The Congressional Process to Reauthorize FAA: Is it Just a Show, and Will it Go Far Enough?

Lots is happening in DC right now, though it is not clear if more than a few of the well-paid elected officials care enough to press through long-overdue reforms. If they fail to alter FAA’s cozy protectionism of this industry, the problems will persist: more noise (along with less sleep), more air pollutants (along with higher morbidity rates), and more rapid expansion of the greenhouse gas emissions by an industry that is the fastest growing contributor to global climate change. In time, the latter will mean loss of the polar ice (which appears to be accelerating), as indicated in this chart:

selected years added and labeled by aiREFORM (click on image to view source at NSIDC)

Note how Arctic sea ice has steadily declined in the past three decades. Losing polar ice is not a trivial matter; it will result in much higher sea levels, higher atmospheric energy and water vapor levels (stronger winds and bigger rain/snow events), and intensified weather extremes (the kind that fool trees into blooming early, only to freeze off the pollinized blossoms, killing that year’s fruit crop).

The Ball is in Your Court, Congress!

This week, the details are being deliberated in the U.S. House, and it looks like the Senate is also pressing to ‘hurry up’ and reauthorize FAA. Congress has important work to do for us in the U.S., but the consequences are global, going far beyond just us. From a climate justice perspective, the consequences are horribly unjust. Air travel and air cargo are industries that serve the wealthiest nations, but the poorest nations tend to be the most vulnerable. A nation like the U.S. can spend enormous funds elevating runways in Florida, but what is a small nation in equatorial regions to do, except simply move away? And, as the most vulnerable nations are destroyed, the global scarcity of land will only compel more instability, more refugees, and more wars.
We need to understand this now: there are real and ugly consequences for our obsessive hyper-consumption, and aviation is a big part of that bad habit. Every benefit bears a cost; the aviation-related benefits we enjoy today are at a growing cost to others on the planet … not just airport neighbors near over-developed U.S. hubs, but also communities at or near sea-level, across the globe.

Some Resources

Here are a few current documents and articles for readers to ponder:

  • HR.4, FAA Re-Authorization draft, Section-by-Section Summary – offers summaries of the many proposals, before most were either withdrawn or voted out by committee. One wonders: is there a better process for compelling a captured agency to serve THE PEOPLE, not just their industry? Is this current process rigged to empower lobbyists and opportunistic politicians? (27p, click here for archived copy)
  • HR.4, Draft Rule – take a look at the rules set up to ‘manage’ the amendment proposals and ensure the final draft serves industry. (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • UPDATE: The Dirtiest of Washington Politics? — ATC Privatization By Deception? – it was suspicious when Shuster suddenly announced abandonment of ATC privatization and his decision to not run again. Now it is back on the plate again, which begs the question: did Shuster et al decide to quit wasting effort deliberating and instead just impose their industry-serving plans? (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • Climate Change Could Increase ‘Whiplash’ Between Wet and Dry Years in California, Leading to More Disasters (click here to view source, a 4/24/2018 article at EcoWatch)

A Victory for the People: Shuster is Scrapping A4A’s ATC Privatization Scheme

Yesterday, Congressman Bill Shuster, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced he is abandoning his multi-year push (going back to at least 2015) aimed at privatizing the U.S. ATC system. The idea was sold as a way to remove roughly 35,000 employees from federal service, but many saw that in fact, the idea was just a way to give more leverage to the airlines and other corporate interests.

This is a big victory for all of us who want FAA to stop being a captured agency, a faux-regulator that fails to serve people while serving only aviation commerce.

Below is an archived compilation of various news articles with the announcement. The actual Press Release has not yet been posted at Congressman Shuster’s website.

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


See also this earlier aiReform content:

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.

NAS Annual Ops Have Declined for Decades Now, And NextGen Is Just Hype

One of the most frustrating and damnable aspects of today’s FAA is their manipulation of data, to steer public opinion toward more aviation expansion. This propagandistic phenomenon has worsened in the last decade. Sometimes, to get to the facts, you have to dive deep and find what FAA wrote long ago. Here is an example…Let’s go back to early 2001.

