People and Communities Would Benefit, if We Disincentivized Hubs

Interesting discussion about community impacts and port authority overdevelopment at Sea-Tac [KSEA], in this Quiet Skies Puget Sound Facebook Post.

(click on image to view source Facebook discussion)

Here, one of the area residents being victimized by Sea-Tac overexpansion suggests what really is the easiest solution: spread the flights out, so people are served locally, by their own local airport.

So, how do we make this change? The key to getting there includes changing the current system of fees/taxes to economically disincentivize hubs. For example, the U.S. Congress and FAA need to do three things:

  1. end ticket charges (especially the PFCs) that incentivize airport over-development. With airport PFCs, FAA/DoT collects billions of dollars each year, which are then reallocated into airport development projects. Much of this money goes to rural airports with nearly zero traffic (such as the recent debacle at Mora, MN), and the funds are generously doled out with near-zero local matches required. Airports like Sea-Tac are thus motivated to develop far beyond what the actual airport property and surrounding neighborhoods can stand.
  2. impose a steep carbon tax with at least half of revenues going away from aviation, such as to high speed rail. Indeed, the aviation sector provides an excellent opportunity to trial such a tax, while also funding new programs that are far more energy-efficient.
  3. establish a user fee system based on two key factors: direct-miles (between origin airport and destination airport), and aircraft seating capacity. Apply this fee system to all commercial flights (passenger and air cargo) as well as to all higher performance aircraft (e.g., bizjets, and flights by fractionally-owned aircraft). Thus:
      • for any origin-destination pair, a 200-passenger jet would pay twice the fee as a 100-passenger jet, and a 400-passenger jet would pay 4-times as much.
      • a 30-passenger bizjet would pay the same aviation user fee, whether it is chartering one elite passenger of 28, whether it is flying IFR (in the ATC system) or just out on a high-performance VFR hop.
      • passenger ticket fees/taxes would be proportional to itinerary distance. E.g., a passenger ticket from Seattle to Boston via Atlanta would pay 25% higher fees due to 25% higher distance (2,712 NM through ATL versus 2,161 NM direct SEA-BOS); likewise, a SEA-LAX-BOS itinerary would pay 43% higher fees than a direct SEA-BOS itinerary (hubbing via LAX, in this example, increases distance flown from 2,161 NM to 3,091 NM).
      • and, of course, this all would apply to commercial helicopters, too. A helicopter doing an urban air tour, or a helicopter charter hop from KSMO to Staples Center, would pay the fee, subject to a hefty minimum user fee per operation.
      • similarly, it would apply to commercial skydive operators, whose noisy aircraft would also be subject to a hefty minimum user fee per operation.

This simple set of proposed fees/taxes would not only reduce hub pressure at places like KSEA, KJFK, KCLT, KPHX, and KBOS; it would also all but eliminate system delays, and reduce environmental impacts. Plus, this system would strongly incentivize the airlines to offer more direct flights. This would mean less travel time for the consumers who fund this system, and would be a Win-Win for nearly everyone. The only losers would be the airlines and airport authorities who have gone too long, abusing too many, under the current flawed fee/tax system that maximizes consumption.

Just one thing is required: an elected Congress willing to work together, to order FAA reform: to totally revamp the fee/tax system, replacing it with only a carbon tax and a direct-miles fee.

Is Common Sense Creeping Back at Santa Monica?

Good to see that, after a year of horrible missteps, the City of Santa Monica appears to be setting up an environmental study, to be done during the 10-day airport closure in mid-December. Here is an archived copy of the news article (or click here to view the source article):

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

In the past, assessments done during airport closures have shown dramatic air quality improvements, suggesting clearly that local resident concerns go WAY BEYOND ‘annoyance’ (that was the word used by FAA’s community liaison person, in dismissing concerns by long-time residents of western Long Island). And, Marty Rubin looks to be wise to reserve judgment; too often, these studies get hijacked and watered down, so let’s hope Paulson is involved and credible data is collected.

