A Gatwick Missed Approach Reveals Why the Proposed U.S. ATC Privatization is a Big Fail

Summer is upon us, and Yanks love to fly on distant vacations, oblivious to the enormous carbon cost associated with that privilege. Shall we take a quick trip to Europe? Maybe lunch in London and zip back to LA for dinner?

We could fly through Gatwick. Or, maybe, let’s not. A recent tweet, with a very telling graphic, suggests Gatwick is a bad idea:

EasyJet 8222, from Valencia to Gatwick on 6/9/2017. Weather was not the issue: it was near perfect that day. On the first pass, the flight went around after descending to approx. 900-ft. This missed approach appears to have been caused solely by NATS’ refusal to properly manage capacity; i.e., too many arrivals in too small a time window. (click on image to view source Tweet)

It turns out, if you study the arrivals to Gatwick, you learn an awful lot, including:

  1. that lots of privatization has happened in the UK, both to the ATC system, and to the airports … and it is broadly failing to deliver promised ‘benefits’ used to sell the privatization scheme;
  2. that the UK ATC system, NATS, is grossly inefficient on Gatwick arrivals, even 25-years after it was privatized in 1992;
  3. that FAA’s NextGen and Europe’s SESAR (the satellite-based ATC automation systems being oversold on both sides of the Atlantic) are both very similar, in how they intensify impacts while accommodating airline profits.

Here’s a PDF compilation of the ten arrivals to Gatwick, preceding the eventual landing of EasyJet 8222. The inefficiencies are astounding. Notice that for all flights, the bulk of the trip is very direct, but the compression for landing at Gatwick is being managed by holding stacks and other arrival delays, all controlled by ATC. This is precisely the same pattern we see in the U.S. At the key hub airports, where FAA refuses to manage capacity while accommodating airline desires to schedule far too many flights, FAA imposes both enroute delays and lots of delay turns to arrivals. This is the case at all the worst NextGen-impacted airports: Boston [KBOS], LaGuardia [KLGA], Kennedy [KJFK],  Baltimore-Washington [KBWI], Reagan-National [KDCA], Charlotte [KCLT], Chicago O’Hare [KORD], Phoenix [KPHX], Seattle [KSEA], and San Francisco [KSFO].

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

Why is Gatwick Such an Inefficient Mess?

Gatwick [EGKK] is the second-busiest commercial passenger airport in the UK, after London Heathrow [EGLL]. Both of these airports are infamous for the enormous noise and air pollutant impacts they place upon residential communities – not just near the runways, but far away as well. Just like with FAA’s NextGen, arrivals are dumped low, slow, and loud, and circuitous delay patterns (like the Arc of Doom) are flown, maximizing impacts.

A key feature of Gatwick is that, although it has two parallel runways, a local environmental agreement disallows use of both runways at the same time; i.e., the main runway (08R/26L) is to be used alone, and the backup runway (08L/26R) is only to be used when the main runway is out of service (for maintenance, etc.).

So, with Gatwick, we have a classic example of limited runway capacity but no thoughtful constraints to ensure profit-seeking airlines do not schedule too many flights. And, every one of these arrival delays stands a high probability of triggering delays on all subsequent flights using the delayed aircraft, for the remainder of the day. In other words, if NATS would address the Gatwick arrival compression issue, they would make huge progress in reducing flight delays across the UK.

What Causes Missed Approaches & Go-Arounds, and are They Problematic?

In a well-managed air traffic world, missed approaches and go-arounds are very rare. Flight crews and ATC both hate go-arounds, as they are a LOT more work. And, they can be dangerous; i.e., in a system built around repetitive and predictable processes, sudden changes inject a lot of risk.

These should not be happening as often as they do for Gatwick. They would not happen there, too, if NATS would impose restrictions against excessive flight scheduling.

Will the U.S. ATC Privatization Proposal Do Better?

Probably not. Given what we have seen so far, in FAA’s fraudulent sales pitches, the botched implementation, and the growing and unresolved impacts, etc., there is a near absolute certainty that privatization of U.S. ATC would be an unmitigated disaster. No efficiency improvements. No cost savings. Reduced transparency. No accountability. Just one more sell-out to industry money, to enable the few airlines and others to do whatever the hell they want.

