‘Stay Grounded’: International Action has Begun, to Curtail Aviation Excesses

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

Over the past year, activists from around the world held a series of lengthy teleconferences to craft a position paper,’ 13 Steps for a Just Transport System and for Rapidly Reducing Aviation‘. This is a great group of people, concerned about aviation excesses in the face of unmitigated climate change.

Here are a few links:

  • Action weeks: the first two weeks of October 2018
  • Support: how you can support the Stay Grounded effort
  • Position Paper: download your own PDF copy of an excellent analysis (English version)

An example of recent activism was the protest by Stay Grounded leaders, at an EU aviation summit. Click here for a video, with a great protest speech. This is the kind of calm and factual activism we need across the planet, to rein in the damages and injustices being caused by excessive aviation growth.

Given the depressingly evident impotence and indifference of many U.S. elected officials, and the captured status of FAA as an industry-servant, we need this kind of activism here in the U.S. Can we return to our roots, as strong individuals who speak truth to power and demand meaningful civic involvement, or has this become a relic of our past American glory?

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?

Santa Monica Airport: Last Chance to Comment on Minimum Standards

Airport officials at Santa Monica are in the process of creating ‘Minimum Standards for Commercial Aeronautical Service Providers. These standards can ensure that all potential operators are fairly treated when and if the airport authority denies certain operations. Last week, Airport Director Stelios Makrides issued a statement that the deadline for comments has been extended to June 21st. (click here for an archived copy)

Santa Monica is a very unique airport. It should have been allowed to close down years ago, but FAA has obstructed the will of the local community, solely to protect aviation interests who insist on using this deficient airport facility. How is it deficient? Just take a look at the satellite images and airport map, and note how closely the nearby homes and yards stand, relative to the runway. At Santa Monica, people have had their lawn furniture blown over by the blast from departing jets; REALLY!!

The runway was shortened last year, but now the City is failing to impose needed standards that block unsafe operations by jets and commercial operators. Aviation money appears to be impeding their judgment.

Santa Monica is also notable as an airport where FAA lawyers managed to convince the local elected officials to ‘settle’ legal differences with an inexplicable agreement to extend the life of the airport. Money talks, and rumor has it the elected officials were tired of spending so much money on legal services, trying to exercise their rights against FAA’s industry-serving will. You got it: our money, collected by FAA from we the taxpayers, and spent as FAA sees fit, is arbitrarily used to impede meaningful LOCAL CONTROL by compelling our own elected officials to use our money (local taxes, this time) to fight FAA in the courts.

Below is a copy of a recent letter by Gavin Scott, posted at NoJetsSMO. He summarizes what he observed at the June 5th Airport Commissioner’s Meeting. He also advocates – strongly – for people to submit their own comments right away, before the chance is gone.

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

The Impacts Are Not Due to ‘Customer Demand’, They Are Due to ‘Industry Greed’

SeaTac [KSEA] has been the fastest growing U.S. commercial airport in recent years, largely due to a 2012 decision by Delta to build a hub there. Here’s a JPEG showing KSEA annual operations and trends for each year, from 1991 through 2017:

(click on image to view the source table, which includes FAA ATADS data for 533 U.S. airports)

The data clearly reflects the operational history of KSEA. This is an airport where there was a former near-monoploy by Alaska Airlines, which is now expanding into a duopoly, with TWO airlines using it for hub operations. Notice the growth in flight numbers after 2012, following the Delta business decision. But notice also how operations at this airport declined by nearly a third, from 2000-2012. Think a bit about these sizable ups and downs: do they reflect strong swings in the local economy and population, or do they merely represent airline business decisions?

Now, ponder this concept, too: does ‘consumer demand’ drive airline business actions, or do airline business actions drive consumer demand? Is it fair to say that the entire goal of airline marketing is to stimulate more consumer demand, and ever-higher passenger mileage consumption?

Ask yourself this: regarding the demand for flying in the Seattle area (…and this is an attractive area, which has drawn many new residents from around the world), did ‘consumer demand’ DECLINE that much during the 2000-2012 timeframe, and has ‘consumer demand’ for flying by Seattle-area residents grown as massively as airport operations after 2012? In other words, is it inappropriate and misinformational for airlines, the Port of Seattle, and FAA to declare that ‘passenger demand’ is driving the current impactful hub growth, when the true driver is ‘corporate/airline demand’? Check out this screencap from page 8 of a recent FAA document (FAA’s CATEX… more about that later in this Post). If you spend any time looking at press releases by airlines and the Port of Seattle, you will find the same misrepresentations consistently repeated, all aimed at tricking readers into believing ‘consumer demand’ is driving this growth. Wouldn’t it be more accurate and truthful for the industry players to precisely attribute these hub operational changes to airline corporate decisions? Shouldn’t they instead brag about their marketing savvy and their ability to manipulate consumers, to create higher (or lower) rates of consumption? Should the industry players be more transparent, noting how when assets are reallocated from a declining hub to their latest new hub, we end up with economic decline and stagnation in the former?

