NextGen: “A Virtual Highway, and the Traffic Never Stops”

A good opinion piece related to NextGen impacts (and ongoing FAA failures) near the Baltimore-Washington Airport [KBWI]. This airport serves as the hub for Southwest, in the DC area (NOTE: the two other major airports serving the DC area are Dulles [KIAD] and Reagan National [KDCA]; United hubs at KIAD, and American dominates at KDCA]. There is some misinformation in the Op/Ed, as happens in a world run by money and set on crafting and pitching propaganda, but they also make some great points.

Here is an archived copy, with aiREFORM footnotes added:

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

URGENT – The SeaTac Hardstand Needs to Be Appealed by July 28th

If there is one matter that people around SeaTac Airport [KSEA] need to focus on right now, it is the urgent deadline, just over a week away, for filing an appeal at King County Superior Court. That appeal, if granted, would force review of POS’s recent SEPA ‘Determination of Non-Significance’, or ‘DNS’, for the so-called ‘Hardstand’ expansion project. What exactly is a DNS? In this case, the DNS is POS’s way of administratively declaring, “oh, we want to enable the airlines to park 6 more airplanes for handling their through-passengers, but this will not increase flights and will have no significant impacts.” Really!?! Hmmm … this determination seems to lack plausibility.

A Closer Look at the Environmental Review Process

The Port of Seattle (POS) has an environmental staff, and one of their duties is to maintain a webpage listing various projects for both NEPA (federal) and SEPA (state) environmental review. People need to understand how these processes flow, and how they are so strongly biased to enable airport over-expansion while creating an illusion that the general public was involved in the process. This Post takes a closer look at the state portion, SEPA.

So, how does the SEPA work in the State of Washington? Probably very much like what has evolved (or devolved??) for environmental review in most states. As has become a common strategy at major airports across the nation, a bunch of paperwork is created, and procedures are ‘checked off’. At the right point in time (usually, immediately after seeing that it looks like all boxes were checked), the airport authority can then simply do what they intended from the start: declare their ‘Determination of Non-Significance’, or ‘DNS’. So long as nobody finds time or money to file an appeal at the courts, it is ‘Game Over’. The airlines (served by the airport authorities) get more expansion, and more profit potential; the airport authority gets a fatter budget and more passenger fee revenues; the controllers see an increase in traffic and may finally nudge past a threshold to get a nice pay raise.

And what about the thousands more residents now awoken by night flights? Not a problem; they were determined by POS to be ‘Not Significant’. And if that seems inaccurate, well, just try to fix it!

In short, it’s a rigged system. No surprises there. So, what do we do about it? Demand the system be improved, and take action to fix what has been done wrong. We all need to get our community leaders to file appeals, before that looming deadline (July 28th).

Here’s a plausible sample letter or email, that defines the concerns we need to communicate to the City Manager and Council Members at Des Moines:

Example of letter for individual use: Request for appeal of POS’s ‘SeaTac Hardstand DNS’
The new ‘Hardstand’ capacity expansion proposal at SeaTac Airport, with all of its implications for increased aircraft support activity and toxic emissions, should be given the consideration of a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS). With all due respect, a determination of non-significance issued by the Port of Seattle does not inspire one with confidence, nor does it guarantee that this project will not further negatively impact the citizens living under and around the concentrated NextGen flight corridors.
Up to this point in time, the Port of Seattle and the FAA have been woefully lacking in following adequate procedures for public notification and transparency regarding airport expansion plans. Their preferred method of operation seems to be fast-tracking, in order to quickly implement changes while minimizing citizen opportunities for comment or input.  A full EIS performed by an impartial entity should be mandated before the Port of Seattle is allowed to proceed with any further expansion.
This airport is already overcrowded, and the schedule has been expanded too far. Please file the necessary appeal.

For reference, the table below lists archived copies of the key documents POS created; they hope to begin construction of the hardstand capacity expansion, later this year.

6/6/2017 SEPA DNS (3pg) [link] .. one odd puzzle about this DNS: it appears to cover only the so-called ‘hardstand holdroom’ building, but not the actual hardstand
6/6/2017 Checklist for SEPA DNS (22pg) [link]
6/21/2017 Comment Period Extension (1pg) [link]
7/7/2017 Final SEPA DNS (6pg) [link] .. declares 7/28 deadline to appeal for review, at King County Superior Court
7/18/2017 ADDENDUM to Final SEPA DNS (2pg) [link]

The Polis Amendment: We Need Local Control of Our Airports!

