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.

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

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

The Problem…

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

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

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

The Solution…

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

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

Here are two recent graphics about the Longmont impacts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Action, Please!

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

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

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

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

[KLMO]: Shifting the Model

Citizens for Quiet Skies, in Longmont, CO, has fought heroically to bring balance and moderation to the skydiving noise impact by Mile Hi, at Vance Brand Airport [KLMO]. The group took their concerns to the state courts, and then took it further to an appeal. In the process, CFQS has helped to illuminate yet one more reason that aviation impacts are out of control: the court systems (just like the faux-regulators) are biased towards accommodating commerce, and too quick to defer to FAA and federal authority.

I ran into this quote by R. Buckminster Fuller:

“You never change the existing reality by fighting it. Instead, create a new model that makes the old one obsolete.”

He makes a good point. When you study aviation impacts, you see ample evidence that, no matter where it is (a skydiving issue in exurbia, an air tour issue at Grand Canyon, a NextGen impact near a major hub airport, and so forth), the present imbalance is carefully sustained – and even expanded – via the carefully coordinated use of propaganda tools. The Av-Gov Complex uses propaganda tools to frame the issues favorably for air commerce while also keeping the average person from seeing the relevant truths.

Led by lobbyists and with ample faux-regulatory cover provided by FAA, the Av-Gov Complex created the present model, and they are being damned careful to control any efforts to change that model. But, facts and truths are problematic to those who are corrupt and self-serving; if we persist, as Kim and others have in Longmont, eventually we can shift the model and restore the balance. The noise impacts are real and problematic, just as the aviation operator profits are real and narrowly focused; but we can change the model to include other important factors, such as safety.

Shifting the Model to include SAFETY

One relevant truth about skydiving is this: skydive operators consciously choose to offset their climbs, so that the noise impact is not happening over the actual airport but instead is happening many miles from the airport. This decision shifts the noise impact onto people who may have no idea why, starting on a certain sunny day a few years ago, they now always hear lots of droning airplanes diminishing the best weather-days of the year.

There are safety consequences of this decision that are often overlooked. In particular, a skydiving plane doing repetitive climbs far from the airport drop zone poses a higher midair-collision hazard to other small planes passing through the airspace.

klmo-20170110scp-vfrmap-airport-vicinity-with-5nm-radius-circle-added

VFR sectional centered on KLMO. The red circle has a 5 nautical mile radius. Many of the skydiving climbs happen outside this circle, to the south and west. (click on image to view sectional and other images at VFRmap.com)

In the Longmont example, FAA’s aeronautical charts include a symbol at KLMO to alert pilots that this is a skydiving airport … but, if the climbs are far from the airport, even the most safety-conscious pilot, passing through may not see the skydive plane until it is too late. And the edge of the Front Range is a heavily-flown airspace for small planes.

A proactive FAA would judiciously constrain the skydive operator on where they must conduct their climbs, flying within a clearly charted climb zone positioned over and adjacent to the charted drop zone. For example, they might require climbs within a 2-mile radius of the airport center, or the drop zone coordinates. If the weather was marginal within that defined climb zone, the operator would simply have to stay on the ground, which eliminates both safety risks and noise impacts. If the repetitive noise generated within the defined climb zone increases noise complaints to those near the airport and under that airspace, then FAA would have the hard data they need to further constrain the operator’s annual permit letter, imposing hour-limits per day, alternate days off, and other noise mitigation strategies.


See also:
  • 1/28/2017 – the next CFQS meeting, at 10AM at the Longmont Public Library (click here for further info)
  • 1/6/2017 – a recent OpEd in the Longmont TimesCall

[KLMO]: Oral Arguments Today, in the Colorado Court of Appeals

A classic example of the sacrifices commonly made by aviation impact activists is happening today, in a Denver courtroom. A single airport operator, Mile-Hi Skydiving, makes money by using their fleet of skydiving planes, outfitted to climb faster AND make more noise. So as not to annoy the actual near-airport residents, the planes are flown a few miles away and the climbs, which commonly drone on for 15- to 20-minutes, impact the residents below. The problem came many decades after the airport was built, coinciding with aircraft purchases and modifications by Mile-Hi owner Frank Casares.

