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:

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


What Is FAA Hiding from the Public? And Why??

FAA, like many federal agencies, has a nasty habit of expending lots of time and money working to keep the people in the dark. They are supposed to comply with FOIA laws, but instead they redact the hell out of what should be disclosed. Making matters worse, in recent decades it seems as though most in Congress are ‘too busy’ and/or ‘too inert’ to force FAA to follow the FOIA laws.

Every once in a while, we get a great chance to look past these barriers. Sometimes, FAA’s redactions become unmasked. When that happens, it is like sitting down with the devil, and sharing tea and a candid conversation. So much can be learned….

In this Post, a 27-page FAA memo is offered in two forms, redacted and unredacted. This memo documents how a safety investigation produced copious details and a strong recommendation for corrective action … which was then nixed by a higher FAA official. The heavily redacted copy was provided to an investigative report team. Seeing that so much data was hidden, they filed an appeal. An appeal response letter was eventually sent, rejecting the appeal, but somehow a copy of the unredacted 27-page was included in the appeal response letter.

Here are the two versions, presented as scrollable/downloadable/searchable PDFs. View them side-by-side. See for yourself what FAA chose to redact, when a reporter team tried to help the public understand how FAA was handling a dangerous safety failure involving commercial aircraft maintenance.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the heavily unredacted version, as initially sent by FAA (and after extensive review by numerous FAA managers). Click here to download the PDF file.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the full, unredacted version. Click here to download the PDF file.

The Background:

A few days ago, an aiREFORM Post encouraged readers to read the excellent investigative series done by the Tampa Bay Times. In the third article of the series, Nathaniel Lash showed how higher level FAA managers were over-riding the conclusions and recommendations of their field inspectors. The inspectors were investigating how a nut had detached causing an elevator jam, forcing an Allegiant MD80 to do a high-speed aborted takeoff at Las Vegas. This was an extremely serious situation that would have assuredly killed everyone on board, if the nut had failed while actually airborne. A similar failure caused the 1/31/2000 crash of Alaska 261, an MD83 that lost flight control near Santa Barbara and plunged into the Pacific, killing all 88 on board.

The similarities are in two troubling areas:

  1. the casual failure by maintenance crews to properly execute their tasks and to follow needed steps that would identify and fix failures (so as to ensure nuts do not fall off leading to catastrophic crashes); and,
  2. FAA’s gross failure at safety oversight, where key FAA officials knowingly allow maintenance crews to sidestep required procedures.

The latest Times article showed that FAA was found to be covering up dangerous maintenance failures performed by AAR on the Allegiant passenger jet. Note that AAR is a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operation; over the past decade, airlines have been reducing labor costs related to employing their own mechanics by increasingly outsourcing aircraft maintenance to MRO contractors. Costs may go down, but so do safety margins.

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.

Wall Street Journal Passing On FAA’s ‘Fake News’ About NextGen

FAA and other industry players have been using some incredibly phony sales pitches for well over a decade now, in their coordinated effort to sell NextGen as ‘transformational’. One of those false pitch points is the claim that NextGen will do away with commercial flights flying zig-zag routes across the nation, from one electronic navaid to the next. Readers are led to believe that today’s air navigation is constrained by these locations, and a lot of people get fooled, simply because the vast majority of us are not trained and employed in a way that would cause us to know better. Well, today’s air navigation is NOT constrained that way, and frankly has not been so constrained for many decades. Even as early as the 1970s, entire airline fleets were configured for direct navigation using inertial navigation systems, followed by many new and improved systems including Omega, Loran, GPS, etc.

It’s a fact, and an embarrassment on FAA, that for each of the airspace redesigns in recent years, FAA and contractors have created thousands of pages of slick documentation… and every documentation package, for each airspace redesign, has at least one copy of this image (or a close variation):

The graphic clearly implies that ‘current’ navigation is via zigzags over navaids. All you have to do is study actual flight routes, at a website like Flightaware. Everyday, multiple websites upload data for tens of thousands of U.S. commercial flights; for each of those days, you could spend a week or longer reviewing every individual flight history, and chances are you would NOT find even one flight wasting time and energy on navaid-to-navaid zigzags.

