Santa Monica Airport: Last Chance to Comment on Minimum Standards

Airport officials at Santa Monica are in the process of creating ‘Minimum Standards for Commercial Aeronautical Service Providers. These standards can ensure that all potential operators are fairly treated when and if the airport authority denies certain operations. Last week, Airport Director Stelios Makrides issued a statement that the deadline for comments has been extended to June 21st. (click here for an archived copy)

Santa Monica is a very unique airport. It should have been allowed to close down years ago, but FAA has obstructed the will of the local community, solely to protect aviation interests who insist on using this deficient airport facility. How is it deficient? Just take a look at the satellite images and airport map, and note how closely the nearby homes and yards stand, relative to the runway. At Santa Monica, people have had their lawn furniture blown over by the blast from departing jets; REALLY!!

The runway was shortened last year, but now the City is failing to impose needed standards that block unsafe operations by jets and commercial operators. Aviation money appears to be impeding their judgment.

Santa Monica is also notable as an airport where FAA lawyers managed to convince the local elected officials to ‘settle’ legal differences with an inexplicable agreement to extend the life of the airport. Money talks, and rumor has it the elected officials were tired of spending so much money on legal services, trying to exercise their rights against FAA’s industry-serving will. You got it: our money, collected by FAA from we the taxpayers, and spent as FAA sees fit, is arbitrarily used to impede meaningful LOCAL CONTROL by compelling our own elected officials to use our money (local taxes, this time) to fight FAA in the courts.

Below is a copy of a recent letter by Gavin Scott, posted at NoJetsSMO. He summarizes what he observed at the June 5th Airport Commissioner’s Meeting. He also advocates – strongly – for people to submit their own comments right away, before the chance is gone.

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

The Congressional Process to Reauthorize FAA: Is it Just a Show, and Will it Go Far Enough?

Lots is happening in DC right now, though it is not clear if more than a few of the well-paid elected officials care enough to press through long-overdue reforms. If they fail to alter FAA’s cozy protectionism of this industry, the problems will persist: more noise (along with less sleep), more air pollutants (along with higher morbidity rates), and more rapid expansion of the greenhouse gas emissions by an industry that is the fastest growing contributor to global climate change. In time, the latter will mean loss of the polar ice (which appears to be accelerating), as indicated in this chart:

selected years added and labeled by aiREFORM (click on image to view source at NSIDC)

Note how Arctic sea ice has steadily declined in the past three decades. Losing polar ice is not a trivial matter; it will result in much higher sea levels, higher atmospheric energy and water vapor levels (stronger winds and bigger rain/snow events), and intensified weather extremes (the kind that fool trees into blooming early, only to freeze off the pollinized blossoms, killing that year’s fruit crop).

The Ball is in Your Court, Congress!

This week, the details are being deliberated in the U.S. House, and it looks like the Senate is also pressing to ‘hurry up’ and reauthorize FAA. Congress has important work to do for us in the U.S., but the consequences are global, going far beyond just us. From a climate justice perspective, the consequences are horribly unjust. Air travel and air cargo are industries that serve the wealthiest nations, but the poorest nations tend to be the most vulnerable. A nation like the U.S. can spend enormous funds elevating runways in Florida, but what is a small nation in equatorial regions to do, except simply move away? And, as the most vulnerable nations are destroyed, the global scarcity of land will only compel more instability, more refugees, and more wars.
We need to understand this now: there are real and ugly consequences for our obsessive hyper-consumption, and aviation is a big part of that bad habit. Every benefit bears a cost; the aviation-related benefits we enjoy today are at a growing cost to others on the planet … not just airport neighbors near over-developed U.S. hubs, but also communities at or near sea-level, across the globe.

Some Resources

Here are a few current documents and articles for readers to ponder:

  • HR.4, FAA Re-Authorization draft, Section-by-Section Summary – offers summaries of the many proposals, before most were either withdrawn or voted out by committee. One wonders: is there a better process for compelling a captured agency to serve THE PEOPLE, not just their industry? Is this current process rigged to empower lobbyists and opportunistic politicians? (27p, click here for archived copy)
  • HR.4, Draft Rule – take a look at the rules set up to ‘manage’ the amendment proposals and ensure the final draft serves industry. (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • UPDATE: The Dirtiest of Washington Politics? — ATC Privatization By Deception? – it was suspicious when Shuster suddenly announced abandonment of ATC privatization and his decision to not run again. Now it is back on the plate again, which begs the question: did Shuster et al decide to quit wasting effort deliberating and instead just impose their industry-serving plans? (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • Climate Change Could Increase ‘Whiplash’ Between Wet and Dry Years in California, Leading to More Disasters (click here to view source, a 4/24/2018 article at EcoWatch)

Airport Reference Materials: Annual Enplanements, ATADS Operations, Tonnage, AIP Grants, and NPIAS Lists

There is now a newly-completed and extensive collection of searchable/downloadable PDFs with valuable information on U.S. airports. All data was collected from online sources, either FAA or vendors who do outsource work for FAA.