Airport Noise Complaint Systems are Broken, Need to be Replaced

For years, you live happily in your home – raising kids, adding on, gardening, studying the birds, and relaxing in the yard. Then, one day, a heartless FAA and a soulless airport authority ‘collaboratively’ impose new routes and ever-expanding flight schedules, taking away your peace and relaxation. Whether it is the repetitive noise pattern of a NextGen RNAV procedure, or the interminable drone of a skydive plane circling to jump altitude, the impact is real and destructive to both health and quality of life.

There has to be balance between aviation commerce and residential quality of life. According to decades worth of Congressional actions, this balance is supposed to exist, and FAA is supposed to protect people. But, this is not happening, because this federal agency is captured: FAA SERVES ONLY AVIATION COMMERCE.

What can be done? Any good person – homeowner, caregiver, parent, teacher, community official, whatever your role in this world – should take action. We should see it as our duty to take action, but the current system is broken. In fact, the system has evolved to thwart citizen engagement, in three ways:

  1. first, the airport authorities have made the noise complaint filing process incredibly onerous. They arbitrarily require the citizen to tabulate all sorts of details onto clunky forms.
  2. then, the airport authorities throw out nearly all the data and create condensed periodic reports (typically monthly or quarterly), but the reports tend to fail to assess the real impacts. A huge effort by many citizens, and almost no effort by the airport authorities. It is as if the process is intended to be a black-hole for complaint data.
  3. and finally, the ultimate proof of failure: the impacts continue unabated. In fact, in most cases, the impacts are getting worse each year.

So, for the current noise complaint system, the net result is to simply burn out citizens … to condition them to not complain. We should be good and responsible, taking action to protect family and community, but instead, many of us just give up. In today’s world, where distraction is the go-to weapon for perpetuating status quo inequities, we often become obsessive about something else – shopping, sports fanaticism, online gaming, or even recreational mind alteration. So much for quality of life.

Noise Complaint Systems are Evolving

Here are two noise complaint systems, the old and the new:

The Old: an onerous online form that compounds the initial noise injury by arbitrarily forcing citizens to waste time compiling excessive data that the airport authority already has. (click on image to view source)

The New: a 1-click system that collects complaints, researches, submits the complaint to the airport authority, and compiles data. (click on image to view source)

Looks like a no-brainer. The airnoise solution is a vast improvement, a step in the right direction.

What We All Need from Noise Complaint Systems

First and foremost, we need to be heard. The impacts are real, and we should be empowered to document the extent of these impacts, so that a responsible authority can work with us to resolve these impact problems. But, we also need to be protected from retaliation for exercising free speech complaint rights.

In short, our airport noise complaint systems need to:

  • compile all complaints, including repeat complaints from the same household (it makes no sense that, after one noise event, a citizen should be assumed to be immune from further noise impacts!);
  • generalize the complaint location, such as to the nearest cross-street, to protect the identity of the complainant;
  • share the generalized data ONLINE so that all can review the data, objectively. After all, this is what transparency and Democracy are all about: ensuring all have a voice and are empowered to apply their individual intelligence to meaningfully contribute to problem-solving.
  • smartly process the complaint data, to go beyond the shallow compilations FAA and airport authorities produce. Create the valuable analyses that can guide us all to seeing the obvious real solutions. Now, not years from now.

Santa Monica Update: Air Quality Study Needed, During Runway Closures

In the U.S., one of our greatest advocates for resolving aviation impacts is Marty Rubin. Marty has been fighting the right fight for decades now, against a city (Santa Monica) whose elected officials appear to be corrupt to no end (…well, most of them; a few have been great!). His website, CRAAP, recently forwarded the posting below, which is a blogpost by staff at Mike Bonin’s website.

