaints. This fight is generally made more difficult by one of FAA’s ugliest habits: their tendency to impede real education of citizens who are impacted by aviation.

Sadly, FAA et al tend to bury us with acronyms that cause eyes to glaze over. They try to dazzle us with vague technical references, hoping we become so overwhelmed by the details that we just have to step back and let the experts work this all out. They do not want us to know, of course, that the experts are routinely being compensated by FAA and/or industry, which of course biases their ‘expertise’ with a pro-aviation slant.

And so, there is a need for us to cultivate our own expertise. Fortunately, the internet offers very many resources, not just for research but also for helping one another. 

Here’s a tool that can help. The scrollable PDF below can be downloaded and shared, and it can be viewed offline. It presents an example of how one online flight tracking website (in this case, FlightAware) can be used to gather more information about impacting flights. The links within the PDF are all active.

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

Please use this tutorial. Learn, research, and share, so others can benefit from your research; so we can precisely present the data needed to compel FAA and your local airport authority to end the excessive impacts. Airports need to serve the local community first, not the airlines and their failed regulator.

City of Santa Monica is Failing to Live Up to Consent Decree Claims and Promises

Alan Levenson has created an analysis, showing how the City of Santa Monica is failing what they promised, nearly 5-months ago. Here is a copy:

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

The largest failure identified by Alan is that nothing substantial has happened, despite the fact that ‘immediate’ action was repeatedly promised. But, there is another large failure, and even more at the heart of safety and health impacts: the Consent Decree package reveals City is not only aware that the runway violates FAA safety design standards, but the City and FAA are both perpetuating these violations until at least 2029!

To illustrate the first failure, see this copy of the City’s glowing press release, when they announced the Consent Decree on January 28th (note, too, no citizens had yet been shown any of the Consent Decree documents … that was days later). Immediate? Hardly. Trust is not earned by spending five months and getting nothing done.

On the second point, City officials want everyone to believe that this Consent Decree assures FAA runway safety standards will now be met, but this assertion appears to be a bald-faced lie. For example, see the graphic at page 20 of the 63-page Consent Decree package. This was an Airport Layout Plan (ALP), created in 1991. At the time, it was believed that more jets would use KSMO, so the ALP depicted two Runway Protection Zones (RPZs): the existing RPZ, and an expanded future RPZ. The dimensions of the RPZ trapezoid are based on aircraft performance, specifically speed and wingspan. The higher performing jets would require a longer and wider trapezoid. Unfortunately, City submitted a fuzzy and mostly illegible ALP to the Consent Decree package (so, only people with experience studying ALPs can recognize what is depicted).

To correct for City’s fuzzy ALP, here’s a sample RPZ from another airport, with a lot less jet traffic:

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 is a minimally-sized RPZ for an airport with just a few jets; the ends measure 500ft and 1010ft, and the trapezoid is 1700ft long. Note that there are no obstructions in the trapezoid, to comply with an FAA safety standard.

One of the key facts that emerged with the Consent Decree was this: both FAA and City of Santa Monica have knowingly allowed not just ‘a few’ houses and yards inside the RPZ, they have allowed fully developed residential neighborhoods! And it appears that this is not happening ANYWHERE ELSE in the United States! Furthermore, both FAA and City of Santa Monica are OK with perpetuating this safety risk (and the substantial health impacts) for 12 more years. Nothing has been done to mitigate risks and impacts upon residents actually living (and breathing, and sleeping) within either the smaller RPZ or the expanded RPZ. And, in the meantime, not only are jets increasing at KSMO, but FAA has even pretended to not notice, while scheduled commercial operations were being marketed online.

So, City of Santa Monica finally came up with a plan to shorten the runway. Are the RPZs now clear of homes, yards and other obstructions? No, there are still numerous homes in the shortened runway RPZ, too. Here is a current satellite image showing the problem on the northeast end of the airport:

A 1,700ft circle (the RPZ length used for lesser airports) has been added. The image indicates that dozens of homes (west of Westgate Ave and north of National Boulevard) remain within the new proposed RPZ.

And this does not even reflect the pollution impacts and safety risks that remain to the east of Westgate Ave, especially for the higher performance air charter flights laden with more fuel.

