Today’s FAA: Serving only Aviation Money by Perpetuating Environmental Impacts

Three current satellite views that illustrate how different nations balance aviation commerce with residential quality of life. The images also show how backwards the U.S. FAA has become, with the widening failures to protect people from aviation impacts.

The first image shows Austria’s largest airport, Vienna International Airport, which serves a metropolitan area with a population of 2.6 million. The airport is 11-miles southeast of the urban center, and surrounding by farmland. This airport was a recent news splash, when a federal court ruled against the addition of a third runway, on the grounds it would prevent Austria from achieving carbon-reduction goals associated with the Paris climate agreement.

The second image shows Portland International Airport [KPDX], in Oregon, which serves a metropolitan area quite comparable to Vienna (with an estimated 2.4 million residents). The airport is 6-miles northeast of the urban core; the land was formerly agricultural but has generally been industrialized and commercialized, often after the regional port authority uses federal funds to buy up adjacent properties.
The third image shows what may be the worst example of FAA obstructing local control, forcing noise and air pollution upon a densely developed residential community: Santa Monica, California [KSMO]. No farmland, and no other buffers to protect residents, with houses literally just past the runway ends. People have had fences and lawn furniture knocked down by the blast of private jets, and even charter jets carrying just one VIP passenger. The noise and the exposure to toxic lead and carbon soot is far beyond what is found at even much busier hub airports. FAA has allowed the airport to continue to operate despite effectively having no safety buffers, to protect both aircraft occupants and aircraft neighbors. The fiery crash that killed four in September 2013 is an example of how critical it is for jets to have ample clear space, to keep everyone safe.

Operationally, Portland and Vienna are quite similar. The Vienna airport website includes a news release noting there were 226K operations in CY-2016.FAA’s ATADS-OPSNET database notes that Portland International had 228K operations in CY-2016. One distinct difference, though, is that the Viennese traffic is stable, while the Portland traffic has steadily declined for two decades, and is now down 31% from peak year 1997.

Santa Monica is most famous as the airport where Harrison Ford hangars his toys; his playtime, even when it involves forced landings on golf courses and nearly hitting a commercial jet while failing to land on the Orange County runway, is more important than the health and happiness of thousands of residents. So, the same federal regulator that expends thousands of hours impeding local control and a safer SMO airport, would never even dream of clipping the wings of Mr. Ford.

This is a no-brainer: FAA needs to let local officials close KSMO, or at least disallow jets. The main impediment to cleaning this up is Michael Huerta’s FAA. If he cannot get his captured employees to do their jobs, he needs to leave.

2016 ATADS Data Posted, Shows U.S. Air Traffic Activity Remains Severely Depressed Overall

FAA has posted the official traffic counts for calendar year 2016, so another analysis can be done to see how much aviation activity has declined in the U.S. This analysis is important as it fully debunks – using FAA’s own data, no less – one of the core lies being used by FAA and others while trying to sell both ATC privatization and NextGen: the false claim that air traffic is ‘increasingly congested’.

The reality is quite the opposite: the U.S. aviation system is shockingly decongested, with activity depressed far below levels two decades ago. At the vast majority of airports with ATC (and these are the airports with reliable traffic counts), operations (landings and takeoffs) are down 30%, 40% even more than 70% from peak traffic years. There is a large ‘dead-zone’ of vastly underutilized airport infrastructure across the heart of the nation, most of it abandoned by FAA and the airlines; it stretches from St. Louis to Memphis to Pittsburgh to Detroit and on to Kansas City, coinciding with much of the region that tipped the election to Donald Trump. The ‘reliever airports’ developed by FAA in the 80’s and 90’s are relieving nothing. Indeed, these airports are increasingly serving only an elite few, as FAA continues to direct air passenger taxes toward expanding and maintaining these facilities. This is a classic example of the masses paying to subsidize those who least need a subsidy … primarily to enable elites to zip about in their private jets or via expensive air charter services, staying away from the TSA hassles while using their own network of smaller secured airports.

The database is searchable via the ATADS-OPSNET webpage. For this analysis, the annual operations data was compiled for 86 airports, including all of the ‘ASPM-77’ airports and nine other airports that have previously been studied by aiREFORM. It is reasonable to assume that FAA’s ASPM airport list essentially includes all of the most significant commercial airports, accounting for over 99% of all routes flown for both passengers and cargo. That said, the list is also a bit odd for the airports it does not include, most of which were busy GA training fields in 2016, such as: Deer Valley, AZ (DVT, with 370K ops in 2016), Centennial, CO (APA, with 332K ops), Daytona Beach, FL (DAB, with 307K ops), and Sanford, FL (SFB, with 289K ops).

The 86 airports are divided into four groups below. The first three groups comprise the 36 busiest U.S. airports since 1990; i.e., these are the 36 airports known to have had at least one year averaging 1,000 operations per day, in the historical record going back to 1990. These 36 airports are broken into three groups: airline hubs that are generally not declining, airline hubs that have already declined substantially, and non-hub airports serving primarily general aviation (GA). The fourth group, includes the 50 other key U.S. airports, though these are slower, as none of them has ever achieved an annual average of 1,000 daily operations.