So, it looks like all that propaganda is now taking a big victim: even the esteemed Wall Street Journal now believes we need NextGen to advance us past airplanes that ‘bounce from one radio point to the next…’!

Check out their March 22nd opinion piece, archived below with aiR footnotes added:

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

See also:

SeaTac’s NorthSTAR Project: The Av-Gov Robber Barons Are on a Roll

A project ground-breaking ‘ceremony’ for a few means further aviation impact misery for many others.

SeaTac International Airport [KSEA] is currently the fastest growing U.S. commercial airport, because Delta decided to scale up a new hub in 2012. Thus, SeaTac has become a major hub for both Alaska (the dominant carrier) and Delta. The problem, though, is that this is causing the KSEA flight schedule to become over-saturated; so, ATC stretches the flight patterns, and now residents as far as 30-miles from the airport are regularly enduring long time periods with low/loud repetitive arrival noise (and, of course, the impacts go far beyond just noise: more and more people are suffering from air pollutants, increased asthma, sleep loss, stress, and more).

As is standard practice at federally-funded infrastructure ‘ceremonies’, elected officials appear; they crow about the project, emphasizing dollars and jobs while carefully NOT speaking about the adverse impacts. Here’s a short video clip posted by the Port:

In the video above, from time 0:52 to time 1:19, Senator Maria Cantwell made this comment: “As someone who just flew in this morning, and sat on the tarmac for an extra 15-minutes because we couldn’t get to a gate, I can tell you that everybody in Puget Sound has experienced the need to have more capacity at SeaTac Airport.”

One resident near SeaTac offered this reaction: “Apparently Senator Cantwell needs to make our kids sick, destroy our home value, wake us up at night, compromise safety, destroy a few cities so she doesn’t have to wait 15 minutes for a gate … I thought she represented me….”

Elected officials, including Cantwell, lose credibility when they appear at events trumpeting aviation expansion. They do it for the photo-ops and to muster up campaign funds from the aviation industry. But, as happened here, they often show they are blinded in their pursuit of that money: Cantwell was completely blind to the simple fact that the rather trivial problem she described is nearly always caused by too many flights being scheduled in too small a time window. If she and other Senators demanded that FAA manage airport capacity and impose appropriate flow-rate restrictions, nearly all of these inefficiencies would disappear. Smart people – many of whom are impacted residents – know this, but too many elected officials cannot see this because they are blinded by money.

One example is Jean Hilde, who has lived for decades in a neighborhood nearly 25-miles north of SeaTac. With the NextGen implementations and the Delta hub expansion at SeaTac, her family now must endure low/repetitive arrival noise, even at that long distance. Jean  responded to the ‘North Satellite’ expansion ceremony video clip, and summarized the larger problem nationwide, with this brilliant analysis:

(highlights added by aiREFORM)

Will we ever move beyond this cycle of serving money interests at the expense of quality of life and health? Not with this Congress, or this Administration; not so long as all that matters to those in power is serving money and being served with money.

It’s becoming an Orwellian dystopia. Check out the bizarre phrasing in this excerpt from the Port’s 2/3/2017 News Release (click here):

Is FAA’s NextGen Mess Contributing to ‘Drowsy Driver’ Accidents?

The NextGen impacts at JFK are much more than just ‘annoying noise’; they are also causing sleep loss, which cascades into accidents, sometimes fatal.

Here’s a screen-capture of a recent Facebook post by Elaine Miller, at PlaneSense4LI. Elaine’s residential neighborhood is roughly 5-miles northeast of the departure end of the KJFK runways 4. To increase operations per hour, FAA established procedures for runway 4 departures to initiate an immediate right turn, sending them low over the Malverne area. The noise repeats for hours, even days.