Clearly, Rick Cole and Ted Winterer at the City of Santa Monica need to show us graphically, and in the clearest terms:

  • precisely where are the RPZ boundaries?
  • are the dimensions appropriate to the size and scale of commercially operating aircraft at KSMO?
  • and, can you confirm that no houses are within the KSMO RPZs?

See also:

FAA Forms Workgroups to solve their ‘People Problems’

FAA has a problem, and like any over-matured and sclerotic agency, they have their solutions. Not clean solutions that actually FIX THE PROBLEM, but dirty solutions to serve the agency/industry interests while disempowering people.

FAA’s failing NextGen implementations are destroying long-established residential communities across the nation. People are standing up, speaking louder and louder, and connecting and organizing. So, how does FAA propose to deal with this problem?

Form workgroups.

Just to be clear, the ‘problem’ FAA wants to ‘deal with’ is not the NextGen failures but the PEOPLE who are organizing. If their message gains traction, the People might actually get a few in Congress off their butts, demanding (and I mean REALLY DEMANDING!) that FAA fix this mess. The right steps are obvious:

  • demand Huerta step down (he has disserved the larger Public under two administrations, and is clearly just an industry hack);
  • revert the problematic NextGen implementations to pre-NextGen routes;
  • legislate a robust local democratic voice so that local citizens are able to decide what curfews and operational restrictions are needed to best serve their local community (i.e., the airport should be THEIR LOCAL AIRPORT, not a fortress for a major airline);
  • legislate reforms that disincentivize hubbing, so the airlines will instead offer more direct routes and a better/fairer distribution of airport impacts, equitably using hundreds and thousands of under-utilized airports instead of just a dozen evolving superHubs.

Why does FAA like to form workgroups? Simply because they are ‘manageable’. Each workgroup first creates an illusion of citizen involvement. But, the membership consistently includes industry ‘stakeholders’, who dutifully steer the work process – and infuse delays when the work product is going in the wrong direction. Plus, even the most ardent and effective aviation impact activists are human, thus susceptible to feeling a lot more accepting of the impacts because they are now an elite citizen representative.

Here’s an example of a new workgroup related to Baltimore [KBWI]. They appear to be very well focused on fixing the problems, but are running into an intransigent FAA. The Facebook group, Save Milton Skies, shared a link to this article, which is archived below. Rebuttal comments have been added by aiREFORM. It is a good article, overall, though it again demonstrates how FAA’s salespitch elements are readily incorporated into the final news article.

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

See also:

What Is FAA Hiding from the Public? And Why??

FAA, like many federal agencies, has a nasty habit of expending lots of time and money working to keep the people in the dark. They are supposed to comply with FOIA laws, but instead they redact the hell out of what should be disclosed. Making matters worse, in recent decades it seems as though most in Congress are ‘too busy’ and/or ‘too inert’ to force FAA to follow the FOIA laws.

Every once in a while, we get a great chance to look past these barriers. Sometimes, FAA’s redactions become unmasked. When that happens, it is like sitting down with the devil, and sharing tea and a candid conversation. So much can be learned….

In this Post, a 27-page FAA memo is offered in two forms, redacted and unredacted. This memo documents how a safety investigation produced copious details and a strong recommendation for corrective action … which was then nixed by a higher FAA official. The heavily redacted copy was provided to an investigative report team. Seeing that so much data was hidden, they filed an appeal. An appeal response letter was eventually sent, rejecting the appeal, but somehow a copy of the unredacted 27-page was included in the appeal response letter.

Here are the two versions, presented as scrollable/downloadable/searchable PDFs. View them side-by-side. See for yourself what FAA chose to redact, when a reporter team tried to help the public understand how FAA was handling a dangerous safety failure involving commercial aircraft maintenance.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the heavily unredacted version, as initially sent by FAA (and after extensive review by numerous FAA managers). Click here to download the PDF file.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the full, unredacted version. Click here to download the PDF file.

The Background:

A few days ago, an aiREFORM Post encouraged readers to read the excellent investigative series done by the Tampa Bay Times. In the third article of the series, Nathaniel Lash showed how higher level FAA managers were over-riding the conclusions and recommendations of their field inspectors. The inspectors were investigating how a nut had detached causing an elevator jam, forcing an Allegiant MD80 to do a high-speed aborted takeoff at Las Vegas. This was an extremely serious situation that would have assuredly killed everyone on board, if the nut had failed while actually airborne. A similar failure caused the 1/31/2000 crash of Alaska 261, an MD83 that lost flight control near Santa Barbara and plunged into the Pacific, killing all 88 on board.