Many of the tables are grouped by state and ranked by a factor such as enplanements. Alaska is top of the list, and a huge aviation state, so be sure to scroll down a few pages to see Alabama and the other states where NextGen abuses are causing so many problems (Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and Washington are good studies).

Here is a short index, with links:

Much more will follow, as these resources make it easier to expose how deeply FAA is captured, in service of industry players. Readers are encouraged to spend some time studying parts of this data collection; if you see something that really jumps out (for waste, abuse of authority or outright fraud by FAA) please share it on.


UPDATE, 4/13/2018: — correction to original posting… ATC staffing data was inadvertently not included. The Consolidated Airport Data for 844 Airports table has been updated, and one more table has been added (the more extensive data table showing annual ATC staffing for 263 FAA-staffed towers).

A Call For Action by OUR Elected Officials

Activists in the Boston area are gaining support from elected officials, toward a health study that needs to be done OUTSIDE FAA. Here is a graphic; please enlist the support of YOUR elected officials, too.

(click on image to view the FairSkiesNation FaceBook page)

Speaking of needed Congressional actions, below is the current aiREFORM wishlist. Every one of these proposals is doable. We just need elected officials who believe in empowered citizens, and who are driven to clean up the bureaucratic waste and abusive authority found in over-matured (and captured) federal regulators, like FAA.

Eleven FAA Reforms Our U.S. Congress Needs to Demand:

For starters, Congress needs to pass legislation that will achieve the following:

  1. arrange with the National Academies Division of Health and Medicine for a consensus report of existing study findings on the harmful health impacts of the NextGen technology.
  2. remove from FAA the authority to evaluate, manage, and reduce noise and air pollution impacts by aviation, and place those authorities under EPA or another non-FAA agency.

Further, Congress needs to pass legislation that will direct FAA to:

  1. fully implement all noise and air pollution impact recommendations, from the non-FAA authority, unless FAA can clearly document that implementation would create a hazard (in other words, prioritize aviation commerce BELOW aviation impacts).
  2. remove incentives to over-expand hub airports, by phasing out passenger facility charges and allowing (even encouraging) divestiture of excess airport lands for local non-aviation use. PFC’s need to be capped at $3.00, then phased out; AIP regulations need to be reformulated to end the current coddling of industry. The current regulations create perverse incentives to grow excessively and operate inefficiently, while also making it that much harder for other communities to have viable commercial airports.
  3. draft revisions to airport funding regulations and other FAA documents, that empower local officials with the right and duty to engage local citizens in democratically deciding how their local airport may be used (to include allowing night-time curfews, reduced flow rates, banning some aircraft types for safety reasons, etc.).
  4. advocate for LOCAL authority and LOCAL problem-solving (thus, support all locally designed solutions, even if they reduce total air commerce at that location, so long as the solutions are non-discriminatory and do not create a valid safety hazard).
  5. create clear regulations – and aggressively enforce them! – to end helicopter thrill rides sold as ‘air tours’ (neither the recent NYC tour crash, nor the earlier Grand Canyon crash, should have happened … and they would NOT have happened, if FAA was truly regulating this industry).
  6. create a program that makes flight data easily accessible online, so as to maximize operator transparency for repetitive flight operations; the goal should be to protect citizens against abuse by rogue operators, and to empower citizens in achieving real local control.

And lastly, in relation to climate change, Congress needs to direct FAA to:

  1. impose a federal aviation carbon tax (make it a steep tax, with half the revenues going to non-aviation spending, overall tax reduction, etc.).
  2. impose an environmental impact tax on leaded GA fuels (again, make it very steep, and direct all revenues to environmental programs, such as the non-FAA office charged with evaluating, managing, and reducing aviation noise and air pollution impacts).
  3. replace most of the current aviation ticket taxes and other fees with:
    1. a passenger ticket fee proportional to flight distance (itinerary miles, NOT direct miles).
    2. a stepped ticket tax for commercial passenger seats (free, first two one-way trips or first roundtrip; single fee next few trips (e.g., roundtrips #2 and #3 in a year); double fee trips beyond that (e.g., roundtrips #4 and higher in a year).

UPDATE, 3/18/2018: — A discussion of item #1 of this Post was held at QSPS, and includes valuable insight by Cindy Christiansen; she explains the need for ‘independence’ and the nature of the proposed ‘study’, and also provides a link to a NAS Mission statement. Click here for the QSPS FaceBook discussion.

Big Crowd at Milton!

Great to see this photo, shared by Andy Schmidt, showing the full house attending at the Milton Board of Selectmen 2/28 meeting. Item #5 on their agenda was “Public Meeting – Airplane Noise”.

(click on image to view source, at Facebook)


UPDATE, 3/1/2018: — click here to view page two of this Post, where an embed of the online video is viewable. See also this PDF copy of the presentation by Cindy Christiansen.

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!