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?

Hubbing Strategies Increase Impacts, But Do Not Create Sustainable Airline Profits

Airline stocks have been tanking lately, in no small part due to strategy shifts by United. In a nutshell, United is trying to design a broad restructuring of its three domestic-focused hubs in Chicago, Denver and Houston. Why? Because this trio of domestic hubs “…has profit margins that are 10 percent below the inland domestic hubs operated by American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc….”

The situation is discussed in this Bloomberg article (click here to view source, or view the archived PDF copy below).

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

What is the most consequential quote in the article?

“As part of its strategy, United is boosting connections in its three mid-continent hubs by an average of 17 percent by adjusting its flight schedules, a process it’s completed in Houston and will commence in Chicago next month.”

In this one quote, United is making it clear that, for all major U.S. hubs, traffic growth is NOT about customer demand; it is airline schedule tweaking, to increase profits, that is causing the huge impact increases at major hubs, especially at KBOS, KJFK, KDCA, and KSEA.

Which airports/hubs are most monopolized?

Here are the main hubs for the four largest airlines:

  • American: Charlotte [KCLT], Dallas-Ft Worth [KDFW], Miami [KMIA], and Philadelphia [KPHL]
  • Delta: Atlanta [KATL], Minneapolis St Paul [KMSP], and Salt Lake City [KSLC]
  • United: Cleveland [KCLE], Washington-Dulles [KIAD], and Houston [KIAH]
  • Southwest: Baltimore [KBWI], Dallas-Love [KDAL], and Chicago-Midway [KMDW]

Most other major airports are either smaller market and dominated by Southwest, or they are duopoly hubs. Four duopoly hubs that stand out are:

  1. Denver [KDEN] – Southwest and United
  2. Chicago O’Hare [KORD] – American and United
  3. Phoenix [KPHX] – American and Southwest
  4. Sea-Tac [KSEA] – Alaska and Delta

Will hub concentration reduce over time?

No, not likely at all. The level of industry scheduling collusion, and the absence of real regulatory oversight, ensure this trend toward hub concentration will continue to intensify. As an example, look at the hub concentrations for 2013 data, at this aiReform Post. Note that nothing has changed: at the bulk of these 77 airports, monopolies and duopolies have only strengthened in the past four years.

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.

NextGen is the FAA’s Carte Blanche to Wreak Havoc on the Public’s Ears and Serenity

Here’s an archived copy of an excellent article, written by Barbara Castleton, one of many NextGen victims in the Seattle area. She does an excellent job portraying how FAA and industry do not care at all about the health impacts (and diminished quality of life) caused by NextGen. A few aiREFORM footnotes have been added to this archived copy, to expand on some technical aspects.

Click here to view the source article at Medium.com.

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

NAS Annual Ops Have Declined for Decades Now, And NextGen Is Just Hype

One of the most frustrating and damnable aspects of today’s FAA is their manipulation of data, to steer public opinion toward more aviation expansion. This propagandistic phenomenon has worsened in the last decade. Sometimes, to get to the facts, you have to dive deep and find what FAA wrote long ago. Here is an example…Let’s go back to early 2001.

(click on image to view archived copy of entire FAA report, from April 2001)

Here’s a screencap from April of that year, FAA’s 125-page NAS Capital Investment Plan 2002-2006. This one small screencap offers some unvarnished statements about capacity and delays (and the whole document contains many, MANY more!):

  • “Currently, traffic at the 25 busiest airports exceeds their practical capacity by about 1 million operations a year.”
  • “Either demand is reduced, or capacity expanded to bring the NAS into balance. It is normal to experience some delay in the NAS, the challenge is to manage excessive delay.”
  • RE: 15 new runways scheduled to open in the next five years: “If all of these runways are built as scheduled, they will add about 1.4 million operations a year in capacity.”

