Those Foxes Guarding the Aviation Henhouse: One Way to Hold them Accountable

Here is an excellent example of how to nudge accountability from those who work to implement programs like NextGen (or its European twin, SESAR).

Below is a scrollable PDF with a series of tweets. The author has taken screencaps of portions of the bio for an important UK aviation official, Andy Sinclair. Mr. Sinclair is Head of Airspace Strategy and Engagement at Gatwick Airport. The screencaps appear to be from Mr. Sinclair’s online bio. Each screencap is presented along with a comment or question that encourages critical thinking about Mr. Sinclair’s background and duties, as well as how both industry and regulator appear to be so tone-deaf to the terrible impacts they are imposing.

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

We should use this strategy more in the U.S. We can hold FAA officials and airport officials accountable, if we shine a bright light on who they are, what they say, and what they’ve done. Screencaps and comments are a very efficient way to do this. We need to clearly nudge these officials toward more transparency, more accountability, and actual MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT of community members who are being increasingly impacted.

Now, just to be fair, the above is only an example. In truth, Mr. Sinclair, a former UK ATC, may be a great guy, and I hope he is. He may be doing a bang up job in his post-ATC career, which has focused on airspace design and community relations, including the engagement of residents who are concerned about Gatwick [EGKK] aviation impacts. On the other hand, he may be a jerk, cashing in on his background, with a willingness to play a role in ‘pretending’ to engage people in problem-solving; I hope he is not, and assume for now that I will find no evidence online that he is this jerk.

Bottom Line: there is a culture of corruption, common in aviation. It is reasonable for impacted people to question not only new airspace procedures, but also to question the motives behind the officials who are paid well to serve. Whether they are serving the public, or serving only the industry, is increasingly unclear. So, let’s do our best to ensure they know: they serve ‘We, The People’ (not the airlines!).

“NextGen is a Catch-Phrase, Nothing More”

Social media can be a very powerful way to start to hold aviation officials accountable. For example, aviation noise activists are using Twitter and Facebook to discuss the impacts (and how to solve them), post images and data about flights, and report what they hear back from FAA, airport authorities, or elected officials.

One recent example is a very thorough report by Liz Burn. She called in a concern and eventually got a call back from Michael Carroll, at the Port of Seattle (POS). Here is an excerpt from her post:

(click on image to view source Facebook post)

As one who has been intensively studying NextGen for a few years now, I was very impressed that, at least for one brief moment, Mr. Carroll let down his guard and told the truth: NextGen is really just a catch-phrase, a brand-name, a label. It is also, frankly, a diversion.

The collaborating partners (FAA, A4A, airport authorities, airlines, and a few in Congress like Bill Shuster) are grossly over-selling NextGen, pitching the idea that it is loaded with new, whiz-bang features (though the bulk of the features are not new and actually existed before the 2003 start of the NextGen program!). These salespersons make lots of positive noise, all the while ignoring the many negatives and also taking our eyes away from what is really happening:

  1. NextGen is the abandonment of decades-old noise abatement agreements/procedures;
  2. NextGen is the enabling of airlines to further expand hub schedules at a handful of key cities … boosting airline profits, but at great cost to people below (and, by the way, the vast majority of routes in the U.S. offer little or no competition; i.e., a study of airline service for city-pairs shows most routes are monopoly or duopoly served);
  3. NextGen is the highly impactful concentration of routes into razor-thin lines, flown more precisely by using aircraft automation, to the point that those of us living under these new routes, lose sleep and even go crazy with the repetitive noise … one flight, then another, then another, on and on …; and,
  4. NextGen is the transition from manual to automation, for both air navigation and air traffic control: i.e., NextGen is REALLY all about doing away with human control, replacing it with computer control – both on the flight deck and in the control facilities. Both FAA and airlines hope that, with further NextGen implementation, the number of ‘monitoring’ controllers can be substantially reduced, and flight decks can seat just one ‘monitoring’ pilot (instead of two pilots).

Anyway, THANK YOU Michael Carroll for letting go of the ‘collaboration script’ for that one moment and confirming: NextGen is just an oversold brand-name.