The bottom-line is this: some airports grow excessively, while other airports seemingly whither away. Further evidence and examples can be viewed at the full 1991-2017 data collection for all tower airports (533 different airports, in this table). Do your own analysis for your own region, but be sure to take a closer look at the airports within the rustbelt centered on Ohio … from Detroit to Buffalo to Pittsburgh to Memphis to St. Louis and back to Detroit. Within this large region, at even the busiest airports, operational declines have averaged well over 50% from peak traffic years. And, many airport hubs have been outright abandoned.

What gives here?

Under the hub-and-spoke business model, commercial passenger operators maximize profits if they theoretically fly an infinite number of passengers into a hub airport at the same moment, have the passengers instantly sort out gate-to-gate into all the parked airplanes, and then depart all at the same instant. Of course, airports cannot be this efficient, and safety rules restrict aircraft flow rates, as both arrival and departure streams typically require around one minute spacing between consecutive flights. So, the next best thing for the airport and airlines (but certainly NOT for sleep-deprived and lung-impacted residents in the airport community!) is to tweak the rules in a way that maximizes ‘runway throughput’.

An example of this rule-tweaking is the use of diverging departure headings. At SeaTac, FAA took this to an extreme when they imposed routine 90-degree left turns immediately after takeoff, for Horizon Q400 turboprops heading south during North Flows. These departures impacted residents in Burien, the community at the northwest corner of KSEA. After concerns were raised (including legal engagement), FAA backed down early last year, removing an automated turn coordination from the tower-TRACON letter of agreement (also known as the ‘SEA-S46 LOA’). That should have been the end of this, right? Well, it was not. Instead, under new Regional Administrator David Suomi, FAA spent more than a year internally discussing and drafting papers to reinstate automated turns over Burien. The culmination of all that FAA effort (and, yes, we all paid for it!) is a 51-page CATEX document titled “Categorical Exclusion for Letter of Agreement Update to Automate a 250° Westerly Turn for Southbound Turboprops When Seattle – Tacoma International Airport is Operating in North-Flow Between the Hours of 6 am and 10 pm.” Read that title to yourself again, slowly and carefully, and try to make sense of it. All of this is just to formalize a written agreement between the tower and the radar controllers, so that the turns are automated, instead of coordinated verbally (push a button down, state a few words, and get concurrence … typically takes 2-3 seconds total) on a case-by-case basis. And, the automation discards the safety element of a diligent analysis of the traffic picture for each coordination event. Anyway, here is a copy of FAA’s PDF:

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

Like its title, this document is a doozy. Spend a little time studying it and you will see the extremes FAA goes to so as to enable excessive airport expansion. Page after page, lacking in substance, heavy on repetitive ‘safety’ and ‘efficiency’ soundbites, none of which are substantiated. If a particular detail or two really grab you, and you have an insight or a question, please email the aiREFORM administrator so we can share that on (odds are high, if you read something as puzzling or shocking, others will read it the same way, too). And, by the way, don’t waste your time trying to search this FAA PDF, because FAA scanned it to be unsearchable. I.e., although this captured agency claims to be engaging the community on matters such as early turns over Burien, in truth they are knowingly reducing the value of tools (such as this 51-page CATEX document) that concerned citizens need to carefully study). This trend, away from searchable PDFs, has been observed in FAA’s FOIA responses; whereas in the past nearly all PDF FOIA response documents were searchable, in time nearly all have become non-searchable.

The Dark Side of So-Called ‘Collaboration’

When two parties conspire in a way that adversely impacts a third party, we have collusion. In an age of propaganda, when collusion happens between aviation parties such as FAA, airport authorities, and airlines, they just call it ‘collaboration’. The true and unspoken purpose of their so-called ‘collaboration’ is to achieve a consistency in their soundbites. The early turns over Burien are an example of this ‘collaboration’. Another example is how these same players routinely claim the excessive growth at SeaTac is to meet customer demand. The short answer to that claim is, well, ‘Bullshit!’. Frankly, ‘demand’ is just a lame and misrepresentative excuse; the real cause of extreme over-expansion at airports is greed by the aviation players. And let’s be clear: it is not just the airlines, but also the airport authorities and the FAA. There is plenty of collusion to go around.

Here’s some data that proves the above point. It offers data from three Delta hub airports that have been scaled down, and shines a light on the downsizing of aviation in Middle America:

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

Conclusion:

This data reflects the harsh reality that today, in the U.S., FAA serves the airlines with a propaganda line, trying to sucker taxpayers into believing passenger demand creates impact problems at places like Seattle, Boston, Long Island, Maryland, and Charlotte. This is blatantly false, and most people at FAA know this. Hub concentration is NOT driven by consumer demand; no, airline greed is driving hub concentration, at great cost to local communities.

Congress needs to demand FAA serve all of us, not just the airlines and airport authorities. FAA is out of control and needs to be reigned in, and must not be allowed to continue operating as the captured regulator it has become.

Santa Monica’s Airport Subsidies, & the ‘Draft Minimum Standards for Commercial Operations’

This past week, numerous local citizens met with city airport officials, to discuss the DRAFT Minimum Standards for Commercial Aeronautical Services. This 41-page document (archived here) may be well worth reading … not just for those who fear continued air charter operations at the shortened KSMO runway, but also for people at other U.S. airports, seeking to clarify who is to be held accountable for the airport impacts.

Some of the content is mere boilerplate, but other details make it clear that the two key airport regulatory parties (FAA and airport authorities) both tend to ignore area residents while serving only commercial operators. And how is this done? Well, if and when a citizen raises a concern, the airport regulatory party is quick to pretend they are not accountable while also directing all concerned citizens ‘to the other party’. The result is regulatory failure; where safety and environment demand real and timely accountability, instead we find an accountability vacuum.

At Santa Monica, the impacts continue. Although the runway was substantially shortened, jets and charter operations still fly. Area residents remain fearful that the City will allow – or even encourage – the development of increased air charter operations.

‘Minimum standards’ should exist, especially as related to safety and environmental impact. Given how marginally unsafe the shortened runway is for larger, fuel-laden commercial flights, it is absolutely appropriate for the city to refine their minimum standards in a way that shuts down commercial charter operations. But, will they do so?

Submitting suggestions or comments on this Draft

Ben Wang, at the ‘SMO Future’ Facebook group, submitted a table with his suggestions (click here to view the aiReform archived copy).

Readers who wish to may submit their own suggestions. The two key airport officials to contact are:

Something Else to Think About: Who pays for these airport officials?

Mr. Markos is Airport Manager, a position he has held since 2013 (per this news release). After a quick online search, it was not yet clear what his annual salary is. But, that same search revealed that Ms. Lowenthal, as the Senior Advisor to the City Manager on Airport Affairs, earns a $162,036 annual salary. (click here to view the City’s 9/28/2017 press release)

Here’s something to think about. In good form, to justify a high salary, the city’s press release proceeded to identify Ms. Suwenthal’s substantial background, both educationally and professionally. But, that point aside, if senior assistants earn this large a salary, it suggests that the costs to manage KSMO, which frankly caters to just a small group of charter operators, are quite substantial. And these costs have to be born by someone.

These high costs beg a few more critical questions:

  1. what exactly is the full extent of city subsidy for this airport?
  2. if the city subsidies ended, would area residents finally obtain relief from air pollutant, noise, and safety impacts, especially those caused by charter operators and leaded-fuel local flights? In other words, is this subsidy pattern actually perpetuating impacts that destroy health and residential quality of life?
  3. if the city continues the pattern of impact upon nearby residents (both in Santa Monica and in adjacent neighborhoods, such as West LA), where is the money coming from to pay these subsidies?

JFK: Evidence of FAA & PANYNJ Failure to Manage Capacity & Delays

The two screencaps below look at the ten most congested airports in 2000, as well as the airports for which the most money was spent expanding infrastructure between 1988 and 2002. They are screencaps from slides #17 and #19 of A Historical and Legislative Perspective on Airport Planning & Management, a January 2002 presentation by Alexander T. Wells & Seth B. Young.

In a normal economic environment, actions are taken to mitigate problems. Delays are one such problem. If the aviation sector behaved rationally, regulators (in this case, FAA) and operators (both airports and airlines) would make adjustments to reduce delays, even more so because the delays at the largest hub airports cascade into more delays at other airports.

The data in this January 2002 presentation shows that FAA and airport authorities are not acting rationally to reduce delays and are, in fact, doing exactly the opposite of what they need to do. That is, instead of scaling back excessive operations at the most congested airports, they are doubling down, spending even more money to enable even more over-scheduling (and congestion/delays) by the major airlines.

A look at the major airports serving the NYC-Philadelphia area is revealing. The four main airports all rank in the top-10 delay airports for 2000:

  • Newark (EWR, United hub): ranked #1
  • LaGuardia (LGA): ranked #2
  • Kennedy (JFK, major hub for American/Delta/JetBlue): ranked #5
  • Philadelphia (PHL, American hub being scaled down): ranked #7

The worst-case example is JFK. The role of this airport has always including serving as a major international hub, but, with the formation of JetBlue, a substantial amount of domestic hub traffic has been added. The airlines make higher profits when they increase hub through-traffic, but airline pursuit of higher profits is supposed to be balanced against impacts such as more noise pollution, more air pollution, and more surface road congestion. The airport authority (PANYNJ) and federal regulator (FAA) are supposed to ensure this balance, but they fail; unfortunately, both FAA and PANYNJ are instead focused solely on serving airline profits, and are thus blinded from seeing the impacts, such as under the JFK Arc of Doom.

How bad is the failure by FAA/PANYNJ regarding JFK? Well, notice the last column in the table below.Of the top-ten delay hubs in 2000, only two have seen positive average annual growth in operations, from 2000 to 2017. By far, the largest average growth is at JFK, averaging 1.5% annual growth in operations. Compare that with Philadelphia, which has averaged a 1.3% annual decline in operations. Is the Philadelphia population shrinking while the NYC-area population is exploding, to explain these two trends? No. These trends – and the subsequent impacts – are due to airline scheduling, motivated by airline profits. Philadelphia is scaling down because American absorbed US Airways, and since then, American has been shifting schedule capacity AWAY from PHL and TOWARD JFK, LGA, and DCA (yet another high-impact airport).

Clearly, if FAA wanted to take a decisive action in 2018, to reduce delays, that action would focus on managing capacity, such as by imposing flow rate reductions at JFK, EWR, and LGA. It would also focus on encouraging airlines to shift capacity back to PHL, DTW, PIT, CVG, CLE and other airports that are operating far below what they were designed to serve.

Ponder this fact, too: how is it that when we look at a top-ten list of delay airports from 18-years ago, we see that 80% of those airports have since scaled down while most populations have grown? How is it we are told by FAA and industry that airports and aviation are economic gold-mines, and yet this alleged booming industry is declining nearly everywhere? How much of the FAA/industry sales pitch is hot air and propaganda? Is there anything we are told by these players that reflects reality and nurtures an informed public process, serving everyone and not just corporate interests?

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

(click on image to view source)

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

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

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

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

1990 vs 2005 vs 2016 Operations: Exposing FAA’s Inaccurate Forecasts

While doing some online research and archiving of older FAA documents, I ran into a copy of FAA’s 1993 Aviation System Capacity Plan. (click here for an archived copy of the 389-page document). Within this document, Table A-3 offered a detailed assessment of the 100 busiest towered airports, including operations in 1990 and forecasts for 2005.

The table below was created using the 1990 operations levels and 2005 forecast data for those 100 airports. But, it goes much further. It includes the actual operations counts as they happened in 2005. AND, it includes data showing how the operations counts evolved between 2005-2016.

Take a close look. This data explains why people are suffering so much at a few key FAA airports: KSEA, KJFK, KDCA, KBOS, KSFO and others.

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

It is extremely revealing, showing how FAA consistently forecasts far beyond what would reasonably follow … almost as if the FAA forecasts are not intended to be accurate, but instead are created to sell excessive airport development while also enhancing Congressional funding support.

A more in-depth aiReform analysis follows on page two.

Brendon Sewill’s Brilliant Work: Unspinning Aviation Spin in the UK

As has been seen so many times in the past, there is great value in studying aviation impacts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In this Post, three analyses created by Brendon Sewill are offered. All were produced for the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF).

Mr. Sewill has an extensive background. After earning his economics degree from Cambridge, he served as an adviser in the Treasury as well as to the British Bankers Association, a member of the Council of the National Trust, a member of the CPRE national executive, and a vice president of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

The first of Mr. Sewill’s three analyses was done in 2003, when he produced the 28-page ‘The Hidden Cost of Flying’. He had persuaded the UK government to rerun aviation computer forecasts, “…on the assumption that by 2030 air travel would be paying the same rate of tax as car travel….” What he found was shocking: the computer model rerun showed that the economic benefits of the UK aviation industry are grossly exaggerated, yet, in the meantime, elected officials are granting tax concessions worth £9 billion per year.

In 2005, his economic analysis was ‘Fly now, grieve later: How to reduce the impact of air travel on climate change’. In this 47-page report, he “…summarises the concerns about the impact of air travel on climate change, and explores the political and practical problems in making airlines pay sensible rates of tax….” Within this analysis, he also makes a compelling case for how large subsidies granted to aviation by nations across the planet are in fact generating the excessive aviation growth (and resultant increases in aviation impacts).

“At present the average American flies twice as far each year as the average European, and the average European flies ten times as far as the average inhabitant of Asia (even including Japan). If people in the rest of the world were to fly as much as those in the United States, the number of planes in the sky would rise nearly twenty-fold. Climate change disaster would be upon us.”                 – excerpt from pg.21

Finally, in 2009, Mr. Sewill wrote ‘Airport jobs – false hopes, cruel hoax’, a 23-page analysis in which he makes many brilliant points, debunking the alleged economic gains associated with massive airport development. For example, he notes how UK airports send more people AWAY from the UK to spend vacation dollars, which has the effect of displacing jobs (since that money is no longer spent at or near home). Simply, “…if the jobs created by aviation are to be counted, then the jobs lost by aviation must also be included….”

All three of these documents are well worth reading. Each is extremely relevant to the aviation impact issues found in the United States, too. They reveal greenwashing tactics by industry and the UK regulator (which, just like FAA, is arguably a ‘faux-regulator’ that serves industry, not the general population); the same greenwashing tactics are used at Sea-Tac, Boston-Logan, LaGuardia, and essentially all U.S. airports. Likewise, in the U.S., federal and local officials everywhere are found to be granting the same excessive subsidies, while also imposing uncompensated environmental costs upon thousands of residents under the concentrated flight paths.

The Third Head of the NextGen Hydra: How FAA is Jamming Arrivals Closer Together

Three months ago, the ‘Dissecting NextGen’ presentation was made in Des Moines, to help people better understand the impacts of NextGen around Sea-Tac International Airport [KSEA]. Included within that presentation was discussion of ‘Hub Concentration’ and ‘Route Concentration’, as two of the main changes that are causing NextGen impacts. Well, continued research in the past months has revealed a third head to this monster: efforts by FAA to alter rules, to reduce spacing between arrivals, even setting up side-by-side arrivals to closely-spaced parallel runways.

FAA is using two main strategies to reduce arrival spacing:

  • Wake Recat: short for ‘wake recategorization’, this is the reduction of minimum safe distances behind larger aircraft that create wakes. Without getting into too much detail, a series of fatal accidents decades ago forced FAA to impose longer distances between successive flights on the same route, called ‘wake turbulence separation’. But, in time, with pressure to remove capacity limitations, the rules are being modified to shorter distances.
  • Simultaneous Dependent Approaches to Closely Spaced Parallel Runways (CSPR): many of the main hub airports rely on use of parallel runways that are spaced even less than half a mile apart. ATC can accommodate a lot of flights on/off parallel runways, primarily by using one runway to land and the other to takeoff. But, when weather deteriorates, especially if visibility is reduced or the ceiling (altitude of lowest cloud layer) gets to be too low, capacity plummets. So, FAA has been working with airlines to develop new ATC procedures that allow flights to be spaced much closer together when set up for landing on two or more parallel runways. [click here to view archived copies showing the evolution of FAA Order JO7110.308B since 2008]

What’s Bugging People?

Although most airports continue to be far below historic traffic levels, there are a dozen or so main hub airports where the ‘Final Four’ airlines (American, Delta, Southwest and United) schedule excessively. These are the airports where people are upset. They are seeing more flights, and they are seeing/hearing flights that are lower, often slower, seemingly louder (which is a given, for lower flights), and often turning closer to the airport than ever before. They are also seeing surges of flights — both departures and arrivals, in rapid succession, sometimes even side-by-side. It is scary to some, and deeply disturbing to many. Even retired air traffic controllers cannot believe what they are seeing. It is as if these few airports have acquired a meth or steroid addiction.

