Heathrow Airport Pays Guardian to Create ‘News Content’

20170110scp-about-explanation-of-paid-content-produced-by-guardian-labs-theguardian-comOne of the more disgusting details from the U.S. elections this past year was seeing the death of the journalism profession. We learned how the mainstream media no longer does hard research, no longer asks tough questions, but instead exists only to collect money for delivering spin and propaganda services. Not just for companies, but also for political parties. Evidently, propaganda going mainstream is a problem in the UK, too.

Here’s a copy of a tweet by BackOffHeathrow, a longstanding and vocal opponent of Heathrow airport expansion. Just like is happening under NextGen routes near a few major U.S. airports, the people who live east and west of Heathrow’s two runways are having their homes and lives destroyed. Same impacts, too: stress and distraction by repetitive noise interruptions, and compromised health due to elevated air pollutants and chronic sleep loss.

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(click on image to view archived copy of this ‘paid content’)

Why so much misery and destruction? Primarily to accommodate air travel by airline passengers from North America, Asia, and Europe. Many people use Heathrow as an entry-exit point for Europe; many of them pass through Heathrow because the major airlines decided decades ago that they would use this piece of land for sorting their passengers and maximizing their company profits. By far, the biggest airline at Heathrow is British Airways (BAW, Speedbird). Airline profits are improving, while resident quality of life is steadily declining. No wonder so many people are fighting so hard to stop a third runway at Heathrow.

The Airport Paid For This (with your money)…

Notice who paid for this item that looks like a ‘news article’, which is one of a series of ‘paid content’ by the Guardian Labs team. Yes, Heathrow, the airport authority. Where do they get money to buy these services? From the passengers who fly through Heathrow. The airport authority, just like the regulator, can skim money off of the process, and evidently has no accountability or restrictions to preempt using that money beyond what is needed to operate the airport. In this example, they use that money to promote the airport’s expansion, and in opposition to the anti-expansion efforts by impacted airport neighbors seeking sleep and other relief. They use that money to create paid content, aka ‘Fake News’.

…And it is Nothing but Spin and Propaganda

This is a full-fledged program. On the upper left of the webpage it says, ‘Heathrow sustainable mobility zone’. Click on this and it opens up a whole new webpage with many more ‘articles’.

Take a close look at the article title: ‘How Air Traffic Controllers are Helping Clean Up Aviation Emissions’. The spin implies new technologies are being used to reduce the environmental impacts of aviation. It is spin partly because the methods listed in the ‘article’ for reducing impacts are nothing new … techniques and technologies that have already been used for decades. But, more critically, the spin flies right past the real elephant in the room: that for each of us, when it comes to generating CO2, hours spent travelling as a commercial air passenger are the worst hours in our life. Frankly, the only way for one individual to do more damage to the atmosphere, more quickly, is either to take up a new hobby setting arson fires, or have too much money to blow and start zipping about in your own private jet.

Obviously, if the aviation stakeholders here (the regulators and airport authorities and airlines) REALLY wanted to reduce aviation emissions, they would do five things:

  1. the regulator would reduce Heathrow arrival rates, and the airlines would agree to alter their schedules accordingly, so that the four holding stacks for Heathrow arrivals, as discussed in the ‘article’,  would never even be needed again;
  2. they would get the airlines to do a much better job filling the seats on their flights (the passenger load factor for British Airways, is barely above 80%, an absurdly low rate of seat occupancy that greatly increases the per passenger carbon emissions);
  3. they would agree to impose uniform fees that disincentivize use of Heathrow as a hub airport, while also encouraging airlines to fly a larger percentage of their passengers on nonstop-direct flights to their final destinations (for example, impose a steep fee for flying through, or impose fees that are directly proportional to the itinerary distance flown);
  4. they would advocate for imposition of a heavy aviation carbon tax (which should also replace most other aviation fees and taxes) so as to disincentivize hub connections that are not efficiently located along the direct route of flight; and,
  5. they would immediately abandon the third runway at Heathrow — this additional runway, and the industry that profits from it, are just further bad investment to accelerate the fossil fuel destruction of our planet.

