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.

A Closer Look at Massport’s Latest News Release

Here’s a good example of a typical news release by an airport authority: long on emphasizing ‘positives’, while totally ignoring impacts and other ‘negatives’.

Due to a runway closure for maintenance work, some residents in Randolph, Quincy, Milton, and Dorchester have seen a few weeks of temporary relief from the NextGen-related approaches to runways 4L and 4R. Their short reprieve will end soon. Of course, at any hub airport, where one or two airlines schedule lots of extra flights to sort out passengers who never even leave the terminal (as do JetBlue and American, the two main airlines hubbing at Logan), relief for one community becomes intensified hell for another community; the too-many-flights just get shifted elsewhere. See this local news article about Medford, Somerville, and Malden.

The airport authority for Boston Logan [KBOS] is Massport. They sent out an email, updating everyone (see archived PDF copy, below). Reading this as an impacted citizen, you may have these thoughts/questions:

  1. Tom Glynn declares, “Safety is Massport’s top priority,” but is this just a platitude/mantra? Would reducing the hourly operations level enhance safety, while also potentially eliminating all flight delays?
  2. Glynn also states, “We appreciate the patience of our neighboring communities and the travelling public as flight patterns have changed….” Would a reduced flight schedule not only improve safety and reduce delays, but also bring relief to the thousands impacted by repetitive flights that are low and slow and loud?
  3. The projects are called routine and essential for safety. Again, is safety enhanced by managing capacity, such as by imposing restrictions on hourly arrivals that ensure all arrivals are as direct as possible via routes critically designed to minimize community impacts?
  4. A portion of the project is to replace a wooden pier with a concrete pier that is designed to last 75 years. But, will the airport face closure even sooner, due to global sea-rise?

This last point deserves some elaboration. All KBOS runways are close to mean sea level (MSL), with lowest points ranging from 14-feet to 19-feet above MSL. Atmospheric CO2 is increasing at rates that are astonishing, when compared with billions of years of Earth geological history. Polar ice is disappearing (feeding more water into the oceans and atmosphere), oceans are warming (thus the water is expanding), and storms are getting stronger (accelerating erosion, especially at locations that are built on old landfills and estuaries, like Logan). All of this climate change is a result of excessive fossil fuel consumption (our insane carbon addiction, as a society, intensifying after WWII), and aviation remains the fastest way to consume fossil fuels … often for arbitrary purposes, such as air vacations and air freight. So, if FAA and airport authorities continue to refuse to manage airport capacity, their failure enhances the aviation impact on climate change.

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

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.

FAA Forms Workgroups to solve their ‘People Problems’

FAA has a problem, and like any over-matured and sclerotic agency, they have their solutions. Not clean solutions that actually FIX THE PROBLEM, but dirty solutions to serve the agency/industry interests while disempowering people.

FAA’s failing NextGen implementations are destroying long-established residential communities across the nation. People are standing up, speaking louder and louder, and connecting and organizing. So, how does FAA propose to deal with this problem?

Form workgroups.

Just to be clear, the ‘problem’ FAA wants to ‘deal with’ is not the NextGen failures but the PEOPLE who are organizing. If their message gains traction, the People might actually get a few in Congress off their butts, demanding (and I mean REALLY DEMANDING!) that FAA fix this mess. The right steps are obvious:

  • demand Huerta step down (he has disserved the larger Public under two administrations, and is clearly just an industry hack);
  • revert the problematic NextGen implementations to pre-NextGen routes;
  • legislate a robust local democratic voice so that local citizens are able to decide what curfews and operational restrictions are needed to best serve their local community (i.e., the airport should be THEIR LOCAL AIRPORT, not a fortress for a major airline);
  • legislate reforms that disincentivize hubbing, so the airlines will instead offer more direct routes and a better/fairer distribution of airport impacts, equitably using hundreds and thousands of under-utilized airports instead of just a dozen evolving superHubs.

Why does FAA like to form workgroups? Simply because they are ‘manageable’. Each workgroup first creates an illusion of citizen involvement. But, the membership consistently includes industry ‘stakeholders’, who dutifully steer the work process – and infuse delays when the work product is going in the wrong direction. Plus, even the most ardent and effective aviation impact activists are human, thus susceptible to feeling a lot more accepting of the impacts because they are now an elite citizen representative.

