The Polis Amendment: We Need Local Control of Our Airports!

This Post is about a legislative amendment that is set for review (and hopefully will be adopted?!?) this coming week. Your support is urgently needed, to help restore local authority so that local officials can manage impacts caused by their local airports. A link to help you easily contact your elected representative and encourage their support of HR 2997, is located near the end of this Post. Here’s the background….

The Problem…

We have a problem. A BIG PROBLEM! The system of government in this nation, which was designed to empower individuals and ensure we can work together to prosper and share great lives, has become coopted. Money now controls everything. Aviation offers a concise case study of how bad this has become:

  • the ‘money’ is in the airlines, the manufacturers, the airport authorities, and the industry lobbyists; they spend this money to gain support from FAA and elected officials, to manipulate rules and procedures for their own profits.
  • all of the above have a near-total bias toward expanding airport operations, and a near-total indifference to the impacts that are destroying even historic residential neighborhoods.
  • the environmental costs are not just an inconvenience; the repetitive noise and air pollutants, now being concentrated over new ‘noise ghettoes’ below, create sleep loss, asthma, stress, heart failure, and other serious/fatal medical conditions.
  • citizens who speak up are routinely beaten down; their concerns are diminished and ignored by all authorities; pro-aviation trolls launch attacks via social media; we are led to feel we are ‘against progress’, which is so false (…in fact, we can clearly have moderation and managed impacts that still allow all the real ‘progress’ that an airport can provide – without destroying health & quality of life).
  • when we, as impacted citizens, approach elected officials, we soon learn these so-called ‘representatives’ exist only to fund their next election campaign … and so, they are nearly ALWAYS beholden to industry players; i.e., they will act empathetic and say they are concerned, but their ACTIONS achieve no resolution of our problems. Furthermore, when we look closely at the current Congress, we see that important gatekeepers, such as the Rules Committee, appear to have heavily biased memberships (which, if abused, can be used to summarily dismiss all amendments that do not serve party objectives).
  • when we approach the mainstream media, we quickly see their enormous bias … always in favor of money, always happy to pass on misinformation.
  • when we approach the courts, they too dismiss our concerns.

Given all of this, we could just consider it a lost cause, but we really must guard against that. Instead, let’s pick our strategy carefully, and coordinate our efforts. We have to do this, especially for the next generation.

The Solution…

The very heart of the solution is LOCAL CONTROL. All airports – even O’Hare and Atlanta, the two busiest in the world – ultimately serve the local community. So, why in the world would we let FAA bureaucrats in DC take away the right – and responsibility(!) – of local officials to impose curfew hours, limit operations per hour, and impose other safe and reasonable policies that properly balance airport impacts with airline profit margins? Simply, we WOULD NOT DO THIS. This has happened, only because FAA is a captured regulator; FAA is only pretending to regulate the very industry it serves. And we are the victims, the collateral damages.

This is where the Polis Amendment comes in. Jared Polis, a Congressman representing citizens near the skydiving-noise impact-zone around the Longmont airport, has been working hard to assist those impacted. They have worked for years to get cooperation from Mile Hi, but profitable tandem jumps help the Mile Hi owner, Frank Casares, to refuse to cooperate. Local elected officials feel powerless and defer to FAA, but FAA does nothing… all they want to do is enable aviation commerce, with no regard for the ‘costs’ imposed on others. And so, the problems continue. (click here to view many other aiREFORM articles about Mile Hi and impacts around Longmont)

Here are two recent graphics about the Longmont impacts:

Notice how the climbs are routinely done a few miles AWAY from the actual airport. This helps keep airport neighbors from complaining; it also dumps noise pollution on distant neighbors, many of whom are unaware why they keep hearing so many planes. (click on image to view source tweet)

The shifting of skydiving climbs away from the airport is not only a dumping of noise pollution, it is also DANGEROUS: other pilots, flying through the area, will have a much harder time spotting the skydive aircraft when they are not within a couple miles of the target airport. (click on image to view source tweet)

The Polis Amendment seeks to add text to the FAA Reauthorization Bill (HR 2997), to explicitly restore Local Control of GA Airports (i.e., at General Aviation airports that primarily serve recreational pilots). HR 2997 is also known as the ’21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act’, or AIRR, and is being pushed by Bill Shuster, along with lobbyist A4A, the airlines, and officials like Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. The ‘Reform’ part is a cruel joke; these reforms will only further empower corporate greed, while disempowering us individual citizens. The bill is working its way up to a final vote by the House. The process this week includes getting the amendment approved by the Rules Committee (probably in a meeting on Monday), then proceeding to discussion (probably Wednesday) and eventually for final debate on the House floor.

