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.