Reflections on FAA as a Faux-Regulator Serving Industry, Not the Public

At year end, we often take time to reflect. This year, let’s reflect on precisely what it means, when a U.S. federal agency is ‘captured’ by industry, so as to serve the industry instead of the larger Public. This Post will look more closely at FAA later, but for now, to help see how serious the regulatory capture problem is, let’s look at another failing U.S. federal agency: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA, just like FAA, has many responsibilities. For example, they are charged by Congress to regulate pharmaceutical companies. Additionally, Congress has funded FDA with the intent that they will be effective, working to protect public health from dangerous new drugs. One of those drugs, released two decades ago, is the addictive opioid, OxyContin. An online search reveals a jaw-dropping epidemic of addictions – and fatalities; indeed, odds are very high that everyone reading this Post knows at least one person who has been impacted by opioid addiction. Also, and not insignificantly, a deeper online research shows the fact that representatives of both major political parties have aided and abetted this epidemic, while also obstructing reforms and failing to pass overdue corrective legislation.

So, how well has FDA done their job? If agency leaders actually view their job as ‘serving customers’ such as the pharmaceutical industry, well, they’ve done a fantastic job. But, if any of us objectively assesses FDA performance from the perspective of serving the larger Public and actually protecting health, well, FDA is a total failure.

Patrick Radden Keefe recently wrote an article in The New Yorker, The Family That Built an Empire of Pain (click here to view the source article online; click here to view an archived and annotated version of the same article). Below is an excerpt that summarizes how Oxycontin legal actions are evolving; this particular excerpt primarily quotes Mike Moore, a former Mississippi State Attorney General:

… Ten states have filed suits, and private attorneys are working in partnership with dozens of cities and counties to bring others. Many public officials are furious at the makers of powerful painkillers. Prescriptions are expensive, and taxpayers often foot the bill, through programs like Medicaid. Then, as the ruinous consequences of opioid addiction take hold, the public must pay again—this time for emergency services, addiction treatment, and the like. Moore feels that the Sackler family, as the initial author and a prime beneficiary of the epidemic, should be publicly shamed. “I don’t call it Purdue. I call it the Sackler Company,” he said. “They are the main culprit. They duped the F.D.A., saying it lasted twelve hours. They lied about the addictive properties. And they did all this to grow the opioid market, to make it O.K. to jump in the water. Then some of these other companies, they saw that the water was warm, and they said, ‘O.K., we can jump in, too.’ ” There may be significant legal distinctions between a tobacco company and an opioid producer, but to Moore the ethical parallel is unmistakable: “They’re both profiting by killing people.” …

FAA as Faux-Regulator

So, how does studying this opioid epidemic, and Mr. Keefe’s article, help us to better understand FAA’s failure? Simply by showing a near-perfect analogy for the many signs of regulatory capture. Here is a short list of discernible failure patterns, the ‘symptoms’ of regulatory capture:

  • Industry becomes the primary customer. For FAA, nothing shows this failure as starkly as the whistleblower hearings held on 4/3/2008.
  • Money trumps health and environment; the faux-regulator enables industry to advance corporate profits, by assisting in expansions and system redesigns that invariably bear an enormous cost on environment, health, and local (usually residential) quality of life.
  • Consequences of failures are eventually lethal. FDA failures fuel a rise in addictions and overdoses; FAA failures sustain sleep-deprivation that cause most of today’s multi-fatal commercial accidents, such as Colgan-Buffalo, Comair-Lexington, and UPS-Birmingham.
  • Consequences of FAA failures also extend to the corruption of a culture that we are repeatedly and fraudulently told is ‘all about safety’, when the full record shows it is anything but. For example, the agency’s use of ATSAP to hide ATC safety data from the general public; the agency’s inability to see the enormous impacts imposed by NextGen changes and hub expansions; the agency’s wanton denial of obvious performance failures (such as the controller error at Santa Monica, or the rash of near-collisions at San Francisco); and of course the war against whistleblowers (those rare few inside FAA, who choose to speak up to correct the cultural failures, only to suffer retaliation).
  • Key personnel within the faux-regulator end up serving only industry, often via a revolving door. In the Oxycontin story, the key FDA regulator was earning his federal pay and building his eventual federal pension when he signed off on the fraudulent Oxycontin marketing plan; just two years later, he worked for Purdue! The same pattern happens repeatedly at FAA, all the way to the FAA Administrator position (e.g., when Marion Blakey retired, she immediately became head of a major aviation lobby firm).
  • The legal system becomes a third-party tool, used to maximize corporate advantage, an additional ‘enabler’. Both industry players and faux-regulator officials posture around threats of legal actions by industry, using this pattern as a hammer to force changes that accommodate industry, at the expense of the larger Public.
  • To protect industry greed, and to ensure the legal system will enable these failures to persist, a heavy budget is allocated to lawyers who self-enrich with what is effectively a ‘license to lie and deceive’. Not just industry-paid lawyers, but also agency lawyers, paid for by the people.
  • If and when manipulation of the legal system appears likely to fail, especially if the case is headed for trial, a ‘settlement’ suddenly appears. ALWAYS, this last-ditch legal maneuver protects both industry and faux-regulator from any accountability, by sealing records that were about to become a part of the public record, records that would among other things reveal how badly agency officials have failed. And, routinely, the so-called ‘settlement’ will include language that shuts out third parties (such as actual communities, or victim families) from future legal action.

Can This be Fixed?

Yes, it’s all fixable. And really not that difficult to do, so long as people demand performance from both agency and elected officials. The first step, though, is obvious: we have to accept that FAA, FDA and other agencies are broken, serving as faux-regulators, enabling industry players to evolve in ways that are truly destroying homes and people. Perhaps with a new year, we can get to work?

FAA’s ‘Noise Portal’: A good idea, or a way to shut down Noise Complaints?

Last November, FAA filed a statement in the Federal Register, seeking comments from the general public about a proposal for FAA to create a new ‘Noise Portal’. on the surface, it seems like a good idea, though only a good idea if FAA actually intends to collect complaints and take action to address them. But, it also seems like a TERRIBLE IDEA, if FAA’s actual intent is to force the general public to use only FAA’s ‘Noise Portal’ to pigeon-hole their growing concerns.

Here is one of the public comments, submitted by a citizen impacted near Sea-Tac:

“15 minutes per complaint????
FAA is not a regulatory agency, its a shill for the airline industry. By making it so long to file a complaint, it is just further stifling the public interest. This is ridiculous, clearly a blatant attempt to silence dissent.”

Here is a letter by the interim Executive Director at Port of Seattle. He makes some fairly good points, though those of us who know how unresponsive POS has been to area noise concerns will shake our heads, knowing there is plenty of POS hypocrisy at play here. Anyway, here is a copy of the letter, followed by a copy of a short point-by-point analysis by aiREFORM…:

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

…and, here’s the point-by-point analysis of Mr. Soike’s letter to FAA:

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

Click here for an archived copy of the Federal Register filing, or click here to view the source at Federal Register, which includes a link to view comments. Try and make sense of this, if you can; it appears that FAA employee Barbara Hall has a job filing multiple items with Federal Register, to solicit public comments. Oddly, though, the public comments appear to be batched together into one folder at web location, thus combining an unmanageable diversity of public comments.

NextGen Abuses at California’s Lake Arrowhead

Click here to read an archived copy of the 12/21/2017 Mountain News article by Heidi Fron (or click here to view the source article), and be sure to read the two ‘open letters’ seeking to fix these NextGen abuses! Both Jim Price and David Caine did a great job defining the impacts and articulating the need for FAA to revert to the less-impactful, pre-NextGen routes.

Here’s an embedded video of a TV news story that discusses the Lake Arrowhead impacts:

Seven months later and there has been no improvement. Just like we’ve seen around the nation: Delay – Delay – Delay.

As one more resource, click here for a brief analysis of the role of Ontario’s airport, and how NextGen changes are expanding the impacts at what is generally a fairly sleepy airport with a pair of huge runways.