Here is a copy of the text, proposed for addition at the end of Title VI (Miscellaneous):

So, people who can see […and hear, and BREATHE(!) the impacts of unmitigated aviation…] all need to be heard this week. Contact your elected representative, and let them know why they need to support the Polis Amendment, why WE NEED to restore local control of our LOCAL airports.

This is the first step. Eventually, local control also needs to include empowering the hundreds of thousands of residents impacted under concentrated NextGen routes, to have a real voice – and the democratic authority – to impose curfews, hourly operations limits and other capacity management restrictions that best serve the local community. Every great journey starts with a single step, and local control at GA airports needs support even from those of us who live in the new noise ghettoes FAA is creating, via NextGen.

Take Action, Please!

Please contact your elected representative. Here’s a handy link to identify your rep:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

For further information, please see this petition at Change.org. This is an excellent petition, laying out the goals for resolving all sorts of aviation impacts across the nation. The petition proposes the following seven elements for the 2017 FAA Reauthorization, now being considered by Congress:

  1. Update noise metrics used to evaluate significant exposure.
  2. Require environmental impact reviews prior to flight path changes.
  3. Mandate a robust and transparent community engagement process, including pre-decisional public hearings, for any new or modified flight paths or “flight boxes.”
  4. Restore local control over airport operations.
  5. Remove the FAA from oversight of environmental quality and public health.
  6. Mandate robust data collection and analysis of aviation noise and other pollutants near airports.
  7. Ban flights over and within 2 miles of designated noise sensitive areas.

KSEA North Flow Arrivals: How Federal Way Residential Communities are Impacted

Here’s an example flight, showing how FAA/ATC chooses to accommodate airline profits ahead of citizen impacts. In this case, ATC controls a North Flow arrival from Alaska, to land on Runway 34L at SeaTac [KSEA]:

Assorted online images showing the arrival satview and data for Alaska Flight 914, Anchorage-Seattle, landing at 11:22AM on Friday, 7/14/2017. Notice how, as the arrival approached the south end of Vashon Island, ATC issued a left turn, which created low-altitude noise impacts on the north shore area of Federal Way / Dash Point. Notice also, the incredibly straight route for most of the flight; this shows, the ‘direct route’ efficiencies proclaimed as a key NextGen selling point in fact already exist! (source: FlightAware)

And, here’s a VFR sectional (aviation chart) that enables us to precisely identify distances ‘on final’, from the approach end of the runway at KSEA:

A screencap showing the ASA914 route superimposed on a VFR sectional. Note the gridlines on the VFR sectional; the tick-marks on the vertical gridlines are one statute mile apart. Red lines and tags have been added to this image, marking 5-mile, 10-mile, and 15-mile distances on a final to land Runway 34L. Contrary to Port of Seattle claims in the past, Runway 34L has become the primary landing runway at SeaTac, when in North Flow. (source: FlightAware)

The Problem:

Air traffic controllers (ATCs) generally do not factor environmental impacts into their control decisions. So, if an arrival lined up on the NextGen RNAV route over Vashon Island sees the airport on a clear day, if other traffic allows, ATC will be inclined to turn that arrival early, to line up onto a short final. In this example, that early turn happened because ATC saw enough space to safely issue the early turn, ahead of the next arrival. This arrival turned final near 279th. The consequences include an adverse impact upon thousands of homes, because early turns need to be much lower, to make the descent to the landing runway.

The Solution:

ATC needs to fully incorporate community concerns into their standard operating procedures.

For noise mitigation, and to protect residential communities, turns should be conducted no closer than to a 10-mile final. In this example, a turn to a 10-mile final (near Wild Waves) would occur over industrial/commercial properties at the Port of Tacoma, thus would potentially impact thousands fewer homes.

To the left, see an example of a later flight that was kept higher and, turned onto final at a distance of approximately 14-miles: Xiamen Air Flight #845, a Boeing 788, from Shenzhen, China (near Hong Kong).

