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

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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.

FAA & Other Agencies, Using Pay-to-Play and Other Tactics to Deny Us Our Rights Under Federal FOIA Laws

It is a separate issue, yet thoroughly intertwined: the ongoing revelations about Hillary Clinton’s emails on a private server, expose the fact that our elected officials and agency leaders – all the way to the top, and regardless of which party has the White House – are waging a war against our citizens’ right to see what government officials are doing. As such, they are ensuring we can have no real Democracy.

(click n image to view source article at Washington Examiner)

(click on image to view source article at Washington Examiner)

Our FOIA Laws were passed by Congress in 1966. An incredible amount of careful deliberation went into defining the rules needed to be followed, to ensure transparency. FOIA was signed into law by LBJ, on 7/4/1966. The original laws have since been amended to incorporate electronic media. As President Obama wrote in his brilliant FOIA memo on the day he was inaugurated, January 21, 2009:

“…the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.”

Words are wonderful things, but they need to be backed up by actions. Such has not happened since January 2009. Simply, although FOIA is a critical tool for government transparency, accountability, and performance, it is being side-stepped and ignored. At FAA (and elsewhere), here is what they are doing:

  • Ignoring FOIA requests: just like the Secretary of State did in the article/link shown above, FAA and other agencies are choosing to outright ignore FOIA requests. This is not legal. Legal recourse for citizens is in the U.S. District Courts. However, the district courts are bogged down with both a wholesale indifference and processes that are deplorably byzantine, to the point of making it impossible for justice to be served. The Judges are all political appointees, thus inclined to serve the power status quo in DC. We can have all the laws we want but, if the laws are not enforced, they mean nothing.
  • Delaying & Side-stepping: with time, even the best of laws become ruined by workarounds. There are so many ways FAA fails to comply with the FOIA Laws, yet excuses off their failures. Some of these include:
    1. they’ll spend months delaying on your reasonable request for a fee waiver, and use their indecision to rationalize that the FOIA request could not be started until the the fee waiver issue was resolved.
    2. they’ll claim the FOIA request was never ‘perfected’, lacked specificity, etc.
    3. they’ll use ‘Pay-to-Play’ to intimidate regular citizens away from using the FOIA Laws (see below).
    4. they’ll pretend to not comprehend even the most explicit FOIA request. Even more, they may not call to clarify but process it anyway, building months and years of delays producing a series of response packages that slowly migrate back toward the real response … but only IF the requestor sticks with it for all that time.
    5. they’ll route the FOIA request to multiple offices and refuse to produce ANY responsive records until all offices have finished their seperate sub-response; and, at least one of those offices will never finish … so nothing ever gets released.
    6. they’ll sweep the floor and compile all sorts of unrelated documents so a request that should have cost nothing (under 100 pages and less than 2-hours administrative time to produce), instead costs hundreds of dollars and swamps the requestor with thousands of pages of irrelevant records.
    7. they’ll cry to the People, to the media, and to Congress that they just lack resources and cannot comply with burdensome FOIA laws. It is like declaring, “Pay us more and maybe we’ll do our job,” and Congress does nothing to compel them to perform. Of course, all of this happens while ignoring the simple reality that:
      • they have full-time paid FOIA specialists on staff;
      • the vast majority of their workload is arbitarily added and focused on obstructing the release of disclosable records; and
      • if they ‘erred on the side of disclosure’, their workload would all but disappear.
  • Pay-to-Play: a very effective way to obstruct the FOIA Laws is to demand exorbitant payments and watch the requestors withdraw their FOIA requests. No pay, no play. This violates the spirit and the law within FOIA. Agencies are expected to grant fee waivers, and are also expected to routinely waive requests that require minimal time to produce (e.g., less than 2-hours of administrative processing, and less than 100-pages of responsive records). There is also the Office of Information Policy guidance initiated in 2008, that precludes agencies assessing fees for simple FOIA requests, if the agency fails to comply with the 20-day time limit:
20081231scp-portion-of-guidance-new-limitations-on-assessing-foia-fees-doj-oip-opening-para

(click on image to view an archived copy of the OIP Guidance)

Despite these clear requirements, all of which are aimed at ensuring the People can easily see inside government operations to keep those operations from running astray, FAA and other agencies routinely use Pay-to-Play.