See also:

Newsday’s Editorial Board is All Wrong on Privatizing ATC

In an editorial opinion, Newsday‘s Editorial Board is helping to push the illusion that privatizing ATC will help. They are all wrong.

Newsday is a daily paper on Long Island. They have been at the epicenter of impacts from two major U.S. airports: Kennedy [KJFK] and LaGuardia [KLGA]. Newsday has published plenty of citizen letters to the editor, expressing concerns about how FAA and NextGen are impacting their neighborhoods. Newsday reporters have also done a lot of groundwork, talking to people and writing up articles.

But, apparently, the top people who run the daily news show at Newsday are aligned with the money that buys ad space, so they tweak the news to help steer readers toward supporting bad ideas, like ATC privatization.

How far do they go to manipulate us? Well, here’s a screencap of two comments to a Facebook Post about this latest Newsday article:

(click on image to view source at Facebook)

Here’s an airchived copy of the Editorial Board opinion, with aiREFORM rebuttal footnotes:

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

Hubristic and Hypocritical?

The Av-Gov Spin Machine is hard at it again, this time led by Reuters:

Just days after Trump dumped the climate agreement, U.S. airlines and their lobby, Airlines for America (A4A), are telling us that they really care about CO2, climate change, and the impacts of their industry. We are to believe that a business model that sells time-savings by massively consuming fossil fuels can be environmentally responsible. The centerpiece of their ICAO-sourced plan is not to reduce consumption but to have passengers and shippers pay a fee that offsets aviation impacts with small environmental investments. Kinda like this: imagine that you and I have a company and we’ll be allowed to infinitely pollute the ocean, so long as we build a nice filtration system to clean a pond in West Podunk. If eyes were pointed at that pond, we’d look like heroes; but, when people see the full picture, we look like worthless scoundrels.

Oh, and this is an industry (and lobbyist) that crows everyday about one statistic or another showing continued market growth. So, really, how are they going to see any meaningful reduction in fossil fuel consumption, going forward? Also, this ‘we care about the environment’ spin was announced from Cancun, where industry officials had gathered from around the world. Let that sink in.


UPDATE, 6/8/2017: — To discourage excessive fossil fuel consumption for air cargo, business travel, and aviation tourism, the logical next step is to simply impose a steep carbon tax on all aviation fuels (and arguably, on the marine sector, too, thus covering ship tourism and marine cargo). Here’s a good analysis about the value of an aviation carbon tax, by two law professors in Western Australia: Airline emissions and the case for a carbon tax on flight tickets. Read the interesting reader comments, too.

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:

Airplane Noise is Impactful … Especially Repetitive Noise under Concentrated Routes

Noise annoys. So, it is no surprise that people impacted by excessive aviation noise will take umbrage with insensitive tweets by aviation lobbyists. Even more so if they are suffering from sleep loss, or have asthma, blood pressure, and other health problems related to noise and aviation air pollutants.

Here is an extraordinary example: IATA.org tweeted that a plane taking off produces less noise than the vuvuzelas made famous during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Umm … the vuvuzela is a device INTENDED to make noise, but commercial aviation generates noise pollution as an undesirable cost of seeking air commerce profits. Yes, it is true that takeoffs are quieter than a vuvuzela, and technologies have lowered jet sound levels. But, with the way world aviation regulators are enabling excessive route concentration, the noise impacts are only intensifying.

(click on image to view source at Twitter)

And, for IATA.org to tweet this shows an incredible tone-deafness on their part. IATA appears to be blinded by money, and they just cannot comprehend how they are harming people and destroying residential communities.

On a practical side, the vuvuzela might help us to expose how worthless FAA’s DNL noise metric is. It would be interesting to learn, what would the DNL be if a vuvuzela was blasted for just one-second ever two minutes, for 15-hours per day? We all understand, clearly, this noise, even if made recreationally and for fun, would destroy anyone’s quality of life and lead to an early health failure. But, would those 450 daily blasts be considered impactful by FAA? Would they meet FAA’s arbitrary threshold of 65 DNL? Probably not.

