Here’s how to fix our air-traffic control problems – (NOT!!)

Here’s an analysis/rebuttal of a Steve Forbes USAToday Op/Ed, about NextGen and ATC Privatization. Mr. Forbes repeats the common NextGen lies, using few words to present the current ATC system as archaic, inefficient and overdue for reform. He misses on all points, but does a great job passing along the frauds FAA and industry have been spinning to us, in recent years. Frankly, this Op/Ed has the feel of one of those sleazy ‘advertorials’ that have become the mainstay of post-“1984” journalism, in our national “Animal Farm.”

Although Mr. Forbes twice ran for President and is a successful businessman, he appears to fall into the same trap as President Trump: both men totally fail to go beyond the fraudulent sales pitch by FAA/industry; both show a wholesale acceptance of the FAA/industry propaganda, with no critical analysis.

In endorsing either NextGen or ATC privatization, both men are wrong.

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

Brendon Sewill’s Brilliant Work: Unspinning Aviation Spin in the UK

As has been seen so many times in the past, there is great value in studying aviation impacts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In this Post, three analyses created by Brendon Sewill are offered. All were produced for the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF).

Mr. Sewill has an extensive background. After earning his economics degree from Cambridge, he served as an adviser in the Treasury as well as to the British Bankers Association, a member of the Council of the National Trust, a member of the CPRE national executive, and a vice president of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

The first of Mr. Sewill’s three analyses was done in 2003, when he produced the 28-page ‘The Hidden Cost of Flying’. He had persuaded the UK government to rerun aviation computer forecasts, “…on the assumption that by 2030 air travel would be paying the same rate of tax as car travel….” What he found was shocking: the computer model rerun showed that the economic benefits of the UK aviation industry are grossly exaggerated, yet, in the meantime, elected officials are granting tax concessions worth £9 billion per year.

In 2005, his economic analysis was ‘Fly now, grieve later: How to reduce the impact of air travel on climate change’. In this 47-page report, he “…summarises the concerns about the impact of air travel on climate change, and explores the political and practical problems in making airlines pay sensible rates of tax….” Within this analysis, he also makes a compelling case for how large subsidies granted to aviation by nations across the planet are in fact generating the excessive aviation growth (and resultant increases in aviation impacts).

“At present the average American flies twice as far each year as the average European, and the average European flies ten times as far as the average inhabitant of Asia (even including Japan). If people in the rest of the world were to fly as much as those in the United States, the number of planes in the sky would rise nearly twenty-fold. Climate change disaster would be upon us.”                 – excerpt from pg.21

Finally, in 2009, Mr. Sewill wrote ‘Airport jobs – false hopes, cruel hoax’, a 23-page analysis in which he makes many brilliant points, debunking the alleged economic gains associated with massive airport development. For example, he notes how UK airports send more people AWAY from the UK to spend vacation dollars, which has the effect of displacing jobs (since that money is no longer spent at or near home). Simply, “…if the jobs created by aviation are to be counted, then the jobs lost by aviation must also be included….”

All three of these documents are well worth reading. Each is extremely relevant to the aviation impact issues found in the United States, too. They reveal greenwashing tactics by industry and the UK regulator (which, just like FAA, is arguably a ‘faux-regulator’ that serves industry, not the general population); the same greenwashing tactics are used at Sea-Tac, Boston-Logan, LaGuardia, and essentially all U.S. airports. Likewise, in the U.S., federal and local officials everywhere are found to be granting the same excessive subsidies, while also imposing uncompensated environmental costs upon thousands of residents under the concentrated flight paths.

Representative Karen Bass Speaking About FAA Impacts, at a Rules Committee Hearing

A ‘thank you!’ is owed to Karen Bass, member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She has offered amendments to H.R. 3354, the ‘Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act, 2018’, legislation supported by the White House, aimed at funding what appears to be all or nearly all domestic policy agencies.

In the clip below, Bass speaks for just a couple minutes. It is interesting to notice the massive paper piles, the many empty chairs, the distractions of nearly all participants who are focused on their devices. One wonders how we can possibly accomplish meaningful legislation in these conditions and with these habits and attitudes. That said, Rep. Bass does make some very good points.