Exposing a NextGen Fraud: the so-called ‘Conventional’ ZigZag Routes

It is quite clear that, with the election results and the imminent White House occupancy change, coordinated efforts are ramping up to try and push through the latest pet projects: ATC privatization, and accelerated NextGen funding. These efforts are sourced in some backroom ‘collaboration’ between top-level FAA officials, key aviation leaders in Congress, and the industry (the airlines, the manufacturers, and the lobbyists).

As has always been the pattern, the Av-Gov Complex will knowingly lie to sell their schemes. One of the most graphic lies of the present cycle is variations of this graphic:

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This misleading graphic is liberally posted in news articles, FAA reports, etc. It implies that today’s air navigation systems are primitive, needing to upgrade via a progression from zigzag routes (left image) through RNAV routes and eventually RNP routes. An important fact being hidden, though, is that RNAV and RNP routes already exist, as they have for years. (SOURCE: pg.7 of FAA’s SatNav News, Summer 2011 edition)

Time and again, this image is pushed to help brainwash the Public (and especially Congress) to believe the current ATC system is incredibly archaic and shockingly inefficient, with flights zigging and zagging all across the continent. They pitch NextGen as ‘transformative’, while ignoring and concealing the facts that:

  1. commercial passenger flights have been flying mostly direct flights for decades, and thus these graphically presented zigzags are a complete lie;
  2. RNP & RNAV procedures have been available and usable by these flights for roughly two decades, and thus the whiz-bang NextGen changes are not really changes (we can accomplish the expensive NextGen goals by smartly using what we already have); and,
  3. an entirely new class of delays has been recently invented – enroute delays, at altitude; typically 100-200-miles from the destination airport, these are used to smooth out arrival surges because FAA refuses to restrict appropriate arrival rates to accommodate known airport capacity limits.

FAA et al need to be called out on this misinformation. It turns out, you will find two versions of this deceptive diagram in Chapter One of nearly every recently completed ‘Environmental Assessment’ for various airspace changes around the nation. Here are some examples, from recent OAPMs (Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex); look at the identical content in any of these cookie-cutter documents, at these pages:

  1. June 2013: Draft EA for DC OAPM (216p; see pages 6 and 14 in chapter one, marked pages ‘1-6’ and ‘1-14’)
  2. March 2014: EA for Atlanta OAPM (122p; see pages 1-6 and 1-14)
  3. July 2014: Final EA for NorCal OAPM (134p; see pages 1-5 and 1-11)
  4. December 2014: Draft EA for Charlotte OAPM (118p; see pages 1-5 and 1-11)
  5. August 2016: Final EA for SoCal OAPM (144p; see pages 1-6 and 1-12)

FAA Continues their NextGen Disinformation

At FAA’s ‘Optimization of Airspace & Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM)‘ webpage, which is marked as last modified on 6/27/2016, there is a link to a video uploaded to FAA’s YouTube page. As has been the practice for FAA and others trying to dupe the Public into buying NextGen, the video is filled with disinformation.

Here’s an example. The two images below are screencaps, showing consecutive slides in FAA’s video, at times 1:07 and 1:13. The first is a satellite view of a hilly, minimally developed and predominantly forested land area; the second is a blue graphic with FAA’s splashy declarations alleging ‘transformative’ benefits of NextGen.

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(a fraudulent and intentionally deceptive image provided by FAA, at time 1:07 in the video)

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No explanation is necessary, but what the hell. Lies annoy me, so I love to skewer them with facts. Here goes… the satellite view presents the direct green line and a zigzag red line route. The clear intent of this green vs red graphic is to impress upon us that our commercial airliner will become amazingly more efficient if, via NextGen, we let them fly those direct ‘greenlines’.

The problem is, it is utter bullshit. Our commercial passenger planes have been flying direct routes (the equivalent of these greenlines) for more than four decades. Thus, this graphic implies a change that will not happen, an alleged benefit never to be gained.