(click on image to view archived copy of entire FAA report, from April 2001)

Here’s a screencap from April of that year, FAA’s 125-page NAS Capital Investment Plan 2002-2006. This one small screencap offers some unvarnished statements about capacity and delays (and the whole document contains many, MANY more!):

  • “Currently, traffic at the 25 busiest airports exceeds their practical capacity by about 1 million operations a year.”
  • “Either demand is reduced, or capacity expanded to bring the NAS into balance. It is normal to experience some delay in the NAS, the challenge is to manage excessive delay.”
  • RE: 15 new runways scheduled to open in the next five years: “If all of these runways are built as scheduled, they will add about 1.4 million operations a year in capacity.”

OK, so let’s take a closer look. First, let’s look at FAA’s ATADS data, the most precise database available for studying operations at all FAA and contract control towers in the U.S. Here’s a table created for the ‘top 25’ airports; in this case, the 25 busiest OEP-35 airports in calendar year 2000:What does this show? It shows a critical reality: this aviation system is NOT expanding, is NOT becoming increasingly complex, and in fact has been down-sizing for nearly two decades. In other words, the expensive changes that industry and FAA are pitching so aggressively are NOT needed, and serve only to further line the pockets of the cronies they advocate for. (…which, of course, is why they are advocating!)

Now, let’s take another look at those quotes above, and let’s do the math. Those 25 busiest airports were allegedly exceeding practical capacity by ‘about 1 million operations’ annually. The totals in the table above (use the ‘TOTALS’ column, not the ‘Commercial’ column, because that is the number that matters to define ATC workload) show 13.4 Million operations in 2000. Thus, this FAA document suggests the ‘practical capacity’ of the top 25 airports in 2000 was 12.4 Million annual operations. By 2016, three key forces (airline consolidation, hub realignment, and economic normalization) had reduced total ops to 11.1 Million annual ops, well below the alleged ‘practical capacity’. While total annual operations at the top 25 airports are down 17% (from 2000 to 2016), the only airports bucking this trend are the ones where airlines insist on over-scheduling. In other words, their pursuit of profits is the root cause of daily system delays, it also is the primary source for massive impacts upon neighboring residential communities, such as near KJFK, KCLT, and KSFO.

Note, too, that actual capacity has increased substantially (which, of course, reduces ATC complexity), with the construction not only of the ‘15 new runways’ by 2006, but the many other new runways between 2006 and 2017.

As a side note, ponder this: notice the green background stats in the table above. These are the very few airports where operations have actually increased from 2000 to 2016. Most people would assume automatically, Charlotte was tops, because of American’s massive expansion there to create a super-Hub. They would be wrong. In fact, Kennedy airport in NYC beat out Charlotte. FAA and PANYNJ accommodations to JetBlue, Delta and American are the reason that the western half of Long Island is constantly inundated with long and low arrival conga lines into JFK. The 28% increase is quite impactful.

CONCLUSION: when Bill Shuster et al stand before press cameras or preside at hearings where they pitch NextGen and ATC privatization, they are out of touch and, frankly, pitching a fraud. They should instead be focusing on managing hub capacity, imposing limits at the most congested hub airports, so that the entire system can achieve higher efficiencies and lower impacts.

UPDATE: Shuster & A4A’s House Legislation, Aiming to Privatize ATC

The next step in the legislative process happens later today. In the House, the Appropriations Committee’s THUD Subcommittee (Transportation, Housing & Urban Development) does a bill markup hearing. It is set to start at 7:00pm (though, it may have a slightly different start time, as it needs to follow a voting process). Click here to access the webcast.

As background material, the House (led by Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chair Bill Shuster) is pressing to privatize ATC. There is substantial opposition. In the House, most significant opposition has been voiced by the ranking Democratic Party committee member, Representative Peter DeFazio (OR). Mr. DeFazio has deep knowledge of the issues, as he has formerly chaired the Aviation Subcommittee. However, given the vast division in the House today, even the best reasoning is simply outnumbered. So, the proposal advanced out of the Subcommittee, and then was approved by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee on June 8th.