For those not in the LA area, here’s the deal: this airport is run by the City of Santa Monica, but has HUGE impacts upon people who reside in homes outside the City’s boundaries … in old and very established residential communities like West LA. In a just world, a higher level regulator, such as FAA, would guard against gains for some with uncompensated losses for others. But, here in West LA, FAA is failing their role. In these neighborhoods, even beautiful homes are subjected to aviation fumes and jet blast, with homeowner’s having no evident right to fix these impacts. Why? Because of FAA’s refusal to serve EVERYONE, not just the aviation industry! But, then again, this is what we expect from a captured regulator.

Here is a copy of the blog and Councilmember Bonin’s letter to the Santa Monica City Council. (click here to view the source)

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


See also:

Learn to Use Your Online Resources: A KCHS-KPAE flight

Here’s an example of the type and depth of information that you can extract, if you use your online resources. In this case, FlightAware is used to study a very large cargo flight hauling large aircraft components between Boeing factories at Charleston, SC and Paine Field in Everett, WA. Screencaps were made and compiled into the 2-page analysis below, including a few explanatory comments by aiREFORM.

Study these resources yourself, so you can research the flights that impact your home area. Here are the key links used:

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

One aspect of this example that is helpful is both [KCHS] and KPAE] are NOT major hub airports. Thus, this particular route is not burdened with enroute delays and stretched arrival patterns, as are found routinely at SeaTac [KSEA], related to hub arrival over-scheduling.

City of Santa Monica is Failing to Live Up to Consent Decree Claims and Promises

Alan Levenson has created an analysis, showing how the City of Santa Monica is failing what they promised, nearly 5-months ago. Here is a copy:

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

The largest failure identified by Alan is that nothing substantial has happened, despite the fact that ‘immediate’ action was repeatedly promised. But, there is another large failure, and even more at the heart of safety and health impacts: the Consent Decree package reveals City is not only aware that the runway violates FAA safety design standards, but the City and FAA are both perpetuating these violations until at least 2029!

To illustrate the first failure, see this copy of the City’s glowing press release, when they announced the Consent Decree on January 28th (note, too, no citizens had yet been shown any of the Consent Decree documents … that was days later). Immediate? Hardly. Trust is not earned by spending five months and getting nothing done.

On the second point, City officials want everyone to believe that this Consent Decree assures FAA runway safety standards will now be met, but this assertion appears to be a bald-faced lie. For example, see the graphic at page 20 of the 63-page Consent Decree package. This was an Airport Layout Plan (ALP), created in 1991. At the time, it was believed that more jets would use KSMO, so the ALP depicted two Runway Protection Zones (RPZs): the existing RPZ, and an expanded future RPZ. The dimensions of the RPZ trapezoid are based on aircraft performance, specifically speed and wingspan. The higher performing jets would require a longer and wider trapezoid. Unfortunately, City submitted a fuzzy and mostly illegible ALP to the Consent Decree package (so, only people with experience studying ALPs can recognize what is depicted).

To correct for City’s fuzzy ALP, here’s a sample RPZ from another airport, with a lot less jet traffic:

kuao-201205-rpz-rwy-17-on-satview-w-dimensions-showing-trees-later-removed

The green trapezoid delineates an RPZ at the north end of the Aurora Airport, near Portland, OR. This is a minimally-sized RPZ for an airport with just a few jets; the ends measure 500ft and 1010ft, and the trapezoid is 1700ft long. Note that there are no obstructions in the trapezoid, to comply with an FAA safety standard.

One of the key facts that emerged with the Consent Decree was this: both FAA and City of Santa Monica have knowingly allowed not just ‘a few’ houses and yards inside the RPZ, they have allowed fully developed residential neighborhoods! And it appears that this is not happening ANYWHERE ELSE in the United States! Furthermore, both FAA and City of Santa Monica are OK with perpetuating this safety risk (and the substantial health impacts) for 12 more years. Nothing has been done to mitigate risks and impacts upon residents actually living (and breathing, and sleeping) within either the smaller RPZ or the expanded RPZ. And, in the meantime, not only are jets increasing at KSMO, but FAA has even pretended to not notice, while scheduled commercial operations were being marketed online.