Just say ‘NO!’ to ATC Privatization: this is Corporatocracy run amok.

FAA Forms Workgroups to solve their ‘People Problems’

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

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

Form workgroups.

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

MHFC: The 8PM Arrivals to Boston were ‘Quite an Airshow’ on May 24th

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.

A FlightAware screencap, showing a gaggle of arrivals to KBOS; flight tags added by aiREFORM (click on image to view original Facebook post)

This Analysis looks at a series of arrivals to Logan [KBOS], the commercial hub airport in Boston. A Milton resident had posted the above image at Save Milton Skies on Facebook, so aiREFORM went to FlightAware and compiled a collection of screen captures for this unusually messed up arrival flow. The images are presented in a scrollable PDF.

There are 16 arrivals in 27 minutes; that equates to 9 arrivals per 15-minutes, or an average spacing of 1.7-minutes between flights. This is a rate that should be easily achieved, even if all flights were being routed to a single runway. All arrivals (except one) landed on Runway 4L; the one exception was a Boeing 787-900 arriving from London, that apparently needed a longer runway. Runway 4R was unavailable – NOTAM’d closed for a month of maintenance work.

Between this and other MHFC examples, and the many lawsuits against FAA precipitated by NextGen implementation, sometimes it feels as though FAA is intentionally doing a poor job. If FAA fails enough, do they increase the likelihood of Shuster pushing through legislation that takes ATC out of FAA and makes it a private corporate entity? Would ATC privatization actually reward FAA personnel, who would still collect the federal pensions they earned, but would also be able to operate with even more opacity and without Congressional oversight?

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

How can FAA prevent such inefficiencies?

  1. Spend more effort managing arrival flows, and implement lower arrival rates.
  2. Encourage airport authorities to impose airport fees that disincentivize hubbing.
  3. Pressure the airlines to schedule fewer flights and user larger seat capacities; the nostalgia value of 10-seaters to/from Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Hagerstown are not worth the environmental costs they help create.

Each of these proposals would improve both safety and efficiency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ai-RCHIVE] 1997-02: Sea-Tac International Airport Impact Mitigation Study, Initial Assessment & Recommendations (347p)

Take a close look at this impact study done more than two decades ago, which includes these opening paragraphs:

(click on image to view a downloadable copy of the report)

Twenty years later, how well have the Port of Seattle (POS) and local elected officials applied the content in this study, to protect and serve the local residents and taxpayers?

Is the proper BALANCE in place, so that the airport serves the local community rather than destroy it?

Is KSEA becoming yet one more case of an over-expanded airport creating benefits for airlines and the industry, at great costs in destroyed communities and lost quality of life?

KSEA: ‘Fight the Flight 101’ Community Forum, Tonight

One of the only major U.S. airports growing right now serves the Seattle area, Sea-Tac [KSEA]. While most other U.S. airports remain flat or in decline, Sea-Tac is growing simply because Delta Airlines chose to build up a new hub there in 2012. Time will show other Delta hubs (KSLC, KMSP, KDTW) will diminish to feed the excess of flights to KSEA, where areas even 20-miles from the runway are now getting far more noise and pollutant impact.

Here is the announcement by Quiet Skies Puget Sound, a group of impacted residents who have had enough and are coming together, activating to fix this mess at Sea-Tac, pressing elected officials to serve, and FAA and other authorities to become transparent and accountable:

(click on image to view event announcement and learn more)

And, here are two slides from the conclusion of the aiREFORM presentation, to be given tonight at this community forum:

The problem is a broken and corrupted culture at FAA, enabling abuses upon people by money-interests in the aviation industry. This is a widespread problem, extending far beyond Sea-Tac’s impact zone. The entire aiREFORM presentation will be posted online in the near future.

 

KDCA NextGen Impacts May Trigger Yet One More Legal Action Against FAA

FAA is presently being sued by groups across the nation, due to their botched NextGen implementation. It looks like another lawsuit may be initiated, seeking relief for residents in Bethesda, MD. See the Bethesda Magazine article (archived copy below, in a scrollable PDF).