Just how bad is the DNL metric? How many one-second vuvuzela blasts per day would it take to reach 65 DNL?


To learn more about IATA.org’s inability to understand aircraft noise impacts, see this ai-Rchive page:

Live Today: Yet Another Dog-and-Pony Show

Bill Shuster is at it again: trying to ramrod the massive giveaway of the U.S. ATC system to private interests, dominated by the four remaining major airlines (American, Delta, Southwest, and United). Today’s dog-and pony show includes Paul Rinaldi, president of the controllers’ union NATCA. Why would NATCA want privatization? Primarily for selfish money reasons. ATC has a mandatory retirement age of 56, and the lifting of this age-limit will greatly enhance the already quite substantial retirement pensions for those like Rinaldi who are imminently eligible to retire. The new ‘ATC Inc.’ would also have plenty of freedom to payback Rinaldi and other retiring controllers, who will be able to supplement fat federal pensions (those will be sustained, after all) with very rich consulting work. And where will all the money come from to do this? You, and me. Air travelers will still pay large fees and taxes, which will be collected as if they are a federal tax, but will be spent by a private entity, controlled by the airlines.

FAA and their Av-Gov Complex partners will call this ‘collaboration’; rational people will shake their heads and say, No, this is crony capitalism. On steroids.”

Here is a link to the livestream, which supposedly can also be used to watch the video later, starting at 10AM EDT: https://youtu.be/h6XTbApeO-M

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

An Outstanding Investigative Series on Allegiant Failures and FAA Hiding Those Safety Issues From the Public

If you are increasingly concerned that FAA appears to be just a hack, a faux-regulator that does not really serve the people but instead enables the industry … you need to read these articles.

If you have felt yourself doubting the veracity of an FAA high official, as they spew glowing pro-NextGen claims while dodging the enormous failures and impacts (like David Suomi, at the Port of Seattle on 4/25/2016; to see the video, click here, then select the April ‘video’ tab, and ‘Item 3c – Briefing’ under the 4/25 meeting) … well, you need to take a look at these articles.

This is where agency corruption goes beyond being an annoyance, to become downright dangerous.

When the Nut is Not Secured…

This photo was shot during an investigation after an Allegiant MD80 was forced to do a high speed aborted takeoff. The castellated nut at the center of the photo has a twisted safety wire, to prevent the nut from detaching. The near-accident was caused by failure to secure the nut, creating a jammed elevator.

Despite FAA and industry efforts to confuse us all, this is not rocket science.

Given the speed and power in aviation, it is absolutely critical that parts not ‘come apart’ while operating.

So, what happens when aircraft mechanics fail to include a cotter pin or safety wire, as in the photo at right? Well, in this example, a hundred or so aircraft occupants are damned lucky they did not end up dead in a post-impact fire in Las Vegas. What exactly happened? While accelerating for takeoff, the nose lifted up on its own and the crew suddenly discovered they had zero elevator control. They cut the power to bring the nose back down and, luckily, had enough runway remaining to come to a safe stop and taxi back to the gate.

…Safety Eventually Breaks Down

This particular incident has far bigger repercussions. It was one of many incidents that caught the attention of Nathaniel Lash and other reporters, who did an outstanding investigative series, published by the Tampa Bay Times. Here are links to archived PDF copies of the three articles:

The third piece just came out, and it includes an interesting twist. It appears that FOIA was used, and that FAA heavily redacted their response documents. A formal appeal was filed and, eventually, an appeal response letter was sent back by FAA, denying the request to reveal the redactions. BUT… a fully unredacted copy was enclosed with the appeal response! So, now we can see what FAA chose to initially redact (which itself can be extremely revealing).

Was the fully unredacted report enclosed by accident? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it was enclosed by someone who had seen too much. FAA employees are real people, often feeling trapped in a corrupt and soulless bureaucracy, and silenced by the fear of losing their paycheck. Sometimes real people become sick and tired of all the lying and propaganda, and feel it is their duty to bypass the corrupt intentions of higher FAA officials; sometimes they make little ‘mistakes’ with big consequences. Lucky for all of us, not all FAA employees are afraid of the agency’s ‘culture of fear’. Some really do blow the whistle, and sometimes they do this in very subtle ways.