(click on image to view Rep. Bass’ speech)

The Third Head of the NextGen Hydra: How FAA is Jamming Arrivals Closer Together

Three months ago, the ‘Dissecting NextGen’ presentation was made in Des Moines, to help people better understand the impacts of NextGen around Sea-Tac International Airport [KSEA]. Included within that presentation was discussion of ‘Hub Concentration’ and ‘Route Concentration’, as two of the main changes that are causing NextGen impacts. Well, continued research in the past months has revealed a third head to this monster: efforts by FAA to alter rules, to reduce spacing between arrivals, even setting up side-by-side arrivals to closely-spaced parallel runways.

FAA is using two main strategies to reduce arrival spacing:

  • Wake Recat: short for ‘wake recategorization’, this is the reduction of minimum safe distances behind larger aircraft that create wakes. Without getting into too much detail, a series of fatal accidents decades ago forced FAA to impose longer distances between successive flights on the same route, called ‘wake turbulence separation’. But, in time, with pressure to remove capacity limitations, the rules are being modified to shorter distances.
  • Simultaneous Dependent Approaches to Closely Spaced Parallel Runways (CSPR): many of the main hub airports rely on use of parallel runways that are spaced even less than half a mile apart. ATC can accommodate a lot of flights on/off parallel runways, primarily by using one runway to land and the other to takeoff. But, when weather deteriorates, especially if visibility is reduced or the ceiling (altitude of lowest cloud layer) gets to be too low, capacity plummets. So, FAA has been working with airlines to develop new ATC procedures that allow flights to be spaced much closer together when set up for landing on two or more parallel runways. [click here to view archived copies showing the evolution of FAA Order JO7110.308B since 2008]

What’s Bugging People?

Although most airports continue to be far below historic traffic levels, there are a dozen or so main hub airports where the ‘Final Four’ airlines (American, Delta, Southwest and United) schedule excessively. These are the airports where people are upset. They are seeing more flights, and they are seeing/hearing flights that are lower, often slower, seemingly louder (which is a given, for lower flights), and often turning closer to the airport than ever before. They are also seeing surges of flights — both departures and arrivals, in rapid succession, sometimes even side-by-side. It is scary to some, and deeply disturbing to many. Even retired air traffic controllers cannot believe what they are seeing. It is as if these few airports have acquired a meth or steroid addiction.

Authorities insist nothing has changed, but they are totally wrong. Well, not just wrong: they are lying, and they know it. At these few hub airports (Sea-Tac is the one growing the most in recent years, due to Delta’s 2012 decision to create a new hub), traffic volume is up, especially during the surges that happen in relation to expanded hubbing. But, there are also forces that are pushing arrivals closer to the ground. For example, with wake recat, the key thing to understand about aircraft wakes is they descend; i.e., the hazard that can flip a smaller airplane slowly drifts downward toward the ground, so ATC works hard to keep the trailing aircraft at least slightly above the leading aircraft. But, if ATC is trying to bring both aircraft in to land, on parallel runways, than ATC needs to push the lead aircraft down lower ASAP. Why? Because, if the lead aircraft is not descended low enough, the trailing aircraft will end up too high, unable to finish the approach. This results in a go-around, which carries higher risks and makes both flight crews and ATC do a lot more work.

An Example: A 13-hr Arrival Stream to Runways 4L & 4R at Boston

Boston offers an example of how badly communities are being impacted. Here, we have densely populated communities and a dominant regional airport, [KBOS], that effectively monopolizes commercial aviation.  Three airlines schedule excessively at KBOS: JetBlue, American, and Delta. JetBlue is the dominant hub airline with a schedule that generates a large number of through-passengers (thus imposing much larger impacts on the area, to accommodate the added flights).

