UPDATE: Shuster & A4A’s House Legislation, Aiming to Privatize ATC

The next step in the legislative process happens later today. In the House, the Appropriations Committee’s THUD Subcommittee (Transportation, Housing & Urban Development) does a bill markup hearing. It is set to start at 7:00pm (though, it may have a slightly different start time, as it needs to follow a voting process). Click here to access the webcast.

As background material, the House (led by Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chair Bill Shuster) is pressing to privatize ATC. There is substantial opposition. In the House, most significant opposition has been voiced by the ranking Democratic Party committee member, Representative Peter DeFazio (OR). Mr. DeFazio has deep knowledge of the issues, as he has formerly chaired the Aviation Subcommittee. However, given the vast division in the House today, even the best reasoning is simply outnumbered. So, the proposal advanced out of the Subcommittee, and then was approved by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee on June 8th.

The Senate, on the other hand, continues to oppose the privatization concept. So, at this time, there are two different legislative proposals moving forward, the main difference being the inclusion of ATC privatization in the House version, but the exclusion of ATC privatization in the Senate version. Logically, if two versions pass, this will all end up in conference, where a lot of wheeling and dealing will happen. Strategically, Shuster and the Av/Gov Complex players (which includes FAA, though of course at this stage of the process, FAA Adminsitrator Huerta and the agency are very careful to ‘look’ like they are neutral!) will throw bones to selected parties, to gain just enough support to pass their proposal. They’ll also try to conflate; e.g., people upset about cramped seating will feel pressured to allow ATC privatization, if that is what they must do to pass language mandating wider seats and longer seat pitch. It’s crazy; it’s stupid; but this is how the dysfunction goes, every year … and it is only getting worse.

Here are a couple video news clips. Amy Goodman, at Democracy Now, offers an excellent review of Trump’s endorsement of the proposal to privatize ATC, announced on Monday June 5th. The video includes a lengthy interview of Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights.

In another excellent video clip, the same subject is covered by Thom Hartmann, at The Big Picture. He interviews economist Dr. Richard Wolff.

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.

Current Heatwave Too Hot: Causing Commercial Flight Cancellations

A pair of articles look at the start of Summer and the forecast heatwaves. The first article actually notes that the Bombardier CRJ may not safely operate above 118 degrees Fahrenheit; this common regional feeder, used by American, thus has to be grounded at their Phoenix hub.

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

Aviation is thoroughly dependent on fossil fuel consumption, and is the fastest way that each of us can contribute to record-level (and still growing) atmospheric CO2 concentrations. And, importantly, hubs greatly increase fuel consumption, because more passengers fly longer distances when transferring at hub airports not on the direct route of flight.

(click on image to view source)

Trump in 1988: “You’re going to be flying with something that is quality and good.”

It should come as no surprise that President Trump supports the disastrous ATC privatization proposal being pushed by Bill Shuster, A4A, and a few airlines. It’s a bad idea, all the way around. We have a hard enough time getting FAA to even listen to citizens; so, take away Congressional oversight of FAA and we’ll end up with the airlines running roughshod over any neighborhood that saves 5-seconds of flying time… even our oldest and most tranquil neighborhoods.

On the other hand, it may come as a surprise to many of us who were not paying attention 28-years ago, when Trump was in the airline business (see PDF copy of article, below). Way back in 1988 .. before Bush I was elected, before Clintons began to out-Reagan Reagan with neoliberalism, even 7-years before Bill Shuster’s dad Bud became chair of the same House Transportation Committee that Bill now chairs, …yes, the committee that wants us to privatize today.

In June 1989, Trump acquired the lucrative Eastern Shuttle, which had been the crown jewel for Eastern Air Lines. The shuttle offered hourly flights, focused on connecting Boston Logan [KBOS], LaGuardia, [KLGA], and Reagan National [KDCA] with a fleet of noise Boeing 727s. The renamed ‘Trump Shuttle’ did not last long and, today, these ‘shuttle’ legs remain a bread-and-butter profit-maker for American, Delta, and JetBlue, even while they increase the number of through-passengers (and thus flights AND neighborhood impacts), especially at LaGuardia.

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

According to Wikipedia, a syndicate of 22 banks provided a $380 Million loan. The banks took possession just 15-months later, in September 1990, when Trump defaulted on the loan.

It is almost as if Trump and FAA were born in the same litter. And here we are, 28-years later, and President Trump wants us to believe, ATC privatization will also be, “…something that is quality and good.”

Yeah…

…Right.

Newsday’s Editorial Board is All Wrong on Privatizing ATC

In an editorial opinion, Newsday‘s Editorial Board is helping to push the illusion that privatizing ATC will help. They are all wrong.

Newsday is a daily paper on Long Island. They have been at the epicenter of impacts from two major U.S. airports: Kennedy [KJFK] and LaGuardia [KLGA]. Newsday has published plenty of citizen letters to the editor, expressing concerns about how FAA and NextGen are impacting their neighborhoods. Newsday reporters have also done a lot of groundwork, talking to people and writing up articles.

But, apparently, the top people who run the daily news show at Newsday are aligned with the money that buys ad space, so they tweak the news to help steer readers toward supporting bad ideas, like ATC privatization.

How far do they go to manipulate us? Well, here’s a screencap of two comments to a Facebook Post about this latest Newsday article:

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

Here’s an airchived copy of the Editorial Board opinion, with aiREFORM rebuttal footnotes:

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

Hubristic and Hypocritical?

The Av-Gov Spin Machine is hard at it again, this time led by Reuters:

Just days after Trump dumped the climate agreement, U.S. airlines and their lobby, Airlines for America (A4A), are telling us that they really care about CO2, climate change, and the impacts of their industry. We are to believe that a business model that sells time-savings by massively consuming fossil fuels can be environmentally responsible. The centerpiece of their ICAO-sourced plan is not to reduce consumption but to have passengers and shippers pay a fee that offsets aviation impacts with small environmental investments. Kinda like this: imagine that you and I have a company and we’ll be allowed to infinitely pollute the ocean, so long as we build a nice filtration system to clean a pond in West Podunk. If eyes were pointed at that pond, we’d look like heroes; but, when people see the full picture, we look like worthless scoundrels.

Oh, and this is an industry (and lobbyist) that crows everyday about one statistic or another showing continued market growth. So, really, how are they going to see any meaningful reduction in fossil fuel consumption, going forward? Also, this ‘we care about the environment’ spin was announced from Cancun, where industry officials had gathered from around the world. Let that sink in.


UPDATE, 6/8/2017: — To discourage excessive fossil fuel consumption for air cargo, business travel, and aviation tourism, the logical next step is to simply impose a steep carbon tax on all aviation fuels (and arguably, on the marine sector, too, thus covering ship tourism and marine cargo). Here’s a good analysis about the value of an aviation carbon tax, by two law professors in Western Australia: Airline emissions and the case for a carbon tax on flight tickets. Read the interesting reader comments, too.

Trump, Climate Change, and ATC Privatization

It was not surprising to see President Trump pull out of the Paris Agreement last week. Nor was it surprising to see how he bumbled his way through the process. This is the stuff that inspires confidence in U.S. leadership (NOT!!).

The analysis done by John Oliver is brilliant. Here is an embed of the video. He does quite a bit to explain the carbon dioxide issue, the Paris Agreement, and what is so boneheaded about what our president just did. Check it out.

Now, that was last week. What’s in store for this week? Though Comey is set to testify later in the week, we are all supposed to be watching Trump and airline CEOs ‘trumpet’ the virtues of privatizing ATC. Great idea, no? I mean, just go ahead and let the airlines dominate ATC and what could possibly go wrong?

  • Would we do better to ensure airport hub expansions are balanced with residential quality of life and health concerns? NO
  • Will local communities become more empowered to ensure their local airport best serves the needs of their local residents? NO
  • Will the airlines allow an aviation carbon-tax to follow, so that aviation’s growing contribution to the climate change problem becomes moderated? NO
  • Will airline industry CEOs take advantage of their increased power to rent-seek, sucking more money out of passengers to spend on their pet projects? YES

Nothing will happen that diminishes industry profits. Oligarchy/Corporatocracy is our stark reality today. Trump and his buddies have money to make; to hell with the future planet our grandchildren inherit.

Santa Monica is Failing Their Promise to Shorten the Runway

A big event happens tomorrow night (May 24th), when the Santa Monica City Council holds a Special Session with major airport-related items. Here are some key links:

It has been four full months now, since the ‘surprise’ press announcement of a Consent Decree between FAA and the City. No progress has been made. FAA had approved, and the city promised, an immediate runway shortening, but now we are seeing the City dilly dally with lots of money to consultants to create reports that defy common sense while making unsupported claims that prolong the status quo impacts.

The City hired consultants to study options for shortening the runway to 3,500-ft, as allowed now by FAA. Documents indicate the consultant delivered a report with four options, but for whatever reason, the City stripped two of those options out and is proceeding to pretend only two options are viable. These two options alone were shared with the Public a few weeks ago (the existence of the other two options were only revealed in the last few days, after City posted documents related to the 5/24 agenda; see links above).

Frankly, it looks like City is playing a drawn-out delay game. It also looks like City is ignoring the health of the citizens of Santa Monica and nearby West LA neighborhoods. Even the City of Los Angeles should be pressing hard on this matter: to protect their citizens, they should be demanding that Santa Monica quit the dilly dallying and shorten the runway … NOW!!

The City owns the airport, and the City owns the runway itself. With that ownership, the City carries risks and liabilities. At this or any airport, if a runway is dangerous – too close to homes, or even too close to hangars as at Santa Monica, where people died in the last fiery airport crash – the airport authority needs to restrict operations for safety. If only to manage their risk exposure, all airport authorities should have the right to deny access of larger aircraft to substandard runways – especially commercial operations such as charter jets.

The biggest progressive step this year, as declared by the Consent Decree, is that FAA has finally backed down just a bit, and is letting the City manage the KSMO runway. City airport officials should use this restored authority to do as they say: immediately close the northeast portion of Runway 21, making it illegal for any aircraft to touch the asphalt.

Likewise, at the southwest end of the runway, City needs to take full advantage of the existing taxiways and simply close to operational use the roughly 450-feet of runway between the existing runway end and the first set of crossing taxiways (A1 & B1).

City could have done this in late January. That they have done nothing strongly suggests that City has a different and unspoken motive. The City, managed by Rick Cole, along with the airport office and under the guidance of the City Council, is not really trying to mitigate the severe impacts on hundreds of homes within the Runway Protection Zones (RPZs). The City is not honoring the clear request of the citizens who passed Measure LC with a wide margin, back in 2014 – a measure which demanded closure as soon as possible, and which also prohibited commercial use of any land reclaimed from aviation use in the future.

Also, notably, the most severe impacts at this airport are by small- to medium-sized charter jet and bizjet operations, often carrying just one wealthy person. These elites are inflicting an extraordinary negative impact on Santa Monica residents’ quality of life, simply because they will not be inconvenienced. They could instead fly out of much safer and less impactful airports such as LAX, Burbank, or Van Nuys, which like most U.S. airports, have no homes within their runway RPZs. They could do this, but they choose not to … and FAA and the City allow this injustice to continue.

Many have picked up on this story. No Jets Santa Monica Airport posted this great analysis on FaceBook:

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

Similar concerns have been posted by Ben Wang, at SMO Future. There are a lot of good people around Santa Monica, like Martin Rubin, who have devoted multiple decades to restore local quality of life and protect health. These are good people, who have fought for a just resolution of the noise and air pollutant impacts. It looks as though FAA and a few of the current City leaders are just trying to wear them out. FAA’s intransigence, and the corruptibility of selected Santa Monica officials, has ensured no meaningful progress in all these decades.

These are but a few of the people at the forefront of the movement by the majority of Santa Monica residents, who simply want to control and close the airport .. and they need to control it for their health. They are vocal activists, but they are not the only residents who find this is a major issue. These vocal activists represents the opinions – and the votes – of probably 5,000 Santa Monicans each. This is why there have been surprisingly long public comment sessions at City Council meetings when an airport issue has come up. The citizens have a network that lets them know when to come out in force to voice their opinions. Every day, more and more citizens are learning exactly which City Council members are secretly pro-airport. A clear story has emerged. The people will vote-out the now exposed pro-airport insiders.

