Airline Consolidation: Just Like the Banks?

A friend shared an article that included a variation of this diagram about bank consolidation.
Notice the pattern: banks consolidated from 37 in 1994, to 19 in 2001, to 11 in 2005, and to only 4 in 2009. Banks became less accountable and more inclined to gouge customers for absurdly high ‘fees’ (e.g., stuff like $31 for each ‘overdraft’ debit card usage, even for $1 or $5 purchases … they offered so many conveniences, but not the easy service of automatically alerting customers and rejecting the debit request at the point of sale). The greed-driven policies at the consolidated banks eventually created a financial meltdown. They were labeled ‘too big to fail’, so as to justify the enormous bailout by federal officials, using public funds. Our public funds, used to reward the overpaid bank greedsters.

It struck me that the diagram looks just like what has happened with U.S. airlines, where today the vast majority of passengers are ‘served’ by only six airlines and the so-called ‘regional’ feeders they contract with. Our final six are American, Delta, Southwest, United, Alaska and JetBlue.

If there is one big trend that we can all agree is happening in the U.S. and across the planet, it is industry consolidation and globalization. The gap between big and small, and the fraction controlled by big, just keeps growing. We now have fewer (but larger) banks, grocers, hospitals and immediate-care chains, gas stations, telecom providers, etc. It is also reflected in the widening wealth gap between the 1% and the 99% … and, again, not just in the U.S., but also in corrupt banana republics and across the globe.

We only hope that this trend is not driven by corruption even in nations like the U.S. We only hope that, if in fact this trend is as unsustainable as it appears to be, the ‘market correction’ will be peaceful and not too painful. Are we becoming the biggest Banana Republic in the history of the world? We only hope not.

Yesterday’s SkyJustice Phone Conference

The featured speaker at the 9/29/2018 Sky Justice National Network monthly phone conference was Jim Spensley. Airline and airport consolidation was front and center. A few of the many interesting points discussed included:

  1. The ‘final-6’ airlines are consolidating their schedules into fewer (but larger) hubs; i.e., while a few airports are seeing growth in annual operations counts, most airports have declined substantially for decades now. [for data, see the aiREFORM analysis at this 1/17/2018 Post (1990 vs 2005 vs 2016 Operations: Exposing FAA’s Inaccurate Forecasts), and see also this 10/23/2017 aiREFORM Post (NAS Annual Ops Have Declined for Decades Now, And NextGen Is Just Hype)]
  2. Most commercial service airports within the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS) offer monopoly or near-monopoly service; i.e., the predominant pattern is either only one airline offers direct service between two airports, or one airline has strong dominance on that airport-pair. This pattern appears to be an antitrust collusion between airlines; it also appears that federal regulators, including DoT, DoJ and FAA, are willingly not acting to end this antitrust collusion. [see this 2014 aiREFORM analysis (A Table Showing the ASPM-77 Airports – (Peak Years, Traffic Declines, and Trends Toward Airline Monopolies)]
  3. While the general public assumes there is an economy of scale that lowers unit costs and thus causes ticket prices to go down at larger hub airports, the opposite appears to be happening. Two key reasons are:
    1. the monopoly power held by the hub-dominant airline enables them to get away with setting much higher prices; this is especially true on those feeder routes to/from cities served by no other airlines.
    2. the airport authority accumulates an enormous debt burden for massive airport infrastructure expansion, all of which is predicated on continued unsustainable growth rates. In other words, a balloon is inflated, catalyzed by FAA grant funding and laws that incentivize hub concentration, and the balloon becomes primed to burst. The sudden popping of an airport hub balloon can be triggered by a general economic downturn, or it can happen if/when the hub-dominant airline arbitrarily decides to move to another airport; a prime example is the former Delta hub near Cincinnati [KCVG].
  4. There are other, environmental costs associated with these consolidated hubs, borne by residents and other ‘non-airport stakeholders’, but both FAA and airport authorities work hard to ignore and even deny these costs. The consolidation of flights into fewer but larger hubs causes more noise impacts (both persistent and repetitive noise patterns), more air pollution (thus more health costs), more destruction of residential neighborhoods and communities due to ‘land-grabbing’ by the airport authority, etc.
  5. One of Jim’s key points was that the airport authority has considerable power to set policies, to choose to NOT expand excessively … but the airport authorities tend to be beholden to the airlines, especially the hub-dominant airline. Why would someone like the Port of Seattle, PANYNJ, or Massport be so subservient to the hub-dominent airlines? It all comes down to money, needed to expand plans (and annual bonuses, in some cases), and also needed to pay off past and future development debt. The fear of an abrupt airline departure – like Delta did at KCVG, American did at KSTL, and United is now doing at KCLE – creates a peonage, rendered on a massive scale.

Solutions?

So, who can solve the growing impact problems caused by airline consolidation and hub concentration? If both FAA and airport authorities are effectively captured, serving industry, we can expect they will continue to play a good-cop-bad-cop game, passing citizens back-and-forth to each other while offering no answers and no solutions. This is where we are today. It is why we depend even more on our elected officials. Especially in Congress, we need them to change the laws; take back what was taken from the people in the 1990 passage of ANCA [see this 6/9/2015 aiREFORM Post (Wendell Ford’s Edsel: Many of FAA’s NextGen Dirty Tricks were Also Used in the 1990 Passage of ANCA)]; restore local control, to include ensuring local residents have power over their airport authority; even, impose a steep carbon tax on aviation fuel, so that excessive airline hubbing is disincentivized.


See also:

Who is to Blame – and Who Can Fix – the Impacts Around U.S. Hub Airports?

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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At Sea-Tac, Enplanements (and Impacts) are up 41% in Five Years

A Port of Seattle (PoS) News Release today crows about the airport setting a new annual record with 46.9 million passengers in 2017. (click here to read an archived copy, with aiReform footnotes added). As is the pattern, economic benefits are exaggerated, while environmental impacts are completely ignored.

Back in 2010, PoS went to great expense to draft a Part 150 study. Within that document package was a 44-page ‘Aviation Activity Forecast’. The key graphs within that study are condensed into this scrollable 3-page PDF:

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

You can dive deeper, looking at an archived copy of the 44-page analysis here.

One of the most disgusting statements in the PoS News Release is the leadoff to the second sentence, a classic example of greenwashing, which reads: “Demand for air travel at Sea-Tac Airport increased 41 percent the last five years…” Let’s be clear. The good people in and around Seattle did not suddenly wake up 5-years ago and start spending more money and increasing trips out of Sea-Tac. Nor did the area population explode anywhere close to 41% in 5-years. No, this alleged ‘demand’ is engineered by two airlines – Alaska and Delta – as part of their escalation of hubbing intensity, all in pursuit of slightly higher airline profits. More people fly INTO [KSEA] without ever leaving the airport terminal, either sitting in their cramped seat of rushing to catch another plane at another gate. Lots more people – up 41% in 5-years. This is NOT increased ‘demand for air travel’. And, it also means fewer people are able to get direct flights from origin to destination, without the increasing number of detours through KSEA; in other words, everyone loses, except the airlines and the airport authority.

Clean up your act, PoS: get the excessive growth at KSEA under control, and knock off the greenwashing propaganda, OK?

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 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.”

Rose Bridger’s Latest Paper Looks at Aviation Abuses in Indonesia


The imbalance of power between aviation and local residents is troubling. In the United States, we commonly see where the federal regulator, FAA, ‘collaborates’ with airport authorities, airlines, operators and other industry players to run roughshod over local communities. Aviation profits are always profusely accommodated, nearly always with substantial costs to people and the environment: natural habitat is destroyed, quality of life is diminished, and people are exposed to more air pollutants, including carcinogens.

Across the planet, some of the most egregious aviation injustices are happening where state authorities are enabling industry expansions against the will of local residents, sometimes even large population areas. When people in the U.S. rise up to fix aviation impacts, they rarely have to deal with lines of cops. They deal instead with a wall of unaccountable bureaucrats; people who make their money by supporting aviation expansion; people who routinely lie, distort, and even antagonize the much better people who are responsibly seeking to fix the aviation impacts; people who play ‘hot potato’, claiming they lack authority so “…gee, check with the other guy.”

Is it fair to say that, in either form, this amounts to state terrorism? If burdens are imposed and rights taken, be they by gun or billy club or categorical exclusion, does it really matter how graphically extortive the process is? Nobody may be killed or even injured (a good thing!), yet many bodies (and minds) incur great costs for the narrow benefits created. Farmland is taking and people are dislocated (see this example in rural Minnesota). All of this is enabled by federal agencies that pretend to enforce safety and manage aviation, but more truthfully just offers cover for industry players to abuse people. In the United States, in Indonesia, and across the planet.

How Do People Regain Power?

When dealing with unaccountable bureaucrats (especially those at FAA and various airport authorities), it’s always a good idea to learn as much as you can. Study what is happening elsewhere. See how others are making progress. Identify the framing that YOU need to impose on the issues; if we allow FAA/industry to frame the issues and implement faux-solutions like time-wasting workgroups, we only guarantee that the problems will persist, never to be resolved.

Rose Bridger, UK author of Plane Truth: Aviation’s Real Impact on People and the Environment, is one person whose works are well worth studying. Rose continues to be a prolific advocate for people and the environment. She has just published a new insightful study: Aviation expansion in Indonesia: Tourism, land struggles, economic zones and aerotropolis projects. Here is an archived copy:

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


UPDATE, 6/14/2017: — per a GAAM email update: The report contains a map showing all the airport locations and maps of two airport sites, and accompanies GAAM’s interactive digital map: Aviation Expansion in Indonesia which features all the airports that are mentioned, integrating spatial information with text and images. For paper copies of the report, please contact: Third World Network, 131 Jalan Macalister, 10400 Penang, Malaysia, Tel: 60-4-2266728/2266159, Fax: 60-4-2264505, Email: twn@twnetwork.org.

