MHFC: Technology and Design Achieve Nothing When Too Many Flights are Scheduled

An incredible airshow: Michael Huerta’s Flying Circus.

20160408.. Michael Huerta's Flying CircusIn service to the airlines, FAA has carefully worked to bypass environmental review procedures while also embarking on a scheme to abandon wholesale decades worth of noise mitigation procedures. In their effort to increase ‘throughput’, turns are being made lower and closer to the airports, for both departures and arrivals. This would reduce fuel consumption by a small amount, but the savings are routinely more than lost when excessive airline scheduling necessitates that ATC must issue delay turns (even entire delay loops) during the enroute/cruise portion of the flight.

It is really a circus. Controllers work harder, and pilots also work harder. Airline profits tweak slightly higher while many airports downsize and more flights become concentrated into a handful of superHubs. More delays are incurred, and repetitive-noise-pattern impacts increasingly damage neighborhoods that previously had no aviation noise issues. And what do FAA regulators do about it? Nothing. They just retire, take their pension, and sign up to work for the industry and as lobbyists.

An SFO arrival from Puerto Vallarta, on January 9th.

This Analysis looks at how NextGen fails at one of the few emerging superHubs: San Francisco [KSFO]. Here’s a screencap showing extensive delays ATC issued to an Alaska Boeing 737, during a January 9th evening arrival. Take a close look and you’ll see: the flight crew was issued vectors to fly a large box, then a smaller loop, then sent northwest for further descent and sequencing back into the arrival flow near Palo Alto.

Altitudes have been added to this graphic, so you can better estimate the impacts upon residents below, especially while ATC was routing the flight at the lower altitudes, from Pescadero to Portola Valley to Palo Alto and on to the landing.

An SFO arrival from Puerto Vallarta, on 3/10/17.

This is the type of inefficient maneuvering that happens everyday. Massive backups can be triggered by incidents that cause temporary runway closures or weather problems, but most of the time, these inefficiencies happen when too many flights are scheduled too close together, all because FAA refuses to properly manage arrival rates.

On days when there are not too many arrivals, this same flight normally looks like the example to the left: a direct route and a steady rate of descent, from Santa Cruz to where they turn final at the Bay, just west of the Dumbarton Bridge. This type of efficiency can become a reliable norm, but only if FAA goes one step further and imposes programs to stop airlines from exceeding workable airport arrival rates. Sadly, under NextGen, FAA is doing precisely the opposite: giving the airlines the sun and the moon, and all the stars if they have to, so long as the airlines will not oppose the expensive boondoggle that NextGen is. FAA wants Congress to throw more money at the agency, and that won’t happen, unless all the Av-Gov players ‘collaborate’ and act unified behind the NextGen fraud.

Working to Solve the Problems Created by NextGen

There is a new Chair for the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, actually two: Representatives Tom Souzzi (pronounced “swah’-zee”) and Eleanor Holmes-Norton were elected as co-chairs, to replace Representative Grace Meng.

Both Souzzi and Meng are from the NYC area, serving Queens and Nassau County. This is where the Caucus originated in 2014, primarily to address NextGen impacts. Essentially, health and quality of life are being destroyed in dozens of suburban neighborhoods, under arrival and departure paths for both LaGuardia [KLGA] and Kennedy [KJFK] airports.

Representative Souzzi spoke during Members’ Day, to the House Committee on Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee. Here is a link to the start of his statement, which presents many of the concerns of his impacted constituency. The statement is very thorough (click here to view a PDF of the prepared statement). In less than 6-minutes, he offers the following key takeaways:

  1. the impacts are national
  2. FAA and airport authorities routinely dismiss concerns without due consideration
  3. FAA is failing to recognize that this is an objective problem harming human health
  4. health studies are needed to compel action by FAA

Impacted residents asked aiReform to prepare an analysis, to help sharpen the focus on what the NextGen issues are and how they can be fixed. After a lot of discussion and review, the following document was created:

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


See also:
  • NATCA’s Position on NGATS-NextGen –  (9/8/2005) the position by NATCA, stated by Doug Fralick at a conference: “…the real limiting factors are runway capacity and weather, no fancy en route automation system is going to change that fact.” Note that he refers to NGATS, not NextGen, as this marketing term had not yet been created.
  • 2005 Annual Performance Report – (March 2006) the first appearance of the brandname ‘NextGen’, in a glossy annual report for 2005, pitching great progress by the air traffic organization (ATO). Note that both FAA Administrator Blakey and ATO COO Chew prominently push the ‘NextGen’ moniker in their letters. Note also that many technical advances are claimed, yet Shuster, A4A, and complicit media hacks are all routinely pressing the idea FAA is using technology from World War II.
  • DoT-IG-Dobbs report to a Congressional committee, hearing re NextGen – (July 25, 2006) this DoT-IG report assesses NGATS but makes no reference to ‘NextGen’. Evidently, although Blakey and ATO started pushing the NextGen brandname in March, as long as four months later other entities such as the Inspector General had not yet adopted the term.
  • AIRR: Going Nowhere (while Shuster schleps in Florida!) – (2/24/2016) aiReform Post, at the end of the last big push for ATC privatization and accelerated NextGen funding
  • FAA’s Refusal to Manage Airport Capacity – (1/7/2017) aiReform Post offering a closer analysis

Is FAA’s NextGen Mess Contributing to ‘Drowsy Driver’ Accidents?

The NextGen impacts at JFK are much more than just ‘annoying noise’; they are also causing sleep loss, which cascades into accidents, sometimes fatal.

Here’s a screen-capture of a recent Facebook post by Elaine Miller, at PlaneSense4LI. Elaine’s residential neighborhood is roughly 5-miles northeast of the departure end of the KJFK runways 4. To increase operations per hour, FAA established procedures for runway 4 departures to initiate an immediate right turn, sending them low over the Malverne area. The noise repeats for hours, even days.

(screencap of Facebook post copied 2/13/2017 at 7:12AM PST)

The New York Post article shares some alarming data: in the U.S., ‘drowsy driving’ is cited as a factor in 1,400 accidents per day, and fifteen of those daily accidents produce fatalities. So, it is not surprising that the U.S. federal Department of Transportation (DoT) expends lots of time and money trying to inform regular people (like you and me) on the need to stay rested and alert. What doesn’t make sense, though, is FAA is a major component of that same DoT … and yet it is FAA that is working against DoT and causing so much sleep deprivation, by not giving a damn about the enormous negative impacts caused by repetitive airplane noise.

How is FAA Exacerbating this Problem?

FAA wants Congress to fund billions for NextGen, in no small part because this latest ‘campaign’ gives FAA something to do and creates internal promotion opportunities. But, Congress will never approve the proposal if the corporate stakeholders who fund their reelection campaigns are opposed. So, FAA has struck a deal with the airlines: if the airlines buy in to promote NextGen (or, at least not speak against it), the agency will work to help the airlines maximize runway throughput. This means the airlines will be able to schedule more flights, thus ensuring that at major hub airports like JFK, both the arrival streams and the departure streams become nonstop.

Now, get this: the NextGen sales pitch is centered on the environment – i.e., reducing CO2 emissions by minimizing time spent with engines idling, either while awaiting takeoff at the departure airport, or while on extended approach to the destination airport. But, FAA’s part of the deal – not pushing back when the airlines schedule too many flights – guarantees enormous inefficiencies. And, of course, these delays cascade into other airports, affecting the whole nation. Clearly, FAA could do much better. But the agency can’t, because they have sold out to serve only aviation money, not the People (you and me) who pay for this system.

The Net Result: more sleep loss, contributing to more accidents by drowsy drivers. FAA could fix this problem, if they would do their TRUE job and actually manage airport capacity.

Heathrow Airport Pays Guardian to Create ‘News Content’

20170110scp-about-explanation-of-paid-content-produced-by-guardian-labs-theguardian-comOne of the more disgusting details from the U.S. elections this past year was seeing the death of the journalism profession. We learned how the mainstream media no longer does hard research, no longer asks tough questions, but instead exists only to collect money for delivering spin and propaganda services. Not just for companies, but also for political parties. Evidently, propaganda going mainstream is a problem in the UK, too.

Here’s a copy of a tweet by BackOffHeathrow, a longstanding and vocal opponent of Heathrow airport expansion. Just like is happening under NextGen routes near a few major U.S. airports, the people who live east and west of Heathrow’s two runways are having their homes and lives destroyed. Same impacts, too: stress and distraction by repetitive noise interruptions, and compromised health due to elevated air pollutants and chronic sleep loss.

egll-20170110at0853scp-example-of-guardian-com-content-paid-for-by-heathrow-tweet-by-backoffheathrow

(click on image to view archived copy of this ‘paid content’)

Why so much misery and destruction? Primarily to accommodate air travel by airline passengers from North America, Asia, and Europe. Many people use Heathrow as an entry-exit point for Europe; many of them pass through Heathrow because the major airlines decided decades ago that they would use this piece of land for sorting their passengers and maximizing their company profits. By far, the biggest airline at Heathrow is British Airways (BAW, Speedbird). Airline profits are improving, while resident quality of life is steadily declining. No wonder so many people are fighting so hard to stop a third runway at Heathrow.

