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)

Labor Day, 2017

Here’s a thoughtful commentary about our latest U.S. holiday. The author, George Jehn, is a retired airline pilot, former high-level union official at Eastern Airlines, author and whistleblower. He pauses a busy life each Fall and shares his assessment of how we are doing, on issues related to labor and the U.S. economy. His views are framed by his experiences in the aviation industry.

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

People do not know the history behind this holiday, such as the deadly use of federal troops to break the 1894 Pullman Strike. People also tend not to know the many parallels between the extensive regulatory capture of FAA (by the airlines and other industry players) and the regulatory capture of the nascent ICC in the 1890s. Click here to view some documents about Richard Olney, and to learn more about how much 2017 is just like 1894.

(click on image to view source, at Clarence Darrow Digital Collection, University of Minnesota)

On a lighter note, here’s a no-holds-barred take by Jimmy Dore, a comedian who has become one of the leading online voices for those who feel our political and economic systems must be reformed. In this video, he dissects a Walmart employee orientation video that is extremely anti-union.

FAA Ordered to Vacate Their 2014 NextGen Routes in Phoenix

After three years of misery and sleep loss, residents in the Phoenix area may finally see some relief. This Judgment was just announced:Using the only legal recourse available to those impacted by FAA’s NextGen implementations, both the City of Phoenix and historic neighborhoods filed a Petition for Review at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. FAA lawyers, aided by attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice, delayed and wrangled for dismissals. It took nearly two years to get the case argued; that happened on March 17, before Judges Griffith, Rogers, and Sentelle. (Click here to go to the USCADC website, where you can read the bios for each judge.)

Nearly six months later, finally, the Judges issued their decision: for the people, and against the FAA. Here’s a copy:

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

The Opinion found that FAA was arbitrary and capricious, and in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Department of Transportation Act, and the FAA’s Order 1050.1E.

This Decision deserves careful study by all of us who are increasingly impacted, across the nation, by FAA’s brutally impactful NextGen implementations. City officials and airport authorities need to take notice: quit telling everyone that nothing can be done; instead, start advocating for health, quality of life, and real local control at these airports.


See also:

UPDATE, 8/30/2017: — Peter Dunn’s Analysis – a condensed review, posted at the Fair Skies Nation Facebook page (Boston area); click here for the source, or here for the archived copy.

UPDATE, 9/1/2017: — see the analysis written by Steve Edmiston (click here for the source, or here for the archived PDF); Steve is a Seattle-area attorney, and a lead activist seeking to correct the over-expansion of the Sea-Tac Airport [KSEA].

UPDATE, 9/5/2017: — yet another excellent analysis, this one blogged by Kevin Terrell (click here for the blog source, or here for the archived PDF). Kevin resides in an area impacted by the Delta hub at Minneapolis- St. Paul [KMSP]. Kevin’s activism has included creation of an outstanding series of educational videos that explain aviation noise while also illuminating FAA’s total failure to manage the noise impacts.

Did This Letter Motivate Huerta’s Response to Governor Hogan?

Activists in Maryland shared a copy of this letter, another excellent effort by their Governor, Larry Hogan.

(click on image to view archived copy of full letter)

Essentially, the Governor sent a letter on May 11, pressing FAA to take actions to reduce impacts on constituents under flight paths for both Reagan National [KDCA] and Baltimore-Washington [KBWI]. Nearly three months after sending his letter to Michael Huerta, and having gotten no reply, Governor Hogan followed up with a letter to the Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao. Here’s an excerpt:FAA’s reply letter, dated 8/3/2017, is here. That is, if you can even call it a reply.

FAA has a shameful record of not just blowing off everyone – even Governors! – but also engaging in obfuscation to frustrate activists. This pattern of failure needs to end.

President Trump: You Need to Fire Michael Huerta

Whatever happened to draining the swamp? Is there any agency more dysfunctional, more corrupt and more locked into serving industry cronies than the FAA, the faux-regulator headed by Administrator Huerta?

Here’s the latest example of how out of control this agency has become, and how badly Mr. Huerta fails at leading long overdue change. Back in early May, the Governor of Maryland wrote an excellent letter (view a copy here), pressing FAA to bring relief to thousands losing sleep and health under NextGen routes. It took nearly three months for Mr. Huerta to finally send a response letter. The long delay was not necessary to do any difficult analysis or produce any changes. No, nothing was analyzed, and nothing was changed; the long delay was just to waste time. In fact, Huerta’s letter was chock full of platitudes and unsupported sales pitches. Here’s a PDF copy of the entire letter, showing portions with footnoted analysis added by aiREFORM:

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

Enough is enough. Huerta’s belated reply letter is garbage: a classic example of what we would expect from an agency head who views the airlines as his ‘customers’, not the regulatory subject for the rigorous regulations FAA fails to write and fails to apply. Through the botched NextGen implementation, Mr. Huerta’s agency has also become a case study in ‘runaway captured regulators’. FAA is a perfect target for sweeping reforms. If President Trump wants to do good while throwing fire and fury, he should direct his energies domestically. Cleaning up FAA can set the example for how all federal agencies need to be trimmed back to a focused mission and restrained from federal over-reach, while becoming massively transparent and accountable.

