The Fraudulent ‘Greener Skies’ Salespitch at Seattle

A recent pair of articles by Dominic Gates, at the Seattle Times, draws attention once again to the collaborated fraud known as ‘Greener Skies’.

Fraud is not too strong a word. Both FAA and Port of Seattle (POS) knew that the Elliott Bay arrival route would not be usable, and would not deliver any improvements on efficiency or impacts, so long as the airport had more operations than the runways can handle. They knew, but they coyly avoided discussing this fact. Nor have they addressed this problem. Instead, both FAA and POS have pretended they can do nothing to stop the massive growth that has beset KSEA since 2012. The net result is a community burdened with growing costs – declined health, diminished quality of life, and destroyed environments (for wildlife as well as for people), all solely to accommodate excessive hub growth by both Alaska and Delta.

Here are some randomly chosen insights into the history of this fraud, including screencaps of various documents.

(1) KSEA Annual Operations Data: Let’s start by looking at FAA’s ATADS data, showing the official operations count per year, from 1991 through 2017. Peak year was 2000, and operations bottomed out in 2012. Delta announced a new hub in 2012 and, after a short lag to shift their airline resources, KSEA saw huge growth in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Growth slowed in 2017 but is on target to be approximately 6% this calendar year. Notice the two columns on the left, marked ‘AC’ and ‘AT’; AC is air carrier (larger commercial planes), while AT is air taxi (which FAA has formerly used to identify Horizon Q400’s and other smaller commercial planes). There is a distinct shift away from AT to AC, as noted by Gates in his recent articles, but that shift is not as significant as the fact that airline hubbing is causing huge increases in operations per hour, for the two largest airlines at KSEA. Notice also that, from 1998 onward, KSEA is basically a commercial-only airport, with less than 1% of operations flown by military or general aviation.

(2) 2018 operations prediction: based on monthly operations counts, using FAA ATADS data, 2018 is on target to reach approximately 439,400 operations. This is a 6% increase year-over-year, and a 42% increase from the bottom year 2012. In other words, since Delta announced their hub development at KSEA, both Alaska and Delta have ramped up annual operations so that the total operations per day averages 42% more than it did in 2012, just six years ago. That is an average annual growth rate of 7%, far exceeding population growth or economic growth in the Puget Sound area.

(3) An Earlier Prediction, the Part 150 study: this was completed in October 2013, though oddly it uses old historical operations data, only through 2008. See image below; the blue line shows the chosen forecast for total operations; the red line, added by aiREFORM, shows actual growth trends, keyed to FAA’s ATADS figures for 2012 and 2018.
Now, think about this: between the peak in 2000 and the bottom in 2012, did the Seattle economy and population tank? No. Did Puget Sound area per capita demand for air travel drop by 30%? No, not at all. And, between 2012 and 2018, has Puget Sound area population and economy seen growth anywhere near 42%, averaging 7% growth per year? Again, of course not, nowhere near that strong.

So, what is going on here? Why are the annual ops at KSEA growing so fast? The answer is simple: since 2012, two airlines (Delta and Alaska) have been feverishly adding capacity to route more and more passengers – and flights – through Sea-Tac. Both FAA and POS have the data that will show this reality, how a higher percentage of passengers ‘enplaned’ at KSEA are actually just pass-through-passengers, who never even leave the airport terminal. Both FAA and POS are careful to avoid releasing this data, because industry does not want citizens empowered with hard data. Operations and impacts are expanding way beyond population and economic metrics. This is solely to serve airline profit margins. If FAA and POS would start serving the people, too, we’d be better empowered to bring this injustice back to a reasonable balance.

(4) FAA Spin, promoting ‘Greener Skies’ in June 2012: here is a recent screencap (made on September 22) of an FAA webpage crowing over ‘great success’ with Greener Skies… the plan that cost millions to develop and promote, yet it was never implemented (now 6 years later).Notice an important fact: FAA first posted this in June 2012, and they actually updated the content in late August 2018. FAA is ignoring the important reality, that Greener Skies was never implemented. No mention, in FAA’s recent update, of the fact that FAA is not even using Greener Skies. Will anyone at FAA be held accountable for this disinformation failure? Of course not.