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June 2014: Huerta hawking NextGen in Houston)

And, furthermore, study that satellite view. It’s fuzzy, but it offers enough detail, including roads and granularity related to both vegetation and topography, that anyone who studies aerial imagery can see: this land area is no more than 10- or 20-miles across. A commercial jetliner would NEVER be able to fly the red zigzag route as the turns are far too tight. But, of course, that does not stop FAA from pushing this kind of NextGen disinformation. All for the money.

And think this one step further: as stated by FAA,  those red lines represent a ground-based route; thus, there have to be navigational stations at the locations where the red lines bend. Out in the middle of this area of hills and hollers. Yeah, right. I wish FAA would show more respect for our intelligence, and for our money.

Michael Huerta: you’ve been FAA Administrator through all of this. Are you going to tell your FAA employees to clean this up, or are you just going to leave the NextGen mess for the next Administrator?

With FAA, ‘Collaboration’ is Just a Slick Euphemism for ‘Propaganda Campaign’

Time and again this year, the mainstream media has been shown to be fully collaborating with those they report on, thus effectively serving not as objective journalists but as servant propaganda agents. We’ve seen this in politics (yes, 2016 has been a big and very troubling year!), and we’ve seen it in the lobbying efforts of certain industries, aviation included.

The key to these propaganda campaigns is to ALWAYS frame the message (using carefully selected keywords), and coordinate the delivery of information. In the context of our U.S. Congress, in its present and ongoing state of oligarchy-serving dysfunction, it is critical that opposition voices are tamped down; that is, it would be problematic if any of the aviation stakeholders spoke up against the objective. So, within the group of stakeholders/players who are coordinating the propaganda campaign, each must find an aspect of the program that serves their own narrow interests, and accept that personal benefit as sufficient for their agreement to remain quiet about aspects they dislike. This is precisely what has evolved with NextGen and ATC Privatization; this is how we end up with the air traffic controllers’ union, NATCA, doing a reversal this year and now declaring that union leaders are onboard with both proposals.

The current propaganda campaign for the U.S. aviation system focuses on two things:

  1. ATC privatization – the ‘real goal’ is to further insulate this safety/regulatory function from accountability and transparency, making it that much harder for impacted citizens to resolve aviation-related problems. Many in industry like this idea, for obvious reasons (it creates ‘business opportunities’); top officials at NATCA see a chance to remove controllers from federal salary caps and the age-56 mandatory retirement, so thousands of the most senior controllers today would earn more than $180,000 per year (and build much larger retirement pensions).
  2. NextGen investment – as happens with most matured agencies, there is a constant need to project a message that helps the agency mission appear relevant and worthy of further funding. So, every few years, FAA dreams up a way to spend money, coordinates with ‘stakeholders’ to ensure their non-opposition, then carefully maneuvers Congress, seeking billions for a new so-called ‘transformative’ program. It is all smoke-and-mirrors and pork, benefitting not just industry players but also FAA officials who retire, collect pensions, and become consultants and lobbyists for those same industry players.

Any effective propaganda campaign requires consistent and frequent restatement of key bits of disinformation. I.e., if you repeat a lie long enough, it effectively becomes fact. This truism is understood and abused by both major political parties in the U.S., just as it is understood and abused by accountability-averse agencies, FAA included. So, what are the key bits of disinformation FAA is using…?

  1. use the words ‘increasingly congested’ … even when you know it is just a bald-faced lie (see the data analysis within the Post, The Incredible Shrinking NAS … that FAA & the Av-Gov Complex Don’t Talk About; on average, for the 504 U.S. airports with control civilian control towers, annual operations are now down 45% from the peak years at each airport. DOWN 45% … but does the mainstream media tell us this statistic?
  2. distract the citizens with snazzy graphics and jargon that pretends to be selling something new and incredible [even when the actual change is minimal to none]
  3. tack on the latest buzzwords, such as ‘transformative’, ‘collaborative’, and of course ‘NextGen’.
  4. make sure it appears that the message is organic, authentic, and sourced NOT in the agency (FAA) but in the real world (the airlines, the airline lobby, the unions, the manufacturers). [again, this is just illusion… there is a huge amount of coordination going on behind the scenes, with FAA and the other parties very carefully designing the campaign, and orchestrating who says what and when]