To gain airline support for NextGen, or at least to ensure the airlines will not oppose NextGen (which would kill FAA’s chances of getting Congressional funding), FAA has sold out on their responsibilities to protect communities and the environment. FAA has apparently told the airlines that they can expect increased runway throughput, which FAA will achieve by abolishing all noise mitigation procedures and creating new flight procedures that turn lower and as close as possible to the runways. NextGen is being used as a decoy or cover; by claiming NextGen is all new and fancy, FAA tricks everyone – including Congress – into not noticing that what is REALLY happening is simply the wholesale abandonment of FAA’s past responsibilities to protect the environment and community health. And, by the way, NextGen is NOT all new and fancy; most of it has existed and been used for decades; the alleged benefits are just a fraudulent sales pitch.

Clearly, when you study what FAA has imposed at ALL NextGen airports, the game plan is to maximize runway throughput. This accommodates the ideal all airlines want: unrestricted scheduling to tweak profits higher using expanded hub operations. So, with this in mind, at an airport like Boston, FAA focuses on using the combination of runways with the highest capacity per hour, which at Boston is to have arrivals land on the parallel runways 4L and 4R. Just like happens when new freeway lanes are added, the airlines are quick to eat up the increased capacity; supply defines and expands demand. At Boston, FAA is now heavily relying on 4R and 4L to ‘accommodate’ the expansion by JetBlue, Delta and American. So much for quality of life under the intensified approach corridor. Milton does not really need to get sleep, do they???

A recent 13-hr arrival stream to Boston’s 4L and 4R

And, of course, FAA applies the same strategy at all airports where airlines want to expand hub-related profits: they use runway combinations that maximize capacity, even if wind and other factors might argue against these decisions. It’s called ‘choosing runways to traffic’, and it’s a way to be overly accommodative to airlines.

The result is streaming arrivals: nearly nonstop impacts on the ground, one arrival after another after another, sometimes even paired arrivals that are nearly side-by-side. As shown in this table, summarizing arrivals per hour on the intensified approaches to Boston’s runway 4L and 4R, the impact is relentless. Note the busiest hours are non-stop, averaging as little as 1.2-minutes between flights. [click here to view the entire stream in a data table]

And, adding insult to injury, when people notice and ask what has changed, both FAA and the airport authority (Massport, in this example) play with them: they say nothing has changed.

How Do We Kill This Monster?

FAA is simply out of control. And, Congress is doing squat to correct this problem. We need leaders in Congress to:

  1. demand that FAA serve the people ahead of the corporations, and this requires an emphasis on both transparency and accountability;
  2. demand that FAA cease spending our money to propagandize for the industry; this regulatory capture has gone on far too long;
  3. pass legislation that strongly disincentivizes airline hubbing – one of the simplest changes would be to formulate a new set of fees and taxes, the heart of which should be a very steep aviation fuel tax;
  4. and, pass legislation that restores local control, so that local communities have a real voice, and can impose reasonable curfews and capacity limits, and can say ‘NO!’ to airport over-expansion.

Is FlightAware Collaborating with FAA to Misinform the Public?

Here’s a JPEG compilation showing a classic example of misinformation by the flight tracking website, FlightAware; this shows Seattle [KSEA] flights, on a nice summer Sunday morning:

Note the substantial enroute delays issued by ATC, to the stream inbound over Oregon, and the trans-Pacific arrivals over Olympic National Park.

Of course, this screencap also shows the massive failure that NextGen is, in terms of reducing delays. Simply: no technologies, no new systems, can correct the delays that happen, when FAA refuses/fails to stop the commercial airlines from scheduling too many flights.

For context, please understand that these websites (another is FlightRadar24) get their data from FAA and process it. They produce a great product, that helps us all to see when various flights will arrive (so we can pick up a loved one), but also help us to view how the whole ATC system works. What they should NOT do, though, is help FAA pass on false information. In this example, with a 1,500ft cloud layer, FlightAware is passing on the false claim that departures are being delayed. Ponder these facts:

  1. The arrivals were also being delayed, and quite substantially … look at those turns over Oregon and the Olympic Peninsula! So, why did FlightAware fail to mention arrival delays in their alert, too? Is it because FAA pretends these enroute delays do not matter?
  2. These delay alerts appear to be triggered by FAA reports; i.e., it would make no sense for websites to post a delay, if it had not been officially declared and defined by an FAA source.
  3. Notice the delay alert adds departure delays are ‘increasing’. This implies the low clouds are changing, yet they are not really changing… if anything, the clouds are rising higher, as the fair-weather summer day advances. So, is the cause of these delays the clouds, or simply TOO MANY DEPARTURES SCHEDULED?
  4. When KSEA is in a north flow, the departures would quickly be climbing into clouds as they approach Boeing Field. So, in a north flow, the departure flow rate could be reduced significantly, by a 1,500ft cloud deck. But, this is south flow, so the departures are all far from Boeing Field, no potential conflict.