(5) The Greener Skies EA: signed off by Elizabeth Ray, on 10/31/2012, here is a screencap noting FAA’s conclusion of ‘no significant impacts’. Notice how the EA predicted a 30.7% increase in annual ops by 2023. Well, we are now way past that. We are on target for a 42% increase by the end of 2018; five years earlier than 2023, and we are already a third higher than the original long-term prediction. Also, understand this: this EA was not about creating ‘efficiencies’; this EA was aimed at removing procedures that protected people and the environment, to increase CAPACITY.Wow. Just, wow. Do we need any further evidence of how tone-deaf FAA is to the impacts caused by excessive hub development? Is there a better piece of evidence showing FAA’s regulatory capture?

(6) FAA Spin, One Week After Signing off the EA: here’s a screencap of how FAA again claimed ‘great success’ on Greener Skies, published in FAA’s ‘FY2012 Performance and Accountability Report’, on 11/9/2012, a week after the EA was signed off:There is zero evidence that FAA has achieved ANY of the claimed benefits. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence (especially looking at enroute delays at cruise altitudes on arrival streams, and at departure delays, and even at arrivals stuck waiting for a gate to become available) that efficiency has plummeted. And, of course, there is enormous evidence that people on the ground below are impacted immensely, by both arrivals and departures.

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

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

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

Here are a few links:

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

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

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

Read this, to Start Understanding the ‘Greener Skies’ Fraud

Click here to read an interesting article about the ‘Greener Skies’ program fraudulently pushed by FAA, Port of Seattle (POS), and industry, and approved by FAA in late 2012.

‘Greener Skies’ was pitched, but it actually never really happened. David Suomi (now FAA Regional Administrator) admitted as much when doing his 4/25/2017 spiel for the Port of Seattle Commissioners. Conspicuously, ‘Greener Skies’ was focused ONLY on west-side arrivals. Why? Because if FAA had tried to create similar concentrated arrival streams over Bellevue, the entire proposal would have been killed by the residents below.

‘Greener Skies’ was supposed to bring enormous impact reductions. The key design element was to flow more than half of all Sea-Tac arrivals in over Elliott Bay, miles from homes, thus with almost no noise impact. Are they doing that, nearly six years later? No, not at all, not even in light traffic, and not even on clear Fall days perfect for flying. Why are the Elliott Bay arrivals so rare? Because the air traffic controllers have to fit all arrivals together, into the final landing flow; i.e., they need to merge both the west flow (especially the HAWKZ arrivals over Vashon Island) and the east flow (the CHINNS downwinds coming up from the southeast entry post near Mt. Rainier, as well as the GLASR feed from the northeast entry post near Leavenworth). The ‘Greener Skies’ design was fatally flawed, by the simple fact it intentionally DID NOT try to create RNP procedures for all the arrivals on the east side. The net result is kind of like having the tires aligned on your car… but not all tires, just the left side.

A half-assed design that cannot produce the desired results, and is simply doomed to fail. That is ‘Greener Skies’.

 

Are the SAMP Open Houses Really Just ‘Propaganda Events’?

I attended a ‘Sustainable Airport Master Plan (SAMP) scoping Open House last night, for one of the fastest-growing commercial airports in the U.S.: Sea-Tac, serving the Seattle and Puget Sound [KSEA]. There is a lot to report, but even more, a lot to think about, especially this: what can I say to empower other impacted citizens so they can be as effective as possible when attending these events?

As a retired FAA employee (an air traffic control whistleblower, no less) who spent a full career working within the FAA culture and then embarked on a decade of research on how the FAA work culture has performed while implementing NextGen, I may have some insights to share. One of those insights is simply this: from what I saw at Highline Community College, on September 10th, these Port of Seattle (aka, POS) scoping Open Houses are not even a dog-and-pony-show; they are just occasions for industry players to check off a list pretending to engage citizens, while also spewing out their pro-aviation propaganda. And, just to be clear, this is not an aberration; this is par for the course, as it has been for at least a decade; at nearly all of our airports, when public forums related to environmental impacts and master plans and such are held, they have generally devolved into just a gamed process, a charade … which is why lots of people choose not to attend. [NOTE: they want more of us to not attend, which is itself the imperative defining why YOU MUST ATTEND, if you care about your home and health!]

