One of the only major U.S. airports growing right now serves the Seattle area, Sea-Tac [KSEA]. While most other U.S. airports remain flat or in decline, Sea-Tac is growing simply because Delta Airlines chose to build up a new hub there in 2012. Time will show other Delta hubs (KSLC, KMSP, KDTW) will diminish to feed the excess of flights to KSEA, where areas even 20-miles from the runway are now getting far more noise and pollutant impact.
Here is the announcement by Quiet Skies Puget Sound, a group of impacted residents who have had enough and are coming together, activating to fix this mess at Sea-Tac, pressing elected officials to serve, and FAA and other authorities to become transparent and accountable:
(click on image to view event announcement and learn more)
And, here are two slides from the conclusion of the aiREFORM presentation, to be given tonight at this community forum:
The problem is a broken and corrupted culture at FAA, enabling abuses upon people by money-interests in the aviation industry. This is a widespread problem, extending far beyond Sea-Tac’s impact zone. The entire aiREFORM presentation will be posted online in the near future.
(click on image to hear the Dr. Dao portion of Emil’s podcast )
On a Sunday before Easter, when Dr. David Dao was flying home from LA through O’Hare to Louisville, KY, he became the latest in an endless stream of victims of airline abuse. He was seated on a United feeder (Republic Airlines flight #3411) when the airline decided to bump four passengers, so four extra crew members could fly to Louisville for duty the next day. Dr. Dao, with patients to see on Monday, calmly and firmly refused to surrender his seat. The airline then called in airport security and he was forcibly removed, with his face smashed into a seat-arm, before being dragged off the plane. Dr. Dao, who escaped during the fall of Vietnam as a young adult, lost two teeth. Many passengers used their cellphones to capture shocking video of the entire debacle, and it all went viral.
Appropriately, legal counsel was engaged. A press conference was held on April 13, led by attorney Thomas Demetrio. The video is well worth a listen; here’s an embed, and a couple quotes:
At time 4:11, Demetrio states: “I have concluded the following: that, for a long time, airlines – United in particular – have bullied us. They have treated us less than maybe we deserve.”
At time 4:48, Demetrio continues: “Here’s what we want as a society: we want fairness in how people treat us, we want respect, and we want dignity. That’s it. Not a big deal. But just treat us with respect; make us feel like you really care.”
Fairness. Respect. Dignity.
What happened at Chicago, to Dr. Dao, was horrific. He was maltreated, even to the point of violence. No fairness, no respect, and no dignity. This was a gross failure, made worse by the bumbling of a profit-focused airline CEO, and enabled by a faux-regulator captured to serve only industry.
Yes, we need and deserve fairness, respect, and dignity. But, the same applies not just to our rights as passengers, but also to our rights – and responsibilities – as homeowners and employees (teachers and medical professionals, especially). We all deserve to have our environment respectfully protected, so that our families and those we serve can have the highest possible quality of life. But, today’s U.S. airline industry, collaborating with FAA, has come to a point where they routinely and aggressively abuse people, bullying passengers off flights, and destroying neighborhoods that used to be livable.
This terrible incident has unfolded in no small part because people used everyday technologies to share what the industry works hard to hide. The agency that oversees the industry has thus far said and done nothing to assure us, we are right to be shocked. Right to be shocked about the torture of Dr. Dao to accommodate crew who could have taken a company car or another flight, and right to be shocked by FAA’s wanton abuse of authority to impose NextGen impacts that are destroying neighborhoods… solely to tweak airline profits up a bit.
The balance between commerce and community is lost. It needs to be restored, immediately. If Mr. Huerta is not going to stand up and speak up about Dr. Dao’s abuse, he needs to sit down and let someone else serve THE PEOPLE.
Here’s a letter-to-editor that concisely summarizes the impacts NextGen is causing upon residents of Milton, under the arrival paths into Boston’s Logan Airport [KBOS]:
(click on image to view source Facebook post)
The problems around Boston are repeated across the nation, and they are expanding as FAA continues to push NextGen. The alleged benefits of NextGen are fraudulently overstated, while the costs are cautiously hidden. And the entire reason for FAA’s pushing NextGen?