So, City of Santa Monica finally came up with a plan to shorten the runway. Are the RPZs now clear of homes, yards and other obstructions? No, there are still numerous homes in the shortened runway RPZ, too. Here is a current satellite image showing the problem on the northeast end of the airport:

A 1,700ft circle (the RPZ length used for lesser airports) has been added. The image indicates that dozens of homes (west of Westgate Ave and north of National Boulevard) remain within the new proposed RPZ.

And this does not even reflect the pollution impacts and safety risks that remain to the east of Westgate Ave, especially for the higher performance air charter flights laden with more fuel.

Clearly, Rick Cole and Ted Winterer at the City of Santa Monica need to show us graphically, and in the clearest terms:

  • precisely where are the RPZ boundaries?
  • are the dimensions appropriate to the size and scale of commercially operating aircraft at KSMO?
  • and, can you confirm that no houses are within the KSMO RPZs?

See also:

Santa Monica is Failing Their Promise to Shorten the Runway

A big event happens tomorrow night (May 24th), when the Santa Monica City Council holds a Special Session with major airport-related items. Here are some key links:

It has been four full months now, since the ‘surprise’ press announcement of a Consent Decree between FAA and the City. No progress has been made. FAA had approved, and the city promised, an immediate runway shortening, but now we are seeing the City dilly dally with lots of money to consultants to create reports that defy common sense while making unsupported claims that prolong the status quo impacts.

The City hired consultants to study options for shortening the runway to 3,500-ft, as allowed now by FAA. Documents indicate the consultant delivered a report with four options, but for whatever reason, the City stripped two of those options out and is proceeding to pretend only two options are viable. These two options alone were shared with the Public a few weeks ago (the existence of the other two options were only revealed in the last few days, after City posted documents related to the 5/24 agenda; see links above).

Frankly, it looks like City is playing a drawn-out delay game. It also looks like City is ignoring the health of the citizens of Santa Monica and nearby West LA neighborhoods. Even the City of Los Angeles should be pressing hard on this matter: to protect their citizens, they should be demanding that Santa Monica quit the dilly dallying and shorten the runway … NOW!!

The City owns the airport, and the City owns the runway itself. With that ownership, the City carries risks and liabilities. At this or any airport, if a runway is dangerous – too close to homes, or even too close to hangars as at Santa Monica, where people died in the last fiery airport crash – the airport authority needs to restrict operations for safety. If only to manage their risk exposure, all airport authorities should have the right to deny access of larger aircraft to substandard runways – especially commercial operations such as charter jets.

The biggest progressive step this year, as declared by the Consent Decree, is that FAA has finally backed down just a bit, and is letting the City manage the KSMO runway. City airport officials should use this restored authority to do as they say: immediately close the northeast portion of Runway 21, making it illegal for any aircraft to touch the asphalt.

Likewise, at the southwest end of the runway, City needs to take full advantage of the existing taxiways and simply close to operational use the roughly 450-feet of runway between the existing runway end and the first set of crossing taxiways (A1 & B1).

City could have done this in late January. That they have done nothing strongly suggests that City has a different and unspoken motive. The City, managed by Rick Cole, along with the airport office and under the guidance of the City Council, is not really trying to mitigate the severe impacts on hundreds of homes within the Runway Protection Zones (RPZs). The City is not honoring the clear request of the citizens who passed Measure LC with a wide margin, back in 2014 – a measure which demanded closure as soon as possible, and which also prohibited commercial use of any land reclaimed from aviation use in the future.

Also, notably, the most severe impacts at this airport are by small- to medium-sized charter jet and bizjet operations, often carrying just one wealthy person. These elites are inflicting an extraordinary negative impact on Santa Monica residents’ quality of life, simply because they will not be inconvenienced. They could instead fly out of much safer and less impactful airports such as LAX, Burbank, or Van Nuys, which like most U.S. airports, have no homes within their runway RPZs. They could do this, but they choose not to … and FAA and the City allow this injustice to continue.