The Airport Paid For This (with your money)…

Notice who paid for this item that looks like a ‘news article’, which is one of a series of ‘paid content’ by the Guardian Labs team. Yes, Heathrow, the airport authority. Where do they get money to buy these services? From the passengers who fly through Heathrow. The airport authority, just like the regulator, can skim money off of the process, and evidently has no accountability or restrictions to preempt using that money beyond what is needed to operate the airport. In this example, they use that money to promote the airport’s expansion, and in opposition to the anti-expansion efforts by impacted airport neighbors seeking sleep and other relief. They use that money to create paid content, aka ‘Fake News’.

…And it is Nothing but Spin and Propaganda

This is a full-fledged program. On the upper left of the webpage it says, ‘Heathrow sustainable mobility zone’. Click on this and it opens up a whole new webpage with many more ‘articles’.

Take a close look at the article title: ‘How Air Traffic Controllers are Helping Clean Up Aviation Emissions’. The spin implies new technologies are being used to reduce the environmental impacts of aviation. It is spin partly because the methods listed in the ‘article’ for reducing impacts are nothing new … techniques and technologies that have already been used for decades. But, more critically, the spin flies right past the real elephant in the room: that for each of us, when it comes to generating CO2, hours spent travelling as a commercial air passenger are the worst hours in our life. Frankly, the only way for one individual to do more damage to the atmosphere, more quickly, is either to take up a new hobby setting arson fires, or have too much money to blow and start zipping about in your own private jet.

Obviously, if the aviation stakeholders here (the regulators and airport authorities and airlines) REALLY wanted to reduce aviation emissions, they would do five things:

  1. the regulator would reduce Heathrow arrival rates, and the airlines would agree to alter their schedules accordingly, so that the four holding stacks for Heathrow arrivals, as discussed in the ‘article’,  would never even be needed again;
  2. they would get the airlines to do a much better job filling the seats on their flights (the passenger load factor for British Airways, is barely above 80%, an absurdly low rate of seat occupancy that greatly increases the per passenger carbon emissions);
  3. they would agree to impose uniform fees that disincentivize use of Heathrow as a hub airport, while also encouraging airlines to fly a larger percentage of their passengers on nonstop-direct flights to their final destinations (for example, impose a steep fee for flying through, or impose fees that are directly proportional to the itinerary distance flown);
  4. they would advocate for imposition of a heavy aviation carbon tax (which should also replace most other aviation fees and taxes) so as to disincentivize hub connections that are not efficiently located along the direct route of flight; and,
  5. they would immediately abandon the third runway at Heathrow — this additional runway, and the industry that profits from it, are just further bad investment to accelerate the fossil fuel destruction of our planet.

FAA’s Refusal to Manage Airport Capacity

Satellite-based (aka, NextGen) technologies have been in use for decades, and at most airports they have enabled minimization of distance flown and fuel burned. In fact, at the very few airports where NextGen is failing, the problem is not the technologies: it is too many flights, and FAA’s lazy refusal to impose more restrictive airport flow rates.

If you spend any time studying today’s routes and flight profiles for U.S. commercial passenger flights (and it is REALLY easy to do, with FlightAware, FlightRadar24, and other websites that present FAA’s ATC data), you will see that all flights are already capable of and actually flying optimized routes: long, direct flights from origin airport to destination airport, with smooth and continuous climbouts and descents. But, for a small handful of airports, you will also see that ATC ends up creating long conga lines of low, slow and loud arrivals (the Long Island Arc of Doom is the classic example) … simply because there are too many flights arriving in too small a time window.

The root problem is the hub system, and FAA’s policy of enabling undisciplined hub scheduling by the dominant airline. FAA does this to maximize a theoretical number called ‘runway throughput’, and thus to help the airlines to maximize their profits. In simplest terms, a hub airline can tweak their profits upward a percentage point or two, if they can process say a dozen simultaneous arrivals, sorting the passengers quickly between gates, then send all those flights outbound at exactly the same moment.