It is not about helping the environment; that’s just a cynical façade. NextGen is solely about increasing ‘runway throughput’, by eliminating any and all barriers that reduce airport capacity as measured in arrivals per hour.
FAA is failing to serve the public because they serve only the industry. FAA refuses to manage capacity, and has stolen away the rights of local officials to mitigate impacts with curfews, flow rate restrictions, and other measures. The airlines get profits; the residents get the shaft – sleep loss, stress, and many other health impacts.
Three current satellite views that illustrate how different nations balance aviation commerce with residential quality of life. The images also show how backwards the U.S. FAA has become, with the widening failures to protect people from aviation impacts.
The first image shows Austria’s largest airport, Vienna International Airport, which serves a metropolitan area with a population of 2.6 million. The airport is 11-miles southeast of the urban center, and surrounding by farmland. This airport was a recent news splash, when a federal court ruled against the addition of a third runway, on the grounds it would prevent Austria from achieving carbon-reduction goals associated with the Paris climate agreement.
The second image shows Portland International Airport [KPDX], in Oregon, which serves a metropolitan area quite comparable to Vienna (with an estimated 2.4 million residents). The airport is 6-miles northeast of the urban core; the land was formerly agricultural but has generally been industrialized and commercialized, often after the regional port authority uses federal funds to buy up adjacent properties.
The third image shows what may be the worst example of FAA obstructing local control, forcing noise and air pollution upon a densely developed residential community: Santa Monica, California [KSMO]. No farmland, and no other buffers to protect residents, with houses literally just past the runway ends. People have had fences and lawn furniture knocked down by the blast of private jets, and even charter jets carrying just one VIP passenger. The noise and the exposure to toxic lead and carbon soot is far beyond what is found at even much busier hub airports. FAA has allowed the airport to continue to operate despite effectively having no safety buffers, to protect both aircraft occupants and aircraft neighbors. The fiery crash that killed four in September 2013 is an example of how critical it is for jets to have ample clear space, to keep everyone safe.
Operationally, Portland and Vienna are quite similar. The Vienna airport website includes a news release noting there were 226K operations in CY-2016.FAA’s ATADS-OPSNET database notes that Portland International had 228K operations in CY-2016. One distinct difference, though, is that the Viennese traffic is stable, while the Portland traffic has steadily declined for two decades, and is now down 31% from peak year 1997.
Santa Monica is most famous as the airport where Harrison Ford hangars his toys; his playtime, even when it involves forced landings on golf courses and nearly hitting a commercial jet while failing to land on the Orange County runway, is more important than the health and happiness of thousands of residents. So, the same federal regulator that expends thousands of hours impeding local control and a safer SMO airport, would never even dream of clipping the wings of Mr. Ford.
This is a no-brainer: FAA needs to let local officials close KSMO, or at least disallow jets. The main impediment to cleaning this up is Michael Huerta’s FAA. If he cannot get his captured employees to do their jobs, he needs to leave.
FAA is presently being sued by groups across the nation, due to their botched NextGen implementation. It looks like another lawsuit may be initiated, seeking relief for residents in Bethesda, MD. See the Bethesda Magazine article (archived copy below, in a scrollable PDF).
Essentially, what is happening is FAA is tweaking upward the number of operations handled at Washington National Airport [KDCA], to enable four airlines (American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest) to schedule heavier arrival and departure pushes. To facilitate this, FAA got Congress to pass legislation in early 2012 that eliminated the requirement to do real environmental assessments (this is the infamous ‘CATEX’ issue; click here to see documentation of a CATEX example impacting residents near LaGuardia).
Using CATEX to approve and implement NextGen procedures has turned out to be a huge failure. The root failure is that FAA’s DNL noise metric does not capture the very real and damaging noise impacts caused by repetitive flights passing one after another at low altitudes, using automation to track the same narrow path. This narrow route concentration is very clearly indicated in the graphics, within the article below. The repetitive noises go on for days and even weeks on end; people suffer sleep loss and elevated blood pressure, and some may be going crazy, but their problems are all dismissed by FAA. Oddly, FAA insists that by averaging those weeks over the entire calendar year, no damages are done ‘on average’. This is sort of a variation of a bad strategy for abating pollution: “the solution to pollution is dilution.”