Many have picked up on this story. No Jets Santa Monica Airport posted this great analysis on FaceBook:

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

Similar concerns have been posted by Ben Wang, at SMO Future. There are a lot of good people around Santa Monica, like Martin Rubin, who have devoted multiple decades to restore local quality of life and protect health. These are good people, who have fought for a just resolution of the noise and air pollutant impacts. It looks as though FAA and a few of the current City leaders are just trying to wear them out. FAA’s intransigence, and the corruptibility of selected Santa Monica officials, has ensured no meaningful progress in all these decades.

These are but a few of the people at the forefront of the movement by the majority of Santa Monica residents, who simply want to control and close the airport .. and they need to control it for their health. They are vocal activists, but they are not the only residents who find this is a major issue. These vocal activists represents the opinions – and the votes – of probably 5,000 Santa Monicans each. This is why there have been surprisingly long public comment sessions at City Council meetings when an airport issue has come up. The citizens have a network that lets them know when to come out in force to voice their opinions. Every day, more and more citizens are learning exactly which City Council members are secretly pro-airport. A clear story has emerged. The people will vote-out the now exposed pro-airport insiders.

This all has to change. If this does not change, we really do not have any functioning Democracy.


UPDATE, 6/1/2017:Written Public Comments, submitted to the City (copy posted by CRAAP, 89p)

Earthen EMAS: How to Make the Most of the KSMO Consent Decree

What is going on in Santa Monica? Is the City honoring the will of the people who rejected massive campaigning by aviation lobbyists, and resoundingly approved Measure LC back in 2014? Or, is the City pulling a fast one on its people?

(click on image to view an aiREFORM Post about the accident and the lack of runway safety areas at KSMO)

Increasingly, it looks like the City is pretending to care about the lead, the particulates, the noise, and the obvious health impacts, yet is doing nothing to correct these problems.

Then, too, there is the problem of airport proximity to dense residential properties; airport neighbors have actually had lawn furniture blown over by the blast behind jets taking the runway; the smell of jet exhaust is a regular occurrence in backyards, where children play.

The fiery crash of an arriving bizjet back in 2013 killed four, but would have been far worse if that volume of jet fuel had ignited while crashing through the houses within the designated Runway Protection Zones (RPZs). Yep, although RPZs are supposed to be vacant land, hundreds of houses exist in the trapezoidal spaces at the ends of the Santa Monica runway; both FAA and the airport authority – the City – are going to be held accountable and found totally liable, if and when a crash happens in the RPZs.

The Consent Decree itself is suspect … no, doubly suspect. The City had a solid legal case, Nelson Hernandez had been insisting to noise activists that there were no discussions toward settlement, and yet City suddenly gave away all their advantage and caved to FAA pressures … AND Chamber of Commerce pressures, … and wealthy jet owner and wealthy airport users’ pressures. Twelve more years were added, with no guarantee of eventual airport closure. The only ‘gains’ received by the City were the right to shorten the runway, from 5,000-ft to 3,500-ft. The shortening was supposed to be immediate; rational people assumed it would take at least a few weeks or months to formally shorten the runway on paper, and add some surface markings. Instead, this process is being badly bungled, and is really calling to question, the integrity and intent of City Manager Rick Cole and key personnel such as Mr. Hernandez. Here are some examples of their bungling:

  • on 4/25, a meeting was held to share options for how to shorten the runway. The only options offered were to shorten it by clipping 750-ft off each end, or to shorten it by removing the bulk of the 1,500-ft from the west end. There was no option offered to remove 1,500-ft from the east end, which would best serve the most impacted airport neighbors (because the airport is nearly always in a west flow, the engine runups and idling by bizjets and charter jets nearly always happen on the east end; the jets often fly out IFR, thus have to wait until ATC can alter the LAX flow, to safely allow the SMO departures … so the jet idling can go on for a long time; also, the predominant winds push the concentrated pollutants to West LA, just east of the airport).
  • the meeting invitations went out only to the so-called ‘stakeholders’: pilots, airport operators & tenants, and other aviation folk. The local non-aviation community was not invited.
  • eventually, the local non-aviation community found out. Understandably, they felt slighted. Trust in Rick Cole and Nelson Hernandez has plummeted.
  • now, tonight, the Airport Commission meets, to consider the limited options, which reportedly carry an extraordinary $6 Million price tag, mostly just for adding paint to pavement!
  • It’s as if the goal is to so frustrate activists that they just give up (but they can’t: the stakes are too high, when you are fighting for health!).

So, that’s how bad it is. Now, if the City really cared to resolve decades-old airport problems, what would they have immediately embarked on after finalizing this Consent Decree?

  1. as a first step, declare the closure to become effective at the earliest allowable date. If any operators of the airport need more than 3,500-ft of runway, they would have a reasonable time window to depart, but after the closure date, that option would no longer exist.
  2. designate a runway portion for the initial closure. This does not have to be the final closure portion, but it does have to be designated. The surface markings have to be added, and the ATC procedures modified, to make it illegal for any flight to use this runway portion except in an emergency. Thankfully, the surface markings and modified ATC procedures are not a large or expensive task, and are easily completed.
  3. simultaneous with the above, define a full set of runway shortening options. The present set is woefully deficient. A full set would include at least three final runway positions, where the final runway portions to be closed would be all at the east end, all at the west end, or equally on both ends of the runway.
  4. a second set of ‘options’ – and equally important for addressing airport impacts – is what to do with the closed runway portions. Are they to be maintained, to enable longer takeoff or landing distances for larger bizjets, or are they to be declared unusable? So, this second set of options should consider removal of the asphalt versus painting the asphalt, and should also consider how the surface of the former runway sections are to be finished and maintained (grass, sand, or ??).
  5. if the goal is to maximize safety and minimize environmental impacts by bizjets and charter jets, the solution should be to discourage use of the airport by jets. Therefore, it would be a no-brainer to tear out the asphalt and create an earthen EMAS – perhaps sand, or perhaps just compacted soil seeded to grass, as is found at most airports. A small jet, aborting a takeoff or with a brake failure on arrival, would have its speed safely arrested in the overrun area; larger charter jets would simply avoid SMO, using longer runways in less impacted communities instead. LAX, for example, which has a brand new VIP terminal aimed at serving elite charter clients.
  6. for the record, FAA’s version of EMAS is very expensive. A specially formulated ‘crushable concrete’ is poured, and the cost to repair is also very high. Not just for actual accidents, but also when a pilot blunders and accidentally taxis onto it, as happened at Burbank with a private jet carrying baseball player Alex Rodriguez, in October 2006.

The Santa Monica Airport should have been closed decades ago; that it has not yet closed testifies not only to the power of the aviation lobby and the depth of FAA’s corruption in serving that lobby, but also to the lack of will (and intentional deception?) by City officials. From a distance, it is hard to watch this play out and not wonder, who’s getting paid off with what? Is Santa Monica just a wealthier version of the Bell, CA scandal?


UPDATE, 5/3/2017: — a petition for writ of mandate was filed by two citizens, seeking to have the Consent Decree declared null and void, on grounds that it was negotiated in violation of open records laws; see 98-page PDF copy here.

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.

FAA’s airport operations count database goes backto 1990, and 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. The first group includes (11) airline hubs that are generally not declining; the second group includes (16) airline hubs that have already declined substantially; and the third group includes (9) non-hub airports (serving primarily general aviation, aka ‘GA’). The fourth group, includes the 50 other key U.S. airports, which are slower, as none of them has ever achieved an annual average of 1,000 daily operations.

Here’s a closer analysis of the groups:

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.
  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: