The ‘SAMP’ Oxymoron: There is NOTHING Sustainable about Commercial Aviation at SuperHubs

SAMP stands for ‘Sustainable Airport Master Plan’. It looks like someone at the Port of Seattle (POS) has decided it would be a fun joke to add the word ‘sustainable’; maybe they were bored, maybe they wanted to imply this master plan would show meaningful environmental stewardship, moderation so as to not over-consume, etc; or, maybe the Port of Seattle just wants to test and see how stupid we are.

Let’s be clear: there is nothing at all sustainable about commercial aviation. Even in a country as ‘advanced’ and ‘wealthy’ as the U.S., only a small fraction of people do anymore than one air trip per year. During each of our personal air trips, we are individually consuming more fossil fuels and at a higher rate of consumption than we do in any other civilized human activity (war and arson do not count, OK?). So, it is a sick joke for POS or anyone to try and brand a new product (their latest round of airport master plan documentation) as good for the environment. Frankly, it is way too much like FAA’s spin on NextGen: claiming that, by using precision routes and automated flights, they might reduce CO2 emissions … while carefully NOT stating that the reductions would only happen by letting the airlines turn lower and closer to the runways, increasing impacts under both departures and arrivals.

Some Background on POS & KSEA:

The Port of Seattle has been brutally destroying local quality of life, with a relentless push to over-expand their one airport property, Sea-Tac [KSEA]. People are suffering from sleep loss, polluted air, and intrusive noise under repetitive flight paths narrowed via NextGen’s reliance on autopilot navigation.

Shortly after the 2012 announcement by Delta Airlines, that they were creating a new hub at KSEA, takeoff and landing operations began to soar; in fact, Sea-Tac has seen the most rapid growth in the U.S., with annual total operations climbing 31% from 2013 to 2017. Many people are understandably upset, especially this time of year, when backyard gardening and other pleasant activities are, well, not just unpleasant but even unhealthy. There is something not too tasty about barbecuing burgers while smelling jet fuel and aviation exhaust.

People have been clamoring for a cap on operations at KSEA, and demanding a real effort to develop alternate airport facilities to serve the Puget Sound area. This idea especially applies to air cargo, in no small part because people are sick and tired of being woken up by multiple Asia-bound cargo 747s that take off between 1AM and 4AM pretty much every night. But, again, since Sea-Tac is POS’s only airport, they have a vested interest to stop all efforts to shift activities elsewhere. They do not want to lose any federal grants that flow each year from the AIPgravy train.

The Port of Seattle is like an invasive and noxious weed, but actually much worse; unfortunately, they cannot just be dispatched with an herbicide or shovel. They do not belong here, yet they have powers that define local quality of life. They are not held accountable. They parasitize in multiple ways: taking mandatory taxes from homeowners, grabbing land around the airport, and sucking the oxygen from the air so no other airports can possibly emerge to compete with Sea-Tac. This is a troubling reality in U.S. commercial aviation today: just like with banks, pharma, grocers, and all other industries, political forces are aiding intensive and very destructive concentration. We see very few airlines now, and the bulk of their route systems are funneled through about a dozen main hub airports in the entire nation.

POS’s Latest Propaganda Exercise

A SAMP presentation was given at Federal Way. Attending were Clare Gallagher (POS Public Affairs Director, Capital Projects Delivery), Arlyn Purcell (Aviation Director of Environment & Sustainability), and Ryan Calkins (a POS Commissioner). Word is that Commissioner Calkins did not stay, so it was Gallagher and Purcell doing the actual presentation. Here is an embed video.

Below is a copy of the 16-slide PDF presented by POS. It is loaded with spin, not least being on page three, where a chart shows the huge growth from 2013-2017, but the title states, “Sea-Tac growth tracks with regional growth.” Such bullshit. The chart shows clearly passenger numbers growing far faster than local population. BTW, the reason is simple: with both Alaska and Delta setting business models to maximize profits by flying more and more people through KSEA (not departing there, not arriving there… just using the airport as a short stopover), many more flights must be handled each hour. In other words, all the added noise and pollution are aimed at narrowly benefiting these two airlines.

Also, be sure to notice the figure on slide two, where POS states 69.4% of passengers start or end their flights at Sea-Tac. First off, this means even their own numbers show a substantial 30.6% of passengers only pass through. But, consider this, too. POS’s figures are almost certainly incorrect. With online ticketing, where each of us goes to a website and clicks away to set up our personal air trip, it is now possible for many more passengers to arrive on one airline and then depart an hour or two later on another airline. Online self-ticketing is the dominant method now, and such tickets will not reflect us as a pass-through; in fact, it these tickets show us as both a ‘destination’ (arriving passenger) and ‘origin’ (departing passenger). It is quite possible that, in 2017, anywhere from 40% to 50% or more of Sea-Tac passengers never even left the terminal.