FOIA: A Neo-Journalist Calls for Less Government Transparency

It’s a sad day when a person such as Matthew Yglesias, pretending to be a journalist, advocates AGAINST transparency by public officials. (Q: has the term been created yet, can we just call him a neo-journalist?[1])

Below is an interesting pair of articles, archived in PDF form. The articles evolved out of ‘scandals’ engineered by the mainstream media, related to the Hillary Clinton campaign. This all connects in no small part to the extraordinarily revealing online document disclosures by Wikileaks and others, including:

Whether we are talking about presidential candidates or federal agencies, it is beyond dispute that the People need transparency and accountability by our public servants, and where transparency is impeded, there will be no accountability.

Click on the images below for a scrollable view;
original articles: Yglesias, Taibbi;
downloadable PDF files: Yglesias, Taibbi.

[1] The prefix ‘neo’ seems to have taken on a new meaning of ‘false and intentionally deceptive’, as in ‘neoconservative’ and ‘neoliberalism’.


See also:
  • aiREFORM’s FOIA webpage
  • FAA’s Favorite FOIA Exemptions – the exemptions Yglesias argues for have existed for more than fifty years, and are increasingly abused by FAA bureaucrats and others.

Is This Why Hillary ‘Lost Her Tone’ the Other Day?

When she blew up at the Greenpeace activist who asked her a civil question, perhaps it was because she cannot stand the momentum shift? She was once invincible and only waiting through the process until election day. But not anymore. The Bernie Sanders campaign sent out this email today, illustrating the huge momentum shift in the past three weeks:

20160403scp.. winning percentages ID,UT,AK,HI,WA & abroad (email from B.Sanders campaign)

The next big step in the Democratic Primary happens on Tuesday, with the caucus in Wisconsin. For what it is worth, I find the Sanders platform attractive because it resonates deeply with the underlying mission of Aviation Impact REFORM. The Sanders platform emphasis is where it needs to be, aimed at producing long-overdue reforms:

  1. maximum transparency
  2. equitable and just treatment of all people
  3. verifiable accountability of government employees and officials
  4. empowerment of individuals and local communities – give the people the data and information, so they can become meaningfully involved
  5. acceptance of the need to rapidly end our dependence on fossil fuels; i.e., taking actions, including in aviation, to address the emerging climate change crisis.

It seems hard to refute that the political party duopoly in the U.S. is insufferable for its abuse of power and enabling of limitless corruption. This corruption consistently benefits corporations and elite wealth, yet hurts the diminishing middle class … and ALWAYS includes rich kickbacks to the politicians nearest the top of the parties. Like Hillary’s $225,000 Wall Street speeches (and, yes, she really does need to share transcript copies!). And the problem is undeniably bipartisan: all of our recent Presidents – both Bushes, as well as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – have reaped huge rewards by acting as ‘cheerleader-in-chief’ for the establishment, while doing nothing about whistleblower retaliations and agencies that blow off the FOIA laws. Think about it: if Hillary cannot even share a speech transcript, why would she EVER be expected to demand FAA release records that show ATC’s watching movies or concealing controller errors? If she is such a beneficiary friend to corporations, how could she EVER insist on cleaning up the NextGen impacts, or demand an end to excessive airline mergers?

Hillary Clinton has made it quite clear: she plans to emulate the Bushes and Bill and Barack. She plans to extend the failed practices of the corrupted modern U.S. duopoly. So, I hope Bernie Sanders does well in Wisconsin and continues onward to eventually win the nomination, as needed to help us all reclaim the future we are losing.