(screencap of Facebook post copied 2/13/2017 at 7:12AM PST)

The New York Post article shares some alarming data: in the U.S., ‘drowsy driving’ is cited as a factor in 1,400 accidents per day, and fifteen of those daily accidents produce fatalities. So, it is not surprising that the U.S. federal Department of Transportation (DoT) expends lots of time and money trying to inform regular people (like you and me) on the need to stay rested and alert. What doesn’t make sense, though, is FAA is a major component of that same DoT … and yet it is FAA that is working against DoT and causing so much sleep deprivation, by not giving a damn about the enormous negative impacts caused by repetitive airplane noise.

How is FAA Exacerbating this Problem?

FAA wants Congress to fund billions for NextGen, in no small part because this latest ‘campaign’ gives FAA something to do and creates internal promotion opportunities. But, Congress will never approve the proposal if the corporate stakeholders who fund their reelection campaigns are opposed. So, FAA has struck a deal with the airlines: if the airlines buy in to promote NextGen (or, at least not speak against it), the agency will work to help the airlines maximize runway throughput. This means the airlines will be able to schedule more flights, thus ensuring that at major hub airports like JFK, both the arrival streams and the departure streams become nonstop.

Now, get this: the NextGen sales pitch is centered on the environment – i.e., reducing CO2 emissions by minimizing time spent with engines idling, either while awaiting takeoff at the departure airport, or while on extended approach to the destination airport. But, FAA’s part of the deal – not pushing back when the airlines schedule too many flights – guarantees enormous inefficiencies. And, of course, these delays cascade into other airports, affecting the whole nation. Clearly, FAA could do much better. But the agency can’t, because they have sold out to serve only aviation money, not the People (you and me) who pay for this system.

The Net Result: more sleep loss, contributing to more accidents by drowsy drivers. FAA could fix this problem, if they would do their TRUE job and actually manage airport capacity.

2017 versus 1961

(click on image to watch 'The Best of Boris Badenov' on YuTube')

(click on image to watch ‘The Best of Boris Badenov’ on YouTube’)

Here we are, fifty-six years later.

We are still watching as the same old manipulative mainstream media delivers crafted stories to dupe a captive citizenry. With their help, we continue to believe that we are ‘in the know’, about yet another Presidential transition.

In both times, Boris Badenov was and is the bogeyman, and war hawks still haunt us with their sabre-rattling. But, in terms of quality and class of the Presidency itself, we could not see a starker difference. The 1960’s version is reflected in the speeches below; the newer and devolved version impales us with crude talk of ‘hand size’ by one man, while the other man’s declining Whitehouse tenure convincingly argues that today, both parties serve ONLY the money that empowers the oligarchs.

This contrast was brought to my attention inadvertently. I was researching the fight for local control at Santa Monica’s airport, trying to delve deeper into understanding the sides and why the ongoing delays. I was shown a recent chain of emails. In one interesting exchange, a city official mentions this quote by JFK while excusing off the city’s slower pace of change, a pace that continues to flabbergast those residents who are most impacted by the noise and air pollutants:

“Others may confine themselves to debate, discussion, and that ultimate luxury — free advice.  Our responsibility is one of decision — for to govern is to choose.”

Now, on the face of it, this JFK quote seems to say, ‘our job goes beyond debate; our job is to govern, to act, to resolve problems’. Thus, it seems like an odd quote, coming from a city official defending the city’s failure to enact long overdue changes. Be that as it may, I researched a bit deeper and came to the actual speech. Wow … what an incredible presentation about the importance of individual liberty and local control in our system of government. And a perfect bookend to a similar speech by Eisenhower. Both speeches speak to the need for governance by and for THE PEOPLE; both speeches point toward the threats to liberty by ascending unaccountable bureaucracies, such as FAA has clearly become.

