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.

An Exchange of Letters, Proposing Michael Huerta’s Removal

A New York area citizen, enduring years of unmitigated (and even expanding!) aviation noise impacts exacerbated by FAA’s ‘unmitigated capture by industry’, recently sent letters to both DoT Secretary Anthony Foxx and President Barack Obama. Both letters point to the ongoing failures by FAA, as well as a recent DoT-IG report: ‘FAA Reforms Have Not Achieved Expected Cost, Efficiency, and Modernization Outcomes’ (34p, 1/15/2016). Both letters also called for these top officials to “…find someone who is really responsive to citizen complaints coming from Phoenix, Palm Springs, Chicago, Boston, & New York and replace Michael Huerta…” and to “…remove Michael Huerta and replace him with someone who cares for more than just throughput and efficiency.”

Here are copies of the letters, shared with aiREFORM. Highlights were added, and the citizen’s personal info redacted. The first letter, dated January 25, is to Secretary Foxx:20160125.. (redacted) letter to DoT.A.Foxx (1p)

The second letter, dated February 10, elevated the issue to President Obama:201602010.. (redacted) letter to Pres.B.Obama, need to replace FAA.M.Huerta (1p)

Evidently, a pair of letters crossed in the mail. Secretary Foxx’s office staff forwarded the letter to FAA, directing that someone respond to the citizen. A letter with an illegible signature was sent from FAA’s Office of Environment & Energy, dated February 9:

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

The content of the FAA response letter is telling. You will note the text is extraordinarily framed to say nothing and do nothing; ‘bureaucratese’, precisely deployed so as to demoralize the letter recipient. Sadly, these days, people everywhere in our nation get this sort of treatment; this is how FAA (and other agencies) routinely treat the good citizens, those who care and act responsibly to try and solve ongoing problems that FAA refuses to address. Is it any wonder, than, that so many people are so outraged these days, across the whole spectrum, from progressive to conservative?

For a closer analysis of FAA’s response letter, identifying cut-and-paste response elements that are routinely sent to citizens, click here.

Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego Introduces ‘FAA Community Accountability Act’

20151105scp.. Rep.R.Gallego Introduces FAA Community Accountability Act

(click on image to view Press Release at Representative Gallego’s congressional website)

The FAA Community Accountability Act, introduced today, would:

  1. establish a new process to compel the FAA to reconsider existing flight routes that are exposing residents to unacceptably high levels of aviation noise;
  2. end the presumption under current law that flight paths implemented through the NextGen program may not follow pre-existing routes, even when these paths better reflect land use around the airport;
  3. designate a Community Ombudsmen to serve as effective, independent voices for airport communities within the agency;
  4. prevent the FAA from bypassing the environmental review process for new flight paths over the objections of local communities.

The original cosponsors (listed geographically) include:

  • Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)
  • Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ)
  • Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA)
  • Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL)
  • Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL)
  • Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA)
  • Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA)
  • Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY)
  • Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY)
  • Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY)
  • Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY)
  • Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY)
  • Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA)
  • Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)

Here are some of the comments made during the introduction (emphasis added by aiReform.com):

Rep. Ruben Gallego – “Last September, the FAA altered flight paths for aircrafts departing from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport. The changes were made without meaningful input or consultation with community members or civic leaders, and have caused severe noise disruptions that have lowered the quality of life for many members of my community. My bill would help address this problem in Phoenix and make sure that other communities across the country don’t suffer the same consequences of the FAA’s opaque decision-making process.”
Rep. Steve Israel (NY) – “Airplane noise continues to have a negative impact on the lives of my constituents in Queens and Nassau county. This bill will ensure that residents affected by airplane noise have a voice in urging the FAA to reconsider placing these noisy flight paths over their homes and communities.”
Rep. Mike Quigley (IL) – “My constituents back home in Chicago are facing unprecedented noise pollution from passing aircraft that is eroding their quality of life, lowering their property values, and impacting their health. But this is clearly not just a Chicago issue. Communities across the country are experiencing increased airplane noise, and it’s time for the FAA to be more accountable and responsive to their concerns. I’m proud to introduce the FAA Community Accountability Act with my colleagues to ensure that the voices of our constituents are heard before any changes to flight paths are considered.”
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ) – “Phoenix residents have every right to be frustrated, not only by disruptive noise from new flight paths but by the FAA’s unwillingness to listen. It shouldn’t have taken congressional action to find a solution, but if that’s what it takes then we’ll fight for these folks until the FAA is responsive and accountable.”
Rep. Don Beyer (VA) – “Our communities deserve greater input in the FAA’s processes to minimize airplane noise. I am proud to join Congressman Gallego in urging the FAA to be more inclusive in considering the impact of its flight paths”
Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY) – “Unfortunately, aircraft noise pollution isn’t merely a nuisance – it poses health risks, disrupts student learning and drowns out the joys of daily life. Our airports will never be perfect neighbors, but we can certainly work to make them better ones. I’m proud to join Congressman Gallego in sponsoring this much-needed legislation that will go a long way in helping communities impacted by aircraft noise.”
Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (MA) – “Many of the towns and neighborhoods that I represent are close to Logan Airport and the residents in our area have faced a huge increase in airplane noise and a total lack of responsiveness from the FAA. Some of these citizens and taxpayers have 500 planes fly directly over their homes each day – and they deserve to have their voices heard and they are entitled to some relief. I am proud to cosponsor Congressman Gallego’s bill, which will demand accountability and create a dialogue between these affected communities and the FAA.”
Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (CA) – New flight paths associated with implementation of the FAA’s NextGen satellite-based navigation program have caused major increases in aircraft noise. For thousands of Americans, including so many throughout my congressional district, a family conversation at the dinner table, sitting outside, or trying to sleep have all been disrupted because of the roar of jet engines overhead. I’m proud to be part of the effort to resolve this untenable situation by introducing the FAA Community Accountability Act, which requires the FAA to work with local communities and limit noise impacts when planning and implementing new flight paths with NextGen. This legislation can mitigate unacceptable high levels of aircraft noise while continually modernizing our aviation system.”

This proposed legislation appears to be a very good step forward, needed to bring FAA and the airlines under control on their ‘out-of-control’ NextGen implementations. More elected officials need to advocate on behalf of the millions of people adversely impacted by NextGen.

Has YOUR Congressional representative signed on in support? For contact information, be sure to see the original press release at Representative Gallego’s website, or use this link and your zip code.