Here’s an example of a new workgroup related to Baltimore [KBWI]. They appear to be very well focused on fixing the problems, but are running into an intransigent FAA. The Facebook group, Save Milton Skies, shared a link to this article, which is archived below. Rebuttal comments have been added by aiREFORM. It is a good article, overall, though it again demonstrates how FAA’s salespitch elements are readily incorporated into the final news article.

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

See also:

Queens Quiet Skies: Latest Newsletter Offers Great Insight into FAA’s NextGen Failures

Janet McEneaney is President of Queens Quiet Skies, a group advocating for relief from aviation noise impacts related to both the LaGuardia [KLGA] and Kennedy [KJFK] airports. These are two of the three major airports that serve the NYC area. FAA’s full capitulation to the airlines, to expand flight schedules beyond what these airports can accommodate, has not only created terrible impacts that are destroying communities, but is also the root cause of nearly all delays in the U.S. ATC system. In other words, if FAA simply chose to apply rational capacity discipline on the NYC airports, system delays would be massively reduced.

Janet makes some excellent points in her latest update email to QQS members. A PDF copy has been created, with active links to the referenced materials. Hopefully this will help other aviation impact activists to learn about what FAA/industry are doing, why NextGen is failing, how workgroups tend to become coopted/steered by FAA/industry, and more.

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

BTW, Janet has been a great activist on this issue, for years. Read more here.

Also, archived copies of the documents linked within the QQS update may be accessed via these links:

An Email Exchange with David Suomi, Again Shows FAA’s Bureaucratic Indifference

David Suomi, Deputy Regional Administrator for FAA’s Northwest Mountain Region

On 4/25/2017, FAA regional officials David Suomi (pronounced ‘Sue Me!’) and Steve Karnes spent an hour giving a rosy NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle Commissioners. A citizen audience was present and listened attentively, waiting for the chance to have their precious three minutes, to ask questions at the end.

As the presentation closed, and the Commission invited citizens to come to the mic, Mr. Suomi and Mr. Karnes suddenly stood up and said they had to leave, to attend to prior commitments. Pleadings from the crowd asked them to stay, but they packed their things and quickly, quietly departed. A half hour later, one of the citizens had to leave while the last few citizens were making their comments into the record. She saw Mr. Suomi and Mr. Karnes as she left; they were standing just outside the door, around the corner.

So, in total, although Mr. Suomi collects a very substantial federal paycheck in a job intended to serve the nation (not just the industry they pretend to regulate), he spent an hour selling a program that is causing substantial damages, even health problems, for many citizens. And, when done with that dog-and-pony show, it is not surprising that he would see no problem with his refusal to listen to and answer those citizen questions.

It is in this context that the following is shared. Two days after FAA’s NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle, a citizen sent this email to Mr. Suomi:

The email exchange is revealing. Here is Mr. Suomi’s reply, still locked in to selling NextGen and refusing to even acknowledge the growing impacts. Many of Mr. Suomi’s statements are rebutted, with a series of footnotes by aiREFORM.

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

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.


NextGen Impacts Continue to Expand – Terrorism/Torturism?

Here’s a letter-to-editor that concisely summarizes the impacts NextGen is causing upon residents of Milton, under the arrival paths into Boston’s Logan Airport [KBOS]:

(click on image to view source Facebook post)

The problems around Boston are repeated across the nation, and they are expanding as FAA continues to push NextGen. The alleged benefits of NextGen are fraudulently overstated, while the costs are cautiously hidden. And the entire reason for FAA’s pushing NextGen?

It is not about helping the environment; that’s just a cynical façade. NextGen is solely about increasing ‘runway throughput’, by eliminating any and all barriers that reduce airport capacity as measured in arrivals per hour.

FAA is failing to serve the public because they serve only the industry. FAA refuses to manage capacity, and has stolen away the rights of local officials to mitigate impacts with curfews, flow rate restrictions, and other measures. The airlines get profits; the residents get the shaft – sleep loss, stress, and many other health impacts.