This Post is about a legislative amendment that is set for review (and hopefully will be adopted?!?) this coming week. Your support is urgently needed, to help restore local authority so that local officials can manage impacts caused by their local airports. A link to help you easily contact your elected representative and encourage their support of HR 2997, is located near the end of this Post. Here’s the background….

The Problem…

We have a problem. A BIG PROBLEM! The system of government in this nation, which was designed to empower individuals and ensure we can work together to prosper and share great lives, has become coopted. Money now controls everything. Aviation offers a concise case study of how bad this has become:

  • the ‘money’ is in the airlines, the manufacturers, the airport authorities, and the industry lobbyists; they spend this money to gain support from FAA and elected officials, to manipulate rules and procedures for their own profits.
  • all of the above have a near-total bias toward expanding airport operations, and a near-total indifference to the impacts that are destroying even historic residential neighborhoods.
  • the environmental costs are not just an inconvenience; the repetitive noise and air pollutants, now being concentrated over new ‘noise ghettoes’ below, create sleep loss, asthma, stress, heart failure, and other serious/fatal medical conditions.
  • citizens who speak up are routinely beaten down; their concerns are diminished and ignored by all authorities; pro-aviation trolls launch attacks via social media; we are led to feel we are ‘against progress’, which is so false (…in fact, we can clearly have moderation and managed impacts that still allow all the real ‘progress’ that an airport can provide – without destroying health & quality of life).
  • when we, as impacted citizens, approach elected officials, we soon learn these so-called ‘representatives’ exist only to fund their next election campaign … and so, they are nearly ALWAYS beholden to industry players; i.e., they will act empathetic and say they are concerned, but their ACTIONS achieve no resolution of our problems. Furthermore, when we look closely at the current Congress, we see that important gatekeepers, such as the Rules Committee, appear to have heavily biased memberships (which, if abused, can be used to summarily dismiss all amendments that do not serve party objectives).
  • when we approach the mainstream media, we quickly see their enormous bias … always in favor of money, always happy to pass on misinformation.
  • when we approach the courts, they too dismiss our concerns.

Given all of this, we could just consider it a lost cause, but we really must guard against that. Instead, let’s pick our strategy carefully, and coordinate our efforts. We have to do this, especially for the next generation.

The Solution…

The very heart of the solution is LOCAL CONTROL. All airports – even O’Hare and Atlanta, the two busiest in the world – ultimately serve the local community. So, why in the world would we let FAA bureaucrats in DC take away the right – and responsibility(!) – of local officials to impose curfew hours, limit operations per hour, and impose other safe and reasonable policies that properly balance airport impacts with airline profit margins? Simply, we WOULD NOT DO THIS. This has happened, only because FAA is a captured regulator; FAA is only pretending to regulate the very industry it serves. And we are the victims, the collateral damages.

This is where the Polis Amendment comes in. Jared Polis, a Congressman representing citizens near the skydiving-noise impact-zone around the Longmont airport, has been working hard to assist those impacted. They have worked for years to get cooperation from Mile Hi, but profitable tandem jumps help the Mile Hi owner, Frank Casares, to refuse to cooperate. Local elected officials feel powerless and defer to FAA, but FAA does nothing… all they want to do is enable aviation commerce, with no regard for the ‘costs’ imposed on others. And so, the problems continue. (click here to view many other aiREFORM articles about Mile Hi and impacts around Longmont)

Here are two recent graphics about the Longmont impacts:

Notice how the climbs are routinely done a few miles AWAY from the actual airport. This helps keep airport neighbors from complaining; it also dumps noise pollution on distant neighbors, many of whom are unaware why they keep hearing so many planes. (click on image to view source tweet)

The shifting of skydiving climbs away from the airport is not only a dumping of noise pollution, it is also DANGEROUS: other pilots, flying through the area, will have a much harder time spotting the skydive aircraft when they are not within a couple miles of the target airport. (click on image to view source tweet)

The Polis Amendment seeks to add text to the FAA Reauthorization Bill (HR 2997), to explicitly restore Local Control of GA Airports (i.e., at General Aviation airports that primarily serve recreational pilots). HR 2997 is also known as the ’21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act’, or AIRR, and is being pushed by Bill Shuster, along with lobbyist A4A, the airlines, and officials like Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. The ‘Reform’ part is a cruel joke; these reforms will only further empower corporate greed, while disempowering us individual citizens. The bill is working its way up to a final vote by the House. The process this week includes getting the amendment approved by the Rules Committee (probably in a meeting on Monday), then proceeding to discussion (probably Wednesday) and eventually for final debate on the House floor.

