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

An incredible airshow: Michael Huerta’s Flying Circus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can FAA prevent such inefficiencies?

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

Each of these proposals would improve both safety and efficiency.