NextGen CONTINUES to be FAA’s Carte Blanche for Serving Industry

Late last year, an excellent article by Barbara Castleton was added here, in the ai-Rchives. A couple weeks ago, quite a few people started sharing this article at various social media sites related to airport impacts.

The November 2017 aiREFORM Post included a scrollable PDF copy, with footnotes added. Well, six months later, we decided to take a fresh new look at Barbara’s article, relate it to what FAA has done since, and create a new version, with new footnotes added. Of course, we did NOT look at the old footnotes until everything was finished. It is interesting to see how little has changed, and yet, too, how much more clearly the NextGen impact issues appear to be coming into a sharp focus.

Click on this link to view the Post from last November; click on the black pop-out button on the scrollable PDF below (upper right corner) to read the latest analysis:

The Impacts Are Not Due to ‘Customer Demand’, They Are Due to ‘Industry Greed’

SeaTac [KSEA] has been the fastest growing U.S. commercial airport in recent years, largely due to a 2012 decision by Delta to build a hub there. Here’s a JPEG showing KSEA annual operations and trends for each year, from 1991 through 2017:

(click on image to view the source table, which includes FAA ATADS data for 533 U.S. airports)

The data clearly reflects the operational history of KSEA. This is an airport where there was a former near-monoploy by Alaska Airlines, which is now expanding into a duopoly, with TWO airlines using it for hub operations. Notice the growth in flight numbers after 2012, following the Delta business decision. But notice also how operations at this airport declined by nearly a third, from 2000-2012. Think a bit about these sizable ups and downs: do they reflect strong swings in the local economy and population, or do they merely represent airline business decisions?

Now, ponder this concept, too: does ‘consumer demand’ drive airline business actions, or do airline business actions drive consumer demand? Is it fair to say that the entire goal of airline marketing is to stimulate more consumer demand, and ever-higher passenger mileage consumption?

Ask yourself this: regarding the demand for flying in the Seattle area (…and this is an attractive area, which has drawn many new residents from around the world), did ‘consumer demand’ DECLINE that much during the 2000-2012 timeframe, and has ‘consumer demand’ for flying by Seattle-area residents grown as massively as airport operations after 2012? In other words, is it inappropriate and misinformational for airlines, the Port of Seattle, and FAA to declare that ‘passenger demand’ is driving the current impactful hub growth, when the true driver is ‘corporate/airline demand’? Check out this screencap from page 8 of a recent FAA document (FAA’s CATEX… more about that later in this Post). If you spend any time looking at press releases by airlines and the Port of Seattle, you will find the same misrepresentations consistently repeated, all aimed at tricking readers into believing ‘consumer demand’ is driving this growth. Wouldn’t it be more accurate and truthful for the industry players to precisely attribute these hub operational changes to airline corporate decisions? Shouldn’t they instead brag about their marketing savvy and their ability to manipulate consumers, to create higher (or lower) rates of consumption? Should the industry players be more transparent, noting how when assets are reallocated from a declining hub to their latest new hub, we end up with economic decline and stagnation in the former?

The bottom-line is this: some airports grow excessively, while other airports seemingly whither away. Further evidence and examples can be viewed at the full 1991-2017 data collection for all tower airports (533 different airports, in this table). Do your own analysis for your own region, but be sure to take a closer look at the airports within the rustbelt centered on Ohio … from Detroit to Buffalo to Pittsburgh to Memphis to St. Louis and back to Detroit. Within this large region, at even the busiest airports, operational declines have averaged well over 50% from peak traffic years. And, many airport hubs have been outright abandoned.

What gives here?

Under the hub-and-spoke business model, commercial passenger operators maximize profits if they theoretically fly an infinite number of passengers into a hub airport at the same moment, have the passengers instantly sort out gate-to-gate into all the parked airplanes, and then depart all at the same instant. Of course, airports cannot be this efficient, and safety rules restrict aircraft flow rates, as both arrival and departure streams typically require around one minute spacing between consecutive flights. So, the next best thing for the airport and airlines (but certainly NOT for sleep-deprived and lung-impacted residents in the airport community!) is to tweak the rules in a way that maximizes ‘runway throughput’.

An example of this rule-tweaking is the use of diverging departure headings. At SeaTac, FAA took this to an extreme when they imposed routine 90-degree left turns immediately after takeoff, for Horizon Q400 turboprops heading south during North Flows. These departures impacted residents in Burien, the community at the northwest corner of KSEA. After concerns were raised (including legal engagement), FAA backed down early last year, removing an automated turn coordination from the tower-TRACON letter of agreement (also known as the ‘SEA-S46 LOA’). That should have been the end of this, right? Well, it was not. Instead, under new Regional Administrator David Suomi, FAA spent more than a year internally discussing and drafting papers to reinstate automated turns over Burien. The culmination of all that FAA effort (and, yes, we all paid for it!) is a 51-page CATEX document titled “Categorical Exclusion for Letter of Agreement Update to Automate a 250° Westerly Turn for Southbound Turboprops When Seattle – Tacoma International Airport is Operating in North-Flow Between the Hours of 6 am and 10 pm.” Read that title to yourself again, slowly and carefully, and try to make sense of it. All of this is just to formalize a written agreement between the tower and the radar controllers, so that the turns are automated, instead of coordinated verbally (push a button down, state a few words, and get concurrence … typically takes 2-3 seconds total) on a case-by-case basis. And, the automation discards the safety element of a diligent analysis of the traffic picture for each coordination event. Anyway, here is a copy of FAA’s PDF:

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

Like its title, this document is a doozy. Spend a little time studying it and you will see the extremes FAA goes to so as to enable excessive airport expansion. Page after page, lacking in substance, heavy on repetitive ‘safety’ and ‘efficiency’ soundbites, none of which are substantiated. If a particular detail or two really grab you, and you have an insight or a question, please email the aiREFORM administrator so we can share that on (odds are high, if you read something as puzzling or shocking, others will read it the same way, too). And, by the way, don’t waste your time trying to search this FAA PDF, because FAA scanned it to be unsearchable. I.e., although this captured agency claims to be engaging the community on matters such as early turns over Burien, in truth they are knowingly reducing the value of tools (such as this 51-page CATEX document) that concerned citizens need to carefully study). This trend, away from searchable PDFs, has been observed in FAA’s FOIA responses; whereas in the past nearly all PDF FOIA response documents were searchable, in time nearly all have become non-searchable.

The Dark Side of So-Called ‘Collaboration’

When two parties conspire in a way that adversely impacts a third party, we have collusion. In an age of propaganda, when collusion happens between aviation parties such as FAA, airport authorities, and airlines, they just call it ‘collaboration’. The true and unspoken purpose of their so-called ‘collaboration’ is to achieve a consistency in their soundbites. The early turns over Burien are an example of this ‘collaboration’. Another example is how these same players routinely claim the excessive growth at SeaTac is to meet customer demand. The short answer to that claim is, well, ‘Bullshit!’. Frankly, ‘demand’ is just a lame and misrepresentative excuse; the real cause of extreme over-expansion at airports is greed by the aviation players. And let’s be clear: it is not just the airlines, but also the airport authorities and the FAA. There is plenty of collusion to go around.

Here’s some data that proves the above point. It offers data from three Delta hub airports that have been scaled down, and shines a light on the downsizing of aviation in Middle America:

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

Conclusion:

This data reflects the harsh reality that today, in the U.S., FAA serves the airlines with a propaganda line, trying to sucker taxpayers into believing passenger demand creates impact problems at places like Seattle, Boston, Long Island, Maryland, and Charlotte. This is blatantly false, and most people at FAA know this. Hub concentration is NOT driven by consumer demand; no, airline greed is driving hub concentration, at great cost to local communities.

Congress needs to demand FAA serve all of us, not just the airlines and airport authorities. FAA is out of control and needs to be reigned in, and must not be allowed to continue operating as the captured regulator it has become.

You can Choose: Fly Less, or Even NOT AT ALL!

One of the best decisions each of us can make, for the environment and the future lives of our children, is to become truly mindful about fossil fuel consumption. Air travel is an incredibly intensive consumption method, and the fastest way each of us can pump fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere. So, here’s a prominent scientist discussing his decision, more than a decade ago, to stop flying. This could be you, too; and, if you choose this method of showing our concern, you’ll also help reduce other impacts such as the NextGen non-stop streams destroying a few communities across our nation).

So, think about it. Please fly less, or even not at all.

We Can Have No Accountability Without Transparency

Here is a quick example of how FAA protects aviation industry players from accountability, and how the mainstream media gives FAA a pass on accountability.

WKYT is a CBS-affiliated TV station in the Lexington, Kentucky area. Residents recently became concerned about a low-flying aircraft. The TV station investigated and was able to extract from FAA that an aerial survey was being conducted. But, FAA would offer no further details. This news story then gets packaged as ‘FAA Explains why low-flying plane was spotted in multiple counties” Oh, really? That’s an ‘explanation’?

What gives here? This airspace is owned by the public. We are impacted by those who use it, and we all pay for the services of FAA, who is supposed to manage and regulate that use. More often than not, an aerial survey is nothing more than a specially rigged airplane with a vertically oriented camera capturing images while flying a tight grid pattern. The peace of those on the ground was impacted substantially, and people have a right to knowledge that far exceeds a corporate right to privacy. So, why does FAA not tell us who the aircraft operator was?

On roads everywhere, we have to have a legible license plate connected to a registered owner. In communities everywhere, commercial operators of motor vehicles are required to identify their vehicles – and they benefit by doing so, as their services are advertised ‘on the road’. This all needs to change. FAA needs to start serving THE PEOPLE – all of us, not just those ‘people’ who are LLCs and Corporations. And it all starts with transparency.

The Congressional Process to Reauthorize FAA: Is it Just a Show, and Will it Go Far Enough?

Lots is happening in DC right now, though it is not clear if more than a few of the well-paid elected officials care enough to press through long-overdue reforms. If they fail to alter FAA’s cozy protectionism of this industry, the problems will persist: more noise (along with less sleep), more air pollutants (along with higher morbidity rates), and more rapid expansion of the greenhouse gas emissions by an industry that is the fastest growing contributor to global climate change. In time, the latter will mean loss of the polar ice (which appears to be accelerating), as indicated in this chart:

selected years added and labeled by aiREFORM (click on image to view source at NSIDC)

Note how Arctic sea ice has steadily declined in the past three decades. Losing polar ice is not a trivial matter; it will result in much higher sea levels, higher atmospheric energy and water vapor levels (stronger winds and bigger rain/snow events), and intensified weather extremes (the kind that fool trees into blooming early, only to freeze off the pollinized blossoms, killing that year’s fruit crop).

The Ball is in Your Court, Congress!

This week, the details are being deliberated in the U.S. House, and it looks like the Senate is also pressing to ‘hurry up’ and reauthorize FAA. Congress has important work to do for us in the U.S., but the consequences are global, going far beyond just us. From a climate justice perspective, the consequences are horribly unjust. Air travel and air cargo are industries that serve the wealthiest nations, but the poorest nations tend to be the most vulnerable. A nation like the U.S. can spend enormous funds elevating runways in Florida, but what is a small nation in equatorial regions to do, except simply move away? And, as the most vulnerable nations are destroyed, the global scarcity of land will only compel more instability, more refugees, and more wars.
We need to understand this now: there are real and ugly consequences for our obsessive hyper-consumption, and aviation is a big part of that bad habit. Every benefit bears a cost; the aviation-related benefits we enjoy today are at a growing cost to others on the planet … not just airport neighbors near over-developed U.S. hubs, but also communities at or near sea-level, across the globe.

Some Resources

Here are a few current documents and articles for readers to ponder:

  • HR.4, FAA Re-Authorization draft, Section-by-Section Summary – offers summaries of the many proposals, before most were either withdrawn or voted out by committee. One wonders: is there a better process for compelling a captured agency to serve THE PEOPLE, not just their industry? Is this current process rigged to empower lobbyists and opportunistic politicians? (27p, click here for archived copy)
  • HR.4, Draft Rule – take a look at the rules set up to ‘manage’ the amendment proposals and ensure the final draft serves industry. (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • UPDATE: The Dirtiest of Washington Politics? — ATC Privatization By Deception? – it was suspicious when Shuster suddenly announced abandonment of ATC privatization and his decision to not run again. Now it is back on the plate again, which begs the question: did Shuster et al decide to quit wasting effort deliberating and instead just impose their industry-serving plans? (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • Climate Change Could Increase ‘Whiplash’ Between Wet and Dry Years in California, Leading to More Disasters (click here to view source, a 4/24/2018 article at EcoWatch)

TheBriefingProject: One man against a government agency, one public comment at a time

Airlines and airport authorities have millions to spend and all the time they want, to manipulate citizen panels and elected representatives. A concerned citizen, on the other hand, typically is allowed a mere 2-minutes to make their points.

The fastest growing commercial aviation impact zone in the U.S. today is around SeaTac [KSEA]. Steve Edmiston, a multiple-times cancer survivor, is doing an outstanding job framing his 2-minutes for the industry-serving Port of Seattle. Check his latest video out here:
See also this article in the b-town blog, VIDEO: Local Activist Steve Edmiston’s third ‘Briefing’ to Port of Seattle, which includes links to the previous two 2-minute briefings. Watch for more 2-minute briefings, all year long, and take a look at The Briefing Project‘ Facebook page.

By the way, I came to know Steve a year ago, when we worked together on the QSPS ‘Fight the Flight 101’ Community Forum. A lot of work went into creating the ‘Dissecting Nextgen’ presentation. One year later, the archived PDF copy of the presentation is still packed with information to help us better understand how FAA and industry (including airport authorities) are destroying communities with NextGen … all for money.

Elected Leaders Need to Work Together

Most of us are smart and rational people, who understand our growing problem with Climate Change and its connection to fossil fuel consumption. Those of us who apply critical thinking, to reason past the propaganda lines spun by the aviation industry cabal (aviation lobbyists, industry players, faux-regulators, etc.), understand this stark fact:

Aviation relies heavily on fossil fuel consumption, and is the fastest way for each of us to further burden our stressed atmosphere with more carbon emissions.

So, what to do about it? It seems to be a no-brainer. The growing number of responsible elected officials who are speaking up to address climate change … they need to join up with elected officials who are fighting to clean up the health and community impacts by excessive scheduling at the most problematic airports. On both counts, this is a fight for a healthy future, and to minimize the life-shortening consequences of too much fossil fuel consumption. Aviation is the perfect place to start.

One Congressional advocate for action on Climate Change is Sheldon Whitehouse, from Rhode Island. Click here to read a copy of a recent email, part of his ongoing campaign. Click here to see his 3/13/2018 news release for a recent speech.

A Call For Action by OUR Elected Officials

Activists in the Boston area are gaining support from elected officials, toward a health study that needs to be done OUTSIDE FAA. Here is a graphic; please enlist the support of YOUR elected officials, too.

(click on image to view the FairSkiesNation FaceBook page)

Speaking of needed Congressional actions, below is the current aiREFORM wishlist. Every one of these proposals is doable. We just need elected officials who believe in empowered citizens, and who are driven to clean up the bureaucratic waste and abusive authority found in over-matured (and captured) federal regulators, like FAA.

Eleven FAA Reforms Our U.S. Congress Needs to Demand:

For starters, Congress needs to pass legislation that will achieve the following:

  1. arrange with the National Academies Division of Health and Medicine for a consensus report of existing study findings on the harmful health impacts of the NextGen technology.
  2. remove from FAA the authority to evaluate, manage, and reduce noise and air pollution impacts by aviation, and place those authorities under EPA or another non-FAA agency.

Further, Congress needs to pass legislation that will direct FAA to:

  1. fully implement all noise and air pollution impact recommendations, from the non-FAA authority, unless FAA can clearly document that implementation would create a hazard (in other words, prioritize aviation commerce BELOW aviation impacts).
  2. remove incentives to over-expand hub airports, by phasing out passenger facility charges and allowing (even encouraging) divestiture of excess airport lands for local non-aviation use. PFC’s need to be capped at $3.00, then phased out; AIP regulations need to be reformulated to end the current coddling of industry. The current regulations create perverse incentives to grow excessively and operate inefficiently, while also making it that much harder for other communities to have viable commercial airports.
  3. draft revisions to airport funding regulations and other FAA documents, that empower local officials with the right and duty to engage local citizens in democratically deciding how their local airport may be used (to include allowing night-time curfews, reduced flow rates, banning some aircraft types for safety reasons, etc.).
  4. advocate for LOCAL authority and LOCAL problem-solving (thus, support all locally designed solutions, even if they reduce total air commerce at that location, so long as the solutions are non-discriminatory and do not create a valid safety hazard).
  5. create clear regulations – and aggressively enforce them! – to end helicopter thrill rides sold as ‘air tours’ (neither the recent NYC tour crash, nor the earlier Grand Canyon crash, should have happened … and they would NOT have happened, if FAA was truly regulating this industry).
  6. create a program that makes flight data easily accessible online, so as to maximize operator transparency for repetitive flight operations; the goal should be to protect citizens against abuse by rogue operators, and to empower citizens in achieving real local control.

And lastly, in relation to climate change, Congress needs to direct FAA to:

  1. impose a federal aviation carbon tax (make it a steep tax, with half the revenues going to non-aviation spending, overall tax reduction, etc.).
  2. impose an environmental impact tax on leaded GA fuels (again, make it very steep, and direct all revenues to environmental programs, such as the non-FAA office charged with evaluating, managing, and reducing aviation noise and air pollution impacts).
  3. replace most of the current aviation ticket taxes and other fees with:
    1. a passenger ticket fee proportional to flight distance (itinerary miles, NOT direct miles).
    2. a stepped ticket tax for commercial passenger seats (free, first two one-way trips or first roundtrip; single fee next few trips (e.g., roundtrips #2 and #3 in a year); double fee trips beyond that (e.g., roundtrips #4 and higher in a year).

UPDATE, 3/18/2018: — A discussion of item #1 of this Post was held at QSPS, and includes valuable insight by Cindy Christiansen; she explains the need for ‘independence’ and the nature of the proposed ‘study’, and also provides a link to a NAS Mission statement. Click here for the QSPS FaceBook discussion.

First StART Meeting at KSEA: Great Write-up by David Goebel

The first StART Meeting was held at KSEA, on February 28th. Vashon Island activist David Goebel posted a great write-up at the NORNP.org website (click here for aiRchived copy). It also is clear that Sheila Brush asked some great questions, to try and help Port of Seattle (PoS … perfect acronym, no?!?) officials drill down into the real impacts of this major airport, which appears stuck in a mode of selling out to profit-seeking by Alaska and Delta airlines.

As I understand his story, it was around two decades ago that David purchased land near the north end of Vashon Island, hoping to enjoy the bucolic setting a ferry ride away from the city. Those dreams crashed when FAA implemented the HAWKZ arrival and accommodated Delta’s hub development, creating nearly nonstop arrival streams at lower altitudes. There are many nice places to call home, around Seattle, but sadly airline over-accommodation is destroying them.

David offered this closing comment:

“…something that struck me as sadly ironic is that it was really quiet in the conference room; I didn’t hear any planes. This is in stark contrast to my cabin on Vashon Island, where as often as every two or three minutes they drown out all the sounds of nature, destroying the reason I moved there 20 years ago…..”

See also:
  • PoS StART webpage – link
  • 2/28/2018 – POS’ Agenda for StART meeting (link for archived copy)
  • 2/28/2018 – Lance Lyttle’s 22-pg slideshow for StART meeting (link for archived copy)

Big Crowd at Milton!

Great to see this photo, shared by Andy Schmidt, showing the full house attending at the Milton Board of Selectmen 2/28 meeting. Item #5 on their agenda was “Public Meeting – Airplane Noise”.

(click on image to view source, at Facebook)


UPDATE, 3/1/2018: — click here to view page two of this Post, where an embed of the online video is viewable. See also this PDF copy of the presentation by Cindy Christiansen.