OK, so let’s take a closer look. First, let’s look at FAA’s ATADS data, the most precise database available for studying operations at all FAA and contract control towers in the U.S. Here’s a table created for the ‘top 25’ airports; in this case, the 25 busiest OEP-35 airports in calendar year 2000:What does this show? It shows a critical reality: this aviation system is NOT expanding, is NOT becoming increasingly complex, and in fact has been down-sizing for nearly two decades. In other words, the expensive changes that industry and FAA are pitching so aggressively are NOT needed, and serve only to further line the pockets of the cronies they advocate for. (…which, of course, is why they are advocating!)

Now, let’s take another look at those quotes above, and let’s do the math. Those 25 busiest airports were allegedly exceeding practical capacity by ‘about 1 million operations’ annually. The totals in the table above (use the ‘TOTALS’ column, not the ‘Commercial’ column, because that is the number that matters to define ATC workload) show 13.4 Million operations in 2000. Thus, this FAA document suggests the ‘practical capacity’ of the top 25 airports in 2000 was 12.4 Million annual operations. By 2016, three key forces (airline consolidation, hub realignment, and economic normalization) had reduced total ops to 11.1 Million annual ops, well below the alleged ‘practical capacity’. While total annual operations at the top 25 airports are down 17% (from 2000 to 2016), the only airports bucking this trend are the ones where airlines insist on over-scheduling. In other words, their pursuit of profits is the root cause of daily system delays, it also is the primary source for massive impacts upon neighboring residential communities, such as near KJFK, KCLT, and KSFO.

Note, too, that actual capacity has increased substantially (which, of course, reduces ATC complexity), with the construction not only of the ‘15 new runways’ by 2006, but the many other new runways between 2006 and 2017.

As a side note, ponder this: notice the green background stats in the table above. These are the very few airports where operations have actually increased from 2000 to 2016. Most people would assume automatically, Charlotte was tops, because of American’s massive expansion there to create a super-Hub. They would be wrong. In fact, Kennedy airport in NYC beat out Charlotte. FAA and PANYNJ accommodations to JetBlue, Delta and American are the reason that the western half of Long Island is constantly inundated with long and low arrival conga lines into JFK. The 28% increase is quite impactful.

CONCLUSION: when Bill Shuster et al stand before press cameras or preside at hearings where they pitch NextGen and ATC privatization, they are out of touch and, frankly, pitching a fraud. They should instead be focusing on managing hub capacity, imposing limits at the most congested hub airports, so that the entire system can achieve higher efficiencies and lower impacts.

A Work-Around to FAA’s Failed Noise Models

This Post looks at how a simple and economical noise study for a large park and natural area suggests a better way to study airport noise. It essentially presents a work-around to two root problems in how FAA and industry ‘collaborate’ to obstruct aviation noise activism:

  1. that FAA knowingly uses noise metrics and noise models that work great for the airlines – since they completely fail to define and mitigate aviation noise impacts, but work terribly for people – since they consistently fail to objectively quantify noise and impacts; and,
  2. that, whenever citizens approach FAA or airport authorities with their concerns, and seek hard data to help define and fix the problems, both FAA and airport authorities routinely withhold that data, and instead work to confuse and disillusion these activists.

The Boston (Logan) Noise Impacts

In recent years, FAA has become extremely accommodating to hub airlines, by no longer pushing back against excessive flight scheduling. At Boston Logan [KBOS], the airport configuration allowing the highest capacity in terms of ‘runway throughput’ or operations per hour, includes using the parallel runways 4L and 4R for arrivals. KBOS has major hub operations by JetBlue, and minor hub operations by American and Delta. So, with FAA intensifying the use of runways 4L and 4R for arrivals, even in crosswind and slight tailwind conditions, they are imposing an enormous noise and air pollutant burden on communities under the straight-in arrival corridor.