Obviously, this is only theoretically possible. Because of limited runway capacity, each arrival and each departure needs roughly a one-minute window where the runway is theirs alone, so the scheduled ‘banks’ of a dozen ‘simultaneous arrivals’ and ‘simultaneous departures’ get spread out over two 12-20 minute windows. To safely handle the arrival banks, ATC has to level off the arrivals and extend the arrival pattern to long final legs, spacing the flights at roughly one-minute intervals; to process the departure banks, ATC issues immediate turns on departure (with terrible impacts in places like Phoenix), so that takeoff clearances can be issued in rapid succession.

The reality that FAA and Bill Shuster refuse to accept is this: runway capacity is limited, and we can pretend to be creating new technological solutions, but so long as there are only so many arrivals that a key hub airport can handle per hour, it is folly for FAA to let hub airlines schedule in excess. It only guarantees delays, which then cascade into other airports that otherwise would never see delays. Also, it is important to note that hourly flow rates do not address the problem. Delays happen every time, when just two arrivals aim to use one runway at the same minute. So, if FAA is to work with the airlines to design delay-free arrivals, the schedule needs to look at small time increments, even how many arrivals every 5-minutes. Fortunately, this finer data granularity is easily studied with todays digital processing capabilities.

The solution is obvious: we need Congress to change the laws, so as to disincentivize excessive hub scheduling; and, we need FAA to aggressively restrict airport flow rates at key delay-plagued hub airports, so that the conga lines never need to happen.

An Example: Seattle Arrivals

Here’s an example of what happens at an airport, when just one more flight creates enough traffic, to necessitate ATC stretching the arrival pattern. Seattle is a great example, because it is a major hub airport but [KSEA] is far from other major airports, thus flight patterns are not made more complicated by airport proximity issues. The dominant airline is Alaska (including its feeder, Horizon), but Delta began aggressive hub growth in 2012. The airport has triple-parallel north-south runways; a south flow is by far the dominant airport flow configuration. Whenever ATC has enough arrivals to reduce spacing to less than two minutes apart, the arrivals are extended downwind, turning base abeam Ballard (12nm), abeam Northgate Mall (14nm), abeam Edmonds (20nm), or even further north (see this graphic that shows distances on final from the runway approach ends).

The scrollable PDF below has sample arrivals on December 29th, with altitudes added to the screencaps, to illustrate level-offs and descent profiles. Five sample arrivals are included:

  • Horizon #2052 vs Horizon #2162 vs Horizon #2405: all are Dash-8s, from KPDX. Horizon #2052 has no traffic and is able to use the preferred noise abatement arrival route over Elliott Bay; the other two flights both have to extend to well north of Green Lake, including a long level-off at 4,000ft.
  • Alaska #449 vs Alaska #479: both are from KLAX. Alaska #449 has no traffic and is able to use the preferred noise abatement arrival route over Elliott Bay; Alaska #479 has to extend to well north of Green Lake, including a long level-off at 3,800ft, starting to the west of Alki Point.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.


UPDATE, 01/17/2017 — further details and graphic added, re distances on final for KSEA south flow.

[KSMO]: No Runway Protection Zones, in Stark Contrast with Other Airports

kuao-201205-rpz-rwy-17-on-satview-w-dimensions-showing-trees-later-removed

The green trapezoid delineates an RPZ at the north end of the Aurora Airport, near Portland, OR. This RPZ, similar in size to what is needed to accommodate charter jets at Santa Monica, measures 500ft by 1010ft by 1700ft long. As is the case nearly everywhere, all obstructions were removed from this RPZ: there are no structures within the trapezoid, and the lines of trees have all since been removed (not even stumps are allowed… they are considered too dangerous).

A Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) is a trapezoidal space, positioned at the ends of all runways, designed to create a safety buffer for when aircraft fail to stay on the runway. Santa Monica has no meaningful RPZs. In fact, despite lots of searching, I have not been able to find any other U.S. airport with hundreds of homes standing inside the RPZ. The vast majority of U.S. airports have ZERO homes standing inside the RPZs.

This graphic illustrates where the Santa Monica RPZs would be, if FAA applied its safety standards there:

ksmo-20161223-rpzs-rwys-3-21-v2-labels-added

In contrast with the RPZ at KUAO, these safety areas at Santa Monica have hundreds of houses. (click on image for larger view)

Nationally, FAA has generally done a good job on RPZs; they have defined the dimensions, and they have firmly and consistently guided airport authorities to comply with these design standards that are needed to protect pilots, paying passengers and airport neighbors. FAA has thus secured safety control at essentially all airports, but NOT at Santa Monica. There, a close inspection of the RPZs shows approximately 270 homes exist in the Santa Monica RPZs that are frankly nonexistent. Here are larger images:ksmo-20161223-500x1000x1700l-rpz-sw-of-rwys-3-21 ksmo-20161223-500x1000x1700l-rpz-ne-of-rwys-3-21Nice homes, in a beautiful area with the finest weather, yet these people endure air pollution, noise pollution, and the constant fear of an off-airport crash. This makes no sense, and it does not have to be this way.