To Understand NextGen, Just Follow the Money

There is nothing complicated about FAA and NextGen. Just follow the money, and recognize that FAA does not serve the people, they serve the industry, providing cover for wholesale environmental abuses that are destroying community quality of life as well as the health of many people. Very many people at FAA benefit immediately, and in retirement (with higher pensions, plus consulting or FAA-contractor gigs), with NextGen implementation. The benefits for the environment are effectively nil, and in many cases the net result is an INCREASE in impacts, solely to help the airlines shorten the flight by a minute or two.

As for the NextGen technology, well, the alleged technology changes are just a fraudulent sales pitch, oversold by FAA employees all too eager to knowingly dupe Congress and the rest of us, too. The 12/18/2017 flight mentioned by David Caine is a prime example of this fraudulent sales pitch. This cargo Boeing 767 took off from the UPS headquarters at Louisville, KY, then flew essentially a straight line (great circle route) to pick up the EAGLZ Arrival into Ontario. Here’s a screencap showing the whole route, as well as the altitude and speed profile: (source: FlightAware)

People need to understand this fact: essentially all U.S. commercial flights (cargo, as well as passenger) have been able to do these long great circle routes since the 1970s. Even before the 1970s, inertial navigation systems enabled these routes, and since then, there has been a long series of technological advances that included a heavy emphasis on aviation use of GPS navigation in the 1990s.

Think about it this way: what exactly is the efficiency gain for this particular flight, KSDF-KONT, that FAA can offer UPS? The route is already as direct as can be. The only efficiency gains are minor shortcuts for UPS, but at great cost to residents, both those near the airport in Louisville, and those under the Ontario [KONT] arrival track. People in Lousville [KSDF] suffer because ATC allows (actually, directs!) UPS to short-cut their turns right after takeoff; people at Lake Arrowhead are awakened unnecessarily because ATC allows (again, actually directs!) UPS to fly a more direct and lower ‘finish’ into KONT.

By the way, this is the case for most all commercial flights within the U.S.: so long as traffic congestion is not a factor (and congestion is not a problem for cargo flights that take off around 4AM, a key reason why the industry focuses on night flying), the system is already very efficient. The delays NextGen is supposed to help reduce happen when the airlines over-expand at a handful of hubs, and schedule far too many flights, solely to build profits. And, if we have learned anything from studying the multiple NextGen debacles, it is that these alleged ‘transformational changes’ do NOTHING to resolve airline congestion. Indeed, congestion will only be reduced if/when FAA reclaims its role as a regulator, not just an industry cheerleader/enabler.

We are told NextGen is ‘transformational’, with implications of great efficiency gains. That’s BULLSHIT! The ONLY benefits are to the aviation operators and FAA personnel, while real people are bearing ever increasing costs.

And a Closing Question

Why are FAA’s controllers and managers complicit in this fraud? Well, more planes in their airspace eventually help air traffic controllers (ATC) to nudge total workloads (and the number of sectors and controllers at that ATC facility) to the next pay level. When controllers see nice pay raises, management gets raises, too. Ultimately, for all of them, retirement pensions rise, too. Paradoxically, per controller productivity (number of flights handled per hour, per controller, for example) continues to decline, and work complexity continues to be reduced by more and more automation. Despite all this, FAA pay and  benefits continue to grow. Go figure.

The SeaTac-POS ILA: Good or Bad?

‘ILA’ sounds like it has potential to be extremely boring, but from what people are saying around Sea-Tac Airport (KSEA), we all need to know what an ‘InterLocal Agreement’ is, and how much harm it can do. Some are saying that the latest ILA draft is yet another bad act by the Port of Seattle: spending taxpayer money to BUY silence from the tiny few elected officials who otherwise could do the most to help mitigate growing airport impact problems.

In this example, a new ILA has been drafted to expedite further growth of the airport and operations. It was drafted by a ‘JAC’ (Joint Advisory Committee), which is a team of five officials, two representing the Port of Seattle (aka POS, operator of KSEA) and three from the city of SeaTac (which essentially surrounds the POS properties). Of course, it is easy to see the push for an ILA comes entirely from POS; we would never see a small community approach an airport authority and ‘ask’ for an ILA. And, when dealing with POS, the relatively inexperienced officials at SeaTac just cave in when monetary treats are offered; money is the drug, and nobody fails to see who is the dealer and who is the addict.