Here is a copy of the text, proposed for addition at the end of Title VI (Miscellaneous):

So, people who can see […and hear, and BREATHE(!) the impacts of unmitigated aviation…] all need to be heard this week. Contact your elected representative, and let them know why they need to support the Polis Amendment, why WE NEED to restore local control of our LOCAL airports.

This is the first step. Eventually, local control also needs to include empowering the hundreds of thousands of residents impacted under concentrated NextGen routes, to have a real voice – and the democratic authority – to impose curfews, hourly operations limits and other capacity management restrictions that best serve the local community. Every great journey starts with a single step, and local control at GA airports needs support even from those of us who live in the new noise ghettoes FAA is creating, via NextGen.

Take Action, Please!

Please contact your elected representative. Here’s a handy link to identify your rep:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

For further information, please see this petition at Change.org. This is an excellent petition, laying out the goals for resolving all sorts of aviation impacts across the nation. The petition proposes the following seven elements for the 2017 FAA Reauthorization, now being considered by Congress:

  1. Update noise metrics used to evaluate significant exposure.
  2. Require environmental impact reviews prior to flight path changes.
  3. Mandate a robust and transparent community engagement process, including pre-decisional public hearings, for any new or modified flight paths or “flight boxes.”
  4. Restore local control over airport operations.
  5. Remove the FAA from oversight of environmental quality and public health.
  6. Mandate robust data collection and analysis of aviation noise and other pollutants near airports.
  7. Ban flights over and within 2 miles of designated noise sensitive areas.

FAA and Port of Seattle: Leading Us in a Global ‘Race to the Bottom’

Rose Bridger’s latest paper takes a close look at Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Practically speaking, SEZs are an evolved form of entities such as the Port of Seattle, which was a special authority created by the state of Washington, when the Port District Act was passed back in 1911. These entities are designed to empower players who are wealthy and politically connected, while also insulating these players from both accountability and transparency. SEZs are typically supported by governments, and these days often are done in ‘public-private partnership’ with multi-national corporations.
SEZs generally subsidize the major players with:

  • …use of state authority to sieze lands – frequently productive farmland; this is part of the global land-grabbing phenomenon that is displacing rural and indigenous people.
  • …public funding of infrastructure, including airport construction, utilities and surface transportation networks.
  • …allocation of land and other essential resources; and,
  • …of course, generous tax breaks.

Across the globe, thousands of airport-linked SEZs have been developed. These are a form of deregulation targetted at benefitting big-business, and they frequently seed rampant cronyism. The rates and laws within SEZs differ from the surrounding areas; tax breaks and other incentives aim to narrowly benefit investors, while simultaneously aiding the incumbency of elected officials. However, due to weak linkages with the host economy, the benefits of SEZs often fail to extend beyond the boundaries of the designated enclaves. Also, foregone tax revenues put a strain on local government coffers. Non-resident investors take advantage of these tax breaks, but often eventually relocate to alternative sites offering even more generous perks. When this happens, the SEZs languish as useless white elephants. And the impacts upon local residents tend to be negative and extreme: destroyed communities, blighted ‘noise ghettoes’, sleep loss and stress, and diminished health caused by aviation air pollution.

Here’s a PDF copy of Rose’s latest paper (23-pages):

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

In her conclusion, Rose notes:

“New airport linked economic zones bring the short-term certainties of massive government expenditure on infrastructure and lucrative contracts for construction firms….”
“Airport-linked economic zones accelerate the global ‘race to the bottom’ by providing geographically defined areas where deregulation and tax breaks, to serve the interests of big business, are maximised. The new economic zones must also be viewed within the context of broader economic justice concerns of tax breaks for aviation set to benefit investors, in particular the almost universal tax exemption of aviation fuel for international flights. Allocation of land assets to airports for generation of non-aeronautical revenue is another form of subsidy. Monetisation of airport land banks is accelerating worldwide as aerotropolis style development gathers pace.”

