2017-01-06: ‘Accountability Check’

Below is a sample of a recent query to FAA, and a reply by an FAA official. This example relates to NextGen impacts in western Long Island, near the [KJFK] and [KLGA] airports. The original query was directed to Carmine Gallo, FAA’s Regional Administrator, but passed on to Rick Riley at the FAA HQ Noise Ombudsman Office.

You can judge for yourself … how well did the FAA official do in the reply?

  1. Did he or she answer any questions?
  2. Did he or she inform and educate?
  3. Did he or she clarify who is accountable, or did he or she identify who is responsible?
  4. Did he or she go a step further and identify the problem, then take action to actually FIX THE PROBLEM?
  5. …or, did he or she just return a mumbo-jumbo form letter response, with added platitudes and pro-aviation propaganda, while obscuring accountability and kicking the can down the road?

View copies at these links: Query, Reply. Here’s how the impacted homeowner judged Mr. Riley’s email reply:

We need our questions answered from the FAA &/or the PA and we need them now!! No more shifting blame. Someone needs to take responsibility!!

One Table Shows the Reality of NextGen

Here’s some data to ponder as we start into a new year: a table, showing commercial operations at each of FAA’s OEP-35 airports, from 2007 onward.

Focus first on the pink column, three columns from the right edge; the airports are ranked in descending order, by the percent decline in annual operations, comparing 2015 with 2007.

Note that the largest declines, at Cincinnati [KCVG], Cleveland [KCLE], and Memphis [KMEM] are huge: down 61%, 53%, and 43% respectively. Note also, the declines are even larger when you compare Total Annual Operations in 2015 vs the various historic peak years for each OEP-35 airport, in the two columns on the far right; for these figures (which include general aviation and military operations data), all airports have declined, ranging from 74% to 2% and averaging 24%.

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

Three facts stand out from this table, and they all strongly contradict the sales pitches that FAA and industry have been collaborating on the past few years:

  1. Note the bright green line across the table. Just under it are five airports: Charlotte [KCLT], Reagan National [KDCA], Miami [KMIA], Seattle [KSEA] and San Francisco [KSFO]. These are the only five of the OEP-35 airports that recorded an increase in commercial operations from 2007 to 2015; i.e., 6 out of 7 OEP airports SLOWED substantially while the national population grew.
  2. The airport identifiers marked in a dark-red background color are the airports that in 2016 had extensive noise complaint histories (documented online, and in the mainstream media) related to route concentrations under NextGen. Routinely, FAA has imposed these routes without adequate public review, abusing the ‘categorical exclusion’ process. Numerous legal actions have resulted.
  3. For all OEP-35 airports combined, commercial operations have steadily declined 11% from 2007 to 2015, nearly every year. This is industry contraction. And furthermore, the vast majority of U.S. commercial airports peaked in the 1990s, some more than two decades ago!

WIth the new year, we’ll see a new adminstration and changes at FAA and DoT. Don’t be fooled by the impending onslaught of yet another round of propaganda. The U.S. NAS is operating at far below historic peaks and continuing to trend downward. Growth is rare, and limited to key airports where airlines are concentrating flights into superhubs that severely impact local quality of life. The only true beneficiaries of NextGen and ATC privatization are industry stakeholders (especially the airline CEOs, FAA officials, lobbyists, and manufacturers, plus a few elected officials), who will narrowly share the profits while completely ignoring the larger environmental costs.

We don’t need oversold technology fixes pitching RNAV and RNP solutions that have been used for decades; technologies that could and would serve us all beautifully, if FAA would assert its authority with balance, and manage capacity at the largest U.S. hub airports. We need airports to serve communities while being truly environmentally responsible. And for that to happen, we need a new era of transparency and accountability at FAA. We need reform.

[KJFK]: PlaneSense 4 LI’s Latest Letter sent to Carmine Gallo, Seeking Relief

Elaine Miller’s letter lays out the facts about the ongoing and expanded Noise Hell, brought by FAA & NextGen (and sustained by the failure of elected officials to demand reform at FAA). This is a growinng problem, not just at Malverne (which is hit by KJFK ‘Arc of Doom’ arrivals to runways 22 and KJFK Runway 4 departures using the DEEZZ4 RNAV DEP and the JFK3 DEP, as well as Localizer arrivals to KLGA Runway 31), but across the nation.

Categorical Exclusions were a bad idea. They enabled FAA to approve more operations, at lower altitudes, closer in to the runways, and with excruciating repetition. Frankly, these past few years, FAA’s failed performance is serving only airline profits … and at great cost to the People. A change is long overdue.