FAA and Port of Seattle: Leading Us in a Global ‘Race to the Bottom’

Rose Bridger’s latest paper takes a close look at Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Practically speaking, SEZs are an evolved form of entities such as the Port of Seattle, which was a special authority created by the state of Washington, when the Port District Act was passed back in 1911. These entities are designed to empower players who are wealthy and politically connected, while also insulating these players from both accountability and transparency. SEZs are typically supported by governments, and these days often are done in ‘public-private partnership’ with multi-national corporations.
SEZs generally subsidize the major players with:

  • …use of state authority to sieze lands – frequently productive farmland; this is part of the global land-grabbing phenomenon that is displacing rural and indigenous people.
  • …public funding of infrastructure, including airport construction, utilities and surface transportation networks.
  • …allocation of land and other essential resources; and,
  • …of course, generous tax breaks.

Across the globe, thousands of airport-linked SEZs have been developed. These are a form of deregulation targetted at benefitting big-business, and they frequently seed rampant cronyism. The rates and laws within SEZs differ from the surrounding areas; tax breaks and other incentives aim to narrowly benefit investors, while simultaneously aiding the incumbency of elected officials. However, due to weak linkages with the host economy, the benefits of SEZs often fail to extend beyond the boundaries of the designated enclaves. Also, foregone tax revenues put a strain on local government coffers. Non-resident investors take advantage of these tax breaks, but often eventually relocate to alternative sites offering even more generous perks. When this happens, the SEZs languish as useless white elephants. And the impacts upon local residents tend to be negative and extreme: destroyed communities, blighted ‘noise ghettoes’, sleep loss and stress, and diminished health caused by aviation air pollution.

Here’s a PDF copy of Rose’s latest paper (23-pages):

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

In her conclusion, Rose notes:

“New airport linked economic zones bring the short-term certainties of massive government expenditure on infrastructure and lucrative contracts for construction firms….”
“Airport-linked economic zones accelerate the global ‘race to the bottom’ by providing geographically defined areas where deregulation and tax breaks, to serve the interests of big business, are maximised. The new economic zones must also be viewed within the context of broader economic justice concerns of tax breaks for aviation set to benefit investors, in particular the almost universal tax exemption of aviation fuel for international flights. Allocation of land assets to airports for generation of non-aeronautical revenue is another form of subsidy. Monetisation of airport land banks is accelerating worldwide as aerotropolis style development gathers pace.”

A Tutorial: How You Can Use Online Resources to Identify and Study Flights Impacting Your Home

Many of us are too keenly aware of the destruction being done to residential neighborhoods, by excessive flight scheduling at the few U.S. airports where airlines are expanding their hubs. To protect homes and health, more of us are now forced to fight with FAA and airport authorities, asking for information and filing our concerns and complaints. This fight is generally made more difficult by one of FAA’s ugliest habits: their tendency to impede real education of citizens who are impacted by aviation.

Sadly, FAA et al tend to bury us with acronyms that cause eyes to glaze over. They try to dazzle us with vague technical references, hoping we become so overwhelmed by the details that we just have to step back and let the experts work this all out. They do not want us to know, of course, that the experts are routinely being compensated by FAA and/or industry, which of course biases their ‘expertise’ with a pro-aviation slant.

And so, there is a need for us to cultivate our own expertise. Fortunately, the internet offers very many resources, not just for research but also for helping one another. 

Here’s a tool that can help. The scrollable PDF below can be downloaded and shared, and it can be viewed offline. It presents an example of how one online flight tracking website (in this case, FlightAware) can be used to gather more information about impacting flights. The links within the PDF are all active.

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

Please use this tutorial. Learn, research, and share, so others can benefit from your research; so we can precisely present the data needed to compel FAA and your local airport authority to end the excessive impacts. Airports need to serve the local community first, not the airlines and their failed regulator.

A Good Example of NextGen Propaganda Being Pushed by Mainstream Media

In Seattle, KOMO reporter Joel Moreno is using social media to promote a demonstrably disinformational news video. His latest is about NextGen and the Greener Skies program pushed by both FAA and Port of Seattle (POS). Click here to view Mr. Moreno’s online post, where you can click through to view the news video, as well as his tweets.

As happens so frequently these days, the reporting is superficial and pro-aviation; i.e., the reporter just pushes along the selling points they are fed by FAA and industry (airport authorities, airlines, lobbyists, etc.), while doing NOTHING to probe the accuracy of what they are telling the public. Airtime gets filled, and people get fed what the status quo wants them to think. It seems like that is all we get, these days: Propaganda, from lazy, non-reporting reporters.