It’s an easy call: fire Michael Huerta, and make FAA serve the people, first.

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.

Another community up in arms against NextGen: Linthicum, MD

Image

(click on image to view source tweet)

As is the pattern everywhere, FAA’s NextGen implementation throws away the balance that previously existed between airport expansion and local quality of life. Near Baltimore [KBWI], and with FAA’s help, airline profits trump sleep and health. Click here to view an archived copy of this news article.

(kudos to Elaine Miller, at PlaneSense4LI, for tweeting this link!)


UPDATE, 7/17/2017: — The FAA/NextGen impacts around KBWI were brought up during a radio call-in show with Governor Hogan, who said: “This thing was a terrible decision in my opinion by the FAA, without really getting the proper input from the state and local authorities….” Click here for the article, or here for the 4-minute audio.

The Polis Amendment: We Need Local Control of Our Airports!

This Post is about a legislative amendment that is set for review (and hopefully will be adopted?!?) this coming week. Your support is urgently needed, to help restore local authority so that local officials can manage impacts caused by their local airports. A link to help you easily contact your elected representative and encourage their support of HR 2997, is located near the end of this Post. Here’s the background….

The Problem…

We have a problem. A BIG PROBLEM! The system of government in this nation, which was designed to empower individuals and ensure we can work together to prosper and share great lives, has become coopted. Money now controls everything. Aviation offers a concise case study of how bad this has become:

  • the ‘money’ is in the airlines, the manufacturers, the airport authorities, and the industry lobbyists; they spend this money to gain support from FAA and elected officials, to manipulate rules and procedures for their own profits.
  • all of the above have a near-total bias toward expanding airport operations, and a near-total indifference to the impacts that are destroying even historic residential neighborhoods.
  • the environmental costs are not just an inconvenience; the repetitive noise and air pollutants, now being concentrated over new ‘noise ghettoes’ below, create sleep loss, asthma, stress, heart failure, and other serious/fatal medical conditions.
  • citizens who speak up are routinely beaten down; their concerns are diminished and ignored by all authorities; pro-aviation trolls launch attacks via social media; we are led to feel we are ‘against progress’, which is so false (…in fact, we can clearly have moderation and managed impacts that still allow all the real ‘progress’ that an airport can provide – without destroying health & quality of life).
  • when we, as impacted citizens, approach elected officials, we soon learn these so-called ‘representatives’ exist only to fund their next election campaign … and so, they are nearly ALWAYS beholden to industry players; i.e., they will act empathetic and say they are concerned, but their ACTIONS achieve no resolution of our problems. Furthermore, when we look closely at the current Congress, we see that important gatekeepers, such as the Rules Committee, appear to have heavily biased memberships (which, if abused, can be used to summarily dismiss all amendments that do not serve party objectives).
  • when we approach the mainstream media, we quickly see their enormous bias … always in favor of money, always happy to pass on misinformation.
  • when we approach the courts, they too dismiss our concerns.

Given all of this, we could just consider it a lost cause, but we really must guard against that. Instead, let’s pick our strategy carefully, and coordinate our efforts. We have to do this, especially for the next generation.

The Solution…

The very heart of the solution is LOCAL CONTROL. All airports – even O’Hare and Atlanta, the two busiest in the world – ultimately serve the local community. So, why in the world would we let FAA bureaucrats in DC take away the right – and responsibility(!) – of local officials to impose curfew hours, limit operations per hour, and impose other safe and reasonable policies that properly balance airport impacts with airline profit margins? Simply, we WOULD NOT DO THIS. This has happened, only because FAA is a captured regulator; FAA is only pretending to regulate the very industry it serves. And we are the victims, the collateral damages.

This is where the Polis Amendment comes in. Jared Polis, a Congressman representing citizens near the skydiving-noise impact-zone around the Longmont airport, has been working hard to assist those impacted. They have worked for years to get cooperation from Mile Hi, but profitable tandem jumps help the Mile Hi owner, Frank Casares, to refuse to cooperate. Local elected officials feel powerless and defer to FAA, but FAA does nothing… all they want to do is enable aviation commerce, with no regard for the ‘costs’ imposed on others. And so, the problems continue. (click here to view many other aiREFORM articles about Mile Hi and impacts around Longmont)

Here are two recent graphics about the Longmont impacts:

Notice how the climbs are routinely done a few miles AWAY from the actual airport. This helps keep airport neighbors from complaining; it also dumps noise pollution on distant neighbors, many of whom are unaware why they keep hearing so many planes. (click on image to view source tweet)