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.

Rose Bridger’s Latest Paper Looks at Aviation Abuses in Indonesia


The imbalance of power between aviation and local residents is troubling. In the United States, we commonly see where the federal regulator, FAA, ‘collaborates’ with airport authorities, airlines, operators and other industry players to run roughshod over local communities. Aviation profits are always profusely accommodated, nearly always with substantial costs to people and the environment: natural habitat is destroyed, quality of life is diminished, and people are exposed to more air pollutants, including carcinogens.

Across the planet, some of the most egregious aviation injustices are happening where state authorities are enabling industry expansions against the will of local residents, sometimes even large population areas. When people in the U.S. rise up to fix aviation impacts, they rarely have to deal with lines of cops. They deal instead with a wall of unaccountable bureaucrats; people who make their money by supporting aviation expansion; people who routinely lie, distort, and even antagonize the much better people who are responsibly seeking to fix the aviation impacts; people who play ‘hot potato’, claiming they lack authority so “…gee, check with the other guy.”

Is it fair to say that, in either form, this amounts to state terrorism? If burdens are imposed and rights taken, be they by gun or billy club or categorical exclusion, does it really matter how graphically extortive the process is? Nobody may be killed or even injured (a good thing!), yet many bodies (and minds) incur great costs for the narrow benefits created. Farmland is taking and people are dislocated (see this example in rural Minnesota). All of this is enabled by federal agencies that pretend to enforce safety and manage aviation, but more truthfully just offers cover for industry players to abuse people. In the United States, in Indonesia, and across the planet.

How Do People Regain Power?

When dealing with unaccountable bureaucrats (especially those at FAA and various airport authorities), it’s always a good idea to learn as much as you can. Study what is happening elsewhere. See how others are making progress. Identify the framing that YOU need to impose on the issues; if we allow FAA/industry to frame the issues and implement faux-solutions like time-wasting workgroups, we only guarantee that the problems will persist, never to be resolved.

Rose Bridger, UK author of Plane Truth: Aviation’s Real Impact on People and the Environment, is one person whose works are well worth studying. Rose continues to be a prolific advocate for people and the environment. She has just published a new insightful study: Aviation expansion in Indonesia: Tourism, land struggles, economic zones and aerotropolis projects. Here is an archived copy:

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


UPDATE, 6/14/2017: — per a GAAM email update: The report contains a map showing all the airport locations and maps of two airport sites, and accompanies GAAM’s interactive digital map: Aviation Expansion in Indonesia which features all the airports that are mentioned, integrating spatial information with text and images. For paper copies of the report, please contact: Third World Network, 131 Jalan Macalister, 10400 Penang, Malaysia, Tel: 60-4-2266728/2266159, Fax: 60-4-2264505, Email: twn@twnetwork.org.

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:

Queens Quiet Skies: Latest Newsletter Offers Great Insight into FAA’s NextGen Failures

Janet McEneaney is President of Queens Quiet Skies, a group advocating for relief from aviation noise impacts related to both the LaGuardia [KLGA] and Kennedy [KJFK] airports. These are two of the three major airports that serve the NYC area. FAA’s full capitulation to the airlines, to expand flight schedules beyond what these airports can accommodate, has not only created terrible impacts that are destroying communities, but is also the root cause of nearly all delays in the U.S. ATC system. In other words, if FAA simply chose to apply rational capacity discipline on the NYC airports, system delays would be massively reduced.

Janet makes some excellent points in her latest update email to QQS members. A PDF copy has been created, with active links to the referenced materials. Hopefully this will help other aviation impact activists to learn about what FAA/industry are doing, why NextGen is failing, how workgroups tend to become coopted/steered by FAA/industry, and more.

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

BTW, Janet has been a great activist on this issue, for years. Read more here.