What To Expect When You Attend

A common event design is to set up a signup area and feed the ‘signed-in guests’ into the next room, where they can sequentially (or randomly) view a series of whiteboards. Each whiteboard represents an element of the review process, such as ‘noise’ or ‘air quality’ or ‘water quality’. Now, ideally, each whiteboard actually displays some valuable information – perhaps a design, a satellite view, a table, a list of project elements, etc. Well, that is the ideal. At the POS Open House last night, more than half the whiteboards were, well, just empty white boards. Nada. Zilch. In fact, the only area where they had consistently replaced the blank whiteboards was at the front end: the first half dozen were a blatant effort to dupe us into thinking the Seattle economy and the Seattle population were ‘demanding’ the growth in air travel. The very first whiteboard had some words laying out this spiel, and included a list of prominent Seattle-area businesses, including Costco, PACCAR, Amazon, etc. So, we are supposed to start to see, ‘gee, if Sea-Tac does not expand, maybe these big companies will leave town’. (hint: they likely will not and in fact, if things decline and they do, most of us will applaud their riddance) Two whiteboards later was a very deceptive graph with a green line and a blue, showing population growth as well as airport passenger growth. More about that graph later in this Post.

Another thing you will notice is there are LOTS of smiley-faced people wearing event badges and standing in front of the display boards. As you talk to them and ask questions, you will start to establish that most of them are employed by the Port of Seattle, but that also, quite a few are either FAA or contractors. Everyone of these people owe their income (and eventual retirement) to this industry, and as such it is not surprising that they come across as ‘all for expansion and just plain unable to understand how bad the impacts are on residents under the new concentrated flight paths. I also noticed that, by 7:30pm (2-hours into the 3-hour event), there were practically no residents left, but maybe 30- or even 40+ badge-wearing staffers standing around in front of all the whiteboards.

I found it disturbing, trying to communicate with these people on a human-to-human level. They come across as machines, rigidly focused on the industry-serving goal, which in this case is to spend billions of dollars expanding Sea-Tac’s airport facilities, to serve the demand generated by two dominant airlines, Alaska and Delta. Ask any of these people a hard question and their pat answer is to remind you, they are only here tonight to help you formulate your question so that you can submit it to the ‘scoping process’. Well, that in itself is bullshit, and here is why. For each of these people (some would accurately note they are in fact parasites feeding off the power and money of the aviation-government complex), their first and foremost reason for getting paid to stand in front of the display boards and greet you is to ease your acceptance of the fact they are going to ram this expansion project onto you and your home. They are there to help you believe the distortions behind the expansions.

These staffers were sized up perfectly with this famous quote:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

This quote was by Upton Sinclair, back in the 1930s. Click here for a Post showing an example of how FAA, all the way to the top, could not understand an obvious controller safety error at a California airport … and know, too, these things happen surprisingly frequently.

One of Their Distortions is the So-Called ‘Demand’ Myth

OK, here is a copy of the graph mentioned earlier, at the front end of the area filled with whiteboards and staffers:

This is the demand graph POS displayed last night, although this is an online copy as displayed at a POS event in July. Interestingly, POS decided to remove the headline last night, perhaps because they know it is utterly false; just look at how passenger growth vastly outstrips population growth, with the green line CROSSING the blue line. So, although the headline was not displayed last night, nonetheless staffers were using this graphic and making comments, over and over again, to push the false perception that ‘demand’ at Sea-Tac is driven by Puget Sound area population growth. Such is not the case; AIRLINES DEFINE DEMAND, by scheduling in pursuit of higher profit margins.

You are supposed to believe that all of this Sea-Tac expansion is driven by market demand. This is false. The true demand is from the two major hub operators at Sea-Tac, Delta and Alaska. Each impacted citizen needs to understand the passenger airline business model. They make profits best when they route as many people as possible through the hub airports, where those people may never even leave the plane, or may exit one plane only to board another. The airport becomes a Grand Central Station for airline passengers, and the surrounding communities must bear an extremely intensified impact in added noise, added air pollutants, and overall diminished health and quality of life. This is what accounts for the bulk of the enormous growth at Sea-Tac since Delta announced a new business plan in 2012, with a new hub at Sea-Tac (operations grew 31% from 2012 to 2017, and have climbed 5.6% so far this calendar year). And, this is what is trashing lives under intensified and concentrated NextGen routes feeding in/out of KBOS, KDCA, KORD, KCLT, KSAN, KPHX, KSFO, and elsewhere.