Authorities insist nothing has changed, but they are totally wrong. Well, not just wrong: they are lying, and they know it. At these few hub airports (Sea-Tac is the one growing the most in recent years, due to Delta’s 2012 decision to create a new hub), traffic volume is up, especially during the surges that happen in relation to expanded hubbing. But, there are also forces that are pushing arrivals closer to the ground. For example, with wake recat, the key thing to understand about aircraft wakes is they descend; i.e., the hazard that can flip a smaller airplane slowly drifts downward toward the ground, so ATC works hard to keep the trailing aircraft at least slightly above the leading aircraft. But, if ATC is trying to bring both aircraft in to land, on parallel runways, than ATC needs to push the lead aircraft down lower ASAP. Why? Because, if the lead aircraft is not descended low enough, the trailing aircraft will end up too high, unable to finish the approach. This results in a go-around, which carries higher risks and makes both flight crews and ATC do a lot more work.

An Example: A 13-hr Arrival Stream to Runways 4L & 4R at Boston

Boston offers an example of how badly communities are being impacted. Here, we have densely populated communities and a dominant regional airport, [KBOS], that effectively monopolizes commercial aviation.  Three airlines schedule excessively at KBOS: JetBlue, American, and Delta. JetBlue is the dominant hub airline with a schedule that generates a large number of through-passengers (thus imposing much larger impacts on the area, to accommodate the added flights).

To gain airline support for NextGen, or at least to ensure the airlines will not oppose NextGen (which would kill FAA’s chances of getting Congressional funding), FAA has sold out on their responsibilities to protect communities and the environment. FAA has apparently told the airlines that they can expect increased runway throughput, which FAA will achieve by abolishing all noise mitigation procedures and creating new flight procedures that turn lower and as close as possible to the runways. NextGen is being used as a decoy or cover; by claiming NextGen is all new and fancy, FAA tricks everyone – including Congress – into not noticing that what is REALLY happening is simply the wholesale abandonment of FAA’s past responsibilities to protect the environment and community health. And, by the way, NextGen is NOT all new and fancy; most of it has existed and been used for decades; the alleged benefits are just a fraudulent sales pitch.

Clearly, when you study what FAA has imposed at ALL NextGen airports, the game plan is to maximize runway throughput. This accommodates the ideal all airlines want: unrestricted scheduling to tweak profits higher using expanded hub operations. So, with this in mind, at an airport like Boston, FAA focuses on using the combination of runways with the highest capacity per hour, which at Boston is to have arrivals land on the parallel runways 4L and 4R. Just like happens when new freeway lanes are added, the airlines are quick to eat up the increased capacity; supply defines and expands demand. At Boston, FAA is now heavily relying on 4R and 4L to ‘accommodate’ the expansion by JetBlue, Delta and American. So much for quality of life under the intensified approach corridor. Milton does not really need to get sleep, do they???

A recent 13-hr arrival stream to Boston’s 4L and 4R

And, of course, FAA applies the same strategy at all airports where airlines want to expand hub-related profits: they use runway combinations that maximize capacity, even if wind and other factors might argue against these decisions. It’s called ‘choosing runways to traffic’, and it’s a way to be overly accommodative to airlines.

The result is streaming arrivals: nearly nonstop impacts on the ground, one arrival after another after another, sometimes even paired arrivals that are nearly side-by-side. As shown in this table, summarizing arrivals per hour on the intensified approaches to Boston’s runway 4L and 4R, the impact is relentless. Note the busiest hours are non-stop, averaging as little as 1.2-minutes between flights. [click here to view the entire stream in a data table]

And, adding insult to injury, when people notice and ask what has changed, both FAA and the airport authority (Massport, in this example) play with them: they say nothing has changed.

How Do We Kill This Monster?

FAA is simply out of control. And, Congress is doing squat to correct this problem. We need leaders in Congress to:

  1. demand that FAA serve the people ahead of the corporations, and this requires an emphasis on both transparency and accountability;
  2. demand that FAA cease spending our money to propagandize for the industry; this regulatory capture has gone on far too long;
  3. pass legislation that strongly disincentivizes airline hubbing – one of the simplest changes would be to formulate a new set of fees and taxes, the heart of which should be a very steep aviation fuel tax;
  4. and, pass legislation that restores local control, so that local communities have a real voice, and can impose reasonable curfews and capacity limits, and can say ‘NO!’ to airport over-expansion.