The impact upon communities below, such as Milton, has been intense. People are losing sleep (the short term impact) and breathing more aviation pollutants (which will cause serious long-term health impacts). They are complaining to both FAA and the airport authority, Massport, as well as to their elected reps and local community officials. Their complaints continue to be broadly ignored by the key authorities – FAA and Massport – both of whom routinely reply that ‘nothing has changed’ and ‘the perceived impacts are not significant by our standards’. Needless to say, this mishandling by FAA and Massport only infuriates and further sensitizes the impacted communities.

Something has to change. FAA/Massport must stop pretending to comply with federal and state environmental impact assessment processes, which they do by using worthless impact models. Frankly, these models were designed to create an illusion that impacts are objectively measured, and they were also designed to bias the conclusions to ensure validation of any and all airport operational expansions. We need a new model that is objective; a model with people collecting REAL noise data and compiling it into impact contours may be the best way to go.

Noise Modeling at Blue Hills Reservation

The Blue Hills Reservation includes 125-miles of trails on 7,000 acres. A prominent water body in this natural area is Houghton’s Pond, which happens to be under the straight-in approach to runways 4L and 4R, at approximately 11-miles from the landing threshold.

Friends of the Blue Hills is a local non-profit organization that coordinates volunteers and works to preserve and protect this wonderful natural resource. A recent Post at their blog announced a great project. It looks like Boston University is doing a noise study; professor Richard Primack and doctoral student Lucy Zipf appear to be crowd-sourcing the use of an iphone app by volunteer hikers, to compile an actual noise map of the trails for most or even all 7,000 acres of Blue Hills Reservation.It will be very interesting to see what they produce. Seemingly, if the app-devices are synchronized, they could create a noise contour map that would show actual noise levels at any one time. Further, a collection of maps could be created, so that noise impacts for varying conditions can be compared.

How This Might Be Used For Aviation Noise Impacts

The app and methodologies could easily be applied to a residential community, such as Milton (or Des Moines, WA; or Cabin John, MD; or Palo Alto, CA; etc.). What’s to stop a local activist group from staging a grid of 4- or 6- or even dozens of devices at mapped street locations in Milton, and compiling the data into maps that show REAL decibel-level impacts? What’s to stop that same group from creating reference maps on days where there are no runway 4R and 4L arrivals, to establish a definitive baseline noise level?

Let’s watch this project and see if it offers a smart and economical work-around, so we can move beyond the ongoing data obstruction by FAA and airport authorities.

Boston noise activist groups:

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.

Is FlightAware Collaborating with FAA to Misinform the Public?

Here’s a JPEG compilation showing a classic example of misinformation by the flight tracking website, FlightAware; this shows Seattle [KSEA] flights, on a nice summer Sunday morning:

Note the substantial enroute delays issued by ATC, to the stream inbound over Oregon, and the trans-Pacific arrivals over Olympic National Park.

Of course, this screencap also shows the massive failure that NextGen is, in terms of reducing delays. Simply: no technologies, no new systems, can correct the delays that happen, when FAA refuses/fails to stop the commercial airlines from scheduling too many flights.

For context, please understand that these websites (another is FlightRadar24) get their data from FAA and process it. They produce a great product, that helps us all to see when various flights will arrive (so we can pick up a loved one), but also help us to view how the whole ATC system works. What they should NOT do, though, is help FAA pass on false information. In this example, with a 1,500ft cloud layer, FlightAware is passing on the false claim that departures are being delayed. Ponder these facts:

  1. The arrivals were also being delayed, and quite substantially … look at those turns over Oregon and the Olympic Peninsula! So, why did FlightAware fail to mention arrival delays in their alert, too? Is it because FAA pretends these enroute delays do not matter?
  2. These delay alerts appear to be triggered by FAA reports; i.e., it would make no sense for websites to post a delay, if it had not been officially declared and defined by an FAA source.
  3. Notice the delay alert adds departure delays are ‘increasing’. This implies the low clouds are changing, yet they are not really changing… if anything, the clouds are rising higher, as the fair-weather summer day advances. So, is the cause of these delays the clouds, or simply TOO MANY DEPARTURES SCHEDULED?
  4. When KSEA is in a north flow, the departures would quickly be climbing into clouds as they approach Boeing Field. So, in a north flow, the departure flow rate could be reduced significantly, by a 1,500ft cloud deck. But, this is south flow, so the departures are all far from Boeing Field, no potential conflict.