Two Great Presidential Speeches, by Ike and JFK

At the start of 1961, President Eisenhower warned us about the rise of the Military-Industrial Complex, and the threat against individual liberties. One year later, his successor, President Kennedy, was equally eloquent about the same concerns, speaking at Independence Hall on July 4, 1962. You can listen to the embed video below, or view a black-and-white video archived by here.

Below is a PDF of transcript of JFK’s speech:

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

One Table Shows the Reality of NextGen

Here’s some data to ponder as we start into a new year: a table, showing commercial operations at each of FAA’s OEP-35 airports, from 2007 onward.

Focus first on the pink column, three columns from the right edge; the airports are ranked in descending order, by the percent decline in annual operations, comparing 2015 with 2007.

Note that the largest declines, at Cincinnati [KCVG], Cleveland [KCLE], and Memphis [KMEM] are huge: down 61%, 53%, and 43% respectively. Note also, the declines are even larger when you compare Total Annual Operations in 2015 vs the various historic peak years for each OEP-35 airport, in the two columns on the far right; for these figures (which include general aviation and military operations data), all airports have declined, ranging from 74% to 2% and averaging 24%.

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

Three facts stand out from this table, and they all strongly contradict the sales pitches that FAA and industry have been collaborating on the past few years:

  1. Note the bright green line across the table. Just under it are five airports: Charlotte [KCLT], Reagan National [KDCA], Miami [KMIA], Seattle [KSEA] and San Francisco [KSFO]. These are the only five of the OEP-35 airports that recorded an increase in commercial operations from 2007 to 2015; i.e., 6 out of 7 OEP airports SLOWED substantially while the national population grew.
  2. The airport identifiers marked in a dark-red background color are the airports that in 2016 had extensive noise complaint histories (documented online, and in the mainstream media) related to route concentrations under NextGen. Routinely, FAA has imposed these routes without adequate public review, abusing the ‘categorical exclusion’ process. Numerous legal actions have resulted.
  3. For all OEP-35 airports combined, commercial operations have steadily declined 11% from 2007 to 2015, nearly every year. This is industry contraction. And furthermore, the vast majority of U.S. commercial airports peaked in the 1990s, some more than two decades ago!

WIth the new year, we’ll see a new adminstration and changes at FAA and DoT. Don’t be fooled by the impending onslaught of yet another round of propaganda. The U.S. NAS is operating at far below historic peaks and continuing to trend downward. Growth is rare, and limited to key airports where airlines are concentrating flights into superhubs that severely impact local quality of life. The only true beneficiaries of NextGen and ATC privatization are industry stakeholders (especially the airline CEOs, FAA officials, lobbyists, and manufacturers, plus a few elected officials), who will narrowly share the profits while completely ignoring the larger environmental costs.

We don’t need oversold technology fixes pitching RNAV and RNP solutions that have been used for decades; technologies that could and would serve us all beautifully, if FAA would assert its authority with balance, and manage capacity at the largest U.S. hub airports. We need airports to serve communities while being truly environmentally responsible. And for that to happen, we need a new era of transparency and accountability at FAA. We need reform.

Skycatcher Failed to Catch On

Other Posts have pointed out how many aspects of U.S. aviation have been in decline for decades, yet are not talked about: TRACON operations, commercial flight operations, ASPM-77 airport operations, airline fuel consumption, the shrinking NAS, for example … all have seen substantial declines for nearly two decades. Now, here’s a similar Post, focused on General Aviation – the manufacture of small planes for recreation, small business use, etc.

In the latest sign of how far U.S. general aviation has fallen, Cessna has decided to destroy the unsold inventory of it’s model ‘Cessna 162 Skycatcher’. Within the details of this story, there is a lot to be seen about how the political system serves money and special interests, while impeding changes that would best serve everyone. All the posturing on Capitol Hill, the new laws to incentivize sales and prop up an industry in decline, the indifference as U.S. manufacturers moved production overseas to cheapen their labor costs, the false boosterism of how great aviation is for the economy … and yet it all came down to just a sad story about the recycling of some very expensive airplane pieces.

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