As is nearly always the case, FAA is doing nothing to help resolve the problems. Indeed, doing the quite the opposite, FAA is enabling the operator (Mile-Hi) and ensuring these impacts will persist and even worsen. Just as they do at East Hampton, Santa Monica, Mora, and a dozen or so NextGen-induced noise canyons (e.g., [KLGA], [KPHX], [KCLT], [KSEA], [KBOS]), FAA is  obstructing every effort for meaningful LOCAL CONTROL of local airports. Somehow, we are supposed to suspend rational thinking and believe that, if the local City Council wanted to impose reasonable restrictions on the lease they have signed with Mile-Hi, it would compromise safety to have them execute quieter climbs or limit their operations to say a 6-hour block each day? Likewise, FAA (and the industry they protect from the Public!) expects us to believe this total capitulation to the profit-motives of a single skydiving operator is critical for our National Airspace System (NAS) integrity?

Bullshit. Shame on you, FAA et al, for continuing to obstruct reasonable attempts toward local resolution. Sleep, and the quality of our home environments, is important … far more necessary than your propping up the narrowly distributed profits of operators like Frank Casares. Let’s bring some balance back to these situations: more LOCAL control at our local airports.

Thank you, Kim, Citizens for Quiet Skies, and the others who have bravely spoken up to fix this local problem. Against a hostile local press, a corrupt and commerce-biased state court system, you fight on. And your battles help many others, from East Hampton to Santa Monica to Mora.

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

Tandem Skydiving: A Business Model Placing Profits Ahead of Safety Risks?

In all businesses, lucrative profits can feed excessive greed, causing business owners to cut corners, sometimes with fatal consequences. In skydiving, the big money-maker is ‘tandem jumps’, and the operator can easily pocket $100+ per jump, after paying other costs. Here is the formula being used by typical skydiving companies, to maximize profits:

  1. set up a facility/operation at a quiet exurban airport, typically 20-40 miles from a large urban center.
  2. promote with garish advertising in the urban core, such as ads on busses and at transit shelters. Appeal to a sense of adventure and life-energy (offering a moment of relief from the dull repetition common to modern urban living). Try to convince consumers that they ‘need’ to skydive to check off their life ‘bucket list’.
  3. encourage as many consumers as possible to spend ~$200 for the biggest money-maker in skydiving: tandem rides (sold as ‘instructional lessons’ but let’s be honest and recognize, these are just rides). Even better for profits, get the consumers to memorialize their ride with a cheesy high-priced video, shot by another jumper using a head-camera.
  4. take advantage of aviation regulations that require pilots to build hours, and so-called ‘instructors’ to build their jump numbers. These requirements enable skydiving operators to pay at low rates, with only a tiny fraction of revenues applied to labor costs.
  5. maximize the number of trips made each hour and day. This is done by altering the propeller and using power settings that are much louder but will allow for faster climbs. Of course, the net result is higher profits for the operator, but with added costs (increased noise & stress, reduced peace & quiet) shifted onto homeowners and others on the ground below.
  6. if and when you get complaints for your abusive repetitive-noise ruining entire sunny days, just blow it off; tell the complainants you are fully compliant with FAA regulations, so they should talk to FAA instead. Be careful to NOT tell them how great it is to you, that you have FAA providing cover for your impacts, framing even a discretionary activity such as skydiving as worthy of federal protection.

Video: Tandem Skydiving, Cameraman Fatality

The video below shows what happens when a commercial skydiving operation puts profit margins ahead of safety margins. Profits in the skydiving business are maximized by making as many commercial flights as possible per day. A part of this strategy is for the pilot to maneuver to immediately land, minimizing time before the next batch of jumpers has been loaded. Obviously, it is critical that the jump plane pilot turn away from the skydivers and avoid flying through them.