[ai-RCHIVE] 1997-02: Sea-Tac International Airport Impact Mitigation Study, Initial Assessment & Recommendations (347p)

Take a close look at this impact study done more than two decades ago, which includes these opening paragraphs:

(click on image to view a downloadable copy of the report)

Twenty years later, how well have the Port of Seattle (POS) and local elected officials applied the content in this study, to protect and serve the local residents and taxpayers?

Is the proper BALANCE in place, so that the airport serves the local community rather than destroy it?

Is KSEA becoming yet one more case of an over-expanded airport creating benefits for airlines and the industry, at great costs in destroyed communities and lost quality of life?

Dissecting Nextgen: a Presentation at the ‘Fight the Flight 101’ Community Forum

The forum, at the Mt. Rainier High School in Des Moines, was well attended, with at least double the number who attended the Port of Seattle Commission meeting a day earlier. Toward the end of the event we learned that 1,600 were online watching the livestream video!

The energy of the QSPS members was excellent, as was their organization. The one aspect that fell short was there was simply not enough time to cover the material we were all prepared to present, but then again, we did not want to make people sit for hours. So, at the presentation, it was noted that online copies of the presentations would be posted. Here is a copy of the 42-slides by aiREFORM. Roughly half were covered to some extent, but very many were not even addressed … just not enough time.

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

Thanks to Steve, Sheila, Debi, Larry and many others, whose hard work will help to educate people, so we can get back the quality of life being taken by the aviation industry at the overexpanded Sea-Tac airport.


UPDATE, 4/29/2017:Working to Solve the Problems Created by NextGen This earlier project, an aiREFORM Post to create a short document summarizing the problems of NextGen and how to solve them, offers a text version of the 42-slide PDF above. Just click on the blue link title to view and/or download your own copy.

KSEA: ‘Fight the Flight 101’ Community Forum, Tonight

One of the only major U.S. airports growing right now serves the Seattle area, Sea-Tac [KSEA]. While most other U.S. airports remain flat or in decline, Sea-Tac is growing simply because Delta Airlines chose to build up a new hub there in 2012. Time will show other Delta hubs (KSLC, KMSP, KDTW) will diminish to feed the excess of flights to KSEA, where areas even 20-miles from the runway are now getting far more noise and pollutant impact.

Here is the announcement by Quiet Skies Puget Sound, a group of impacted residents who have had enough and are coming together, activating to fix this mess at Sea-Tac, pressing elected officials to serve, and FAA and other authorities to become transparent and accountable:

(click on image to view event announcement and learn more)

And, here are two slides from the conclusion of the aiREFORM presentation, to be given tonight at this community forum:

The problem is a broken and corrupted culture at FAA, enabling abuses upon people by money-interests in the aviation industry. This is a widespread problem, extending far beyond Sea-Tac’s impact zone. The entire aiREFORM presentation will be posted online in the near future.

 

Aviation Impact Activism Documentary: ‘Destination East Boston’

This is an excellent documentary covering five decades worth of airport expansion impacts on Boston residents, even back into the 1960s. Somebody who knows this history more intimately, perhaps an East Boston resident, needs to write up a chronology about this history.

If someone takes on this project, aiREFORM will offer support, helping to create a webpage that includes maps, photos, links and more to share this story.

Destination: East Boston from Lucas La Battaglia on Vimeo.

The film appears to be connected to Airport Impact Relief, Inc., a nonprofit.

Timeline (subjects & appearances) in the film:

  • (1:24) – Mary Ellen Welch
  • (2:18) – Chris Marchi
  • (3:14) – Wood Island Park
  • (3:28) – Anna DeFronzo
  • (4:16) – Rich Gavegnano
  • (6:06) – Frederick Salvucci
  • (7:20) – Father Corrigan
  • (7:30) – SEP 1968, residents follow the example set in the 1960s civil rights marches. They realize that letters and attending airport meetings was not changing the airport growth ambitions; so, they began to protest more actively, blocking construction trucks.
  • (16:07) – Brian Gannon
  • (17:21) – Gail Miller
  • (20:16) – Wig Zamore
  • (21:28) – Sumner Tunnel & Callahan Tunnel
  • (23:13) – “It’s really frustrating … they really have a hold of our neighborhood, our community, in such a way that you can’t really challenge them….”
  • (23:35) – Father Sallese
  • (24:27) – Frank Sargent
  • (26:46) – Luz Heredia, her two children have asthma
  • (36:57) –  an example of the propaganda machine in East Boston
THANKS!Facebook post by Jana Chamoff Goldenberg.