How Does Santa Monica Compare With Other Airports?

The PDF below presents a compilation of satellite views, comparing airport RPZs for Santa Monica with thirteen other airports in five western states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada). Each of the airports selected for comparison is noted for heavy use by air charters and private bizjets. Two especially notable conclusions from this analysis are:

  1. homes are virtually never allowed to stand within RPZs, as it is just too dangerous. So, why hasn’t FAA either bought out the homes in the Santa Monica RPZs or, far more pragmatically, simply shut down jet operations there?
  2. if FAA shut down jets at Santa Monica, the capacity to absorb them at larger and safer airports in nearby Van Nuys [KVNY] and Burbank [KBUR] is enormous. As is typical throughout the U.S., both of these airports were built to accommodate traffic levels that have since declined by half.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

[KORD]: Safety is Losing Out with the O’Hare Modernization Plan

One week ago, United 441 departed Orlando [KMCO] late in the day on a scheduled trip to O’Hare [KORD]. The flight history was normal up until the last moment, when the Boeing 757 slid off the edge of the runway and ended up in the mud at 12:53AM. FlightAware shows the flight made it to the gate two hours later.

It turns out, the flight was cleared to land on Runway 4L at a time when runway traction was reduced (after hours of light snow and mist) and the winds were poorly aligned with the runway (nominally a 70-degree crosswind per this official weather: METAR KORD 180651Z 33017G25KT 1SM R10L/P6000FT -SN BR BKN017 OVC043 M08/M11 A2994 RMK AO2 PK WND 33029/0618).

A group in the Chicago area, FAiR.org, issued this press release, making some very credible points. It appears that, in the mad rush to spend billions replacing the O’Hare runway system with a gazillion east-west runways, the busiest commercial airport in the world is losing its capacity to offer runways aligned with the wind, which are needed most during poor weather. The multi-parallel runways, and the NextGen reliance on automation (in the tower, and on the flight deck), are increasing runway throughput but decreasing safety margins.

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

And what is driving all of this? The desire to be the world’s number one airport, in terms of operations per year. For a few years, Atlanta [KATL] took that title away from O’Hare. Atlanta operates using a set of five parallel east-west runways. Atlanta is Delta’s superHub, and an enormous fraction (well over half?) of arriving passengers never leave the airport… they sit and wait enjoying the comfortable seatpitch on the same plane, or they walk to another gate and depart on a different flight.

FAA is collaborating with the airlines with the same business plan at O’Hare, which is a superHub for both United and American. The safety consequences are not insignificant, but there are environmental impacts, too. Here’s two serious environmental problems with these superHubs:

  1. when a huge portion of arriving passengers are using the airport only as a connecting point, the number of flights in and out of the airport each day far surpasses what is needed to serve the actual community. So, you end up with double, triple, or more flights per hour as are needed. Under NextGen, some neighborhoods like Bensenville are inundated with nonstop noise related to the superHub airport.
  2. the carbon footprint for each passenger is greatly increased. Essentially, every time a passenger connects at a superHub not on the direct route between origin and destination, it increases miles travelled. It is quite common in the U.S. for airlines to offer discounted airfares to fill seats, so they offer itineraries that add 20% or more to the miles travelled. This translates to that passenger generating a proportional increase in fuel consuming to carry their butt/baggage to their destination. More time, more hassle, more CO2, but too many of us are conditioned to ignore that because we ‘stole a great deal’, saving $20 when we clicked the buy button.

Why They are so Upset in Malverne and Under the L.I. ‘Arc of Doom’

Below are two scrollable PDF plots, one for KJFK Runway 4L departures impacting Malvern, and the other for KJFK Runway 22L arrivals using the infamous low-altitude ‘Arc of Doom’. Both plots were extracted from the recent noise study report done for FAA, by ESA, posted online at the airport authority PANYNJ website (report referenced in this article). Be sure to expand the view to see the finely detailed color-dots for these routes.