It is bad enough that FAA is a captured agency, serving aviation money with no real concern for impacts upon people. But, the situation is made worse by false information – propaganda if you will: when FAA feeds erroneous delay causes to the online flight tracking sites, they then pass this misinformation onward, to further deceive the public.

This type of ‘collaboration’ needs to end. FAA needs to reform, to become an accountable, transparent, and truthful servant TO THE PEOPLE, and truly regulating the industry. To achieve this, Congress needs to dump the bad idea of ATC Privatization, and our elected reps need to DEMAND FAA clean up its act!

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.

Does JetBlue Care to Minimize Impacts?

Parts of Boston are being severely impacted by NextGen, under routes in and out of Logan [KBOS]. Not just by the narrow route concentration FAA is creating in their environmentally destructive application of satellite technologies, but also in the increased hub concentration that FAA is enabling.

In a nutshell, the airlines want to concentrate flights into just a handful of major hubs, but they need FAA’s help to do this. They need FAA to increase ‘runway throughput’, so that the major hub airlines at airports like Boston can add just a few more flights each hour. Of course, the problem is, in their accomodating the airlines, FAA is causing oversaturation of schedules to the point where:

  1. flows are virtually non-stop for most of the day; and
  2. the slightest bit of weather or surge of flights creates overload, and ATC works the arrivals into long conga lines – harder and less safe for ATC and flight crews, but also greatly amplifying impacts upon residents below.

JetBlue has a major hub presence at Boston. Not only that, but JetBlue is a major player at two other hub airports where flight overscheduling is destroying communities: LaGuardia [KLGA] and Reagan National [KDCA]. And, JetBlue’s network relies heavily on connecting passengers through these three hub airports.

Also, JetBlue uses social media to pitch their product, to try and encourage more people to take more flights, and more frequently. The JetBlue facebook page solicits comments from viewers, so it makes sense that a viewer in Milton, impacted by the increase in noise and air pollution by JetBlue and other airlines, would offer concerns and make constructive suggestions. This is precisely what was done, when Andy Schmidt initiated a discussion by sending JetBlue a message, on May 30th. After nearly a month of back-and-forth, and with many delays, Andy came to the conclusion that, frankly, “JetBlue doesn’t care.” He then posted a series of four screencaps, documenting the ‘discussion’. Here’s a compilation:

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

When it comes to environmental responsibility around hub airports, there is a huge vacuum. Neither FAA nor the industry they are supposed to regulate are working to protect communities from noise and air pollutant impacts. It is only about money, these days.

In the example above, Andy shows a great way to nudge the airlines toward becoming responsive and accountable. What is particularly intriguing about this example is that Andy pointed the airline right at a very effective and affordable action that would reap tremendous environmental benefits: the vortex generator. Here are two graphs from a320whine.com:

The red curve shows two spikes, at ~560 and ~620 hertz, which are the infamous ‘A320 whine’. Notice the substantial noise reduction (green curve) at these frequencies, when the VG deflectors are added.

The green shaded area shows noise reduction from red line (an A320 without the VGs) to green line (an A320 with the VGs added). Study this graph carefully; it shows an improvement, but notice, too, zero improvement within the final 12-miles (20-kilometers) of the arrival. Given the cost, this improvement is well worth the money spent, but airlines and FAA will also need to better manage traffic loads, such as by reducing hourly flow rates.

CONCLUSION: This is a good example of how social media can be used constructively, to engage airlines, and hopefully, to nudge them toward becoming more compatible with the communities they impact. And, the vortex generators are a real opportunity for JetBlue to show they care.

Will they? Will JetBlue’s management wake up, so thousands can sleep better?