This First Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the eleven primarily-commercial airports that show sustained performance. For 2016, two of these airports were in their peak year (SFO and JFK); the nine other airports each declined no more than 13% from peak year operations levels. These airports have the following characteristics:

  1. each of these airports had a Peak Year in their history, with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations; only MCO (Orlando) did not sustain that performance in 2016.
  2. notice that each airport is nearly pure commercial traffic; at each of these airports, 95% to 99% of operations are air carrier or air taxi.
  3. notice also, each airport had less than 5% local traffic (most had zero local pattern operations).
  4. these airports tend to be major ‘hubs’, where the airlines schedule more flights than are needed to serve the local community; thus, noise and pollution impacts on neighborhoods are increased, so that the airlines can bolster profits by accommodating many ‘through-passengers’.
Airport 2016 Total Operations 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
ATL (Atlanta, GA) 898,356 99% 2007 991,627 -9%
ORD (Chicago, IL) 867,635 99% 2004 992,471 -13%
LAX (Los Angeles, CA) 696,890 96% 2000 783,684 -11%
DEN (Denver, CO) 572,520 99% 2010 635,458 -10%
CLT (Charlotte, NC) 545,742 95% 2013 557,955 -2%
JFK (Queens, NY) 458,707 98% 2016 458,707 0%
SFO (San Francisco, CA) 450,391 97% 2016 450,391 0%
EWR (Newark, NJ) 431,214 97% 1997 467,443 -8%
SEA (Seattle, WA) 412,170 99% 2000 445,677 -8%
LGA (Flushing, NY) 374,487 98% 2006 406,211 -8%
MCO (Orlando, FL) 323,914 95% 2007 367,860 -12%
average change: -7%

The Second Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the sixteen primarily-commercial airports that have NOT shown sustained performance. A quick review of this group shows:

  1. each of these airports had a Peak Year in their history, with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations; in 2016, nine of the airports sustained that performance (though with an average decline of 25% from Peak Year), while seven of the airports now average below 1,000 ops/day (with an average decline of 50% from Peak Year).
  2. notice that, as with the first group, each airport had less than 5% local traffic, and each airport is predominantly commercial. I.e., air carrier and air taxi traffic accounts for 85% to 99% of total operations; twelve airports were 90% or higher commercial, and only Honolulu (HNL), Washington-Dulles (IAD), Pittsburgh (PIT) and Salt Lake City (SLC) had less than 90% commercial traffic.
  3. these airports tend to be lesser ‘hubs’, former hubs, or non-hubs.
  4. the bottom five airports [Washington-Dulles (IAD), Memphis (MEM), St. Louis (STL), Pittsburgh (PIT), and Cincinnati (CVG)] illustrate the consequences of wholesale hub abandonment by airlines. In each case, a dominant airline typically was having difficulty getting tax or labor concessions from the community, so they chose to abandon billions of dollars worth of terminal, runway, and other infrastructure, in the pursuit of marginal profits.
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DFW (Dallas – Ft Worth, TX) 672,748 99% 1997 934,624 -28%
LAS (Las Vegas, NV) 535,740 92% 2006 619,474 -14%
IAH (Houston, TX) 470,780 98% 2007 603,641 -22%
PHX (Phoenix, AZ) 440,643 95% 2000 638,757 -31%
MIA (Miami, FL) 414,234 95% 1995 576,936 -28%
MSP (Minneapolis – St Paul, MN) 412,898 97% 2004 540,727 -24%
BOS (Boston, MA) 395,811 96% 1998 515,788 -23%
PHL (Philadelphia, PA) 394,022 96% 2005 536,153 -27%
DTW (Detroit, MI) 393,427 98% 1999 559,548 -30%
SLC (Salt Lake City, UT) 320,259 85% 2005 455,214 -30%
HNL (Honolulu, HI) 305,608 80% 1992 403,708 -24%
IAD (Washington-Dulles, VA) 292,124 87% 2005 553,021 -47%
MEM (Memphis, TN) 224,883 90% 2003 402,362 -44%
STL (St Louis, MO) 190,517 95% 1995 517,961 -63%
PIT (Pittsburgh, PA) 141,630 89% 1997 457,732 -69%
CVG (Cincinnati, OH) 137,225 95% 2004 515,851 -73%
average change: -36%

The Third Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the nine busiest general aviation airports that historically had a Peak Year with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations. Only one of these airports has shown a sustained performance: Deer Valley (DVT), a major training airport in the Phoenix area. A quick review of this group shows:

  1. only one of these airports has more than 36% commercial (air carrier and air taxi) operations; five of the airports have less than 25% commercial operations.
  2. the outlier is Oakland (OAK), which is a unique airport that has historically operated as two separate airports, even with separate ATC towers. It has served as a major hub for Southwest on the east side of the Bay Area, but aside from that is essentially a non-hub.
  3. even with major training airports (which often cater to students from around the world), the decline in operations is profound. For Florida, the two listed airports averaged a 22% decline; for California, the four listed airports averaged a 52% decline from Peak Year.
  4. when airport flight schools import students, the flight school expands profits while airport neighbors endure substantially higher impacts; not just noise, but also air pollutants, including toxic exhaust from the leaded fuel still used in most small airplanes and helicopters. This is a serious issue for airport neighbors, in terms of both health and quality-of-life. Hillsboro, OR (HIO) is another example (see further down, in the Fourth Group); here, the Hillsboro Aero Academy gets cover from the Port of Portland and FAA while imposing their impacts.
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DVT (Phoenix, AZ) 370,034 65% 2006 406,507 -9%
APA (Englewood, CO) 332,111 47% 1998 466,267 -29%
DAB (Daytona Beach, FL) 307,333 47% 36% 2001 373,812 -18%
SNA (Santa Ana, CA) 300,354 30% 36% 1991 569,241 -47%
LGB (Long Beach, CA) 294,886 52% 1994 488,313 -40%
SFB (Sanford, FL) 289,312 55% 36% 2001 397,557 -27%
OAK (Oakland, CA) 222,799 15% 67% 1999 524,205 -57%
VNY (Van Nuys, CA) 213,566 31% 1999 598,564 -64%
BFI (Seattle, WA) 169,641 26% 1994 422,804 -60%
average change: -39%

The Fourth Group (below) provides a ranked listing of fifty additional airports, none of which has had Peak Year traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations (at least not since 1990). A quick review of this group shows:

  1. these airports tend to be either minor commercial hubs heavily dominated by one airline, or general aviation airports. some of the airports are , including.
  2. the extent of decline is again profound, averaging 38% for the whole group.
  3. The one most significant outlier in this list is Bellingham, WA (BLI). Here, we have an airport near the Canadian border, catering to passengers who cross the US-Canada border to catch cheaper flights. When the Canadian ATC system was privatized, a schedule of steep fees and taxes was imposed to generate needed revenues. Niche airlines like Allegiant took advantage of this, offering scant flight schedules (often just one or two trips per week) out of airports within a few hours’ drive of Canadian residents. Impacted communities include: Bellingham, Flint, Toledo, Niagara Falls, Ogdensburg, Plattsburgh, Burlington, and Bangor. The result, again, was airline profits and a tiny few local part-time jobs, with uncompensated aviation impacts on airport neighbors.
  4. Washington-Reagan (DCA) is an emerging hub. Here, we have a major commercial airport near the Capitol, growing quickly and increasingly impacting neighborhoods, but its growth comes from the downsizing of two other DC-area airports; i.e., both Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Baltimore-Washington (BWI) are declining as their seat capacity and operations are shifted closer in to the nation’s capitol.
  5. Dallas-Love (DAL) is another emerging hub. In this case, we have an airport for which FAA and Congress imposed restrictions, way back in the 1960s, to prop up the new major hub at DFW. Those restrictions ended a few years ago, so now Southwest is busily growing their DAL schedule to destinations previously not allowed. [Interestingly, the same pattern of lifted restrictions applies to the DC area; when federal funds were used in the 1960s to develop IAD, restrictions were imposed on DCA, but now that the restrictions are lifted, IAD is being largely abandoned.]
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DCA (Washington-Reagan, VA) 299,670 98% 2000 342,790 -13%
FLL (Ft Lauderdale, FL) 290,239 87% 2005 330,967 -12%
ANC (Anchorage, AK) 279,861 68% 1997 318,080 -12%
MDW (Chicago, IL) 253,046 85% 2004 339,670 -26%
BWI (Baltimore-Washington, MD) 248,585 94% 2001 323,771 -23%
PDX (Portland, OR) 227,709 90% 1997 329,790 -31%
DAL (Dallas, TX) 224,193 73% 2000 256,787 -13%
HOU (Houston, TX) 202,106 71% 1997 262,892 -23%
HIO (Hillsboro, OR) 197,763 58% 2008 260,957 -24%
SAN (San Diego, CA) 196,935 95% 1995 245,280 -20%
BNA (Nashville, TN) 194,758 80% 1993 315,049 -38%
RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC) 193,453 73% 2000 296,434 -35%
AUS (Austin, TX) 192,032 68% 2003 222,100 -14%
TPA (Tampa, FL) 189,682 88% 2000 278,632 -32%
TEB (Teterboro, NJ) 177,606 42% 2000 282,847 -37%
HPN (White Plains, NY) 164,511 43% 1999 222,274 -26%
SAT (San Antonio, TX) 164,393 66% 1998 273,345 -40%
IND (Indianapolis, IN) 162,294 90% 2000 259,860 -38%
SJC (San Jose, CA) 160,509 79% 1991 340,875 -53%
SDF (Louisville, KY) 156,200 91% 1994 184,653 -15%
SJU (San Juan, PR) 154,727 89% 2000 236,903 -35%
PBI (West Palm Beach, FL) 144,527 58% 1993 233,558 -38%
TUS (Tucson, AZ) 137,561 22% 37% 2005 284,555 -52%
OGG (Maui, HI) 136,654 85% 1999 188,387 -27%
MSY (New Orleans, LA) 134,263 90% 1994 175,493 -23%
ABQ (Albuquerque, NM) 133,828 10% 55% 2002 254,568 -47%
BUR (Burbank, CA) 132,391 21% 48% 1991 224,033 -41%
ISP (Islip, NY) 124,164 47% 2000 238,239 -48%
MCI (Kansas City, MO) 122,844 97% 1999 219,956 -44%
CLE (Cleveland, OH) 118,653 92% 2000 331,899 -64%
MKE (Milwaukie, WI) 113,715 87% 1999 221,866 -49%
SMF (Sacramento, CA) 111,187 91% 2007 180,037 -38%
JAX (Jacksonville, FL) 103,788 70% 1999 161,539 -36%
BUF (Buffalo, NY) 97,605 16% 72% 2000 165,334 -41%
OMA (Omaha, NE) 96,275 71% 1999 188,216 -49%
BDL (Windsor Locks, CT) 94,812 81% 1999 183,444 -48%
BHM (Birmingham, AL) 94,401 53% 1991 180,961 -48%
ONT (Ontario, CA) 91,671 80% 1994 159,895 -43%
BLI (Bellingham, WA) 84,600 32% 29% 2000 89,730 -6%
RSW (Ft Myers, FL) 79,151 89% 2005 96,148 -18%
OXR (Oxnard, CA) 74,151 55% 1993 137,933 -46%
BTV (Burlington, VT) 71,133 26% 37% 1991 123,146 -42%
PVD (Providence, RI) 70,088 17% 62% 1999 156,366 -55%
PSP (Palm Springs, CA) 55,919 55% 2002 109,509 -49%
MHT (Manchester, NH) 55,537 73% 1993 116,272 -52%
DAY (Dayton, OH) 51,854 76% 1991 189,896 -73%
SWF (Newburgh, NY) 43,851 21% 26% 1999 168,603 -74%
SLE (Salem, OR) 34,646 32% 2007 101,800 -66%
RFD (Rockford, IL) 34,356 21% 30% 1991 114,593 -70%
GYY (Gary, IN) 25,844 31% 1995 64,725 -60%
average change: -38%