The graphics in this article appear to depict the pre-NextGen and post-NextGen departure tracks. Montgomery County is concerned about the intense concentration for north flow departures heading northeast to NYC and Boston, etc.; the NextGen RNAV departure begins a right turn over the RNAV fix named ALEEX (Cabin John Parkway and I-495), then passes DOGUE (roughly 2-miles NW of the Mormon Temple), inundating North Bethesda. Similarly, residents in the Fort Hunt neighborhoods of Virginia are impacted, because the new RNAV departure procedure in south flow turns west at lower altitudes, roughly two miles north of Mt. Vernon … instead of climbing another couple miles southbound over the Potomac River. Again, all to save the airlines a smidgeon of money, while shifting a heavier noise and pollutant cost onto previously peaceful residential communities. The people below are frustrated not just because the noise pattern persists for hours on end (and can repeat each day for weeks on end), but also because they are trying to squeeze accountability out of one of the most intransigent and insensitive federal bureaucracies ever to exist: today’s FAA.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
The Larger Picture
On a national scale, FAA is facilitating hub concentration (see this aiReform Post). Each of the hub-growth airports is also not just seeing a larger number of flights, but the flights are serving a higher percentage of through-passengers, who never even leave the airport terminal. And, for each of these few growing hub airports, other airports are in sharp decline. So, as KDCA grows, there is a shift of flights away from Washington-Dulles [KIAD] and Baltimore-Washington [KBWI]; Dulles is now down 47% from peak traffic year (2005), and BWI is now down 23% from peak traffic year (2001). This is precisely the problem that is growing at a tiny few other major U.S. hub airports, such as Seattle [KSEA] (where Delta is rapidly expanding its schedule) and at both Kennedy [KJFK] and LaGuardia [KLGA] in the New York City area. The KSEA hub expansion is diminishing Portland [KPDX] (down 31% from peak traffic year 1997) and Salt Lake City [KSLC] (down 30% from peak traffic year 2005). In the NYC area, Southwest is expanding while gutting service at Islip [KISP] (down 48% from peak traffic year 2000) American expansion has all but eliminated the use of Pittsburgh [KPIT] as a hub (down 69% from peak traffic year 1997); Delta expansion has all but eliminated the use of Cincinnati [KCVG] as a major airline hub (down 73% from peak traffic year 2004).
NextGen route concentration, caused by autopilot use of RNAV routes, is a serious impact that FAA chooses to totally ignore. Think about it: wherever you live, chances are that any aircraft flying through is not noticeable so long as it is roughly 2-miles or more away from directly overhead. In the case of Bethesda, the pre-NextGen dispersal of departures meant each resident below was subjected to randomized and irregular noise events; but, post-NextGen, the noise events are concentrated and repetitive, like a Chinese dripping water torture.
An 1860 photograph of an actual water torture, used by prison authorities to drive Sing Sing prisoners insane. (source: The Burns Archive, via Wikipedia)
Of course, this picture reflects the attitudes and values of our nation in 1860. Today, we have technologies that can benefit us, enhancing quality of life … but only if we manage them intelligently.
FAA and other industry players have been using some incredibly phony sales pitches for well over a decade now, in their coordinated effort to sell NextGen as ‘transformational’. One of those false pitch points is the claim that NextGen will do away with commercial flights flying zig-zag routes across the nation, from one electronic navaid to the next. Readers are led to believe that today’s air navigation is constrained by these locations, and a lot of people get fooled, simply because the vast majority of us are not trained and employed in a way that would cause us to know better. Well, today’s air navigation is NOTconstrained that way, and frankly has not been so constrained for many decades. Even as early as the 1970s, entire airline fleets were configured for direct navigation using inertial navigation systems, followed by many new and improved systems including Omega, Loran, GPS, etc.
