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:

Rose Bridger’s Latest Paper Looks at Aviation Abuses in Indonesia

The imbalance of power between aviation and local residents is troubling. In the United States, we commonly see where the federal regulator, FAA, ‘collaborates’ with airport authorities, airlines, operators and other industry players to run roughshod over local communities. Aviation profits are always profusely accommodated, nearly always with substantial costs to people and the environment: natural habitat is destroyed, quality of life is diminished, and people are exposed to more air pollutants, including carcinogens.

Across the planet, some of the most egregious aviation injustices are happening where state authorities are enabling industry expansions against the will of local residents, sometimes even large population areas. When people in the U.S. rise up to fix aviation impacts, they rarely have to deal with lines of cops. They deal instead with a wall of unaccountable bureaucrats; people who make their money by supporting aviation expansion; people who routinely lie, distort, and even antagonize the much better people who are responsibly seeking to fix the aviation impacts; people who play ‘hot potato’, claiming they lack authority so “…gee, check with the other guy.”

Is it fair to say that, in either form, this amounts to state terrorism? If burdens are imposed and rights taken, be they by gun or billy club or categorical exclusion, does it really matter how graphically extortive the process is? Nobody may be killed or even injured (a good thing!), yet many bodies (and minds) incur great costs for the narrow benefits created. Farmland is taking and people are dislocated (see this example in rural Minnesota). All of this is enabled by federal agencies that pretend to enforce safety and manage aviation, but more truthfully just offers cover for industry players to abuse people. In the United States, in Indonesia, and across the planet.

How Do People Regain Power?

When dealing with unaccountable bureaucrats (especially those at FAA and various airport authorities), it’s always a good idea to learn as much as you can. Study what is happening elsewhere. See how others are making progress. Identify the framing that YOU need to impose on the issues; if we allow FAA/industry to frame the issues and implement faux-solutions like time-wasting workgroups, we only guarantee that the problems will persist, never to be resolved.

Rose Bridger, UK author of Plane Truth: Aviation’s Real Impact on People and the Environment, is one person whose works are well worth studying. Rose continues to be a prolific advocate for people and the environment. She has just published a new insightful study: Aviation expansion in Indonesia: Tourism, land struggles, economic zones and aerotropolis projects. Here is an archived copy:

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

UPDATE, 6/14/2017: — per a GAAM email update: The report contains a map showing all the airport locations and maps of two airport sites, and accompanies GAAM’s interactive digital map: Aviation Expansion in Indonesia which features all the airports that are mentioned, integrating spatial information with text and images. For paper copies of the report, please contact: Third World Network, 131 Jalan Macalister, 10400 Penang, Malaysia, Tel: 60-4-2266728/2266159, Fax: 60-4-2264505, Email:

Trump, Climate Change, and ATC Privatization

It was not surprising to see President Trump pull out of the Paris Agreement last week. Nor was it surprising to see how he bumbled his way through the process. This is the stuff that inspires confidence in U.S. leadership (NOT!!).

The analysis done by John Oliver is brilliant. Here is an embed of the video. He does quite a bit to explain the carbon dioxide issue, the Paris Agreement, and what is so boneheaded about what our president just did. Check it out.

Now, that was last week. What’s in store for this week? Though Comey is set to testify later in the week, we are all supposed to be watching Trump and airline CEOs ‘trumpet’ the virtues of privatizing ATC. Great idea, no? I mean, just go ahead and let the airlines dominate ATC and what could possibly go wrong?

  • Would we do better to ensure airport hub expansions are balanced with residential quality of life and health concerns? NO
  • Will local communities become more empowered to ensure their local airport best serves the needs of their local residents? NO
  • Will the airlines allow an aviation carbon-tax to follow, so that aviation’s growing contribution to the climate change problem becomes moderated? NO
  • Will airline industry CEOs take advantage of their increased power to rent-seek, sucking more money out of passengers to spend on their pet projects? YES

Nothing will happen that diminishes industry profits. Oligarchy/Corporatocracy is our stark reality today. Trump and his buddies have money to make; to hell with the future planet our grandchildren inherit.

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: 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 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’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:

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.