[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.

An Example of a Serious Weather Delay … but Delays Can Also Happen by Scheduling ‘Too Many Arrivals’

A recent day with foggy weather in the Puget Sound area produced a few examples of weather-related delays. ksea-20161110at1009-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-data-wxdlasIn the example presented below, Jazz Air 8089, a Dash-8, departed Vancouver [CYVR] on a short 30-minute flight to SeaTac [KSEA]. The flight departed at 8:55am, just as the KSEA visibility was reducing to a half mile. The crew was turned toward the Olympic Peninsula and issued turns to delay their arrival.

Here is a screen-cap of the METAR weather sequence, reading from bottom to top; thin red boxes have been added, marking the departure time at CYVR and the arrival time at KSEA. The column in the middle is most critical, showing visibility deteriorating from 10-miles to a half-mile; the magenta text to the right, reading BKN001 and VV001 is also significant, indicating low clouds and fog obscuring the sky at 100′ above the surface.ksea-20161110-metar-0825am-to-1120am-low-wx-markedupThe flight altitudes and times at points on the JZA8089 route have been added to this enlarged map view of the delay portion of the flight, over the Olympic National Park:ksea-20161110at1009-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-analysis-of-dlas-over-olypennIn normal weather conditions, the flight is routine, even boring to both pilots and ATC. ksea-20161109at0929-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-dataksea-20161111at0950-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-dataksea-20161112at0915-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-dataTo the left are screen-caps for the same flight on days before and after… on 11/9, 11/11, and 11/12. In all cases, KSEA is in a South Flow, so the minor variations in these three flights are almost entirely due to other arrival traffic.

In an extreme case, if traffic volume is sufficiently large, ATC may need to issue a holding loop, or multiple turns to achieve even 20+ minutes of delay. Note on these screen-caps, the busiest day of the week for air travel (Friday) shows the most extreme excess turns to final; the slowest day of the travel week (Saturday) shows essentially no added delays.

One way that FAA fails to prevent excessive delays is by refusing to manage capacity. Especially at hub airports, arrival rates are set too high, so as not to restrict the airlines. In their NextGen studies, FAA has repeatedly referred to maximizing ‘runway throughput’. The problem, though, is that when arrival rates are set too high, it takes just one minor weather glitch to create a cascade of delays, one airplane after another, often for hours. In the worst cases, typical at LaGuardia Airport, cascaded delays can cause arrivals to finish well after midnight, even more than two hours beyond their schedule times. And these delays nearly ALWAYS result in continuous arrival streams, with repetitive noise patterns impacting residential neighborhoods, a problem being exacerbated under NextGen.

(All graphics & flight data from FlightAware)

When Viewed Through Cash-Colored Glasses, ‘Clouds Cause Delays’

Everyday, FAA creates a traffic report, then uses social media to report expected air traffic delays.

(click on image to view source tweet)

(click on image to view source tweet)

Cute little graphics are intuitive: the cloud image means delays related to cloud layers (here listing the DC area to NYC area), and the lightning image means delays related to thunderstorms (here listing all major hubs from Charlotte to Houston).

Mindlessly, we absorb this report and feel a bit more ‘aware’ of the system managed by FAA. But, if we are a bit more mindful, and actually THINK about what FAA tweets, we have to ask: are clouds really a valid reason for delays?

The answer is obviously NO. These delays are happening routinely, triggered only by clouds. Not severe weather … just puffy, calm, benign layers and pockets of water vapor. These delays continue to happen – and at the same few hub airports everyday – but it is not due to ‘clouds’; they happen because of unmanaged capacity. I.e., FAA continues to allow too many planes in time slots that are too short.

Take a look at the weather maps for this day. In the first image, clouds are white and precipitation is green. Note the existence of both clouds and precipitation in many other parts of the nation… yet, no delays are reported/expected at most locations. Again, the delays are all happening at a select few hub airports, where FAA refuses to impose needed capacity management. All FAA has to do is impose sufficiently reduced hourly flow rates, but FAA refuses. And the consequences are significant: flights are delayed, passengers lose billions of dollars worth of their time, and communities are inundated with excessive aviation noise and air pollution, all to accommodate more flights than are needed to serve each specific community.