It’s a fact, and an embarrassment on FAA, that for each of the airspace redesigns in recent years, FAA and contractors have created thousands of pages of slick documentation… and every documentation package, for each airspace redesign, has at least one copy of this image (or a close variation):
The graphic clearly implies that ‘current’ navigation is via zigzags over navaids. All you have to do is study actual flight routes, at a website like Flightaware. Everyday, multiple websites upload data for tens of thousands of U.S. commercial flights; for each of those days, you could spend a week or longer reviewing every individual flight history, and chances are you would NOTfind even one flight wasting time and energy on navaid-to-navaid zigzags.
So, it looks like all that propaganda is now taking a big victim: even the esteemed Wall Street Journal now believes we need NextGen to advance us past airplanes that ‘bounce from one radio point to the next…’!
FAA’s PBN Brochure – this is the slick brochure marking what appears to be the start of FAA’s propaganda campaign to sell NextGen. The key deception: claiming zigzag routes happen routinely and can be eliminated. (October 2009, 2-pages)
The Heathrow Airport west of London is hands-down the busiest UK hub for transatlantic commercial passenger flights. Just as we see in the U.S., where NextGen is creating health problems and destroying communities, hundreds of thousands of residents are severely impacted by the long conga lines of low, slow and loud arrivals. Plus, the noise and fumes from nonstop departure streams deny sleep and increase stress, too. Some of the worst examples in the U.S. include: Boston, NYC-JFK, NYC-LGA, DC-Reagan, Chicago-O’Hare, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Seattle.
A recent article notes a Conservative minister calling for a strong ban on all flights for the 7-hour block, from 11PM to 6AM. This would be a very good first step toward reducing Heathrow impacts. Indeed, it not only should be done, but the curfew should extend further. Given the tendency of airlines to overschedule at the main superHub airports, we commonly end up with delays cascading at the end of the day; thus, 11PM arrivals actually land at midnight or even later. This has been a huge problem at LaGuardia [KLGA], for example. So, to ensure that these arrivals actually land before the 11PM curfew, CAA (and FAA, in the U.S.) should require:
the airlines need to schedule the arrivals long enough before 11PM so that, if delayed by the end of the day, they can still land before 11PM; and,
substantial penalties need to be imposed – and rigidly enforced – to incentivize airlines to clean up their schedules, so that slippage past 11PM never happens.
Here’s an archived copy of the article:
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
Kudos to Mr. Hands for pressing forward on this proposed curfew at Heathrow. FAA should give serious consideration to imposing similar curfews at the busiest U.S. commercial hubs. If FAA refuses to do this, at the least FAA should pass the authority on, so that local officials and the communities can impose these restrictions.
An incredible airshow: Michael Huerta’s Flying Circus.
In 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.
An SFO arrival from Puerto Vallarta, on January 9th.
This Analysis looks at how NextGen fails at one of the few emerging superHubs: San Francisco [KSFO]. Here’s a screencap showing extensive delays ATC issued to an Alaska Boeing 737, during a January 9th evening arrival. Take a close look and you’ll see: the flight crew was issued vectors to fly a large box, then a smaller loop, then sent northwest for further descent and sequencing back into the arrival flow near Palo Alto.
Altitudes have been added to this graphic, so you can better estimate the impacts upon residents below, especially while ATC was routing the flight at the lower altitudes, from Pescadero to Portola Valley to Palo Alto and on to the landing.
An SFO arrival from Puerto Vallarta, on 3/10/17.
This is the type of inefficient maneuvering that happens everyday. Massive backups can be triggered by incidents that cause temporary runway closures or weather problems, but most of the time, these inefficiencies happen when too many flights are scheduled too close together, all because FAA refuses to properly manage arrival rates.
On days when there are not too many arrivals, this same flight normally looks like the example to the left: a direct route and a steady rate of descent, from Santa Cruz to where they turn final at the Bay, just west of the Dumbarton Bridge. This type of efficiency can become a reliable norm, but only if FAA goes one step further and imposes programs to stop airlines from exceeding workable airport arrival rates. Sadly, under NextGen, FAA is doing precisely the opposite: giving the airlines the sun and the moon, and all the stars if they have to, so long as the airlines will not oppose the expensive boondoggle that NextGen is. FAA wants Congress to throw more money at the agency, and that won’t happen, unless all the Av-Gov players ‘collaborate’ and act unified behind the NextGen fraud.