Click on the images below for a scrollable view; click here for a downloadable copy of the first PDF (Departures Runway 4L) and here for a downloadable copy of the second PDF (Arrivals Runway 22L) .

Generally speaking, repetitive noise impacts are more problematic the closer the flights are to the ground, but impacts tend to abate to a tolerable level at or above 8,000 feet altitude (blue dots on the Departure PDF, above).

Note also the extraordinary added distances being flown for these arrivals (see the light gray dots, at or above 6,000 altitude). Anyone who has been a passenger on a flight to KJFK has experienced the interminable arrival path that chugs along at low altitudes. This added work by ATC is created by too many flights, in too small an arrival window, forcing controllers to over-control the flights. The simplest solution, to reduce delays and noise and air pollutants, and to optimize efficiency, is for FAA to start managing capacity: setting and enforcing much lower hourly arrival rates and departure rates.

And What are PANYNJ Authorities Doing About It?

After years of complaints, Part 150 Studies were ordered for KJFK and KLGA. This formal process is designed to create an enormous volume of documents, many of which are almost indecipherable, to feed the illusion that citizens have an opportunity to aid in a decision-making process. In truth, it is all only for show; there is no meaningful or effective citizen involvement.

Here’s a challenge: go to this website (PANYNJ’s official webpage for the KJFK Part 150 Study) and spend a few minutes reading it and intuitively navigating. Try to learn from it, and see what valuable info/data you can find. More likely than not you will quickly leave your exploration, because PANYNJ, FAA and their well-paid pro-aviation consultant have created such an incredible volume of technobabble, and presented it in such a bizarre layout, that only the most obsessive individuals will press onward past the many click-deadends and long download times. I located some documents and spent well over an hour downloading the October 2016 ‘Draft Noise Exposure Map (NEM) Report’; 13 PDF files, measuring 1,349 pages (149Mb) total. Just finding and copying the documents is a substantial effort, and then to read all those pages? Do they really expect the average concerned citizen to do this much work??? Of course not.

If you liked that challenge, do it again at this website (same Part 150 page design, this time for KLGA!).

This appears to be what has evolved. Whether it is for a small and nearly dead airport in MN, AR, or wherever) or a huge chunk of airspace such as the LA Basin or the NYC area, FAA has evolved the public participation process (a requirement dating back to even before the 1946 Administrative Procedures Act) to make sure the average citizen is blown away with so much documentation (and much of it superfluous) that they simply give up even trying.


UPDATE, 11/25/2016: — A recent email by a resident with Plane Sense 4 LI points out repetitive noise impacts on Malverne, caused by approaches to LaGuardia. Click here to view an archived copy.

Further Evidence of the Decline in U.S. Air Traffic Activity Levels: 1990-2015 Data for 34 Select TRACONs

A common piece of disinformation repeated ad nauseam by pro-aviation lobbyists and the mainstream media is the idea that air traffic is incredibly busy today. It is not. In fact, it is severely depressed from levels that peaked nearly two decades ago. Other aiREFORM presentations have looked at this fact for various airport groups; this Post offers data about the collection of ’34 Select TRACONs’, where radar controllers handle the traffic within 40-miles give-or-take of all the major airports (and other airports normally within that geographical area).

The earlier presentations include:

All of the above links go to data about towers, while the data below is about TRACONs. Total commercial operations for 2015 for the ’34 Select TRACONs’ are down 25% from peak year, on average. That’s 25% fewer takeoffs, 25% fewer landings, and approximately 25% less ATC workload at the U.S. airports that handle nearly all commercial passenger flights.

Notes on methodology and interpretations for this TRACON presentation follow the scrollable/downloadable PDF.

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

Notes:

  1. data compiled from FAA’s ATADS/OPSNET online data portal.
  2. this dataset looks at ’34 select TRACONs’; the list of TRACONs is noted at the top of page one, and the name/location is listed within the data table.
  3. two key columns are ‘TOTAL OPS’ and ‘IFR COMM (AC & AT)’. The first, ‘TOTAL OPS’, includes all aircraft handled by the radar controllers, of all types (IFR, VFR, overflights). The second, ‘IFR COMM (AC & AT)’, combines ‘Air Carrier’ and ‘Air Taxi’ counts into a total ‘commercial flight’ count. Historically, FAA has obscured operational data by setting arbitrary aircraft sizes and calling larger commercial flights ‘air carriers’ and smaller commercial passenger flights ‘air taxis’.
  4. for each of the ’34 Select TRACONs’, the data is laid out in chronological order, and the peak year values for the two key columns (see note 3) are highlighted with red text and yellow background. Some data sets start much later than 1990; these cases are always due to new ATC facilities coming online, often replacing older TRACONs, but may also represent massive TRACON consolidations such as SoCal, NorCal, Potomac, etc. BTW, when multiple smaller/slower TRACONs consolidate, the new larger facility’s total operational count is used to define the pay level; thus, the controllers have often seen huge pay raises, post-consolidation.
  5. in cases such as MCO and MEM, the count drops drastically in the last year: these appear to be due to TRACON consolidation, also.
  6. the column just after ‘TOTAL OPS’ shows annual change; i.e., the percentage change (increase or decrease) for each year vs the previous year. Look especially at the data for CVG, PIT, and T75 (the TRACON for the STL area); these three airports (and the TRACONs that serve them) were decimated when airlines chose to close major hubs. Look also at CLE, D21 (the TRACON for DTW), RDU and S56 (for the SLC area). These are the next wave of ‘ghost-TRACONs’ caused by airline hub abandonment. One other point to ponder: when a hub is closed or abandoned, the industry is not scaling down but relocating. Thus, today, we have an enormous concentration away from abandoned hubs and into the remaining main ‘superHubs’, where noise impacts are going through the roof. And the problem is exacerbated by NextGen implementations that terminate past noise abatement practices. In terms of impacts, the biggest problem airports today are: ATL, BOS, BWI, CLT, DCA, JFK, LAX, LGA, ORD, PHX, SEA, and SFO.
  7. the far right column shows percentage of total operations that are commercial (air carrier and/or air taxi). Over time, with GA (general aviation) fading, and with FAA policies to press non-commercial flights away from the OEP-35 airports, this figure has tended to grow, and now edges toward 100% at today’s biggest superHubs.
  8. a main takeaway of all this data: DO NOT be fooled by the drumbeat of propaganda about congestion, crowded airspace, claims that controllers still use 1940s technologies, etc. It is all just propaganda, and it is coordinated – a collaborative effort by FAA, A4A and other lobbyists, and the airlines and other industry players. It is stated ad nauseam with a goal: to dupe the Public and Congress into the latest cycle of massive ‘transformative’ spending.

‘Sitt on itt’, Joe!

Crain’s New York Business recently published an Op-Ed by Joe Sitt, Chairman of the Global Gateway Alliance (GGA). The Op-Ed offers the predictable slanted view coming from a lobbyist for airport expansion and non-regulation: essentially, GGA’s position is that all three major NYC airports (KLGA, KJFK, KEWR) should be expanded further to remove capacity restrictions that diminish profits, especially in the hotel/tourism industry. Ironically, while the streets and neighborhoods of NYC are perhaps the most congested in the nation, Sitt and GGA complain about airport congestion and want to increase passenger counts … which clearly will further congest the streets and neighborhoods of New York City. It seems that money rules (and people suffer) in too many parts of this nation.

A PDF copy of the Crain’s Op-Ed is provided below, complete with an aiREFORM footnoted rebuttal of Mr. Sitt’s statements. Further down in this Post, the footnotes are expanded, to include relevant links and graphics.

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

  1. Candidates are known to say all sorts of crazy stuff when campaigning. they are also known to always speak positively about creating jobs. During the 2016 campaign season, infrastructure was pushed as a palatable way to create jobs and keep money within our borders. More often than not, though, whenever large sums were proposed for infrastructure (such as this $1 trillion figure) there was little if any reference to airports and aviation. Why not?
    KJMR.20110419scp.. 'Notice to the Citizens of Kanabec County' (full page ad, posted at Scribd by FreedomFoundationMN)

    (click on image to see the in-depth Post about Mora’s new crosswind runway… including maps, pictures, studies, articles, etc.)

    Because aviation is the one area of infrastructure that actually has a very rich revenue base, in the tens of billions in taxes/fees collected (with the majority paid on each leg flown by each airline passenger); indeed, this slush fund is so deep, DoT and FAA are pushing construction of unneeded runways at the most remote locations (see for example the Post about the new crosswind runway at Mora, MN, built in a wetland used by migratory waterfowl!). And, it gets worse: FAA funds and eminent domain were used to acquire lands for this runway.