(click on image to view current image at ClimateReanalyzer; select the 'Precipitation & Clouds' view)

(click on image to view current image at ClimateReanalyzer; select the ‘Precipitation & Clouds’ view)

(click on image to view current CONUS infrared image at NOAA.gov)

(click on image to view current CONUS infrared image at NOAA.gov)

Although it conflicts with Congress’ original intent, the fact is that FAA serves the airlines, not the people. FAA, beholden to industry profit-interests (of the final-four major U.S. airlines, and of manufacturers, too), refuses to manage airport capacity by imposing reasonable flow-rate restrictions. Instead, FAA collaborates with their industry partners (aka, ‘stakeholders’) and creates manipulative spin/propaganda, trying to sell us on NextGen spending that creates greater impacts while producing little benefits.

FAA works to feed more money to the same industry partners who hire FAA officials when they retire. Just like the rigged U.S. political campaigns, where the system is manipulated by the duopoly parties. We suffer increasing impacts from failures that will never go away until we demand overdue reforms.

Even the Queen is Distressed with Excessive Aviation Noise

Image

(click on image to view archived copy of the source article)

(click on image to view archived copy of the source article)

The proposed addition of a third parallel runway at Heathrow has been debated for decades. The proposal accommodates airlines, who have created artificial excess need for airline operations because they are using London as a hub in the profitable trans-Atlantic air transport business. The imbalance is obvious: corporations over people, profits over quality of life. Exactly as is happening in so many NextGen impact areas in the U.S.

Sadly, more and more people under the Heathrow flightpaths are being impacted. Indeed, this article notes that Her Majesty the Queen has acquired a sharp ear capable of discerning different aircraft types. She is known to comment ‘747’ or ‘Airbus’, as each overflight interrupts royal conversations at Windsor Castle.

A Rebuttal of JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes’ Recent Call for Faux-Modernization

(click on image to view original tweet)

(click on image to view original tweet)

Boston Business Journal has printed an opinion piece by the CEO of JetBlue, Robin Hayes. Very similar pieces have appeared in the past few months, offered by other airline CEOs and the lobbyist Airlines for America, all spreading the same unsubstantiated claims that ATC privatization and NextGen implementation are needed. It strongly appears that, this week, the rotation went to JetBlue, hence the piece. And, given the mainstream media’s consistent subservience to commerce, it comes as no surprise that Mr. Hayes’ opinion piece was eagerly accepted and passed on for public consumption.

Here is a PDF copy, with highlighted footnotes added by aiREFORM.com:

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

‘They Paved Paradise & Put Up a NextGen Route’

A pivotal song in the early environmental movement is Big Yellow Taxi, by Joni Mitchell.

Fresh in 1970, and still just as brilliant 46-yrs later. Turns out, the tune lends itself well to lyrics that point to the many failures of NextGen.
20150528.. Big NextGen Noise (lyrics)

Thank you, Joni Mitchell, for your great work and your Heart of Gold!

44-Years and Counting: FAA’s Gross Failure of the ‘Noise Control Act of 1972’

Check out the recent thought-provoking Posts by attorney Stephen Taber, blogged at Aviation and Airport Development News. Mr. Taber is a former FAA attorney who has been blogging since at least 2007. A closer look at his blog suggests he is a rare combination: an aviation lawyer who actually cares! Is it possible, that he cares about things that really matter these days …

  1. …the protection of the environment, and…
  2. …the empowerment of people so they are meaningfully engaged in making airport decisions?

I hope so. And, thanks for your web work, Mr. Taber!

(click on image to view latest Posts at 'Aviation & Airport Development News')

(click on image to view latest Posts at ‘Aviation & Airport Development News’)

Taber Law Group has been added as an aiREFORM link, in the category ‘Links – Environment/Aviation’. See the link list on the left margin of aiREFORM webpages.