Also, archived copies of the documents linked within the QQS update may be accessed via these links:

Santa Monica is Failing Their Promise to Shorten the Runway

A big event happens tomorrow night (May 24th), when the Santa Monica City Council holds a Special Session with major airport-related items. Here are some key links:

It has been four full months now, since the ‘surprise’ press announcement of a Consent Decree between FAA and the City. No progress has been made. FAA had approved, and the city promised, an immediate runway shortening, but now we are seeing the City dilly dally with lots of money to consultants to create reports that defy common sense while making unsupported claims that prolong the status quo impacts.

The City hired consultants to study options for shortening the runway to 3,500-ft, as allowed now by FAA. Documents indicate the consultant delivered a report with four options, but for whatever reason, the City stripped two of those options out and is proceeding to pretend only two options are viable. These two options alone were shared with the Public a few weeks ago (the existence of the other two options were only revealed in the last few days, after City posted documents related to the 5/24 agenda; see links above).

Frankly, it looks like City is playing a drawn-out delay game. It also looks like City is ignoring the health of the citizens of Santa Monica and nearby West LA neighborhoods. Even the City of Los Angeles should be pressing hard on this matter: to protect their citizens, they should be demanding that Santa Monica quit the dilly dallying and shorten the runway … NOW!!

The City owns the airport, and the City owns the runway itself. With that ownership, the City carries risks and liabilities. At this or any airport, if a runway is dangerous – too close to homes, or even too close to hangars as at Santa Monica, where people died in the last fiery airport crash – the airport authority needs to restrict operations for safety. If only to manage their risk exposure, all airport authorities should have the right to deny access of larger aircraft to substandard runways – especially commercial operations such as charter jets.

The biggest progressive step this year, as declared by the Consent Decree, is that FAA has finally backed down just a bit, and is letting the City manage the KSMO runway. City airport officials should use this restored authority to do as they say: immediately close the northeast portion of Runway 21, making it illegal for any aircraft to touch the asphalt.

Likewise, at the southwest end of the runway, City needs to take full advantage of the existing taxiways and simply close to operational use the roughly 450-feet of runway between the existing runway end and the first set of crossing taxiways (A1 & B1).

City could have done this in late January. That they have done nothing strongly suggests that City has a different and unspoken motive. The City, managed by Rick Cole, along with the airport office and under the guidance of the City Council, is not really trying to mitigate the severe impacts on hundreds of homes within the Runway Protection Zones (RPZs). The City is not honoring the clear request of the citizens who passed Measure LC with a wide margin, back in 2014 – a measure which demanded closure as soon as possible, and which also prohibited commercial use of any land reclaimed from aviation use in the future.

Also, notably, the most severe impacts at this airport are by small- to medium-sized charter jet and bizjet operations, often carrying just one wealthy person. These elites are inflicting an extraordinary negative impact on Santa Monica residents’ quality of life, simply because they will not be inconvenienced. They could instead fly out of much safer and less impactful airports such as LAX, Burbank, or Van Nuys, which like most U.S. airports, have no homes within their runway RPZs. They could do this, but they choose not to … and FAA and the City allow this injustice to continue.

Many have picked up on this story. No Jets Santa Monica Airport posted this great analysis on FaceBook:

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

Similar concerns have been posted by Ben Wang, at SMO Future. There are a lot of good people around Santa Monica, like Martin Rubin, who have devoted multiple decades to restore local quality of life and protect health. These are good people, who have fought for a just resolution of the noise and air pollutant impacts. It looks as though FAA and a few of the current City leaders are just trying to wear them out. FAA’s intransigence, and the corruptibility of selected Santa Monica officials, has ensured no meaningful progress in all these decades.

These are but a few of the people at the forefront of the movement by the majority of Santa Monica residents, who simply want to control and close the airport .. and they need to control it for their health. They are vocal activists, but they are not the only residents who find this is a major issue. These vocal activists represents the opinions – and the votes – of probably 5,000 Santa Monicans each. This is why there have been surprisingly long public comment sessions at City Council meetings when an airport issue has come up. The citizens have a network that lets them know when to come out in force to voice their opinions. Every day, more and more citizens are learning exactly which City Council members are secretly pro-airport. A clear story has emerged. The people will vote-out the now exposed pro-airport insiders.

This all has to change. If this does not change, we really do not have any functioning Democracy.


UPDATE, 6/1/2017:Written Public Comments, submitted to the City (copy posted by CRAAP, 89p)

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.