Overall, ATADS data shows the ASPM-77 airports increasing commercial operations by 2%, from 2015 to 2016. But, the total remains 14% below system peak year (2000) and below annual totals for all years from 1993 through 2011. And, most importantly, if you separate out the main airports the few major airlines are increasingly focusing on, the operations at all other commercial airports are routinely down 30% or more from peak years. What we are watching is a slow reconfiguration by the airlines, to rely on roughly a dozen main ‘superHub’ airports, while gutting and even abandoning service at hundreds of communities.


See also:

Video of the February 4, 2017 Protest at Santa Monica Airport

The video produced for the latest Santa Monica protest rally is an outstanding example for how to conduct a peaceful and informative protest. Other aviation impact activists can learn from viewing this.

One point that comes through repeatedly within the rally is the deep concern the people have about health and aviation pollution. Incredibly, in the Consent Decree signed earlier that week, both FAA and the City were totally indifferent to these concerns; indeed, the only mention within the 63-page formal document is this paragraph, where FAA is pressing the City to formally abandon all environmental concerns.

Just a guess, but I suspect the four who voted to accept this Consent Decree (Pam O’Connor, Terry O’Day, Gleam Davis, and Ted Winterer) had not read this particular portion of the draft … and if they DID read it, they need to explain their ‘yes’ vote to the voters!

Here’s an embed of the video, followed by an expanded timeline, with a few quotes:

  • at the start of the video, Martin Rubin & Joan Winters (Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution) opened the rally.
  • 14:47Mike Bonin, Los Angeles City Council Member from District 11. A few quotes: “This has been a battle that has been going on for a very long time, and I will say that, for the past four years, I actually thought we were moving in a very good direction. I was thrilled and was glad to support the grassroots efforts of Santa Monica to push for the victory of LC and the defeat of D. And I was pleased to see the increasingly aggressive actions that the Santa Monica City Council was taking, as they went forward in trying to shut the airport down, in their battle against the FAA – a big, scary, monolithic organization, in that battle to try to get this airport shut down.”“My first reaction was, ‘wow, they’re going to shut this down, that’s good news’, and I was happy. And then I began to look into the details of the agreement. And my staff began to look into the details of the agreement. And, I began to hear from Marty, and others, who are experts and fluent in this. And while I was doing that I got a text from someone, a former elected official in Los Angeles, who said, ‘I just heard the news, Santa Monica Airport is shutting down; Bill Rosendahl is looking down smiling’. And, I texted back: ‘You know what? He sure as hell isn’t. He sure as hell isn’t’.”“Keeping this airport open for twelve more years is wrong,” followed by a series of injustices the airport is forcing onto local neighborhoods. Also, “If this runway is going to be shortened, it damned well better have a 1,000-ft buffer zone. It is unconscionable that the FAA, which is charged with protecting safety, has allowed a shorter than usual runway buffer zone in this area. It is absolutely unconscionable, and it puts people’s lives at risk. And I’m encouraging and calling on Santa Monica to do everything they can, to get rid of the damned leaded fuel sales at that airport. When I saw the LA Times story last week, I had hoped this was the end; it’s just another chapter.”
  • 20:40Santa Monica Mayor Ted Winterer was one of four who voted to accept the consent decree, and had been pre-scheduled to speak at the rally. He could have backed out, but bravely attended to explain his vote. Martin Rubin diplomatically introduced him, humorously asking the audience to hear him out and scream at him later.
  • 29:33 – Martin Rubin offered a civil rebuttal to Mayor Winterer’s comments, focusing on the need for engaged citizens and public process in an effective Democracy. “If the City thinks they’re fooling the people, well the FAA thinks they’re fooling the City. The FAA’s interest is in aviation – promoting aviation, economically mostly. They do not incorporate the views of the impacted communities. All around the country there are people that are very upset with things that have been going on with the FAA. This one friend of mine put it, ‘how can you tell when the FAA’s lying? Their lips are moving’.”
  • 40:10 – former Mayor Tony Vazquez was one of three Santa Monica City Council Members who voted against accepting FAA’s Consent Decree. Tony was not a scheduled speaker, but offered strong support for the work being done by Congressman Ted Lieu.
  • 43:54Sue Himmelrich, another of the three Santa Monica City Council Members (the third was former former Mayor Kevin McKeown) who voted against accepting FAA’s Consent Decree. Sue also was not a scheduled speaker, and offered strong support for Congressman Ted Lieu. She noted that both she and Ted Lieu are lawyers; that, she read the entire agreement prior to voting ‘no’, and she is sure Ted will read the full agreement, too, and will then make a just decision.
  • 47:02Laura Silagi, Venice Residents Against SMO, questioned the City’s ‘Fly Neighborly Program’. She explained how FAA dodges accountability and blames the program on the City. And, she explained the program’s impacts are a problem that needs to be solved now.
  • 52:10Alan Levenson, founder of ‘No Jets SMO’, read a review of the history of this airport, going all the way back to the Douglas airplane factory. For each change and each obstruction to progress, he noted: “The simple answer is money.”
  • 1:02:28 – Martin Rubin discussed facts and propaganda: “What the City put out is all propaganda.”
  • 1:02:56Susan Hartley, former Santa Monica Airport Commissioner: “Well, in 2007 I got you all to say ‘enough’, we thought it was enough, we had it then and now look at this now. All the time I was on the airport commission they kept saying, ‘2015: it’s going to be done’. Then, we saw 2015 come, and now they want us to believe it’s going to be done twelve years later? Forget it. Forget it, forget it. Under this so-called agreement, no … nothing about noise violations, nothing about pollution, nothing about … it’s going to get worse.” “I just don’t buy this twelve year thing. I don’t buy it. I would like to buy it. I think you need to think about recalling the people.”
  • 1:05:43 – Martin Rubin discussed Susan’s role in the history of activism against SMO impacts; he also discussed the evolution of the Airport Commission away from rubber-stamping airport staff projects, to instead become a representative for the People.
  • 1:07:44David Goddard, former Chair of Santa Monica Airport Commission, discussed his opinion on the apparent sweetheart deals, wherein City has illegally and fraudulently leased public property to Atlantic and other major airport tenants, far below market values. As Alan Levenson said in his earlier speech, “The simple answer is money.”
  • 1:12:41Bob Rigdon, an independent citizen, and 35-year airport neighbor, very effectively pointed out that, with the sudden vote to accept FAA’s Consent Decree, City Council has effectively thrown out decades worth of work.
  • 1:15:18 – after Martin Rubin suggested the airport could be renamed ‘Satan Monica Airport’, he introduced Mike Salazar, Ocean Park Association. Mike added his disappointment with the Consent Decree, and reviewed some airport history, including the 1981 vote to close the airport … which was forestalled by FAA when they imposed a 1984 Settlement Agreement. He discussed the need for the airport to close, including these quotes: “What we have to remember is, Santa Monica Airport is an outdated airport. It’s not the quaint, historic airport that anti-neighborhood folks cite, as this ‘wonderful, historic venue’.”“Not even shortening the runway will make this polluting dinosaur beneficial. When we close this airport, aviation will survive, and they’ll relocate, hopefully sooner than later.”“This outdated airport has no economic benefits when the costs are weighed.” He noted how non-aviation jobs vastly outnumber aviation jobs at the airport (which he finds economically comparable to a small strip mall), and in closing he mentioned toxic lead, ultrafine particles, and other airport health impacts. “Where is the FAA on health and safety, which is their mandate?”
  • 1:27:16 – Martin Rubin gave closing remarks, including: “So, it does take a large number of people, a lot of groups, a lot of different directions, to crack this very difficult nut – of aviation being able to do whatever it wants to do. There are problems all around the country. We are just the poster child for general aviation, and we have an important message to send out.”

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Protest Today: Local Residents need Local Control at Santa Monica Airport

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The recently announced ‘consent decree’ between FAA and City officials, is a total capitulation to FAA, and thus to the aviation money interests that own FAA. This latest action shows FAA, Administrator Huerta, and four City elected officials have zero regard for the very real health impacts upon residents near this airport.