This all has to change. If this does not change, we really do not have any functioning Democracy.


UPDATE, 6/1/2017:Written Public Comments, submitted to the City (copy posted by CRAAP, 89p)

What Is FAA Hiding from the Public? And Why??

FAA, like many federal agencies, has a nasty habit of expending lots of time and money working to keep the people in the dark. They are supposed to comply with FOIA laws, but instead they redact the hell out of what should be disclosed. Making matters worse, in recent decades it seems as though most in Congress are ‘too busy’ and/or ‘too inert’ to force FAA to follow the FOIA laws.

Every once in a while, we get a great chance to look past these barriers. Sometimes, FAA’s redactions become unmasked. When that happens, it is like sitting down with the devil, and sharing tea and a candid conversation. So much can be learned….

In this Post, a 27-page FAA memo is offered in two forms, redacted and unredacted. This memo documents how a safety investigation produced copious details and a strong recommendation for corrective action … which was then nixed by a higher FAA official. The heavily redacted copy was provided to an investigative report team. Seeing that so much data was hidden, they filed an appeal. An appeal response letter was eventually sent, rejecting the appeal, but somehow a copy of the unredacted 27-page was included in the appeal response letter.

Here are the two versions, presented as scrollable/downloadable/searchable PDFs. View them side-by-side. See for yourself what FAA chose to redact, when a reporter team tried to help the public understand how FAA was handling a dangerous safety failure involving commercial aircraft maintenance.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the heavily unredacted version, as initially sent by FAA (and after extensive review by numerous FAA managers). Click here to download the PDF file.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the full, unredacted version. Click here to download the PDF file.

The Background:

A few days ago, an aiREFORM Post encouraged readers to read the excellent investigative series done by the Tampa Bay Times. In the third article of the series, Nathaniel Lash showed how higher level FAA managers were over-riding the conclusions and recommendations of their field inspectors. The inspectors were investigating how a nut had detached causing an elevator jam, forcing an Allegiant MD80 to do a high-speed aborted takeoff at Las Vegas. This was an extremely serious situation that would have assuredly killed everyone on board, if the nut had failed while actually airborne. A similar failure caused the 1/31/2000 crash of Alaska 261, an MD83 that lost flight control near Santa Barbara and plunged into the Pacific, killing all 88 on board.

The similarities are in two troubling areas:

  1. the casual failure by maintenance crews to properly execute their tasks and to follow needed steps that would identify and fix failures (so as to ensure nuts do not fall off leading to catastrophic crashes); and,
  2. FAA’s gross failure at safety oversight, where key FAA officials knowingly allow maintenance crews to sidestep required procedures.

The latest Times article showed that FAA was found to be covering up dangerous maintenance failures performed by AAR on the Allegiant passenger jet. Note that AAR is a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operation; over the past decade, airlines have been reducing labor costs related to employing their own mechanics by increasingly outsourcing aircraft maintenance to MRO contractors. Costs may go down, but so do safety margins.

Scary on So Many Levels

(click on image to view USAToday article about the magazine cover)

New Yorker magazine is famous for its cover images, such as this one: Trump watching, in full-pout mode, while Sessions drags Comey off the plane. And, the citizens sit, obediently quiet, in their plastic seats, distracted by their devices and programmed toward suppressing and internally denying their outrage.

The same dynamics are at play in communities impacted by FAA’s fraudulent NextGen program, and by FAA’s enabling of impactful activities at places like Santa Monica and Longmont. More and more local residents are speaking up and organizing to protect their families, homes and neighborhoods. Yet, similarly, they run into so many neighbors who are afraid to share the outrage, who instead incline toward silence and distraction.

The architecture of our aviation system and our airplanes – the very geometry that defines how we sit on a commercial passenger flight – hints at how deeply corrupted our political system has become. A nation that for centuries has proudly pointed toward individual liberties and responsibilities, now sits mostly silent while money sets the houses on fire. We sit. Silently obedient, pretending a respect for authority that disrespects humanity.

Oh, and Happy Mothers’ Day to everyone! Let’s make our Moms proud and clean up this mess!!