Essentially, what is happening is FAA is tweaking upward the number of operations handled at Washington National Airport [KDCA], to enable four airlines (American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest) to schedule heavier arrival and departure pushes. To facilitate this, FAA got Congress to pass legislation in early 2012 that eliminated the requirement to do real environmental assessments (this is the infamous ‘CATEX’ issue; click here to see documentation of a CATEX example impacting residents near LaGuardia).

Using CATEX to approve and implement NextGen procedures has turned out to be a huge failure. The root failure is that FAA’s DNL noise metric does not capture the very real and damaging noise impacts caused by repetitive flights passing one after another at low altitudes, using automation to track the same narrow path. This narrow route concentration is very clearly indicated in the graphics, within the article below. The repetitive noises go on for days and even weeks on end; people suffer sleep loss and elevated blood pressure, and some may be going crazy, but their problems are all dismissed by FAA. Oddly, FAA insists that by averaging those weeks over the entire calendar year, no damages are done ‘on average’. This is sort of a variation of a bad strategy for abating pollution: “the solution to pollution is dilution.”

The graphics in this article appear to depict the pre-NextGen and post-NextGen departure tracks. Montgomery County is concerned about the intense concentration for north flow departures heading northeast to NYC and Boston, etc.; the NextGen RNAV departure begins a right turn over the RNAV fix named ALEEX (Cabin John Parkway and I-495), then passes DOGUE (roughly 2-miles NW of the Mormon Temple), inundating North Bethesda. Similarly, residents in the Fort Hunt neighborhoods of Virginia are impacted, because the new RNAV departure procedure in south flow turns west at lower altitudes, roughly two miles north of Mt. Vernon … instead of climbing another couple miles southbound over the Potomac River. Again, all to save the airlines a smidgeon of money, while shifting a heavier noise and pollutant cost onto previously peaceful residential communities. The people below are frustrated not just because the noise pattern persists for hours on end (and can repeat each day for weeks on end), but also because they are trying to squeeze accountability out of one of the most intransigent and insensitive federal bureaucracies ever to exist: today’s FAA.

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

The Larger Picture

On a national scale, FAA is facilitating hub concentration (see this aiReform Post). Each of the hub-growth airports is also not just seeing a larger number of flights, but the flights are serving a higher percentage of through-passengers, who never even leave the airport terminal. And, for each of these few growing hub airports, other airports are in sharp decline. So, as KDCA grows, there is a shift of flights away from Washington-Dulles [KIAD] and Baltimore-Washington [KBWI]; Dulles is now down 47% from peak traffic year (2005), and BWI is now down 23% from peak traffic year (2001). This is precisely the problem that is growing at a tiny few other major U.S. hub airports, such as Seattle [KSEA] (where Delta is rapidly expanding its schedule) and at both Kennedy [KJFK] and LaGuardia [KLGA] in the New York City area. The KSEA hub expansion is diminishing Portland [KPDX] (down 31% from peak traffic year 1997) and Salt Lake City [KSLC] (down 30% from peak traffic year 2005). In the NYC area, Southwest is expanding while gutting service at Islip [KISP] (down 48% from peak traffic year 2000) American expansion has all but eliminated the use of Pittsburgh [KPIT] as a hub (down 69% from peak traffic year 1997); Delta expansion has all but eliminated the use of Cincinnati [KCVG] as a major airline hub (down 73% from peak traffic year 2004).

NextGen route concentration, caused by autopilot use of RNAV routes, is a serious impact that FAA chooses to totally ignore. Think about it: wherever you live, chances are that any aircraft flying through is not noticeable so long as it is roughly 2-miles or more away from directly overhead. In the case of Bethesda, the pre-NextGen dispersal of departures meant each resident below was subjected to randomized and irregular noise events; but, post-NextGen, the noise events are concentrated and repetitive, like a Chinese dripping water torture.

An 1860 photograph of an actual water torture, used by prison authorities to drive Sing Sing prisoners insane. (source: The Burns Archive, via Wikipedia)

Of course, this picture reflects the attitudes and values of our nation in 1860. Today, we have technologies that can benefit us, enhancing quality of life … but only if we manage them intelligently.


See also:

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.