Seattle is a good example of how FAA works with aviation interests to promote spending that narrowly benefits the airlines (and FAA employees) while creating significant environmental costs for area residents.
The major hub airport is SeaTac [KSEA], serving primarily Alaska and Delta. NextGen aims to enhance capacity at SeaTac, but here are three reasons why this enhancement is not needed:
- This airport has seen a 24% decline in ATC operations (daily takeoffs and landings) since its peak year in 2000.
- Even after years of decline in takeoffs and landings, airport capacity was nonetheless greatly enhanced with the addition of a third parallel runway in late 2008. (the price tag was more than $1Billion)
- Meanwhile, the airlines have been upgrading their fleet and navigational equipment. The airlines are averse to spending money, so they made these investments simply because it saves them money to be able to let the onboard computer systems optimize the speed, power settings, route, and other flight details.
All of these facts suggest that there is no pressing need for NextGen. The impacts created by NextGen on people around Beacon Hill and other Seattle neighborhoods are happening for one simple reason: FAA needs to spend money, NextGen is their current big spending project, and FAA needs airline and union cooperation to keep Congress supportive of NextGen. Thus, FAA has made deals with their collaborative ‘players’. FAA’s deal with the airlines was a promise to ensure the airlines would get full relief from the environmental restrictions that have been applied for the past few decades, so long as the airlines promised to not challenge the ‘need’ for NextGen.
It’s not rocket science; it’s a ‘deal’ concocted behind closed doors. Similar ‘deals’ have been implemented in places like Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, New York, and Phoenix … and more are coming soon.
As is planned for all major commercial airports, FAA continues to implement new RNAV departure procedures that enable the airlines to save a few million dollars annually at each airport, by increasing runway capacity. FAA is hell-bent on approving noise-impacting routes immediately after departing. At Seattle, this means concentrated routes impacting neighborhoods like Beacon Hill. And, what really upsets people is not just the psychological and physical nuisance/damage of the new noise impacts, but the way FAA manipulated the process, effectively ensuring people had no meaningful voice while the program went forward with no real environmental review.