BTW, this group (Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, CRAAP) does a phenomenal job on their protests. Check out the video archived for their protest ten years ago: [KSMO]: A Video Collection of Speeches at a Protest in April 2007

The ‘Consent Decree’: Shame on Four Santa Monica Officials for their Total Capitulation

Yesterday, the Consent Decree announced on Saturday morning was signed, and a copy was shared online. The surprise of the Saturday announcement was one thing, and the extent of excessive capitulation by the City was a second shock, but the actual language in the Consent Decree (copy here) is, well, Trumpian.

Granted, there is no way the new White House cabinet gives a rat’s ass about the health impacts around Santa Monica Airport; they are too busy playing ‘King of the Mountain’, testing their power limits, dismantling our environment and our civility, all in the name of greed and profits. Of course, so is the case at Santa Monica: the bulk of these impacts are by charter jets, thus serving the tiniest demographic, the ascendant oligarchy.

Here’s the assessment of the Consent Decree by NoJets.org:

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

And, here’s the assessment of the Consent Decree by attorney Jonathan Stein:

City of Santa Monica FAA Reaches Settlement Agreement with FAA, Allows Shorter Runway and Eventual Closure – in 12 Years

The Santa Monica City Council announced in a Saturday press conference that they have agreed to a Consent Decree in which FAA will allow total closure of the airport [KSMO], but not until at least January 1, 2029.

Twelve years is a long time, and will mean a lot more health impacts due to jet air pollution. Some will see this as nothing but another unacceptable extension of FAA’s agreement with the City signed way back in January 1984, (1984 to 2029: FAA has dragged this out for 45-years!). That agreement was to allow City to assert full local control of their airport land, on July 1, 2015. FAA reneged on that promise, blocking City’s efforts and intent to close nearly two years ago. And, FAA abused their administrative authority to embrace – and even encourage – the use of Part 16 administrative complaints. FAA’s slow administrative processing of these complaints is used to perpetuate use of the airport while also impeding and delaying progress by the City.

The one element of the Consent Decree that offers residents some jet air pollution relief much sooner is this detail: the City will be allowed to reduce the length of the runway, to 3,500ft. While most of the present 4,973ft runway will likely be retained as pavement for safety overruns, the actual runway available for use will be reduced substantially, and the 30-passenger charter jet proposed by JetSuiteX (under a contract with an outfit called ‘Delux Public Charter’) will not be able to safely or legally operate.

Should the City have gotten better? Absolutely. Settlements are supposed to reflect a meeting in the middle, with proper consideration for both parties in a dispute. FAA continues to abuse their authority and play the bully in the playground, forcing communities like Santa Monica to expend thousands of hours of effort and even millions of taxpayer dollars fighting skirmishes enabled by FAA’s arrogant attitude. At the least, FAA should have granted City authority to exclude jets almost immediately, and absolutely once the runway is shortened. Why? Because the residential neighborhoods around Santa Monica are uniquely too close, and too impacted by jet pollution.

An actual signed copy has not yet been shared, but if the agreement has been signed, FAA has the power to repair this failure. Simply, FAA can declare that, due to health and safety concerns and unique local impacts, the Santa Monica runway is officially closed to jet arrival operations.

Here is FAA’s Press Release:

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


See also:

UPDATE, 1/29/2017: — Reactions from activist groups question the City’s sincerity, and note the lack of transparency and trust. The Airport Protest Rally is still on for Saturday, February 4th, at 11AM. Here are more archived records:

JetSuiteX Blowing Off Airport Authorities, Still Planning Scheduled Flights Out of Santa Monica

We’re down to the last two weeks. On February 6th, a charter operator wants to add to the impacts at Santa Monica with the start of scheduled passenger service on 30-passenger jets, offering flights to San Jose, Carlsbad, and Las Vegas. It appears the airport has not been certified to handle this type of operation, that for example the emergency response personnel and equipment is not sufficient for a possible accident by the operator ‘Delux Public Charter’ under JetSuiteX. But, corporate hubris ignores safety, legality, and environmental compatibility.

The scrollable PDF below shows a recent article by Beige Luciano-Adams, in a local paper, the Argonaut. This reporter did a very good job asking questions and getting candid answers from both sides. On the other hand, attempts to get candor from FAA were rebuffed. Indeed, in this whole matter, the worst character is FAA. They are truly acting as a captured regulator serving only aviation, enabling JetSuiteX to compel the City to waste resources protecting the City and people from excessive and unacceptable risks.

A real aviation regulator would have put a stop on JetSuiteX in December, shortly after they started selling tickets online. A real aviation regulator also would have ordered JetSuiteX to cease selling of these tickets with discounts for Santa Monica residents, a practice that is discriminatory and thus appears to be illegal. A real aviation regulator would have worked hard to bring the operator and the airport authority together to quickly resolve all issues, trying earnestly to create air service, but rejecting the proposal if it failed safety standards and other requirements.

FAA has done nothing … which is part of the collaborated plan.

Readers are encouraged to study this article. Reader comments/analysis shared with aiREFORM may be added to this aiREFORM page, with or without attribution, at the request of the reader.

