Hubbing Strategies Increase Impacts, But Do Not Create Sustainable Airline Profits

Airline stocks have been tanking lately, in no small part due to strategy shifts by United. In a nutshell, United is trying to design a broad restructuring of its three domestic-focused hubs in Chicago, Denver and Houston. Why? Because this trio of domestic hubs “…has profit margins that are 10 percent below the inland domestic hubs operated by American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc….”

The situation is discussed in this Bloomberg article (click here to view source, or view the archived PDF copy below).

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

What is the most consequential quote in the article?

“As part of its strategy, United is boosting connections in its three mid-continent hubs by an average of 17 percent by adjusting its flight schedules, a process it’s completed in Houston and will commence in Chicago next month.”

In this one quote, United is making it clear that, for all major U.S. hubs, traffic growth is NOT about customer demand; it is airline schedule tweaking, to increase profits, that is causing the huge impact increases at major hubs, especially at KBOS, KJFK, KDCA, and KSEA.

Which airports/hubs are most monopolized?

Here are the main hubs for the four largest airlines:

  • American: Charlotte [KCLT], Dallas-Ft Worth [KDFW], Miami [KMIA], and Philadelphia [KPHL]
  • Delta: Atlanta [KATL], Minneapolis St Paul [KMSP], and Salt Lake City [KSLC]
  • United: Cleveland [KCLE], Washington-Dulles [KIAD], and Houston [KIAH]
  • Southwest: Baltimore [KBWI], Dallas-Love [KDAL], and Chicago-Midway [KMDW]

Most other major airports are either smaller market and dominated by Southwest, or they are duopoly hubs. Four duopoly hubs that stand out are:

  1. Denver [KDEN] – Southwest and United
  2. Chicago O’Hare [KORD] – American and United
  3. Phoenix [KPHX] – American and Southwest
  4. Sea-Tac [KSEA] – Alaska and Delta

Will hub concentration reduce over time?

No, not likely at all. The level of industry scheduling collusion, and the absence of real regulatory oversight, ensure this trend toward hub concentration will continue to intensify. As an example, look at the hub concentrations for 2013 data, at this aiReform Post. Note that nothing has changed: at the bulk of these 77 airports, monopolies and duopolies have only strengthened in the past four years.

CBS News Story about Long Island Impacts, features Plane Sense 4 LI Activists

Thank you,, for giving coverage to the abuses under the Arc of Doom. Here’s an embed for their recent 2-minute+ news video:
The root problem is a captured federal agency (FAA) that has working with lobbyists and the airlines to slowly make a disaster for airport neighbor communities; they have created new regulations and technologies being used to channel flights into narrow and repetitive routes. Meanwhile, and with intent, they are ignoring impacts upon people.

This problem can be fixed. Residents could see very substantial relief if FAA/Congress worked to take away incentives that airlines like Delta and JetBlue use, to fly ever-larger number of passengers THROUGH the congested NYC airports. This hubbing practice adds a sliver more to airline profits, while immensely amplifying noise and air pollutant impacts. Address the flawed incentives, and you trim away the excessive flights. If FAA cannot do this on their own, Congress needs to step up and force FAA to do it.

The Airport Competition Plans for KSEA

One of the documents that contains data/info useful to airport impact activists is the Airport Competition Plan. These documents, typically 200-pages or larger, have to be produced by major airports where more than 50% of passenger travel is handled by two or fewer airlines.

In Seattle, Alaska has had a near-monopoly for passenger travel in/out of [KSEA] (note: both Alaska and Horizon hub out of KSEA, but Horizon is an Alaska subsidiary, thus the two are effectively one airline). Back in 2012, when Delta announced a new KSEA hub, it also meant that Alaska would get some competition. BUT… even with many more flights (and impacts!) resulting from the Delta hub expansion, the actual competition is not substantially improved. At this point in time we have an effective ‘near-duopoly’ in which Alaska and Delta each share a few routes, while each also monopolizes many other routes; and, meanwhile, most of the other airlines hold monopoly or duopoly shares in nearly all other routes.

Competition? No, not really!!

POS’s Link is Flawed, Fails to Provide the Latest Competition Plan Update

While researching, I was trying to locate documents and came across this webpage:

Evidently, POS complied with requirements and created their first Competition Plan, approved by FAA’s Elliott Black on 8/22/2014. Well, they were required to complete an update, and there is a link that allegedly offers concerned citizens a PDF of the Update. Unfortunately, the link does NOT provide that document, and instead goes to FAA’s approval letter. So, aiReform has contacted POS by phone, and is seeking to have this link error corrected.

Here are links to archived copies of correspondence and the approved first Competition Plan, including correspondence between Elliott Black (FAA) and Mark Reis (POS):

  • 6/13/2014 – Airport Competition Plan (218p)
  • 8/22/2014 – FAA Response letter to POS, approving Competition Plan (4p)
  • 9/16/2014 – POS Response letter to FAA, re Competition Plan (2p)
  • 11/17/2014 – FAA Response letter to POS, re Competition Plan (1p)

UPDATE, 1/25/2018: — Perhaps due to the phone inquiry from aiReform, POS has updated the Competition Plan webpage. The link is corrected, and they also added another link, to a PDF of the DEC-2017 Competition Plan Update. Two more documents are now added to this ai-Rchive:
  • 10/8/2015 – Competition Plan, Update #1 (4p)
  • 12/18/2017 – Competition Plan, Update #2 (2p)

Here’s an online search worth trying: ‘Lane McFadden FAA’

Do any quick online search using these three words ‘Lane McFadden FAA’ and you will find quite a few links. Most are to articles and court activities related to petitions for review, filed by communities upset with FAA’s impacts and arrogance.

Mr. McFadden must be accomplished and well trained: he is a lawyer for the Department of Justice. But, the poor lad must have made a bad impression at DoJ, as he has been stuck for years, wheeling and dealing to get cases thrown out, and sometimes arguing before 3-judge panels, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (USCADC). Or, then again, maybe in the legal world he is a rock star for always having so much work to get paid for. At any rate, he was last seen – just last week – again trying to bail out FAA. He lost the Phoenix ‘petition for review’ last summer, and had to repeat his canister of ‘NextGen is good’ arguments all over again, this time for a similar case filed by residents being impacted by NextGen routes in and out of Washington National Airport.

Why Lane McFadden? Primarily because his name comes up in the article discussed below. But, even more, because I am sure glad I am not a DOJ environmental attorney stuck defending FAA. Too dark for my taste.

Here are archived copies for three cases: Click here for a USCADC decision that Mr. McFadden won for FAA in February 2009; click here for another he won, in June 2009; click here for the Phoenix PFR he lost in August 2017. Study them and you may just learn a LOT about how biased USCADC is, how they nearly always side with agencies and large corporations (first, they do all they can to just dump the PFR, then, if they do hear it, they strain their attention to side in favor of FAA; a real dog-and-pony show).

Now, about that article… here is a worthwhile analysis by Tony Verreos:

“This article says it took 2 years or more to get to the same Federal Appeals Court that ruled on the Phoenix case last year. No surprise the plaintiffs claim the FAA failed to give proper notice, and the FAA counters they went above and beyond the requirements.
Meanwhile – the one statistic that stands out very plainly is the growing number of complaints. It seems like wherever the FAA installs its new changes, complaints go up in multiples of double, triple, quadruple and even higher.
For all of the money wasted, and time people will never get back attending meetings they wish they never went to about jet noise and chemical pollution, the FAA still flat out refuses to change its Mission Statement to “Protecting Public Health and Safety” from Safety and Efficiency which it interprets very strictly as fuel savings while knowing full well how anti public health that is. And their claims of safety look great when you see no crashes. The safety chart does look great, but then they don’t display all the go arounds (wasting fuel and polluting our air), and the near misses which seem to be a growing number!”

Click here to view an archived copy of this Washington Post article.

BTW, Tony’s comment was posted at a new Facebook public group he recently created, STOP Jet Noise NOW! SFOAK North S.F. Bay Area.

See also:
  • 8/29/2017FAA Ordered to Vacate Their 2014 NextGen Routes in Phoenix (aiReform Post)

UPDATE, 1/24/2018: — An opinion piece was published at WaPost, and a copy is archived here. The author is Paul Verchinski, who is a member of the community roundtable for yet another airport where FAA’s NextGen mess is impacting residents: Baltimore-Washington [KBWI].

1990 vs 2005 vs 2016 Operations: Exposing FAA’s Inaccurate Forecasts

While doing some online research and archiving of older FAA documents, I ran into a copy of FAA’s 1993 Aviation System Capacity Plan. (click here for an archived copy of the 389-page document). Within this document, Table A-3 offered a detailed assessment of the 100 busiest towered airports, including operations in 1990 and forecasts for 2005.

The table below was created using the 1990 operations levels and 2005 forecast data for those 100 airports. But, it goes much further. It includes the actual operations counts as they happened in 2005. AND, it includes data showing how the operations counts evolved between 2005-2016.

Take a close look. This data explains why people are suffering so much at a few key FAA airports: KSEA, KJFK, KDCA, KBOS, KSFO and others.

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

It is extremely revealing, showing how FAA consistently forecasts far beyond what would reasonably follow … almost as if the FAA forecasts are not intended to be accurate, but instead are created to sell excessive airport development while also enhancing Congressional funding support.

A more in-depth aiReform analysis follows on page two.

FAA’s ‘Noise Portal’: A good idea, or a way to shut down Noise Complaints?

Last November, FAA filed a statement in the Federal Register, seeking comments from the general public about a proposal for FAA to create a new ‘Noise Portal’. on the surface, it seems like a good idea, though only a good idea if FAA actually intends to collect complaints and take action to address them. But, it also seems like a TERRIBLE IDEA, if FAA’s actual intent is to force the general public to use only FAA’s ‘Noise Portal’ to pigeon-hole their growing concerns.

Here is one of the public comments, submitted by a citizen impacted near Sea-Tac:

“15 minutes per complaint????
FAA is not a regulatory agency, its a shill for the airline industry. By making it so long to file a complaint, it is just further stifling the public interest. This is ridiculous, clearly a blatant attempt to silence dissent.”

Here is a letter by the interim Executive Director at Port of Seattle. He makes some fairly good points, though those of us who know how unresponsive POS has been to area noise concerns will shake our heads, knowing there is plenty of POS hypocrisy at play here. Anyway, here is a copy of the letter, followed by a copy of a short point-by-point analysis by aiREFORM…:

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

…and, here’s the point-by-point analysis of Mr. Soike’s letter to FAA:

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

Click here for an archived copy of the Federal Register filing, or click here to view the source at Federal Register, which includes a link to view comments. Try and make sense of this, if you can; it appears that FAA employee Barbara Hall has a job filing multiple items with Federal Register, to solicit public comments. Oddly, though, the public comments appear to be batched together into one folder at web location, thus combining an unmanageable diversity of public comments.

Peace On Earth

…and let’s work for more peace from FAA and their industry buddies, too! We can have good airports that serve the local community first, delivering reasonable profits to investors while preserving local quality of life. We really can; we just have to manage capacity, and check corporate greed.

Peace. On. Earth.

a special thanks to Elaine Miller and Jana Chamoff Goldenberg, who have fought so hard all year on behalf of their Long Island communities so badly impacted by excessive flights in/out of LaGuardia and JFK airports. “THANK YOU, Elaine and Jana!! And, as for FAA, PANYNJ, JetBlue, Delta and American … “Hey, get your act together and drop the ‘bah humbug’ routine; start serving local communities, instead of just your fiscal bottom line!”

The SeaTac-POS ILA: Good or Bad?

‘ILA’ sounds like it has potential to be extremely boring, but from what people are saying around Sea-Tac Airport (KSEA), we all need to know what an ‘InterLocal Agreement’ is, and how much harm it can do. Some are saying that the latest ILA draft is yet another bad act by the Port of Seattle: spending taxpayer money to BUY silence from the tiny few elected officials who otherwise could do the most to help mitigate growing airport impact problems.

In this example, a new ILA has been drafted to expedite further growth of the airport and operations. It was drafted by a ‘JAC’ (Joint Advisory Committee), which is a team of five officials, two representing the Port of Seattle (aka POS, operator of KSEA) and three from the city of SeaTac (which essentially surrounds the POS properties). Of course, it is easy to see the push for an ILA comes entirely from POS; we would never see a small community approach an airport authority and ‘ask’ for an ILA. And, when dealing with POS, the relatively inexperienced officials at SeaTac just cave in when monetary treats are offered; money is the drug, and nobody fails to see who is the dealer and who is the addict.

An Analysis by aiReform

A few hours were spent studying the ILA draft, and comments/highlights were added; all of this is viewable in the scrollable PDF below.

One predominant concern is that an ILA appears to be a way for an airport authority to sidestep addressing problems, such as happen related to over-expansion at KSEA. Instead of meeting with impacted area residents and solving problems – finding the right balance between air commerce and local health and quality of life – POS chooses to ‘pay off’ local elected officials, buying their cooperation. Then, if/when local residents go to their elected body for help, well, that’s been cut off by the ILA.

Another general concern is how the city is enabling POS to entirely self-regulate, in exchange for annual cash payments; not too hard for POS to do, since they collect property taxes from residents throughout the Seattle area. Also, with the intended expedited processes, the window for citizen input is essentially shut tight; just not enough time for you or me to read a draft and submit a meaningful concern or suggestion.

In a democratic society, it almost feels like an ILA should be illegal. Federal agencies like FAA should be pressing for rules that protect people against the excesses of ILA’s such as this one. Not surprisingly, FAA remains mute; after all, they serve the airlines first.

People need to take a close look at this, identify what fails, and demand better governance. Airports should serve communities, not airlines.

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

FAA/Industry’s Own Data Exposes ‘Greener Skies’ as an Environmental Fraud

This Post looks at data in two online documents, presenting further evidence of the ‘Greener Skies’ fraud that FAA, Port of Seattle, and industry players are foisting on the Public. For all intents and purposes, this is the same fraud being pushed throughout the U.S., and by industry and Congress as well, under the NextGen label.

The data are at:

  1. Projected average day fuel burn on approaches, with no change: 2.64M lbs
  2. Projected average day fuel burn WITH RNAV/RNP changes: 2.61M lbs.

These figures were presented in units (pounds) that make the numbers impressively ‘bigger’, but also make it harder to intuitively comprehend. To correct this, the figures are converted in this table (to gallons, then to annual consumption):

Fuel burn (lbs) Converted to gallons Gallons per year
No Change 2,640,000 388,200 141.7M
‘Greener Skies’ 2,610,000 383,800 140.1M
Difference: 30,000 4,400 gal/day 1.6M gal/year

So, the proposal is expected to achieve a savings of 1.6 million gallons annually … at an airport that sold 487.1 million gallons that year. In other words, this proposed savings is less than one third of one percent of total fuel sold at Sea-Tac. Now, to the airlines, this (~0.3%) translates to more profits; indeed, the two dominant players at KSEA, Delta and Alaska, might each save around $1,000,000 per year in fuel. But, the costs shifted onto neighborhoods and health far exceed these added corporate profits.

A little deeper research reveals another interesting fact: the alleged fuel savings of Greener Skies are massively dwarfed by annual increases at an airport scheduling more arrivals than the gates can handle. Here’s the data, from page 18 of the 2016 Annual Report for ‘Sea-Tac Fuel Facilities LLC’, showing year-to-year changes far greater than the comparatively measly 1.6 million gallons saved:

  Gallons Consumed Year-to-year Change 1.6M as a percentage…
2014 487.1M
2015 544.8M 57.7 (a 12% increase) 2.8% of increased consumption
2016 586.3M 41.5 (an 8% increase) 3.9% of increased consumption

The improvements are nothing when compared to the consumption growth trend. Here’s a chart showing the trends, in both annual fuel consumption and annual operations: And, here’s an analogy: imagine the public view if we were funding a drug-treatment program that was successfully helping 3% of addicts while the number of addicts was growing at such a huge rate. Would we smile if, for every three treatment successes, there were 97 new addicts? Of course, we would not. Only an idiot (or a con-artist) crows ‘success!’ about a failure.

Three realities stand out from this:

  1. The enormous sums spent pitching Greener Skies and eventually signing off on the proposal were all framed around being pro-environment. It was a massive marketing/propaganda campaign to get out into the communities, present alleged benefits, pretend to engage people to ‘help’ identify and resolve problems, all while parading the idea that FAA, POS and industry care deeply about the environment, air quality, climate change, etc. And yet, these numbers show clearly: there were to be no meaningful environmental improvements. FAA, POS and industry players all knew this fact, even before the Greener Skies briefings and publications that wrapped up in 2012. They also knew (and still know!) that this was all just a big dog-and-pony show, funded by the people and served onto the people.
  2. A full five years after the FONSI signoff, FAA’s controllers at Seattle TRACON are not even using the RNP procedure down the center of Elliott Bay that was the key component of Greener Skies, the one element supposed to enable the bulk of the environmental benefits. It is as if the entire Greener Skies public engagement process was just an exercise in propaganda.
  3. The figures presented in the 2012 Greener Skies EA may not even reflect reality. Look closely. The data source documents used in this Post, when combined, show FAA/POS claimed that 487.1 million gallons of jetfuel were pumped in 2014, while also claiming 141.7 million gallons were consumed by west side arrivals on the short descending flight portions between the arrival gates (HAWKZ to the southwest, and MARNR to the northwest). Carefully note, these estimates were ONLY for west side arrivals, and did not look at fuel consumption for east side arrivals. Now, here’s the problem: these portions of these flights are the most fuel-efficient phases for each flight, and are allegedly flown at or close to engine-idle; these portions also represent a small fraction of total flight distance. And yet, the numbers used to calculate potential fuel savings declare the fuel consumption on these relatively short descending flight segments represent nearly a third of the fuel pumped at Sea-Tac? And, bear in mind, Sea-Tac is a major international hub, serving flights across the Pacific Ocean and to Europe. It defies logic; there is no plausible explanatio. FAA and POS need to confirm the numbers, and they need to explain: how is it that the airlines operating in and out of Sea-Tac can allegedly burn so much fuel on these arrivals yet so little fuel on climbouts and enroute to and from all other airports around the world?


Greener Skies was (and still is) both a fraud and a side-show ‘act’, using erroneous estimates while pretending to create benefits that STILL do not exist! And the impacts, using the questionable numbers provided by PoS/FAA, are astounding: they are saying, in 2014, arrivals to Sea-Tac consumed 2.6 million pounds of jetfuel PER DAY while on approach, creating noise and air pollution that we are all supposed to ignore.

See also:
  • 2/25/2011 – ‘Greener Skies Project’ presentation by Doug Marek (FAA, 11-pages)
  • 11/01/2012 – GreenerSkies, Final Environmental Assessment Documents, archived at aiREFORM

ATC Is Not the Real Cause of Airline Delays…

…and the airlines have long had all the tools they need to solve the problems caused by their own corporate greed and mismanagement. If NextGen impacts are out of control where you live, you need to read the article below.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s Post, here is an outstanding article written by Michael Baiada, a retired United 747 pilot, who sees past the NextGen promotional frauds. Even better, Mr. Baiada gets into the details of how easily the U.S. air travel system could be made more efficient and less impactful, while also improving the flying experience for us consumers. Turns out, the root of the problem today is too many people abdicating their duties: airlines refusing to run their business, regulators who enable this management failure while also serving as cover, lobbyists too focused on perpetuating the lobbying revenue stream, and so forth.

The article is a bit technical but very well written, and Mr. Baiada does an outstanding job explaining system details that FAA/industry work so hard to make muddy and complex. I heartily recommend sitting down and carefully studying this article; you will learn a lot, to help fight for rational airports, serving the local communities ahead of the airlines.

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

A copy of the article by Michael Boyd, as referenced in Baiada’s article, is archived here.