Here’s a recent example: a news article with warm and fuzzy airport growth hopes at the St. Paul Downtown Airport [KSTP], near Minneapolis. This is an airport catering primarily to elite personal and business travel, such as using charter bizjets. The airport management expects roughly a hundred elite sport fans to use KSTP in early 2018, for their flight to watch the Super Bowl. The article more than implies that the airport is a money-generator. But, as shown in this aiREFORM analysis, and as is so typical across the nation, annual operations at this airport peaked in 1990 and have since declined 70%. The federal monies spent there are essentially maintaining infrastructure that is increasingly underused.

So, when you read articles such as this, be sure to consider the long history of spin and propaganda by FAA and other Av/Gov Complex players.

[KSMO]: Grossly Incompatible with the Community Around It

It has been a busy Fall at the Santa Monica Airport [KSMO], where FAA is flexing its administrative-legal muscles, intervening to delay city efforts to evict two private operators. The City wants to take over fuel sales and other airport services (known as ‘FBO services’), but the private FBOs do not want to accept that their leases are expired, nor do they want to give up lucrative profits. Just like FAA does not want to adhere to the agreement they struck with the city, in 1984, which meant the city could outright close the airport in July 2015.

In a recent email, Nelson Hernandez, the Senior Advisor to the Santa Monica City Manager, offered yet another update on the city’s progress. He noted that, “…on August 23, Council directed the City Manager to establish a city-owned FBO by December 31, or as soon as practicable….” He then added, there is ample precedent for airport authorities (in this case, the City of Santa Monica) setting up their own FBO services at an airport, instead of letting an out-of-state operator reap the hefty profits. He noted three airports: “…in the last two years, Fort Wayne, Greenville, and Chattanooga, created their own City FBO for similar financial reasons….” He was referring to airports in Fort Wayne, IN [KFWA], Greenville, NC [KPGV], and Knoxville, TN [KDKX].

Out of curiosity, I did some online research and confirmed that, yes, all three of these airports have city-operated FBOs. And, all three appear to be very healthy airports. Nelson’s list of three airports included one with an FAA control tower [KFWA] and two with no control tower [KPGV] and [KDKX]). Here’s the data on these three airports, with [KSMO] added for comparison:

    • KFWA: 70 based aircraft, a 12,000ft runway and an 8,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 36,100 landings and takeoffs in 2015, down 71% from its peak year (124,000 ops in 2000). [3,400 acres, surrounded by farmland]
    • KPGV: 71 based aircraft, a 7,200ft runway, and a 5,000ft runway. Form 5010 shows 48,200 annual operations in the year ending 5/30/2016 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [872 acres, surrounded by forest, farmland and limited residential development]
    • KDKX: 167 based aircraft, and a single, 3,500ft runway. Form 5010 shows 68,400 annual operations in the year ending 4/30/2013 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [200 acres, surrounded by a river, a large quarry, and farmland]
    • KSMO: 249 based aircraft, and a single 5,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 90,200 annual operations in 2015, down 62% from its peak year (234,800 ops in 1991). [215 acres, surrounded by dense residential neighborhoods; and, within the airport, substantial footage is presently subleased to non-aviation business uses, generating profits for the FBOs.]

I noticed something else, too, which was a bit startling. You’ll see it starkly presented in the three image-pairs below. When you look at how Santa Monica’s runway is shoe-horned into the neighborhoods, and when you compare it to the ‘airport normality’ of these other three, far less crowded airport locations, it just jumps out at you. And, when you look at the series of images showing how many houses were removed in recent years for a runway expansion at a very slow Greenville airport, you just have to wonder how in the world people can coexist with business jets so close to their Santa Monica homes. I mean, if FAA moves people out of their homes in Greenville, what is it about Santa Monica homeowners that makes them less at risk than North Carolinians? And given that there are so many Santa Monica homes, would it not make the most sense to simply close the airport??

Clearly, each of these three airports is far more compatibly located than is the Santa Monica Airport. In fact, looking at these three, I just have to say: if I was the new FAA Administrator, I’d be quick to ask my new highly-paid subordinates:

“Why are we NOT working with the city to expedite closing this airport? After all, it is grossly incompatible with the community (look at all those houses, and so close to the runway!), it is clearly a health hazard, and we have plenty of other LA Basin airports and longer, safer runways to serve the business jets and general aviation, all of which are far below their historic high traffic levels. So, when are we going to start serving everyone, not just our buddies who employ us after we retire?”

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UPDATE, 12/6/2016: — per a request, click here for a PDF version of this entire Post.

GAO’s Dillingham, video interview by ‘Government Matters’

This is how compromised the ‘watchdog’ GAO is: creating videos laced with promo statements about NextGen. Unbelievable.
The video interviewer opens with, “Before we get into the numbers, what is NextGen, and what will it do for the American people and the aviation system when it’s fully deployed?” Dillingham then proceeds to offer the Av-Gov scripted salespitch on the alleged needs for and benefits of NextGen. The effect is that GAO, rather than doing critical and objective analysis, is instead lending credibility to the NextGen fraud.

In context, the timing of this interview closely follows release of the latest GAO Report on November 17th: ‘NextGen – Information on Expenditures, Schedule, and Cost Estimates, FY 2004-2030’ (click on the link to view/download a copy of the 13-page report, archived at aiREFORM).

An Example of a Serious Weather Delay … but Delays Can Also Happen by Scheduling ‘Too Many Arrivals’

A recent day with foggy weather in the Puget Sound area produced a few examples of weather-related delays. ksea-20161110at1009-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-data-wxdlasIn the example presented below, Jazz Air 8089, a Dash-8, departed Vancouver [CYVR] on a short 30-minute flight to SeaTac [KSEA]. The flight departed at 8:55am, just as the KSEA visibility was reducing to a half mile. The crew was turned toward the Olympic Peninsula and issued turns to delay their arrival.

Here is a screen-cap of the METAR weather sequence, reading from bottom to top; thin red boxes have been added, marking the departure time at CYVR and the arrival time at KSEA. The column in the middle is most critical, showing visibility deteriorating from 10-miles to a half-mile; the magenta text to the right, reading BKN001 and VV001 is also significant, indicating low clouds and fog obscuring the sky at 100′ above the surface.ksea-20161110-metar-0825am-to-1120am-low-wx-markedupThe flight altitudes and times at points on the JZA8089 route have been added to this enlarged map view of the delay portion of the flight, over the Olympic National Park:ksea-20161110at1009-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-analysis-of-dlas-over-olypennIn normal weather conditions, the flight is routine, even boring to both pilots and ATC. ksea-20161109at0929-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-dataksea-20161111at0950-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-dataksea-20161112at0915-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-dataTo the left are screen-caps for the same flight on days before and after… on 11/9, 11/11, and 11/12. In all cases, KSEA is in a South Flow, so the minor variations in these three flights are almost entirely due to other arrival traffic.

In an extreme case, if traffic volume is sufficiently large, ATC may need to issue a holding loop, or multiple turns to achieve even 20+ minutes of delay. Note on these screen-caps, the busiest day of the week for air travel (Friday) shows the most extreme excess turns to final; the slowest day of the travel week (Saturday) shows essentially no added delays.

One way that FAA fails to prevent excessive delays is by refusing to manage capacity. Especially at hub airports, arrival rates are set too high, so as not to restrict the airlines. In their NextGen studies, FAA has repeatedly referred to maximizing ‘runway throughput’. The problem, though, is that when arrival rates are set too high, it takes just one minor weather glitch to create a cascade of delays, one airplane after another, often for hours. In the worst cases, typical at LaGuardia Airport, cascaded delays can cause arrivals to finish well after midnight, even more than two hours beyond their schedule times. And these delays nearly ALWAYS result in continuous arrival streams, with repetitive noise patterns impacting residential neighborhoods, a problem being exacerbated under NextGen.