The similarities are in two troubling areas:

  1. the casual failure by maintenance crews to properly execute their tasks and to follow needed steps that would identify and fix failures (so as to ensure nuts do not fall off leading to catastrophic crashes); and,
  2. FAA’s gross failure at safety oversight, where key FAA officials knowingly allow maintenance crews to sidestep required procedures.

The latest Times article showed that FAA was found to be covering up dangerous maintenance failures performed by AAR on the Allegiant passenger jet. Note that AAR is a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operation; over the past decade, airlines have been reducing labor costs related to employing their own mechanics by increasingly outsourcing aircraft maintenance to MRO contractors. Costs may go down, but so do safety margins.

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.

Is FAA Failing in Their Safety Oversight of Allegiant Air?

On May 11th this year, we were deeply embroiled in the election primaries, with growing evidence that the U.S. election system is in a flat-line failure mode. So, it is not surprising that the 20-year anniversary of the ValuJet crash in the Everglades might have gone unnoticed, at least by some of us.

The crash took 110 lives, and deeply scarred thousands more. The investigation of the crash exposed cultural failures at FAA, and led DoT Inspector General Mary Schiavo to abruptly resign in July of that year (she was THAT disgusted with the inside politics and cover-up, not just by FAA but by the White House, too). The crash and victims were recalled in a Miami Herald article. Subsequent news articles this year have looked at Allegiant Air, noting its many connections back to ValuJet, and presenting evidence that FAA is AGAIN being lax in safety oversight.

Below is a recent news article, critical of both Allegiant and FAA. In the pages that follow, aiREFORM provides an archived collection of articles and other documents related to Allegiant Air. The records are presented in chronological order on the following pages, mostly as scrollable PDF files.

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

FAA Again Caught Undermining The Peoples’ Access to News & Data

20161122-dapl-water-cannon-at-night-image

Water cannons at night, in North Dakota. Late November 2016. This is ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’?

A major news story has been largely ignored by the mainstream media: the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest in North Dakota. Nonetheless, stories and images are leaking to the world, and embarrassing our nation, not just for the excessively militarized brute force being used, but for the silent complicity of higher officials, all the way to the White House.

Lacking media coverage, people get creative to cover the story themselves, and drones are a very safe and efficient way to capture images, to share the story with the rest of the world. The response by local law enforcement has included shooting down the drones, which itself creates a substantial hazard to the protestors below. So, after a lot of delay, FAA over-asserts their authority to impose airspace restrictions.

Former NTSB member John Goglia offers some excellent inquiry with a recent Forbes news article (PDF copy below):

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

Goglia looks closely at a recent blogpost by Peter Sachs, at DroneLawJournal. He notes FAA was caught shutting down journalism two years ago, after Michael Brown was shot and killed on a Sunday by a cop in Ferguson, MO. But, there was yet another example in recent years, though slightly different, also under current FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. mayflower-spill-pic-replace-deadlinkRemember when another pipeline BURST and flooded the neighborhood streets of Mayflower, AR, and then proceeded to pollute a nearby fishing lake? Yup, same routine there, too. In April 2013, FAA not only issued airspace closures, but they actually had the audacity to delegate authority for that airspace to a pipeline employee! Here are links to three aiREFORM Posts:

FAA is grandiose (and dismissive to the rest of the world) when they declare they are all about safety and efficiency. That’s utter bullshit. Safety is taken care of by operators and manufacturers who, if they ignored safety, would get slaughtered by the legal system. And, efficiency is similarly an objective clearly in the best interest of operators to achieve. So, when you get down to the core of it, FAA’s TRUE ROLE has become nothing more than parasitism: they feed off the money that flows into aviation (hence, the aviation customers, we the people, are their parasitic host) so as to prop up FAA’s programs and the eventual pensions of those FAA employees.

When they stand in the way of a fundamental right, such as journalism covering a major news story, FAA serves corporate and ruling oligarchic interests, not we the people. A shrewd President would never allow this, and would demand the immediate retirement of an FAA Administrator with the pattern we see here: first Mayflower, then Ferguson, and now DAPL. This is not acceptable.

The Original NextGen RNP Approach Is Now More Than Twenty Years Old!