An Analysis by aiReform

A few hours were spent studying the ILA draft, and comments/highlights were added; all of this is viewable in the scrollable PDF below.

One predominant concern is that an ILA appears to be a way for an airport authority to sidestep addressing problems, such as happen related to over-expansion at KSEA. Instead of meeting with impacted area residents and solving problems – finding the right balance between air commerce and local health and quality of life – POS chooses to ‘pay off’ local elected officials, buying their cooperation. Then, if/when local residents go to their elected body for help, well, that’s been cut off by the ILA.

Another general concern is how the city is enabling POS to entirely self-regulate, in exchange for annual cash payments; not too hard for POS to do, since they collect property taxes from residents throughout the Seattle area. Also, with the intended expedited processes, the window for citizen input is essentially shut tight; just not enough time for you or me to read a draft and submit a meaningful concern or suggestion.

In a democratic society, it almost feels like an ILA should be illegal. Federal agencies like FAA should be pressing for rules that protect people against the excesses of ILA’s such as this one. Not surprisingly, FAA remains mute; after all, they serve the airlines first.

People need to take a close look at this, identify what fails, and demand better governance. Airports should serve communities, not airlines.

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

Another Area Impacted by FAA Indifference: the Beaches of Destin, Florida

Whether they are locals or vacationers, people have a hard time enjoying the beaches of Northwest Florida, when overrun by helicopters. They also wish FAA would serve THE PEOPLE, not just the aviation interests.

Below, Jack Simpson notes that this is probably the most boring column he has yet written, but his annoyance with FAA is crystal clear. This meeting could have been held anywhere, and about so many similar situations involving FAA. The federal agency with all the power to manage U.S. aviation is instead in the business of enabling abuse by aviators, who profit while diminishing local quality of life. Through it all, FAA employees pretend they can do nothing about it. And notice, too, FAA using the same old trick: put the burden on the citizens to comply with onerous requirements, reporting details that often are impossible to compile.

This article was about helicopters, but the same framing could also represent a community impacted by NextGen, skydiving, air tours, etc.

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

ATC Is Not the Real Cause of Airline Delays…

…and the airlines have long had all the tools they need to solve the problems caused by their own corporate greed and mismanagement. If NextGen impacts are out of control where you live, you need to read the article below.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s Post, here is an outstanding article written by Michael Baiada, a retired United 747 pilot, who sees past the NextGen promotional frauds. Even better, Mr. Baiada gets into the details of how easily the U.S. air travel system could be made more efficient and less impactful, while also improving the flying experience for us consumers. Turns out, the root of the problem today is too many people abdicating their duties: airlines refusing to run their business, regulators who enable this management failure while also serving as cover, lobbyists too focused on perpetuating the lobbying revenue stream, and so forth.

The article is a bit technical but very well written, and Mr. Baiada does an outstanding job explaining system details that FAA/industry work so hard to make muddy and complex. I heartily recommend sitting down and carefully studying this article; you will learn a lot, to help fight for rational airports, serving the local communities ahead of the airlines.

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

A copy of the article by Michael Boyd, as referenced in Baiada’s article, is archived here.

Here’s how to fix our air-traffic control problems – (NOT!!)

Here’s an analysis/rebuttal of a Steve Forbes USAToday Op/Ed, about NextGen and ATC Privatization. Mr. Forbes repeats the common NextGen lies, using few words to present the current ATC system as archaic, inefficient and overdue for reform. He misses on all points, but does a great job passing along the frauds FAA and industry have been spinning to us, in recent years. Frankly, this Op/Ed has the feel of one of those sleazy ‘advertorials’ that have become the mainstay of post-“1984” journalism, in our national “Animal Farm.”

Although Mr. Forbes twice ran for President and is a successful businessman, he appears to fall into the same trap as President Trump: both men totally fail to go beyond the fraudulent sales pitch by FAA/industry; both show a wholesale acceptance of the FAA/industry propaganda, with no critical analysis.

In endorsing either NextGen or ATC privatization, both men are wrong.