Here’s another ponderous point on this graph, and something I asked to a few staffers last night (BTW, I never got a good answer): where did they get their population numbers? Using their numbers, for the 2017-2027 decade, the average annual growth is just 0.6%; umm, the entire U.S. averages closer to 1% annual population growth, and Seattle is bragged about (by people at POS, FAA, etc., no less!) as being a booming place (for population as well as economics). So, they created this graphic using data that does not come close to tracking the reality as measured right now. Indeed, Puget Sound Resource Council (PSRC) published a report ‘way back in August’ noting Puget Sound’s population is growing at a 1.5% annual rate. IMHO, the lack of diligence behind these graphics is shameful.

Frankly, if the Port of Seattle was sincere in defining this demand, they would do the hard work of accurately assessing precisely how many users of this airport are actually THROUGH-PASSENGERS, who fly in but then fly out, never even leaving the airport terminal. The best these connecting passengers will do to ‘boost’ the Puget Sound economy is waste away a few hours between flights, perhaps buying coffee or some fish and chips. Yet, because these two major airlines make substantial profits by offering these flight connections at Sea-Tac, there is much pressure on Port of Seattle (and FAA) to accommodate this airline demand. This is spun to us as ‘market demand’, which clearly it is not.

Let’s be clear: airline demand is not the same as market demand. The display boards referencing market demand are implicitly stating that you and I, as customers, define ‘demand’ for commercial aviation useage at Sea-Tac. We do not. The airlines define demand, and both the airport authority (POS) and the federal regulator (FAA) expend great effort to accommodate whatever air commerce asks for. Sadly, they do so while increasingly ignoring the real and growing impacts upon actual human lives.

Why is This Demand Myth Important?

It is extremely important, simply because the entire SAMP proposal is anchored on the idea their is real ‘demand’ creating a dire need to invest in these expansion proposals. Generally, where there is a desire to expand an airport (and, always, this expansion is simply to give more capacity to the dominant airline), there is a tendency for the data to be exaggerated to justify that investment. Thus, if and when any of us actually does the deeper research to see what FAA has forecast, we see an astonishing pattern of forecasts WAAYYYY over what history subsequently produces in real data. And, at events like the Open House last night, staffers are conveniently overlooking a shocking reality that they seem incapable of digesting: that, in the U.S., with the sole exception of a handful of airports where FAA and airport authorities are overly accommodating to enable the creation of ‘super-Hubs’ for near-monopoly airlines, operations have been flat and declining for decades.

The Demand Myth needs to be exposed and crushed. Read more at these earlier Posts:

What We Each Need to Do at These Open Houses

Yes, absolutely, you should submit comments (though you should also make your own copy or get POS to let you have a copy, so you have more tools to hold POS accountable with the comments you have provided). But, there is a lot more that can and should happen at each community event. Here are some suggestions:

  1. From the git-go, understand it is OK that you are not an expert, just an impacted citizen. As such, it is THEIR responsibility to help with the technical heavy-lifting.
  2. With the first note in mind, ask questions and DEMAND real answers. Then, ask harder questions. Follow through. Make these staffers serve you; after all, per NEPA, that is precisely what they are supposed to be doing at each such event, when they field your questions.
  3. With your questions, try altering your approach. For example, try to appeal to this aviation professional (the staffer there to talk with you) human-to-human; try to establish if they have the capacity to actually recognize the impacts their work is having upon you and your neighbors; try to see if they might possibly have the strength of character to speak up against the prevailing current within a culture that is biased toward commerce and against people.
  4. Think outside the box. For example, last night, it fit well to ask them if they agree that Sea-Tac is operating beyond its design capacity (they all felt it was not … tell that to those being delayed on arrivals, and those waiting for long periods after landing, needing a gate to open up). Ask them, would it help if Delta and Alaska voluntarily reduced their schedules by say 20% during certain peak hours? Ask them who has the authority to manage capacity at Sea-Tac … what can POS do, what can FAA do? Ask them, especially if they are a POS employee, have they ever advocated on behalf of impacted citizens, and will they serve the people (not just the airlines) by advocating for people in the future? Think national-scale and ask them, if Sea-Tac were to impose real capacity management, would these constraints really have an adverse impact on the entire national airspace system, or would they actually just nudge airlines like Delta and Alaska to increase schedules elsewhere, and not abuse Seattle with far too many flights?
  5. Always, ALWAYS, keep it clearly in your focus: the staffer you are speaking with works for you (in theory) and at that precious moment while you are chatting, you are the most powerful representative of humanity to assist him/her in learning their need to advocate for people first, ahead of industry players. Help them to see beyond the corrupted culture in which they are trapped solely for a paycheck.