Also, for those who really want to dive deep, check out the 27-page unredacted report.

Will ‘60 Minutes’ Help Us Expose and Correct FAA’s Nationwide NextGen Mess?

(click on image to view source Facebook page)

People everywhere – from Bethesda to Federal Way, and from Culver City to Belmont – know the failures of the NextGen program:

  • that the program is a fraud, pretending to implement new technologies that have actually already been in common use for decades;
  • that FAA is pushing NextGen solely to get Congress to dole out more money, to prop up more FAA waste;
  • that, to get the airlines (and their main lobby, Airlines for America, A4A) to not oppose NextGen, FAA is focused on removing all noise mitigation procedures and local agreements, at all airports;
  • that FAA is enabling the airlines to expand flights per hour without limits (hub concentration);
  • and that FAA is also enabling the airlines to fly repetitive routes that are lower and closer to the runways (route concentration), with a wholesale disregard for how these routes are destroying even our oldest communities.

Historically, our economic and political system has been a point of pride, in no small part because it has had a press that operates freely, a press that would reliably expose frauds and compel the correction of failures. People have been well served when reporters dig deep, unspinning the spin and propaganda.

There has been a lot of evidence in the last year, that this ‘free press’ is dead, that in fact most elements of the mainstream media now serve corporate and political agendas. Likewise, we have seen too many elected officials who seem to be incapable of comprehending the impacts, who instead can only understand serving commerce so they can get campaign contributions. ‘60 Minutes’ can do better, can help restore the balance we have lost, and in the process can help rebuild public confidence in the mainstream media.

(click on image to view source Change.org petition page)

Will ‘60 Minutes’ listen? If hundreds of us take a few minutes and send emails, letters, tweets and calls, expressing how NextGen is impacting our homes, will ‘60 Minutes’ do the diligent research and expose the depth of FAA’s NextGen failure? Let’s hope so.

There are hundreds of smart people, across the nation and standing ready to help ‘60 Minutes’ write the powerful news story needed by thousands.

Here are your contact options…

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/60minutes/
TWITTER @60Minutes
EMAIL 60m@cbsnews.com
PHONE (212) 975-2006
POSTAL MAIL Story Editor, 60 MINUTES, CBS News
524 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

Earthen EMAS: How to Make the Most of the KSMO Consent Decree

What is going on in Santa Monica? Is the City honoring the will of the people who rejected massive campaigning by aviation lobbyists, and resoundingly approved Measure LC back in 2014? Or, is the City pulling a fast one on its people?

(click on image to view an aiREFORM Post about the accident and the lack of runway safety areas at KSMO)

Increasingly, it looks like the City is pretending to care about the lead, the particulates, the noise, and the obvious health impacts, yet is doing nothing to correct these problems.

Then, too, there is the problem of airport proximity to dense residential properties; airport neighbors have actually had lawn furniture blown over by the blast behind jets taking the runway; the smell of jet exhaust is a regular occurrence in backyards, where children play.

The fiery crash of an arriving bizjet back in 2013 killed four, but would have been far worse if that volume of jet fuel had ignited while crashing through the houses within the designated Runway Protection Zones (RPZs). Yep, although RPZs are supposed to be vacant land, hundreds of houses exist in the trapezoidal spaces at the ends of the Santa Monica runway; both FAA and the airport authority – the City – are going to be held accountable and found totally liable, if and when a crash happens in the RPZs.

The Consent Decree itself is suspect … no, doubly suspect. The City had a solid legal case, Nelson Hernandez had been insisting to noise activists that there were no discussions toward settlement, and yet City suddenly gave away all their advantage and caved to FAA pressures … AND Chamber of Commerce pressures, … and wealthy jet owner and wealthy airport users’ pressures. Twelve more years were added, with no guarantee of eventual airport closure. The only ‘gains’ received by the City were the right to shorten the runway, from 5,000-ft to 3,500-ft. The shortening was supposed to be immediate; rational people assumed it would take at least a few weeks or months to formally shorten the runway on paper, and add some surface markings. Instead, this process is being badly bungled, and is really calling to question, the integrity and intent of City Manager Rick Cole and key personnel such as Mr. Hernandez. Here are some examples of their bungling:

  • on 4/25, a meeting was held to share options for how to shorten the runway. The only options offered were to shorten it by clipping 750-ft off each end, or to shorten it by removing the bulk of the 1,500-ft from the west end. There was no option offered to remove 1,500-ft from the east end, which would best serve the most impacted airport neighbors (because the airport is nearly always in a west flow, the engine runups and idling by bizjets and charter jets nearly always happen on the east end; the jets often fly out IFR, thus have to wait until ATC can alter the LAX flow, to safely allow the SMO departures … so the jet idling can go on for a long time; also, the predominant winds push the concentrated pollutants to West LA, just east of the airport).
  • the meeting invitations went out only to the so-called ‘stakeholders’: pilots, airport operators & tenants, and other aviation folk. The local non-aviation community was not invited.
  • eventually, the local non-aviation community found out. Understandably, they felt slighted. Trust in Rick Cole and Nelson Hernandez has plummeted.
  • now, tonight, the Airport Commission meets, to consider the limited options, which reportedly carry an extraordinary $6 Million price tag, mostly just for adding paint to pavement!
  • It’s as if the goal is to so frustrate activists that they just give up (but they can’t: the stakes are too high, when you are fighting for health!).

So, that’s how bad it is. Now, if the City really cared to resolve decades-old airport problems, what would they have immediately embarked on after finalizing this Consent Decree?

  1. as a first step, declare the closure to become effective at the earliest allowable date. If any operators of the airport need more than 3,500-ft of runway, they would have a reasonable time window to depart, but after the closure date, that option would no longer exist.
  2. designate a runway portion for the initial closure. This does not have to be the final closure portion, but it does have to be designated. The surface markings have to be added, and the ATC procedures modified, to make it illegal for any flight to use this runway portion except in an emergency. Thankfully, the surface markings and modified ATC procedures are not a large or expensive task, and are easily completed.
  3. simultaneous with the above, define a full set of runway shortening options. The present set is woefully deficient. A full set would include at least three final runway positions, where the final runway portions to be closed would be all at the east end, all at the west end, or equally on both ends of the runway.
  4. a second set of ‘options’ – and equally important for addressing airport impacts – is what to do with the closed runway portions. Are they to be maintained, to enable longer takeoff or landing distances for larger bizjets, or are they to be declared unusable? So, this second set of options should consider removal of the asphalt versus painting the asphalt, and should also consider how the surface of the former runway sections are to be finished and maintained (grass, sand, or ??).
  5. if the goal is to maximize safety and minimize environmental impacts by bizjets and charter jets, the solution should be to discourage use of the airport by jets. Therefore, it would be a no-brainer to tear out the asphalt and create an earthen EMAS – perhaps sand, or perhaps just compacted soil seeded to grass, as is found at most airports. A small jet, aborting a takeoff or with a brake failure on arrival, would have its speed safely arrested in the overrun area; larger charter jets would simply avoid SMO, using longer runways in less impacted communities instead. LAX, for example, which has a brand new VIP terminal aimed at serving elite charter clients.
  6. for the record, FAA’s version of EMAS is very expensive. A specially formulated ‘crushable concrete’ is poured, and the cost to repair is also very high. Not just for actual accidents, but also when a pilot blunders and accidentally taxis onto it, as happened at Burbank with a private jet carrying baseball player Alex Rodriguez, in October 2006.

The Santa Monica Airport should have been closed decades ago; that it has not yet closed testifies not only to the power of the aviation lobby and the depth of FAA’s corruption in serving that lobby, but also to the lack of will (and intentional deception?) by City officials. From a distance, it is hard to watch this play out and not wonder, who’s getting paid off with what? Is Santa Monica just a wealthier version of the Bell, CA scandal?


UPDATE, 5/3/2017: — a petition for writ of mandate was filed by two citizens, seeking to have the Consent Decree declared null and void, on grounds that it was negotiated in violation of open records laws; see 98-page PDF copy here.