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

To read another local article, and to also see an analysis showing how poorly JetuiteX has done selling passenger seats to Santa Monicans (despite the discriminatory pricing), click here.

[KLMO]: Shifting the Model

Citizens for Quiet Skies, in Longmont, CO, has fought heroically to bring balance and moderation to the skydiving noise impact by Mile Hi, at Vance Brand Airport [KLMO]. The group took their concerns to the state courts, and then took it further to an appeal. In the process, CFQS has helped to illuminate yet one more reason that aviation impacts are out of control: the court systems (just like the faux-regulators) are biased towards accommodating commerce, and too quick to defer to FAA and federal authority.

I ran into this quote by R. Buckminster Fuller:

“You never change the existing reality by fighting it. Instead, create a new model that makes the old one obsolete.”

He makes a good point. When you study aviation impacts, you see ample evidence that, no matter where it is (a skydiving issue in exurbia, an air tour issue at Grand Canyon, a NextGen impact near a major hub airport, and so forth), the present imbalance is carefully sustained – and even expanded – via the carefully coordinated use of propaganda tools. The Av-Gov Complex uses propaganda tools to frame the issues favorably for air commerce while also keeping the average person from seeing the relevant truths.

Led by lobbyists and with ample faux-regulatory cover provided by FAA, the Av-Gov Complex created the present model, and they are being damned careful to control any efforts to change that model. But, facts and truths are problematic to those who are corrupt and self-serving; if we persist, as Kim and others have in Longmont, eventually we can shift the model and restore the balance. The noise impacts are real and problematic, just as the aviation operator profits are real and narrowly focused; but we can change the model to include other important factors, such as safety.

Shifting the Model to include SAFETY

One relevant truth about skydiving is this: skydive operators consciously choose to offset their climbs, so that the noise impact is not happening over the actual airport but instead is happening many miles from the airport. This decision shifts the noise impact onto people who may have no idea why, starting on a certain sunny day a few years ago, they now always hear lots of droning airplanes diminishing the best weather-days of the year.

There are safety consequences of this decision that are often overlooked. In particular, a skydiving plane doing repetitive climbs far from the airport drop zone poses a higher midair-collision hazard to other small planes passing through the airspace.

klmo-20170110scp-vfrmap-airport-vicinity-with-5nm-radius-circle-added

VFR sectional centered on KLMO. The red circle has a 5 nautical mile radius. Many of the skydiving climbs happen outside this circle, to the south and west. (click on image to view sectional and other images at VFRmap.com)

In the Longmont example, FAA’s aeronautical charts include a symbol at KLMO to alert pilots that this is a skydiving airport … but, if the climbs are far from the airport, even the most safety-conscious pilot, passing through may not see the skydive plane until it is too late. And the edge of the Front Range is a heavily-flown airspace for small planes.

A proactive FAA would judiciously constrain the skydive operator on where they must conduct their climbs, flying within a clearly charted climb zone positioned over and adjacent to the charted drop zone. For example, they might require climbs within a 2-mile radius of the airport center, or the drop zone coordinates. If the weather was marginal within that defined climb zone, the operator would simply have to stay on the ground, which eliminates both safety risks and noise impacts. If the repetitive noise generated within the defined climb zone increases noise complaints to those near the airport and under that airspace, then FAA would have the hard data they need to further constrain the operator’s annual permit letter, imposing hour-limits per day, alternate days off, and other noise mitigation strategies.


See also:
  • 1/28/2017 – the next CFQS meeting, at 10AM at the Longmont Public Library (click here for further info)
  • 1/6/2017 – a recent OpEd in the Longmont TimesCall

City of Santa Monica Rejects JetSuiteX ‘COP Application’ for Part 135 Charter

For a month now, an air charter operator based in Irvine, CA and affiliated with JetBlue, has been selling seats online for scheduled passenger flights to begin at Santa Monica in early February. Weeks ago, the CEO of JetSuiteX, Alex Wilcox, told reporters he believes the City cannot stop this proposal. This despite the fact that the airport is crowded dangerously close to dense residential neighborhoods, and there is no indication the City is prepared with the level of crash-fire-rescue support needed for scheduled flights carrying up to 30 passengers.

Here’s a PDF of the application for a Commercial Operations Permit, signed by JetSuiteX COO Michael Bata:

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

And, here’s the City’s response letter signed by Airport Director Stelios Makrides, rejecting the application as incomplete, and requiring a valid Environmental Assessment:

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

For the past month, FAA has been suspiciously (and negligently?) quiet on this matter. What’s needed next is for FAA to break this silence and take action.

FAA is the final federal authority and routinely usurps local authority, to effectively run airports from a distance and for the industry, often with severe negative impacts upon the local community. If they are to be responsible, FAA needs to immediately issue an Interim Cease & Desist Order against JetSuiteX, Delux Public Charter, and Atlantic Aviation, to ensure no scheduled air charter operations begin at Santa Monica without all required permits. This should be easy for FAA to do; after all, FAA has recent experience issuing Interim Cease & Desist Orders related to Santa Monica.