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

New Brochure Debunks Greenwashing

A new brochure has been published by Finance & Trade Watch, an NGO based in Vienna, Austria. Authored by Magdalena Heuwieser, the 24-pages debunk many of the most common forms of aviation greenwashing. The brochure includes lots of interesting insight that will further inform about the state of regulatory capture that applies not just to FAA but also to the international body, ICAO.

Here is a short index:

  • Pg.4: Headlong growth in a green guise
  • Pg.7: Fantasy technologies and green kerosene
  • Pg.9: Offsetting emissions: a licence to pollute
  • Pg.11: International aviation’s climate plan: CORSIA
  • Pg.14: Green airports? Offsetting emissions and biodiversity
  • Pg.17: Flying with a clear conscience? Individual offsetting of air travel
  • Pg.19: What now? Summing up and looking ahead
  • Pg.21: On the move: resistance highlights

Click here to view an archived copy of the 2-page Executive Summary; click on the image below to view/download the full brochure.

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


UPDATE, 11/30/2017: — Excellent overview posted at GAAM (the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement); more great work by Rose Bridger.

The UN aviation deal (by ICAO) is cheating the climate

No accountability.

When we have so many layers, so many players, we end up with a process that creates an illusion of a just and thoughtful outcome, when in fact all we have are ‘players’ who cover for further industry expansion.

Here’s a video from a year ago, by FERN.org, pointing out the injustices inside ICAO’s latest schemes:

Brendon Sewill’s Brilliant Work: Unspinning Aviation Spin in the UK

As has been seen so many times in the past, there is great value in studying aviation impacts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In this Post, three analyses created by Brendon Sewill are offered. All were produced for the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF).

Mr. Sewill has an extensive background. After earning his economics degree from Cambridge, he served as an adviser in the Treasury as well as to the British Bankers Association, a member of the Council of the National Trust, a member of the CPRE national executive, and a vice president of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

The first of Mr. Sewill’s three analyses was done in 2003, when he produced the 28-page ‘The Hidden Cost of Flying’. He had persuaded the UK government to rerun aviation computer forecasts, “…on the assumption that by 2030 air travel would be paying the same rate of tax as car travel….” What he found was shocking: the computer model rerun showed that the economic benefits of the UK aviation industry are grossly exaggerated, yet, in the meantime, elected officials are granting tax concessions worth £9 billion per year.

In 2005, his economic analysis was ‘Fly now, grieve later: How to reduce the impact of air travel on climate change’. In this 47-page report, he “…summarises the concerns about the impact of air travel on climate change, and explores the political and practical problems in making airlines pay sensible rates of tax….” Within this analysis, he also makes a compelling case for how large subsidies granted to aviation by nations across the planet are in fact generating the excessive aviation growth (and resultant increases in aviation impacts).

“At present the average American flies twice as far each year as the average European, and the average European flies ten times as far as the average inhabitant of Asia (even including Japan). If people in the rest of the world were to fly as much as those in the United States, the number of planes in the sky would rise nearly twenty-fold. Climate change disaster would be upon us.”                 – excerpt from pg.21

Finally, in 2009, Mr. Sewill wrote ‘Airport jobs – false hopes, cruel hoax’, a 23-page analysis in which he makes many brilliant points, debunking the alleged economic gains associated with massive airport development. For example, he notes how UK airports send more people AWAY from the UK to spend vacation dollars, which has the effect of displacing jobs (since that money is no longer spent at or near home). Simply, “…if the jobs created by aviation are to be counted, then the jobs lost by aviation must also be included….”

All three of these documents are well worth reading. Each is extremely relevant to the aviation impact issues found in the United States, too. They reveal greenwashing tactics by industry and the UK regulator (which, just like FAA, is arguably a ‘faux-regulator’ that serves industry, not the general population); the same greenwashing tactics are used at Sea-Tac, Boston-Logan, LaGuardia, and essentially all U.S. airports. Likewise, in the U.S., federal and local officials everywhere are found to be granting the same excessive subsidies, while also imposing uncompensated environmental costs upon thousands of residents under the concentrated flight paths.