‘We The People’ refuse to continue to be FAA’s Collateral Damage

The previous aiREFORM Post discussed two recent industry letters, sent to key U.S. Senators. The logo-saturated letters were sent by dozens of aviation industry coalition members. They pushed for a quick passage of FAA’s Reauthorization bill, and they also pushed Senators to ignore the many noise and pollution impact-related amendment proposals. The centerpiece of the aiREFORM Post was a ‘possible’ letter by the same coalition, suggesting what they would have written if they were temporarily honest, somewhat apologetic, and freed from their aviation greed. Check it out here.

At last week’s Sky Justice National Network teleconference, an activist from the New York City area made a great suggestion: we need to band together and present key Senators with OUR LETTER – a letter from all of us, pressing for no reauthorization passage until needed FAA reforms are added. Well, after some discussion by a handful of activists across the nation, the letter is finished. The plan is to gather as many signatories as possible – activist groups, individuals, even municipalities and local officials – and then send the letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

What’s In The Letter?

The letter is fairly short. It presents the NextGen impacts in the context of failures by both FAA and our elected officials. The letter lays out key facts about disinformation in the coalition letters, as well as FAA’s NextGen history. The letter directly requests that the U.S. Senate do their job by debating the NextGen impacts and compelling FAA to repair the damages they have done. Here are two excerpts from the letter:

“Congress authorized FAA’s NextGen program in 2003. Sadly, the NextGen implementation has proven to be a full-frontal attack on citizens and communities, solely to benefit airline profit-margins. Routes have been concentrated and lowered, forcing citizens to lose sleep and forget peace under nearly nonstop noise assaults. The noise diminishes mental health and civility, while the air pollutants destroy our cardiovascular health, especially for children and the elderly. This is oppressive and unjust.”
“FAA is using NextGen as a hammer to disempower people. Local communities need Congress to restore meaningful local control, so that airlines and airport authorities can no longer metastasize their hubs into airports that are ‘Too Big to Fly’, airports that are brutalizing the people below.”

When Will The Letter Be Published?

The actual letter will be fully publicized after it is mailed, which is planned to happen before the end of August. For now, it is important that we get the largest possible number of signatories. Those wanting to sign or learn more about the letter can contact Jana Goldenberg or Elaine Miller at Plane Sense 4 LI, using this email address:

Ps4longisland@gmail.com

A Letter They Would Never Send

There is a recent big push by industry players to get the U.S. Senate to hurriedly pass reauthorization legislation without needed environmental impact amendments. This push is reflected in two ‘coalition letters’, sent on July 26th and August 15th (click on the dates to view aiRchived copies).

Both letters are disingenuous and packed with disinformation. This is incredibly insulting to the thousands across this nation whose homes and health are being destroyed by NextGen, Wake Recat, OAPM, and other FAA programs. We are seeing our Democracy hijacked by slick collaborated propaganda. And, we are seeing our elected officials corrupted by their obsession with reelection funding; they express concerns to the little people, but their actions and their histories expose their true bipartisan loyalty is to corporate power. These elected officials are owned.

What if this ‘coalition’, these groups, dipped their cups in a koolaid bowl filled with temporary truth serum? Might their letter look like this?

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

Obviously, this is NOT the letter sent by A4A, NBAA, and other groups. No, this letter is what these groups should be writing, what they would now send to Senators McConnell and Schumer, if they cared to clean up their mess. But they don’t care about anything beyond industry profits to fatten their own annual benefits and bonuses.

Some are suggesting that we activists need to work together, send OUR LETTER to these Senators, and get them to serve OUR INTERESTS. Time to get to work.

Aviation growth ≠ Economic Growth

In the U.S., we have thousands of people being victimized by the diminished health and destroyed residential quality of life, under NextGen’s “pack’em tight and keep’em coming” automated flight routes. The airlines are getting richer and, this time of year, too many of us have to smell jetfuel if we dare to barbecue in the backyard.