Here’s one example. At the heart of his news story, Mr. Moreno states: “Implemented in 2013, Greener Skies uses satellite technology so jets make a continuous descent at low power instead of the stair-step approach used before. However, on a typical cloudy day, three out of four arriving planes go right over Beacon Hill.”

What Mr. Moreno fails to investigate are these critical questions (and answers):

  1. is this declared use of satellite technology something new, that offers any substantial improvements in efficiency? (ANSWER: no … commercial airlines have been using direct flights for nearly five decades; in fact, ATC always prefers to issue direct routes, and will do so unless there are too many flights. The only route shortening happening here is within 10-miles of the airports, via the wholesale disposal of decades-old noise mitigation agreements … and the environmental/health cost is extraordinary.)
  2. are the jets making these continuous descents at low power? (ANSWER: only in some cases … but in most cases, due to FAA allowing airlines to schedule too many arrivals, ATC is levelling off the flights … and this is intensifying impacts on neighborhoods below.)
  3. Have the so-called ‘stair-step’ approaches been reduced? (ANSWER: no …  there is no evidence that these have been reduced and, in fact, there is ample evidence they are increasing, due to too many arrivals. Bear in mind, ATC does not issue level-offs just for fun; a level-off is the easiest way for ATC to safely separate aircraft, keeping them the required 1,000-ft above the traffic below.)
  4. Has efficiency improved at SeaTac? (ANSWER: no … not if you look at the arrival ‘parking lots’ and other substantial delays ATC is imposing many times every day, often for hours on end, to try and manage the rampant airline overscheduling. Large turns, loops, and even multiple loops are issued to one flight after another, and at all four arrival gates (east of Mt. Rainier, near Glacier Peak, over Oregon, and over the Olympic Peninsula), so as to slow the arrival flows.)
  5. Was Greener Skies implemented in 2013? (ANSWER: actually, no … a lot of money and effort was expended to sell the concepts via an environmental review, but nothing was implemented. Instead, FAA and POS are using the Greener Skies ‘concept’ as cover, to implement lower/louder procedures, with turns closer to the airport, solely to accomodate schedule expansions – and increased profits – by Delta and Alaska.)

One more note, well worth emphasizing: the stair-step approaches are an absolute travesty of disinformation. FAA et al are pushing the idea that, somehow, applying what are implied as ‘new whiz-bang NextGen technologies’, ATC has discovered they no longer have to issue level-offs to arrivals. FAA and industry are collaborating to pitch this disinformation, and too many people in the general public are vulnerable to buying this pitch as fact. It is not. Looking at this graphic (included in Mr. Moreno’s article), notice the so-called ‘conventional’ approach, done in yellow. Look closely and notice there are four short level-offs on the yellow line, all well south of the stadiums, implying a quick and frantic series of crazy short level-offs then descents. Nothing like this happens, nor has it ever happened. It is shameful that FAA itself is not vehemently protesting Mr. Moreno’s use of this graphic (oh, wait, FAA helped to create that false graphic … no wonder they do not protest!).

Here’s an archived PDF copy of the news story:

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

Does JetBlue Care to Minimize Impacts?

Parts of Boston are being severely impacted by NextGen, under routes in and out of Logan [KBOS]. Not just by the narrow route concentration FAA is creating in their environmentally destructive application of satellite technologies, but also in the increased hub concentration that FAA is enabling.

In a nutshell, the airlines want to concentrate flights into just a handful of major hubs, but they need FAA’s help to do this. They need FAA to increase ‘runway throughput’, so that the major hub airlines at airports like Boston can add just a few more flights each hour. Of course, the problem is, in their accomodating the airlines, FAA is causing oversaturation of schedules to the point where:

  1. flows are virtually non-stop for most of the day; and
  2. the slightest bit of weather or surge of flights creates overload, and ATC works the arrivals into long conga lines – harder and less safe for ATC and flight crews, but also greatly amplifying impacts upon residents below.

JetBlue has a major hub presence at Boston. Not only that, but JetBlue is a major player at two other hub airports where flight overscheduling is destroying communities: LaGuardia [KLGA] and Reagan National [KDCA]. And, JetBlue’s network relies heavily on connecting passengers through these three hub airports.