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

Other Resources:

  • click here for Steve Edmiston’s ten questions submitted in writing (Steve was unable to attend, but the questions are outstanding … the sort of questions elected officials – including POS commissioners – are reliably failing to ask.).
  • click here for Sue Petersen’s submission, with five airnoise.io complaint samples.
  • click here for POS’s 7-page final draft notes for the May 30, 2018 SAMP presentation. It includes public comments/questions, with responses by the Port, many of which feel downright Orwellian.

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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.

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)

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.

FEB 25-27: Aviation Noise & Emissions Symposium, at Long Beach, CA

Every year, industry representatives (including FAA and the lobbyists, of course!) meet at around this time, for the ‘Aviation Noise & Emissions Symposium’. The event is traditionally held in the Palm Springs area, but is at Long Beach this year.

On the following page, aiReform has produced a table listing the attendees as listed at the event website. An effort has been made to identify which attendees are there on behalf of their local impacted airport, as well as to identify the industry players, lobbyists, and regulators. It appears that more than half of attendees are industry/regulatory.

Some of the attendees are actual activists who have fought against growing impacts under FAA’s defective NextGen program, or caused by excessive aviation operations. Other attendees include local citizens who may or may not care much, but were selected by the airport authority and/or local political officials, to fill a spot in an oversight group. It might be constructive if attendees and/or readers of this Post will submit further information, to clarify who the real hard-working activists are. Likewise, it would be interesting to learn more about the many companies and regulatory officials in attendance. For example, Lourdes Maurice is listed representing a company; formerly, she was a high-ranking FAA official, in charge of environmental issues. This appears to be yet another example of FAA-industry revolving doors.

Lastly, it would be valuable to hear from the activist-participants. Did they find this event helpful and informative, or did they instead feel it was just a dog-and-pony-show aimed at gaining their support of further aviation growth? Were the presenters sincerely interested in managing and reducing impacts, or just yes-men, passing along the industry sales pitches?

A Major Victory for Activists: France is Scrapping the New Nantes Airport Project

(click on image to view source)

The fight went on for decades, but now Aéroport du Grand Ouest has been cancelled.

Let’s put this into perspective. Aviation is an industry that provides a small fraction of the world’s population with the privilege of rapid and expansive connection to all points on the planet. The energy-intensity of aviation is extreme; i.e., there is no other human activity (other than war and arson) for which each of us consumes more fossil fuels and generates more climate change impact emissions than air travel. And, it is also a heavily subsidized industry. On top of all that, the governmental agencies charged with regulating aviation – all the way to ICAO – show time and time again, they are captured regulators, serving industry players. These faux-regulators enable excesses by industry players, solely to prop up industry profits; they provide ‘insulation’ and ‘cover’, protecting corporations from ‘problems’ such as local control and regular people.

One of the great activists in Europe, fighting for community quality of life and against excessive airport development, is John Stewart. His work at HACAN.org is extremely valuable to other activists around the world, even here in the U.S. Below is an archived copy of Mr. Stewart’s latest blogpost, discussing Nantes.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded. Alternatively, click here to view the source blogpost by John Stewart, at HACAN.org.

New Brochure Debunks Greenwashing

A new brochure has been published by Finance & Trade Watch, an NGO based in Vienna, Austria. Authored by Magdalena Heuwieser, the 24-pages debunk many of the most common forms of aviation greenwashing. The brochure includes lots of interesting insight that will further inform about the state of regulatory capture that applies not just to FAA but also to the international body, ICAO.

Here is a short index:

  • Pg.4: Headlong growth in a green guise
  • Pg.7: Fantasy technologies and green kerosene
  • Pg.9: Offsetting emissions: a licence to pollute
  • Pg.11: International aviation’s climate plan: CORSIA
  • Pg.14: Green airports? Offsetting emissions and biodiversity
  • Pg.17: Flying with a clear conscience? Individual offsetting of air travel
  • Pg.19: What now? Summing up and looking ahead
  • Pg.21: On the move: resistance highlights

Click here to view an archived copy of the 2-page Executive Summary; click on the image below to view/download the full brochure.

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


UPDATE, 11/30/2017: — Excellent overview posted at GAAM (the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement); more great work by Rose Bridger.

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.

WaPost OpEd: “For the Love of Earth, Stop Traveling”

An opinion piece in the Washington Post lays out the simple answers: air travel consumes far too much energy, creates far too much environmental damage, per person. Good points.

The simple solution is for more of us to voluntarily travel, a lot less. The government would help, a lot, if they would impose a very steep aviation carbon tax, with all revenues going to reducing other personal taxes and/or funding far more energy-efficient transportation modes, to replace the energy-efficiency of aviation.

Check out this archived opinion piece, as well as the telling reader comments.

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