If Canada was part of our NextGen program, Toronto (by far the busiest Canadian airport) would be their highest-impact area. Pearson Airport [CYYZ] is their biggest airline hub. One thing to understand, though, is NextGen is just a brandname, conspired by industry and FAA, and brandished all over the place to fool people into thinking it is something new. It is not. It is just a brandname. The real changes are happening worldwide, and are due to the widely homogenized digital systems that enable aircraft everywhere to be operated almost entirely using automation – both by pilots and air traffic control (ATC). Consequently, the impacts around Toronto are exactly like the impacts around Seattle, San Diego, Charlotte, Boston, and all the other major U.S. hubs: repetitive, low, slow and loud, often with turns incredibly close to the runway.

Here’s a letter to the editor worth archiving, from Toronto: (click here to view original)

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

Aviation growth ≠ Economic Growth

Aviation growth = Economic Growth – Community Impacts

Yup. The math is that simple. So long as costs are ignored, it looks like pure benefits, right?

People are talking about this one. Good letter.

One of the leading activists about NextGen sent me a note with her thoughts: 

“…I like the equations in that Toronto letter.
I don’t know if it is a conspiracy or negligence.  What they are doing now is the “benefit” part of a cost/benefit plan and analysis, completely ignoring all of the costs to individuals on the ground and communities.
The advertising, the spin, the propaganda, and the Pollyanna attempts to make it all seem good without also mentioning the negatives, the consequences, the price individuals and other industries, e.g. healthcare, pay for the airline industry’s proclaimed success is misleading.  It is hard to know if the twisted focus on the positive and the hiding of the negatives is conspiratorial or wishful thinking + ignorance….”

The ‘SAMP’ Oxymoron: There is NOTHING Sustainable about Commercial Aviation at SuperHubs

SAMP stands for ‘Sustainable Airport Master Plan’. It looks like someone at the Port of Seattle (POS) has decided it would be a fun joke to add the word ‘sustainable’; maybe they were bored, maybe they wanted to imply this master plan would show meaningful environmental stewardship, moderation so as to not over-consume, etc; or, maybe the Port of Seattle just wants to test and see how stupid we are.

Let’s be clear: there is nothing at all sustainable about commercial aviation. Even in a country as ‘advanced’ and ‘wealthy’ as the U.S., only a small fraction of people do anymore than one air trip per year. During each of our personal air trips, we are individually consuming more fossil fuels and at a higher rate of consumption than we do in any other civilized human activity (war and arson do not count, OK?). So, it is a sick joke for POS or anyone to try and brand a new product (their latest round of airport master plan documentation) as good for the environment. Frankly, it is way too much like FAA’s spin on NextGen: claiming that, by using precision routes and automated flights, they might reduce CO2 emissions … while carefully NOT stating that the reductions would only happen by letting the airlines turn lower and closer to the runways, increasing impacts under both departures and arrivals.

Some Background on POS & KSEA:

The Port of Seattle has been brutally destroying local quality of life, with a relentless push to over-expand their one airport property, Sea-Tac [KSEA]. People are suffering from sleep loss, polluted air, and intrusive noise under repetitive flight paths narrowed via NextGen’s reliance on autopilot navigation.

Shortly after the 2012 announcement by Delta Airlines, that they were creating a new hub at KSEA, takeoff and landing operations began to soar; in fact, Sea-Tac has seen the most rapid growth in the U.S., with annual total operations climbing 31% from 2013 to 2017. Many people are understandably upset, especially this time of year, when backyard gardening and other pleasant activities are, well, not just unpleasant but even unhealthy. There is something not too tasty about barbecuing burgers while smelling jet fuel and aviation exhaust.

People have been clamoring for a cap on operations at KSEA, and demanding a real effort to develop alternate airport facilities to serve the Puget Sound area. This idea especially applies to air cargo, in no small part because people are sick and tired of being woken up by multiple Asia-bound cargo 747s that take off between 1AM and 4AM pretty much every night. But, again, since Sea-Tac is POS’s only airport, they have a vested interest to stop all efforts to shift activities elsewhere. They do not want to lose any federal grants that flow each year from the AIPgravy train.

The Port of Seattle is like an invasive and noxious weed, but actually much worse; unfortunately, they cannot just be dispatched with an herbicide or shovel. They do not belong here, yet they have powers that define local quality of life. They are not held accountable. They parasitize in multiple ways: taking mandatory taxes from homeowners, grabbing land around the airport, and sucking the oxygen from the air so no other airports can possibly emerge to compete with Sea-Tac. This is a troubling reality in U.S. commercial aviation today: just like with banks, pharma, grocers, and all other industries, political forces are aiding intensive and very destructive concentration. We see very few airlines now, and the bulk of their route systems are funneled through about a dozen main hub airports in the entire nation.

POS’s Latest Propaganda Exercise

A SAMP presentation was given at Federal Way. Attending were Clare Gallagher (POS Public Affairs Director, Capital Projects Delivery), Arlyn Purcell (Aviation Director of Environment & Sustainability), and Ryan Calkins (a POS Commissioner). Word is that Commissioner Calkins did not stay, so it was Gallagher and Purcell doing the actual presentation. Here is an embed video.

Below is a copy of the 16-slide PDF presented by POS. It is loaded with spin, not least being on page three, where a chart shows the huge growth from 2013-2017, but the title states, “Sea-Tac growth tracks with regional growth.” Such bullshit. The chart shows clearly passenger numbers growing far faster than local population. BTW, the reason is simple: with both Alaska and Delta setting business models to maximize profits by flying more and more people through KSEA (not departing there, not arriving there… just using the airport as a short stopover), many more flights must be handled each hour. In other words, all the added noise and pollution are aimed at narrowly benefiting these two airlines.

Also, be sure to notice the figure on slide two, where POS states 69.4% of passengers start or end their flights at Sea-Tac. First off, this means even their own numbers show a substantial 30.6% of passengers only pass through. But, consider this, too. POS’s figures are almost certainly incorrect. With online ticketing, where each of us goes to a website and clicks away to set up our personal air trip, it is now possible for many more passengers to arrive on one airline and then depart an hour or two later on another airline. Online self-ticketing is the dominant method now, and such tickets will not reflect us as a pass-through; in fact, it these tickets show us as both a ‘destination’ (arriving passenger) and ‘origin’ (departing passenger). It is quite possible that, in 2017, anywhere from 40% to 50% or more of Sea-Tac passengers never even left the terminal.

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

Other Resources:

  • click here for Steve Edmiston’s ten questions submitted in writing (Steve was unable to attend, but the questions are outstanding … the sort of questions elected officials – including POS commissioners – are reliably failing to ask.).
  • click here for Sue Petersen’s submission, with five airnoise.io complaint samples.
  • click here for POS’s 7-page final draft notes for the May 30, 2018 SAMP presentation. It includes public comments/questions, with responses by the Port, many of which feel downright Orwellian.

Continue reading

Part 2: “It is like being broken up with on a Post-It note”

More details to ponder about FAA’s latest tantrum: their refusal to communicate with Marylanders because the good Governor has filed a legal challenge against FAA. Sheesh.

Washington Post followed up on the Baltimore Sun news story. (click here for the source article, click here for an aiRchived version) The piece was by Michael Laris. There is a common and consistent problem with articles by the mainstream media, including Washington Post. In the middle of this article, a paragraph implying NextGen benefits is inserted, but none of the alleged benefits are supported by any real data. That is to say, the suggestion of addressing congestion fails against the reality that total airport operations (takeoffs and landings) at the main passenger airline airports have actually declined 14% between 1989 and 2017; in other words, the only ‘congestion’ is accommodation of airlines who ‘demand’ that a select few airports become superHubs. (click here for a 3-page PDF analysis; the combined data showing the 14% decline is at the bottom of page 3) And, as for efficiency, the only ‘gains’ are potentially realized by subverting the environmental review process (e.g., liberally applying the CatEx) to impose highly impactful routes with turns lower and closer to airport runways.; in other words, FAA is orchestrating a wholesale dismissal of environmental concerns.

There’s another important detail to consider, about the Baltimore-Washington airport. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), Southwest is by far the dominant airline at KBWI, with nearly 69% of passengers. (click here for BTS website, click here for an aiRchived copy of the KBWI airport report) So, if FAA imposes changes that increase both impacts and airline profit margins, Southwest is the key player who could, in a very neighborly way, advocate on behalf of impacted residents. When is the CEO of Southwest Airlines going to stand up and protect community quality-of-life and health, by telling FAA to fix these new routes? If Southwest did this, they would stand to build even greater customer loyalty. That, coupled with their near-monopoly at KBWI (and dozens of other U.S. airports, BTW!), is always a good business move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What gives here?

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

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

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

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

The Dark Side of So-Called ‘Collaboration’

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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