NextGen is a label, a brand name if you will. The name was created by FAA and industry more than a decade ago. The product this brand name is attached to is essentially an evolved technology system for air traffic control and navigation that reduces the jobs of controllers and pilots to one of monitoring what the automation is doing. That is to say, under NextGen, the flight procedures become so precisely proceduralized (defining exact altitudes, lat/long positions, and speeds) that pilots will not want to try and hand-fly the procedure as doing so would risk a violation… so they let the airplane computers do the actual flying.

For the entire last decade, FAA and industry (with a LOT of help from Congressional insiders like Bill Shuster) have been carefully coordinating what is effectively a propaganda campaign, and they keep pressing Congress with the idea that NextGen is something new. It is not. As far back as 1994, Alaska Airlines was allowed to develop the first RNP approach, at Juneau, where difficult weather and nearby mountainous terrain made FAA unable to develop approach procedures landing to the west (i.e., to Runway 26).

What Alaska did was apply pre-existing technologies built into their Boeing aircraft. As noted in a Spring 2008 article by David Nakamura in Boeing’s ‘Aero’ magazine“…all Boeing commercial airplanes manufactured since the 1980s include RNAV capabilities … Boeing began implementing RNP on airplanes in 1994 … (and) as of 2000, every Boeing commercial airplane included RNP capability.” Research Airbus and you will find a similar timeline for these new technologies. By the way, one of the principle authors of this Boeing article, David Nakamura, is a very significant person in the evolution of NextGen. He chaired the Performance-based Operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee (PARC) and authored a 4/21/2009 letter to Margaret (Peggy) Gilligan, an FAA Associate Administrator. Read the letter carefully to learn the strategies for NextGen implementation, as they existed more than seven years ago, in early 2009.

In other words, the airlines have had the capability of flying NextGen-type departure and arrival procedures for roughly two whole decades. In that timeframe, at the 35 primary U.S. airline airports (the OEP 35), the number of airline operations has declined by more than 20%. This has not stopped FAA from spinning the ‘new technology’ idea into billions of dollars worth of Congressional funding authorizations that in reality have produced little meaningful change from what Alaska started doing in the mid-1990s.

The Juneau RNP Runway 26 Approach

For reference, here are a couple maps (with links) showing the geography at Juneau.

(click on image to view source map at Bing)

(click on image to view source map at Bing)

(click on image to view source VFR sectional at FlightAware)

(click on image to view source VFR sectional at FlightAware)

Interestingly, a PDF copy of the approach procedure cannot be found online. Although Alaska has an ‘OK’ from FAA to fly this approach, it would appear that none of us are allowed to see what that exact procedure is; i.e., FAA considers the approach to be ‘proprietary’ for Alaska Airlines. Nonetheless, we can see what the approach looks like thanks to these two videos; the first is a video by Alaska of a passenger arrival during ‘nice’ weather, and includes use of a heads-up display and checklists; the second is what appears to be a very well-made simulation created by a gamer.

FOIA Failures Are Rampant, by FAA & Other Agencies

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FOIA Failures Are Rampant, by FAA & Other Agencies

Recent news stories, including this one about an ATC-zero incident at Midway [KMDW] in early June, continue to point to the fact that FAA is knowingly snubbing their responsibility to be open and transparent. They are blowing off the FOIA laws. This is not a problem specific only to FAA; it appears to be rampant, at many if not all federal agencies. It is an attitude of arrogance and indifference, with the potential to eventually destroy the credibility and functioning of our entire government.

To his credit, President Obama started his administration with an absolutely glowing declaration about the importance of FOIA. To his discredit, his administration has utterly failed to live up to that declaration ever since. This again goes to attitude: the attitude set at the top enables the attitudes that set in below, at the agencies.

QUOTE

“…The Committee investigation revealed the vast chasm between President Obama’s promises of openness and accountability and the day-to-day management of DHS’s FOIA function by the Secretary’s political staff. The actions exposed in this report highlight not only the Administration’s failures to properly comply with FOIA statutes, but they disclose a concerted effort by DHS political staff to actively thwart a congressional investigation, hide abusive and embarrassing official behavior, and avoid both the shame of public scrutiny and potential criminal prosecution…..”

– Executive Summary, ‘A New Era of Openness?’

For insight into the extent of these FOIA failures, click here to read the full 153-page Staff Report, compiled two years into the Obama administration, after a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing about DHS FOIA failures.