Here’s a copy of the latest letter sent to Carmine Gallo, Regional Administrator for FAA’s Eastern Region:

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

NASA Research Papers on ATC Automation, from 1972 and 1989

NextGen efficiency improvements are pitched as ‘transformative’, but in fact the alleged changes are nothing new. The bulk of the alleged ‘benefits’ FAA, A4A and Bill Shuster claims NextGen can deliver have been realized for more than two decades. It doesn’t take much effort for online research to reveal substantial evidence of this fact. Here’s a short quote from an interview:

QUOTE

“…we built these descent trajectories to be an idle thrust descent all the way to the bottom . . . . you’re flying at thirty-five thousand and you know the route you’re going to fly. Now imagine you have to pick a time, while you’re flying, to land down there. You’re given the command, OK, close your throttles, never touch them again, but be assured that you’re going to get there without turning the throttles back on again….”

– interview comments by Heinz Erzberger, an ATC researcher at NASA Ames, discussing research back in the 1970s

Read more in copies of these research papers by Mr. Erzberger, from 1972 and from 1989.

[KORD]: Safety is Losing Out with the O’Hare Modernization Plan

One week ago, United 441 departed Orlando [KMCO] late in the day on a scheduled trip to O’Hare [KORD]. The flight history was normal up until the last moment, when the Boeing 757 slid off the edge of the runway and ended up in the mud at 12:53AM. FlightAware shows the flight made it to the gate two hours later.

It turns out, the flight was cleared to land on Runway 4L at a time when runway traction was reduced (after hours of light snow and mist) and the winds were poorly aligned with the runway (nominally a 70-degree crosswind per this official weather: METAR KORD 180651Z 33017G25KT 1SM R10L/P6000FT -SN BR BKN017 OVC043 M08/M11 A2994 RMK AO2 PK WND 33029/0618).

A group in the Chicago area, FAiR.org, issued this press release, making some very credible points. It appears that, in the mad rush to spend billions replacing the O’Hare runway system with a gazillion east-west runways, the busiest commercial airport in the world is losing its capacity to offer runways aligned with the wind, which are needed most during poor weather. The multi-parallel runways, and the NextGen reliance on automation (in the tower, and on the flight deck), are increasing runway throughput but decreasing safety margins.

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

And what is driving all of this? The desire to be the world’s number one airport, in terms of operations per year. For a few years, Atlanta [KATL] took that title away from O’Hare. Atlanta operates using a set of five parallel east-west runways. Atlanta is Delta’s superHub, and an enormous fraction (well over half?) of arriving passengers never leave the airport… they sit and wait enjoying the comfortable seatpitch on the same plane, or they walk to another gate and depart on a different flight.

FAA is collaborating with the airlines with the same business plan at O’Hare, which is a superHub for both United and American. The safety consequences are not insignificant, but there are environmental impacts, too. Here’s two serious environmental problems with these superHubs:

  1. when a huge portion of arriving passengers are using the airport only as a connecting point, the number of flights in and out of the airport each day far surpasses what is needed to serve the actual community. So, you end up with double, triple, or more flights per hour as are needed. Under NextGen, some neighborhoods like Bensenville are inundated with nonstop noise related to the superHub airport.
  2. the carbon footprint for each passenger is greatly increased. Essentially, every time a passenger connects at a superHub not on the direct route between origin and destination, it increases miles travelled. It is quite common in the U.S. for airlines to offer discounted airfares to fill seats, so they offer itineraries that add 20% or more to the miles travelled. This translates to that passenger generating a proportional increase in fuel consuming to carry their butt/baggage to their destination. More time, more hassle, more CO2, but too many of us are conditioned to ignore that because we ‘stole a great deal’, saving $20 when we clicked the buy button.

[KSEA]: One Way FAA can Use NextGen to Optimize Noise Mitigation

Here’s a tip for how to very effectively expose FAA’s NextGen failure: study how ATC handles arriving flights during low-traffic time periods. For example, at the SeaTac Airport [KSEA], where Delta’s decision to start up a new hub in 2012 is causing substantial growth in annual airport operations, the arrivals stay busy through most of the day, but there are a few hours each night when you can find only one arrival being worked. So, the question is, what is the shortest arrival routing ATC will issue when working a single, all-alone arrival, and how does that arrival route change with the addition of more arrivals?

When you study the empirical flight data, you quickly find the answers, and they consistently show: FAA’s largest impediment to system efficiency is simply TOO MANY FLIGHTS. In other words, if FAA really cared to optimize safety and efficiency, they would focus on managing capacity, keeping operations per hour below thresholds that precipitate delays and congestion.