It is bad enough that FAA is a captured agency, serving aviation money with no real concern for impacts upon people. But, the situation is made worse by false information – propaganda if you will: when FAA feeds erroneous delay causes to the online flight tracking sites, they then pass this misinformation onward, to further deceive the public.

This type of ‘collaboration’ needs to end. FAA needs to reform, to become an accountable, transparent, and truthful servant TO THE PEOPLE, and truly regulating the industry. To achieve this, Congress needs to dump the bad idea of ATC Privatization, and our elected reps need to DEMAND FAA clean up its act!

UPDATE: Shuster & A4A’s House Legislation, Aiming to Privatize ATC

The next step in the legislative process happens later today. In the House, the Appropriations Committee’s THUD Subcommittee (Transportation, Housing & Urban Development) does a bill markup hearing. It is set to start at 7:00pm (though, it may have a slightly different start time, as it needs to follow a voting process). Click here to access the webcast.

As background material, the House (led by Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chair Bill Shuster) is pressing to privatize ATC. There is substantial opposition. In the House, most significant opposition has been voiced by the ranking Democratic Party committee member, Representative Peter DeFazio (OR). Mr. DeFazio has deep knowledge of the issues, as he has formerly chaired the Aviation Subcommittee. However, given the vast division in the House today, even the best reasoning is simply outnumbered. So, the proposal advanced out of the Subcommittee, and then was approved by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee on June 8th.

The Senate, on the other hand, continues to oppose the privatization concept. So, at this time, there are two different legislative proposals moving forward, the main difference being the inclusion of ATC privatization in the House version, but the exclusion of ATC privatization in the Senate version. Logically, if two versions pass, this will all end up in conference, where a lot of wheeling and dealing will happen. Strategically, Shuster and the Av/Gov Complex players (which includes FAA, though of course at this stage of the process, FAA Adminsitrator Huerta and the agency are very careful to ‘look’ like they are neutral!) will throw bones to selected parties, to gain just enough support to pass their proposal. They’ll also try to conflate; e.g., people upset about cramped seating will feel pressured to allow ATC privatization, if that is what they must do to pass language mandating wider seats and longer seat pitch. It’s crazy; it’s stupid; but this is how the dysfunction goes, every year … and it is only getting worse.

Here are a couple video news clips. Amy Goodman, at Democracy Now, offers an excellent review of Trump’s endorsement of the proposal to privatize ATC, announced on Monday June 5th. The video includes a lengthy interview of Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights.

In another excellent video clip, the same subject is covered by Thom Hartmann, at The Big Picture. He interviews economist Dr. Richard Wolff.

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.”

Newsday’s Editorial Board is All Wrong on Privatizing ATC

In an editorial opinion, Newsday‘s Editorial Board is helping to push the illusion that privatizing ATC will help. They are all wrong.

Newsday is a daily paper on Long Island. They have been at the epicenter of impacts from two major U.S. airports: Kennedy [KJFK] and LaGuardia [KLGA]. Newsday has published plenty of citizen letters to the editor, expressing concerns about how FAA and NextGen are impacting their neighborhoods. Newsday reporters have also done a lot of groundwork, talking to people and writing up articles.

But, apparently, the top people who run the daily news show at Newsday are aligned with the money that buys ad space, so they tweak the news to help steer readers toward supporting bad ideas, like ATC privatization.

How far do they go to manipulate us? Well, here’s a screencap of two comments to a Facebook Post about this latest Newsday article:

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

Here’s an airchived copy of the Editorial Board opinion, with aiREFORM rebuttal footnotes:

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

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.

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.