  2. Much has been written about the waste and cronyism behind public-private partnerships. Likewise, it is worth noting that ‘private investments from tax incentives’ are essentially a cost-shift, putting the cost burden onto others (while the corporations get their projects and the elected officials get campaign funds and future consulting gigs). In other words, the ‘tax incentive’ aspect of these deals all too commonly reduces down to elected officials saying; “…well, Mr. CEO, your corporation will not have to pay these taxes – that’s our incentive to YOU – and, instead, we’ll just collect these taxes from everyone else … the regular Joe’s who are not part of this deal. Cheers!!”
  3. The delays at these three airports (KEWR, KJFK, and KLGA) will not be resolved by so-called ‘modernizing ATC’. Sitt and others need to demand that FAA actually ‘manage’ the capacity at the most congested airports. Key solutions would include:
    • impose strict (and much lower) limits on operations per hour. Set these rates low enough and, even in the crappiest weather, you will NEVER see JFK or LaGuardia or Newark backing up. You would also eliminate the enormous loops commonly flown, such as the infamous JFK ‘Arc of Doom’. And, the unseen enroute delays at cruise altitude (typically 30-60 flight minutes prior to landing) would also be substantially reduced.
    • disincentivize indirect two-leg (and even longer, less direct) flights, by setting fees appropriately. For example, set passenger fees directly proportional to direct distance flown from origin to hub stopover (to other hub stopovers) to destination. If a direct flight is 1,000 miles but Airline X sells an itinerary that is 2,000 miles, let the passenger and/or airline pay twice the fees for a direct flight.
    • while the Arctic melts (IN MID-NOVEMBER!) it sure would be appropriate to disincentivize fossil fuel consumption. Simplest solution: impose a steep carbon tax, focused initially on the aviation sector.
    • Some have offered yet another brilliant disincentivizing proposal: let air passengers fly their first flight in a calendar year with a small fee (or even zero fees), but step up fees for subsequent trips. For example, a 10% fee on the first trip could become 20% on the second and third trips, and 30% on all additional trips.
  4. Sitt (and GGA) want the NYC airports to build more runways, like they now plan to do at London’s Heathrow. The problem at Heathrow is that the airport is the top hub for through-passengers between North America and Europe. This third runway does not serve the local residents as much as it serves the airlines seeking to ratchet up profits at Heathrow, with the massive through-passenger processing done under the hub concept. A third Heathrow runway will ratchet the local economy minimally upward, but will maximally diminish health quality of life (in terms of noise, congestion, and reduced air quality) for hundreds of thousands of residents. The exact same scenario is happening in the NYC area: FAA is aiding profit-seeking airlines to abandon all environmental regulation (i.e., decades-old noise abatement procedures) to increase ‘hub throughput’ and thus slightly increase corporate profits.
  5. No, what REALLY intensifies the problem of delays cascading out of the NYC airports is that FAA and the airlines are simply scheduling too many flights into too little time each day. The current scheduled traffic levels, all aimed at aiding airline profits via hubbing (accommodating through-passengers who never even leave the airport!) guarantees delays every day. This is a no-brainer. If you or I were trying to manage a congested road area, we would figure out how to REDUCE vehicles, not INCREASE vehicles. But, in this case, as demonstrated by Sitt, the pursuit of profits makes us blind to pragmatism.
  6. The Partnership for New York City study is not only an extremely biased joke, it also contains substantially false data. A table within (here’s a link to an archived copy; see Figure 1 at page 10 of the 37-page PDF file) cites FAA as the source for figures showing annual growth in airport operations at the three main NYC airports. The data is false; the real data, available online at FAA’s ATADS-OPSNET database, proves the P4NYC report grossly exaggerated annual operations. According to the P4NYC report, which was done in February 2009, annual totals peaked in 2007 at 1.45 million operations; but, ATADS shows the true figure was 1.30 million. Furthermore, FAA’s ATADS shows this count declining, with the latest figure (1.23 million, in 2015) down 5% from the peak in 2007.
  7. This line gets the ‘BullSitt Award’. Here, Sitt is citing the same-old false argument, that today’s controllers are burdened with equipment from the 1940’s. This is incredible disinformation. The fact is, the radar system has advanced through a series of improvements, in basic technology (vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits to microprocessors and massive data storage/manipulation capacities), in regulations imposed by FAA (requiring transponders, defining airspace boundaries, requiring sophisticated avionics systems for collision avoidance and navigation, etc.), and in FAA’s development of GPS routes (WAY BACK IN THE MID-1990’s!). At the same time, though, the use of this blatantly false argument strongly suggests how P4NYC is collaborating with FAA, Airlines for America, and other players to sell the fraud that is NextGen.