The shifting of skydiving climbs away from the airport is not only a dumping of noise pollution, it is also DANGEROUS: other pilots, flying through the area, will have a much harder time spotting the skydive aircraft when they are not within a couple miles of the target airport. (click on image to view source tweet)

The Polis Amendment seeks to add text to the FAA Reauthorization Bill (HR 2997), to explicitly restore Local Control of GA Airports (i.e., at General Aviation airports that primarily serve recreational pilots). HR 2997 is also known as the ’21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act’, or AIRR, and is being pushed by Bill Shuster, along with lobbyist A4A, the airlines, and officials like Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. The ‘Reform’ part is a cruel joke; these reforms will only further empower corporate greed, while disempowering us individual citizens. The bill is working its way up to a final vote by the House. The process this week includes getting the amendment approved by the Rules Committee (probably in a meeting on Monday), then proceeding to discussion (probably Wednesday) and eventually for final debate on the House floor.

Here is a copy of the text, proposed for addition at the end of Title VI (Miscellaneous):

So, people who can see […and hear, and BREATHE(!) the impacts of unmitigated aviation…] all need to be heard this week. Contact your elected representative, and let them know why they need to support the Polis Amendment, why WE NEED to restore local control of our LOCAL airports.

This is the first step. Eventually, local control also needs to include empowering the hundreds of thousands of residents impacted under concentrated NextGen routes, to have a real voice – and the democratic authority – to impose curfews, hourly operations limits and other capacity management restrictions that best serve the local community. Every great journey starts with a single step, and local control at GA airports needs support even from those of us who live in the new noise ghettoes FAA is creating, via NextGen.

Take Action, Please!

Please contact your elected representative. Here’s a handy link to identify your rep:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

For further information, please see this petition at Change.org. This is an excellent petition, laying out the goals for resolving all sorts of aviation impacts across the nation. The petition proposes the following seven elements for the 2017 FAA Reauthorization, now being considered by Congress:

  1. Update noise metrics used to evaluate significant exposure.
  2. Require environmental impact reviews prior to flight path changes.
  3. Mandate a robust and transparent community engagement process, including pre-decisional public hearings, for any new or modified flight paths or “flight boxes.”
  4. Restore local control over airport operations.
  5. Remove the FAA from oversight of environmental quality and public health.
  6. Mandate robust data collection and analysis of aviation noise and other pollutants near airports.
  7. Ban flights over and within 2 miles of designated noise sensitive areas.

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!

KSEA North Flow Arrivals: How Federal Way Residential Communities are Impacted

Here’s an example flight, showing how FAA/ATC chooses to accommodate airline profits ahead of citizen impacts. In this case, ATC controls a North Flow arrival from Alaska, to land on Runway 34L at SeaTac [KSEA]:

Assorted online images showing the arrival satview and data for Alaska Flight 914, Anchorage-Seattle, landing at 11:22AM on Friday, 7/14/2017. Notice how, as the arrival approached the south end of Vashon Island, ATC issued a left turn, which created low-altitude noise impacts on the north shore area of Federal Way / Dash Point. Notice also, the incredibly straight route for most of the flight; this shows, the ‘direct route’ efficiencies proclaimed as a key NextGen selling point in fact already exist! (source: FlightAware)

And, here’s a VFR sectional (aviation chart) that enables us to precisely identify distances ‘on final’, from the approach end of the runway at KSEA:

A screencap showing the ASA914 route superimposed on a VFR sectional. Note the gridlines on the VFR sectional; the tick-marks on the vertical gridlines are one statute mile apart. Red lines and tags have been added to this image, marking 5-mile, 10-mile, and 15-mile distances on a final to land Runway 34L. Contrary to Port of Seattle claims in the past, Runway 34L has become the primary landing runway at SeaTac, when in North Flow. (source: FlightAware)

The Problem:

Air traffic controllers (ATCs) generally do not factor environmental impacts into their control decisions. So, if an arrival lined up on the NextGen RNAV route over Vashon Island sees the airport on a clear day, if other traffic allows, ATC will be inclined to turn that arrival early, to line up onto a short final. In this example, that early turn happened because ATC saw enough space to safely issue the early turn, ahead of the next arrival. This arrival turned final near 279th. The consequences include an adverse impact upon thousands of homes, because early turns need to be much lower, to make the descent to the landing runway.

The Solution:

ATC needs to fully incorporate community concerns into their standard operating procedures.

For noise mitigation, and to protect residential communities, turns should be conducted no closer than to a 10-mile final. In this example, a turn to a 10-mile final (near Wild Waves) would occur over industrial/commercial properties at the Port of Tacoma, thus would potentially impact thousands fewer homes.

To the left, see an example of a later flight that was kept higher and, turned onto final at a distance of approximately 14-miles: Xiamen Air Flight #845, a Boeing 788, from Shenzhen, China (near Hong Kong).