(All graphics & flight data from FlightAware)

Aviation Impacts are Non-Partisan

Here is a screen-cap of a thoughtful Facebook post. Susan is a ‘victim’ of TNNIS and other NextGen routes east of LaGuardia Airport [KLGA], who has worked tirelessly trying to get FAA to responsibly fulfill their role as a regulator that can mitigate environmental impacts.

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

It is important to understand that NextGen is really just about spending lots of money. The money comes primarily from airline passenger taxes and Congress, and the recipients are a small group of avionics manufacturers, as well as lobbyists (many of whom are retired FAA ‘regulators’).

In order to obtain needed funds, the Av-Gov Complex had to sell the NextGen concept to Congress. This meant building an appearance of cohesive support, including especially the airlines and labor. This they accomplished by ‘collaborating’ to produce the following strategy:

  • dupe the public (including Congress) by claiming NextGen offers something new and incredibly efficient … such as their coordinated sales pitch with graphics showing zig-zag routes that have not been commonly flown for more than five decades!
  • ignore the many examples of how no substantial efficiency gains are achieved; for example, the routine use of enroute delay vectors (which commonly more than compensate for the short time savings of low/early departure turns);
  • entice the airlines by promising the elimination of noise mitigation routes at major hub airports … allowing turns lower and closer to the runways, for both departures and arrivals;

The airlines and the controllers’ union (NATCA) could say lots about how bogus the whole NextGen sales pitch is, but their silence has been bought. Just a few years ago, NATCA was strongly critical of NextGen; today, controllers who question why the NATCA leaders are advocating ATC privatization (which is hand-in-glove with NextGen implementation) are pressured into silence. And, as for the airlines, Delta stands alone as the only major airline willing to critique the Av-Gov sales pitch.

In simplest terms, FAA is committing a fraud while diminishing quality of life at the homes of hundreds of thousands of residents. This is a ‘taking’, without just compensation. It is being done by FAA, against the People, to narrowly benefit the Av-Gov Complex.

United Airlines at Dulles: Yet Another Example of Corporate Welfare?

The airlines offer an extraordinary example of how the playing field has become increasingly tipped, to favor money, corporations, and the politically connected. In this example, the Washington, DC area is served by three commercial airports: Baltimore-Washington [KBWI], Dulles [KIAD], and Reagan National [KDCA]. As is common at all major U.S. airports, there is little actual price competition at each airport, with each location dominated by one or two major carriers. So, travelers to the DC Metropolitan area via Southwest use KBWI, those flying United use KIAD, and those flying American use KDCA. The data for December 2013 shows Southwest flies 81% of KBWI flights, United flies 91% of KIAD flights, and American flies 56% of KDCA flights.

This airport dominance is problematic for local communities. It puts the non-resident airline corporate officials in a strong bargaining position to compel elected officials to create huge subsidies. The taxation system underlying U.S. commercial airlines and airports is such that, if an airline abandons a hub, the local economic impact can be severe. See for example the dramatic declines in airport operations when major airlines ‘moved on’ from former major hubs: USAir in Pittsburgh [KPIT], by Delta in Northern Kentucky [KCVG], by American in St. Louis [KSTL], and by United in Cleveland [KCLE].

In this case, elected officials are saying they believe United might leave Dulles, so they must give United lots of money. Well, think about that for a moment: if United left Dulles, where would they go? They certainly would not base at KBWI, and compete against Southwest. And trying to relocate to KDCA would be all but impossible, due to capacity limits. So, would United want to leave the entire DC metropolitan market? Would one of the four major U.S. commercial carriers be able to run a real airline without serving the lucrative market that feeds elected officials, lobbyists and aggrieved citizens to the nation’s capitol? Of course not. In other words, United was not going anywhere, and the huge subsidy being trumpeted by McAuliffe, Kaine, and others is nothing but another example of massive corporate welfare.

(click on image to read source article and reader comments, at Washington Post)

(click on image to read source article and reader comments, at Washington Post)

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

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:
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(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.