Trump, Climate Change, and ATC Privatization

It was not surprising to see President Trump pull out of the Paris Agreement last week. Nor was it surprising to see how he bumbled his way through the process. This is the stuff that inspires confidence in U.S. leadership (NOT!!).

The analysis done by John Oliver is brilliant. Here is an embed of the video. He does quite a bit to explain the carbon dioxide issue, the Paris Agreement, and what is so boneheaded about what our president just did. Check it out.

Now, that was last week. What’s in store for this week? Though Comey is set to testify later in the week, we are all supposed to be watching Trump and airline CEOs ‘trumpet’ the virtues of privatizing ATC. Great idea, no? I mean, just go ahead and let the airlines dominate ATC and what could possibly go wrong?

  • Would we do better to ensure airport hub expansions are balanced with residential quality of life and health concerns? NO
  • Will local communities become more empowered to ensure their local airport best serves the needs of their local residents? NO
  • Will the airlines allow an aviation carbon-tax to follow, so that aviation’s growing contribution to the climate change problem becomes moderated? NO
  • Will airline industry CEOs take advantage of their increased power to rent-seek, sucking more money out of passengers to spend on their pet projects? YES

Nothing will happen that diminishes industry profits. Oligarchy/Corporatocracy is our stark reality today. Trump and his buddies have money to make; to hell with the future planet our grandchildren inherit.

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:

MHFC: The 8PM Arrivals to Boston were ‘Quite an Airshow’ on May 24th

An incredible airshow: Michael Huerta’s Flying Circus.

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

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

A FlightAware screencap, showing a gaggle of arrivals to KBOS; flight tags added by aiREFORM (click on image to view original Facebook post)

This Analysis looks at a series of arrivals to Logan [KBOS], the commercial hub airport in Boston. A Milton resident had posted the above image at Save Milton Skies on Facebook, so aiREFORM went to FlightAware and compiled a collection of screen captures for this unusually messed up arrival flow. The images are presented in a scrollable PDF.

There are 16 arrivals in 27 minutes; that equates to 9 arrivals per 15-minutes, or an average spacing of 1.7-minutes between flights. This is a rate that should be easily achieved, even if all flights were being routed to a single runway. All arrivals (except one) landed on Runway 4L; the one exception was a Boeing 787-900 arriving from London, that apparently needed a longer runway. Runway 4R was unavailable – NOTAM’d closed for a month of maintenance work.

Between this and other MHFC examples, and the many lawsuits against FAA precipitated by NextGen implementation, sometimes it feels as though FAA is intentionally doing a poor job. If FAA fails enough, do they increase the likelihood of Shuster pushing through legislation that takes ATC out of FAA and makes it a private corporate entity? Would ATC privatization actually reward FAA personnel, who would still collect the federal pensions they earned, but would also be able to operate with even more opacity and without Congressional oversight?

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

How can FAA prevent such inefficiencies?

  1. Spend more effort managing arrival flows, and implement lower arrival rates.
  2. Encourage airport authorities to impose airport fees that disincentivize hubbing.
  3. Pressure the airlines to schedule fewer flights and user larger seat capacities; the nostalgia value of 10-seaters to/from Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Hagerstown are not worth the environmental costs they help create.

Each of these proposals would improve both safety and efficiency.

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)

Live Today: Yet Another Dog-and-Pony Show

Bill Shuster is at it again: trying to ramrod the massive giveaway of the U.S. ATC system to private interests, dominated by the four remaining major airlines (American, Delta, Southwest, and United). Today’s dog-and pony show includes Paul Rinaldi, president of the controllers’ union NATCA. Why would NATCA want privatization? Primarily for selfish money reasons. ATC has a mandatory retirement age of 56, and the lifting of this age-limit will greatly enhance the already quite substantial retirement pensions for those like Rinaldi who are imminently eligible to retire. The new ‘ATC Inc.’ would also have plenty of freedom to payback Rinaldi and other retiring controllers, who will be able to supplement fat federal pensions (those will be sustained, after all) with very rich consulting work. And where will all the money come from to do this? You, and me. Air travelers will still pay large fees and taxes, which will be collected as if they are a federal tax, but will be spent by a private entity, controlled by the airlines.

FAA and their Av-Gov Complex partners will call this ‘collaboration’; rational people will shake their heads and say, No, this is crony capitalism. On steroids.”

Here is a link to the livestream, which supposedly can also be used to watch the video later, starting at 10AM EDT: https://youtu.be/h6XTbApeO-M

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

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.

Scary on So Many Levels

(click on image to view USAToday article about the magazine cover)

New Yorker magazine is famous for its cover images, such as this one: Trump watching, in full-pout mode, while Sessions drags Comey off the plane. And, the citizens sit, obediently quiet, in their plastic seats, distracted by their devices and programmed toward suppressing and internally denying their outrage.

The same dynamics are at play in communities impacted by FAA’s fraudulent NextGen program, and by FAA’s enabling of impactful activities at places like Santa Monica and Longmont. More and more local residents are speaking up and organizing to protect their families, homes and neighborhoods. Yet, similarly, they run into so many neighbors who are afraid to share the outrage, who instead incline toward silence and distraction.

The architecture of our aviation system and our airplanes – the very geometry that defines how we sit on a commercial passenger flight – hints at how deeply corrupted our political system has become. A nation that for centuries has proudly pointed toward individual liberties and responsibilities, now sits mostly silent while money sets the houses on fire. We sit. Silently obedient, pretending a respect for authority that disrespects humanity.

Oh, and Happy Mothers’ Day to everyone! Let’s make our Moms proud and clean up this mess!!

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.

Maryland Governor’s Great Letter Demands FAA Revert to Ease NextGen Impacts

This is a great letter. It precisely defines the NextGen problems, points out FAA’s casual indifference that only delays while sustaining these impacts, and all but demands that FAA revert to pre-NextGen procedures until the problems are corrected. The Governor and his Chief of Staff should be proud to post this, as it shows a proper focus, serving real people ahead of corporations.

(click on image to view source and video at Baltimore Sun)

The only thing that will improve this letter is the follow through. I.e., at some point, when FAA continues to fail, requests must become demands. Concern must morph into outrage. Not just in Maryland, but everywhere, and for every instance of FAA impacts upon local communities: from Boston to San Diego, and at places like Santa Monica and Longmont, too.

If our leaders continue their general aversion to showing outrage and demanding reform, we will only continue to slide deeper into the new realm: a corporatocracy that produces profits, narrowly enjoyed by an elite few, while growing negative impacts – the diminishment of health and loss of quality of life – are born by a wide swath of citizens.

Thank you, Governor Hogan, for recognizing this is unacceptable, and demanding FAA reform NextGen.