Answers Needed in Santa Monica

For safety and efficiency, we have design standards. Thus, we do not allow school playgrounds to overlap into highways, and we require freeway onramps to be constructed within specs such as gradient, lane curvature, pavement width and quality, signage and markings, etc.

Aviation is no different. In fact, design standards at airports are even more critical, due to higher speeds and larger fuel quantities. A case in point is the last major fatal accident at Santa Monica, on September 29, 2013.

ksmo-20130929-c525-crash-while-landing-rwy21-fig-22-from-video-study-distance-groundspeed-on-satview-ntsb

(yellow marks show aircraft position during the crash sequence; large numbers show the groundspeed decreasing from 83 knots to 51 knots at impact; smaller numbers show net distance from runway threshold)

Four died when a Cessna 525 jet, while landing on Runway 21, swerved to the right and collided with a hangar near the west end of the airport. 20130929pic.. C525 crash at KSMO, ramp & smoke plumeThe accident investigation by NTSB failed to establish exactly what happened, though analysis of personal electronic devices did indicate a large dog was allowed to ride unrestrained in the jet’s cabin (could a dog cause this much loss-of-control?). So, all we know is that a local businessman who would fly almost every week between his homes in Santa Monica, CA and Sun Valley, ID, lost control during an otherwise normal landing.

This brings us back to the concept of safety design standards. If you or I are driving down a rural arterial – say, a regular old 2-lane paved highway, and right at the 55mph speed limit – we might suddenly swerve if a tire blows. Design standards exist to ensure we have a ‘clear zone’ so that our ‘errant vehicle’ can be brought to a stop without hitting a fire hydrant, a railroad trestle, a restaurant, or other object that could increase the odds of fatalities and/or serious injuries. By design, we want our ‘errant vehicle’, be it a car or an airplane, to have room to slow down and stop, with nobody getting hurt. With more room, there would not have been four fatalities on 9/29/2013; it would have instead been ‘a close call’, and likely would have triggered a decision by some of the lucky survivors to fly less. The Cessna 525 accident at Santa Monica turned out badly because the jet collided with a hangar built relatively close to the runway. After the accident cleanup, satellite images indicate that the hangar (as well as connected hangar structures, damaged by the fire) was rebuilt. It is not clear whether these structures should have been rebuilt, just as it is not clear if they were allowed to be too close to the Santa Monica runway prior to the accident. But, looking at other U.S. airports, there is evidence that a serious safety design oversight is being perpetuated at Santa Monica.

For example, consider Cobb County, GA [KRYY]. This airport, north of Atlanta near Kennesaw, also has a single runway and a ‘C-II’ Airport Reference Code (the same ARC needed for E135’s to fly scheduled charter service, as JetSuiteX proposes in early 2017).

kryy-20161230scp-alp-w-portion-of-runway-marked-up-for-rofas

(portion of the KRYY Airport Layout Plan. Red ellipses added, to identify the 400ft ROFAs, parallel to the north and south of the runway centerline. Not that the current hangars are much further than 400ft distant from the runway.)

But, within the May 2016 KRYY Airport Layout Plan (ALP), it is declared that FAA requires an 800ft wide ‘Object Free Area’ (OFA), thus 400ft either side of the runway centerline. kryy-20161230scp-alp-portion-of-runway-data-table-declaring-ofa-distancesNote, too, that on the ALP, the airport authority declares they are conformant with the OFA distance requirement, a point that is reinforced by online satellite images.

kryy-20161230scp-satview-of-airport-vicinity

The satellite image further illustrates yet another stark contrast with Santa Monica: look at all the wide open space, not just to enable a safe conclusion to an errant flight, but also to minimize noise and pollutant impacts on airport neighbors (it appears there are no residences close to KRYY; just a rock quarry, office parks, and highways).

So, what’s going on here? Why is FAA allowing and funding airport expansion near Atlanta with safety design standards that appear to be routinely ignored in Santa Monica?

A Few Simple Questions

Here are four questions that both FAA and the City of Santa Monica need to answer, prior to allowing JetSuiteX to begin scheduled 30-passenger charter flights out of Santa Monica:

  1. prior to the accident, what was the distance between the south edge of the destroyed hangar and the runway centerline? Was this distance in compliance with FAA’s design standards for this particular runway?
  2. after the accident, did FAA and City confer as to the wisdom of rebuilding these hangars? Did this reconstruction require FAA to issue a specific exemption from runway setback requirements, so the new structures could continue to penetrate the runway safety areas and obstruction free areas?
  3. given the absence of functional Runway Protection Zones (RPZs) at Santa Monica, was either FAA or City proposed banning jets to mitigate risks? In particular, with roughly 270 residences standing inside the standard RPZ boundaries, where is there ANY FORM of ‘protection’ being achieved?
  4. regarding JetSuiteX, a recent news story includes this line: “We’ll begin operating whether we get permission or not,” Wilcox said. “We can use the existing facilities at the airport.” Has either FAA or the City confirmed this cowboy assertion? Has either FAA or City (hopefully BOTH!) taken immediate action to inform Mr. Wilcox of his errant views and the reality that safety dictates he will NOT operate until both the City and the FAA are assured his scheduled charter flights can meet basic safety standards?