Consider a Recent Arrival: United 505 from Denver

One example of this was United 505, which arrived after 2AM on Tuesday, December 20th. First, notice the overall flight on the satellite view below: as has been the case for many decades, they flew a straight line from Denver, with no zig-zags. Notice, too, that the only significant distances were added at Denver and at Seattle, as needed to accomplish transition to and from the enroute portion of the flight.
ksea-20161220at0229scp-ual505-arr-f-kden-crossover-s-of-ksea-for-elliott-bay-to-s-flow

How Can FAA Better Use the NextGen Technologies?

ksea-20161220scp-optimized-route-and-profile-over-elliott-bay-to-s-flow-vfrsectional-marked-up

(VFR sectional with a red curve added, depicting an optimized noise mitigation approach over Puget Sound and Elliott Bay. Crossing altitudes at 8000ft and 3000ft are added, red text on green background.)

The residents of Seattle are lucky to have a large water body that aligns well with their main commercial airport. But, the basic design elements needed to optimize noise mitigation were not fully considered when FAA was selling NextGen. Key design elements should have included:

  1. keep the arrivals high as long as possible. (way back in the 1970s, FAA actually had a noise mitigation program called ‘Keep em High’!)
  2. for the final ten miles, set up each arrival for a continuous rate of descent, optimally at around 300-ft per mile flown. (thus, arrivals should be designed to cross a fix at roughly ten-miles from the runway end, and 3,000ft above airport elevation)
  3. for the distance from 20-miles to 10-miles from the runway end, design a higher rate of descent, perhaps 500-ft per mile flown. (thus, arrivals would descend from 8,000ft above airport elevation to 3,000ft above airport elevation, during this 10-mile portion of the arrival; with this design, commonly used flight automation systems would enable pilots to easily comply with the designed optimized descent profile and route)
  4. plan to have ATC accomplish sequencing, spacing and speed management to the point where the final 20-miles of the approach begins. (in this case, roughly mid-channel over the Vashon ferry route, at an altitude nominally 8,000 feet MSL)

Interestingly, this proposal is quite similar to one of the approaches that FAA designed and implemented, the RNAV (RNP) Z Runway 16R Approach:ksea-20161204cpy-rnav-rnp-z-rwy16r-ifr-plate
For years, in an extended and heavily-coordinated pitch to sell the NextGen program in Seattle, FAA and others pushed the idea that all arrivals from the west side (from California, Oregon, Hawaii, coastal BC & Alaska) would be routed inbound over Elliott Bay during the predominant south flow landings at SeaTac. This was a good idea, but FAA did not go far enough. I.e., when FAA designed this approach procedure, they focused solely on the portion from the middle of Elliott Bay to the runway; they should have also focused on how each flight would get to that point in Elliott Bay (look for ‘SEGAW’ in the plate above). A truly optimized approach would define fixes and precise altitudes, starting between the fix VASHN (on the approach plate above) and the Fauntleroy ferry dock; such an optimized approach would route each arrival over-water and eventually over the vicinity of the stadiums, and would include speed and altitude profiles easily achieved by today’s air carrier fleet. Note that the profile view for the current deficient approach procedure (above) starts at fix WOTIK, which is at a 6-mile final and well south of Spokane Street.

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:

201106scp-conventional-vs-rnav-vs-rnp-faa-zigzag-graphic-at-pg7-of-satnavnews_summer_2011

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)

‘NextGen Fixes’ Tend to be Slow, and Tend to Serve to Advance the Propaganda

Thankfully, some progress has been seen for the [NextGen impact case] at [KSFO], but the repetitive noise impact problems persist nationwide, and in fact, appear to be worsening. In almost all cases, the rare ‘NextGen-fixes’ have three key elements:

  1. the NextGen-fixes further crystallize FAA’s ongoing delay tactics; i.e., just getting to the time when an announcement can be made with a new NextGen-fix eats up months and even years. Moreover, the declared ‘solution’ consistently contains absurdly long timelines for each subsequent goal or step.
  2. the NextGen-fixes tend to help the Public nowhere near as much as they serve FAA and the elected officials. The announcements make elected officials look like they are serving their constituents, thus bolstering their incumbency chances … even though these same officials could and should be far MORE aggressive in demanding performance and immediate corrective actions by FAA. And,
  3. the NextGen-fixes continue to sell NextGen as a solution, when in fact it is the problem. I.e., the news releases and other documents are constantly laced with keywords and quoted lines from FAA’s fraudulent NextGen salespitch.

Here’s a short (just over 1-minute) home-video showing and explaining the impacts FAA’s NextGen SERFR arrivals are having on residents between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

20150720scp-t-rein-1m5s-video-to-save-our-skies-re-nextgen-impacts-scotts-valley

(click on image to view source video at Facebook)

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.

20160627scp-rnav-vs-conventional-zigzag-navigation-faa-lying-to-sell-nextgen-at-time-1m07s-of-4m45s-video

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

20160627scp-rnav-vs-conventional-zigzag-navigation-faa-lying-to-sell-nextgen-blueframe-at-time-1m13s-of-4m45s-video

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.

20140618-portion-of-pic-kiah-nextgen-metroplex-celebration-speech-pic-huerta-rinaldi-et-al

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.