20120709scp.. frame showing C208 wing at impact during skydiving accident (time 0113 of 0230 video)

Frame showing the left wing of the C208 passing through at the moment of impact.

In this case, which happened at a skydiving center near Sao Paulo, Brazil on 7/9/2012, skydiving school director Alex Adelman jumped simultaneously with the last tandem duo. Alex’s job was to record a video for the tandem rider, by simply watching them with his helmet camera activated. Alex climbs out and waits under the wing at video time 0:54. The tandem duo jumps at time 1:03. For the next ten seconds, Alex keeps the camera on the jump, but the individual frames at time 1:13 show the left wing of the jump plane passing through.

Alex was hit and almost certainly rendered unconscious; the final minute of video shows that he was spinning out-of-control to an eventual ground impact. While in this uncontrolled descent, Alex reportedly collided with the tandem duo, breaking legs on both the tandem ‘instructor’ and the rider.

The jump plane was a Cessna 208, a very common skydiving plane in the U.S. The pilot of the jump plane did what skydive pilots routinely do: he entered an aggressive, diving descent immediately after all jumpers had cleared. Evidently, he failed to ensure he was clear of the jumpers. This is what happens in skydiving when safety margins are cut too thin … and it will happen again because of the arms-length regulatory failures of agencies like the FAA.

Nine Recent Skydiving Fatalities … Is FAA Taking Any Action?

It seems as if, even when the safety failures result in fatalities, FAA stands back and takes no action. Where aviation money is being made: “The Show Must Go on!”

(click on image to view CBS News video)

Jumps continued despite the fatal accident. Owner Bill Dause said he sympathized but it was just an accident. (click on image to view CBS News video)

Nine have died in four recent fatal accidents related to skydiving operations (links below lead to archived PDF copies of news articles, at pages 2 thru 5 of this Post):

  1. Monday, May 23rd, at Kauai, HI [PHPA]: five died, including two tandem ‘students’ when the jump plane crashed on takeoff
  2. Sunday, June 6th, at Chester, SC [KDCM]: a 32-yr-old man was killed
  3. Sunday, July 24th, at Cushing, OK [KCUH]: a 26-yr-old woman was killed
  4. Saturday, August 6th, at Acampo, CA, [1O3] near Lodi: an uncertified tandem ‘instructor’ from South Korea (age 25) and his 18-yr-old male ‘student’ were killed.

The circumstances around the Acampo double-fatal accident are particularly disturbing. There, a mother of a recent high school graduate who was soon to start college paid $175 for a tandem jump to reward her son. He and a friend viewed part-way through a so-called ‘training video’, then were rushed into gear and onto a flight for their tandem jumps. Neither the main parachute nor the backup parachute deployed for the accident tandem pair. Amazingly, the aircraft continued to load and drop jumpers; the show went on and no action was taken to protect others from the unknown cause.

FAA’s ‘oversight’ of skydiving is at a long arm’s-length. In this and many other aviation activities, FAA only pretends to regulate, and delegates all responsibilities to a private group, in this case to the U.S. Parachute Association. Hence, in the case of the Skydive Lodi Parachute Center double-fatal accident, both FAA and USPA are said to be ‘investigating’, but only USPA has taken any certificate action: they suspended Bill Dause, the owner, which prevents him from ‘instructing’, but allows the main-moneymaker tandem operations to continue. News articles indicate there was another fatal accident by the same outfit earlier this year, and the articles also indicate Mr. Dause’s operation had been investigated and fines proposed repeatedly by FAA. Now we have a double-fatal, yet FAA has still not taken action to shut down the operation.

As one reader emailed: “I think that part of the problem is that “Bucket-list” type movies are promoting more one-time experiences with skydiving. Our thrill-seeking hedonistic culture treats business as a religion that somehow has the inherent right to trash the environment without personal accountability. And add to that, both the FAA and the USPA have a vested interest in seeing the number of skydivers go up and up.”