Also, JetBlue uses social media to pitch their product, to try and encourage more people to take more flights, and more frequently. The JetBlue facebook page solicits comments from viewers, so it makes sense that a viewer in Milton, impacted by the increase in noise and air pollution by JetBlue and other airlines, would offer concerns and make constructive suggestions. This is precisely what was done, when Andy Schmidt initiated a discussion by sending JetBlue a message, on May 30th. After nearly a month of back-and-forth, and with many delays, Andy came to the conclusion that, frankly, “JetBlue doesn’t care.” He then posted a series of four screencaps, documenting the ‘discussion’. Here’s a compilation:

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

When it comes to environmental responsibility around hub airports, there is a huge vacuum. Neither FAA nor the industry they are supposed to regulate are working to protect communities from noise and air pollutant impacts. It is only about money, these days.

In the example above, Andy shows a great way to nudge the airlines toward becoming responsive and accountable. What is particularly intriguing about this example is that Andy pointed the airline right at a very effective and affordable action that would reap tremendous environmental benefits: the vortex generator. Here are two graphs from a320whine.com:

The red curve shows two spikes, at ~560 and ~620 hertz, which are the infamous ‘A320 whine’. Notice the substantial noise reduction (green curve) at these frequencies, when the VG deflectors are added.

The green shaded area shows noise reduction from red line (an A320 without the VGs) to green line (an A320 with the VGs added). Study this graph carefully; it shows an improvement, but notice, too, zero improvement within the final 12-miles (20-kilometers) of the arrival. Given the cost, this improvement is well worth the money spent, but airlines and FAA will also need to better manage traffic loads, such as by reducing hourly flow rates.

CONCLUSION: This is a good example of how social media can be used constructively, to engage airlines, and hopefully, to nudge them toward becoming more compatible with the communities they impact. And, the vortex generators are a real opportunity for JetBlue to show they care.

Will they? Will JetBlue’s management wake up, so thousands can sleep better?

Those Foxes Guarding the Aviation Henhouse: One Way to Hold them Accountable

Here is an excellent example of how to nudge accountability from those who work to implement programs like NextGen (or its European twin, SESAR).

Below is a scrollable PDF with a series of tweets. The author has taken screencaps of portions of the bio for an important UK aviation official, Andy Sinclair. Mr. Sinclair is Head of Airspace Strategy and Engagement at Gatwick Airport. The screencaps appear to be from Mr. Sinclair’s online bio. Each screencap is presented along with a comment or question that encourages critical thinking about Mr. Sinclair’s background and duties, as well as how both industry and regulator appear to be so tone-deaf to the terrible impacts they are imposing.

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

We should use this strategy more in the U.S. We can hold FAA officials and airport officials accountable, if we shine a bright light on who they are, what they say, and what they’ve done. Screencaps and comments are a very efficient way to do this. We need to clearly nudge these officials toward more transparency, more accountability, and actual MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT of community members who are being increasingly impacted.

Now, just to be fair, the above is only an example. In truth, Mr. Sinclair, a former UK ATC, may be a great guy, and I hope he is. He may be doing a bang up job in his post-ATC career, which has focused on airspace design and community relations, including the engagement of residents who are concerned about Gatwick [EGKK] aviation impacts. On the other hand, he may be a jerk, cashing in on his background, with a willingness to play a role in ‘pretending’ to engage people in problem-solving; I hope he is not, and assume for now that I will find no evidence online that he is this jerk.

Bottom Line: there is a culture of corruption, common in aviation. It is reasonable for impacted people to question not only new airspace procedures, but also to question the motives behind the officials who are paid well to serve. Whether they are serving the public, or serving only the industry, is increasingly unclear. So, let’s do our best to ensure they know: they serve ‘We, The People’ (not the airlines!).

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:

A Steep Aviation Carbon Tax Would Solve Many Aviation Impacts

Image

(click on image to view source tweet)

Aviation is heavily subsidized when Congress approves taxes on passenger tickets and air cargo, then uses those taxes to expand airports beyond what serves the local community. Congress can do better. They need to implement fees and taxes that disincentivize the excessive carbon consumption by commercial operators. Here are some of the many benefits:

  • fewer hub flights (and thus more direct flights)
  • reduced noise and air pollutant impacts, along with more sleep and preserved quality of life, in communities currently being destroyed by NextGen
  • less aviation CO2 pollution per passenger (due to shorter/direct trips replacing indirect flights via hubs)
  • reduced delays (especially at hub airports)

A Gatwick Missed Approach Reveals Why the Proposed U.S. ATC Privatization is a Big Fail

Summer is upon us, and Yanks love to fly on distant vacations, oblivious to the enormous carbon cost associated with that privilege. Shall we take a quick trip to Europe? Maybe lunch in London and zip back to LA for dinner?

We could fly through Gatwick. Or, maybe, let’s not. A recent tweet, with a very telling graphic, suggests Gatwick is a bad idea:

EasyJet 8222, from Valencia to Gatwick on 6/9/2017. Weather was not the issue: it was near perfect that day. On the first pass, the flight went around after descending to approx. 900-ft. This missed approach appears to have been caused solely by NATS’ refusal to properly manage capacity; i.e., too many arrivals in too small a time window. (click on image to view source Tweet)

It turns out, if you study the arrivals to Gatwick, you learn an awful lot, including:

  1. that lots of privatization has happened in the UK, both to the ATC system, and to the airports … and it is broadly failing to deliver promised ‘benefits’ used to sell the privatization scheme;
  2. that the UK ATC system, NATS, is grossly inefficient on Gatwick arrivals, even 25-years after it was privatized in 1992;
  3. that FAA’s NextGen and Europe’s SESAR (the satellite-based ATC automation systems being oversold on both sides of the Atlantic) are both very similar, in how they intensify impacts while accommodating airline profits.

Here’s a PDF compilation of the ten arrivals to Gatwick, preceding the eventual landing of EasyJet 8222. The inefficiencies are astounding. Notice that for all flights, the bulk of the trip is very direct, but the compression for landing at Gatwick is being managed by holding stacks and other arrival delays, all controlled by ATC. This is precisely the same pattern we see in the U.S. At the key hub airports, where FAA refuses to manage capacity while accommodating airline desires to schedule far too many flights, FAA imposes both enroute delays and lots of delay turns to arrivals. This is the case at all the worst NextGen-impacted airports: Boston [KBOS], LaGuardia [KLGA], Kennedy [KJFK],  Baltimore-Washington [KBWI], Reagan-National [KDCA], Charlotte [KCLT], Chicago O’Hare [KORD], Phoenix [KPHX], Seattle [KSEA], and San Francisco [KSFO].

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

Why is Gatwick Such an Inefficient Mess?

Gatwick [EGKK] is the second-busiest commercial passenger airport in the UK, after London Heathrow [EGLL]. Both of these airports are infamous for the enormous noise and air pollutant impacts they place upon residential communities – not just near the runways, but far away as well. Just like with FAA’s NextGen, arrivals are dumped low, slow, and loud, and circuitous delay patterns (like the Arc of Doom) are flown, maximizing impacts.

A key feature of Gatwick is that, although it has two parallel runways, a local environmental agreement disallows use of both runways at the same time; i.e., the main runway (08R/26L) is to be used alone, and the backup runway (08L/26R) is only to be used when the main runway is out of service (for maintenance, etc.).

So, with Gatwick, we have a classic example of limited runway capacity but no thoughtful constraints to ensure profit-seeking airlines do not schedule too many flights. And, every one of these arrival delays stands a high probability of triggering delays on all subsequent flights using the delayed aircraft, for the remainder of the day. In other words, if NATS would address the Gatwick arrival compression issue, they would make huge progress in reducing flight delays across the UK.

What Causes Missed Approaches & Go-Arounds, and are They Problematic?

In a well-managed air traffic world, missed approaches and go-arounds are very rare. Flight crews and ATC both hate go-arounds, as they are a LOT more work. And, they can be dangerous; i.e., in a system built around repetitive and predictable processes, sudden changes inject a lot of risk.

These should not be happening as often as they do for Gatwick. They would not happen there, too, if NATS would impose restrictions against excessive flight scheduling.

Will the U.S. ATC Privatization Proposal Do Better?

Probably not. Given what we have seen so far, in FAA’s fraudulent sales pitches, the botched implementation, and the growing and unresolved impacts, etc., there is a near absolute certainty that privatization of U.S. ATC would be an unmitigated disaster. No efficiency improvements. No cost savings. Reduced transparency. No accountability. Just one more sell-out to industry money, to enable the few airlines and others to do whatever the hell they want.

Just say ‘NO!’ to ATC Privatization: this is Corporatocracy run amok.