The Senate, on the other hand, continues to oppose the privatization concept. So, at this time, there are two different legislative proposals moving forward, the main difference being the inclusion of ATC privatization in the House version, but the exclusion of ATC privatization in the Senate version. Logically, if two versions pass, this will all end up in conference, where a lot of wheeling and dealing will happen. Strategically, Shuster and the Av/Gov Complex players (which includes FAA, though of course at this stage of the process, FAA Adminsitrator Huerta and the agency are very careful to ‘look’ like they are neutral!) will throw bones to selected parties, to gain just enough support to pass their proposal. They’ll also try to conflate; e.g., people upset about cramped seating will feel pressured to allow ATC privatization, if that is what they must do to pass language mandating wider seats and longer seat pitch. It’s crazy; it’s stupid; but this is how the dysfunction goes, every year … and it is only getting worse.

Here are a couple video news clips. Amy Goodman, at Democracy Now, offers an excellent review of Trump’s endorsement of the proposal to privatize ATC, announced on Monday June 5th. The video includes a lengthy interview of Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights.

In another excellent video clip, the same subject is covered by Thom Hartmann, at The Big Picture. He interviews economist Dr. Richard Wolff.

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.

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: https://youtu.be/h6XTbApeO-M

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

Debunking the Latest ATC-Privatization & NextGen Spin, this time by Economist.com

The members of the Av-Gov Complex just will not give up. And who is the Av-Gov Complex? The congressional committee leaders, the FAA officials, the lobbyists, the airlines, the unions, and the manufacturers. And, the media that is always happy to create ‘news stories’ that help to nudge the public toward demanding the latest wasteful schemes, NextGen and ATC privatization.

20160210.. Shuster looks & acts a lot like 'Peter Griffin' on Family Guy

The key Congressional proponent of AIRR is Bill Shuster. He chairs the Committee where he introduced AIRR; he also has both professional and personal relationships with top Airlines for America  officials, including both A4A CEO Nick Calio and  A4A VP of Government Affairs Shelley Rubino. a lobbyist known to be his girlfriend.

The AIRR proposal and NextGen funding are wrong and wasteful, yet the Av-Gov players continue to try and sell AIRR. They continue to wastefully spend aviation taxes, excess airline profits, and scarce Congressional time and energy.  As a result, Congress continues to fail to serve, and is not solving other more critical problems while wasting our money.

Just as the WikiLeaks emails showed how DNC ‘collaborated’ with the mainstream media to suppress the Bernie Sanders campaign and guarantee the election of the establishment’s choice (the amazingly flawed candidate, Hillary Clinton), so too the Av-Gov Complex players are getting help from our news sources. This time they have gone international, to the well-respected Economist magazine. Sadly, Economist has produced a story loaded with utterly false and misleading content. The article is below, with footnote rebuttals by aiREFORM.com. And, links to other Posts and materials are included at the bottom of this Post.

We need to be done with these two terrible ideas. NextGen and ATC Privatization are wasteful deadends that offer no substantial solutions and in fact create larger problems (especially the privatization plan). They are being offered solely to feather the nests of the Av-Gov Complex players, and to further diminish accountability by U.S. aviation regulators and the ATC system.

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


See also:

House Subcommittee on Aviation to Hold 6-15-2016 Hearing on ATC Issues

The House Subcommittee on Aviation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), will hold a hearing next week to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic controller hiring, staffing, and training plans and related issues. Here is a portion of the press release, including times and a list of the four witnesses:20160615scp.. 'FAA’s Air Traffic Controller Hiring, Staffing & Training to be Focus of Hearing' (portion of House Aviation Subcomm Press Release)


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under Chair Bill Shuster, has been pushing hard to privatize ATC. Although most controllers are opposed, the NATCA leadership has been offering testimony and news stories that are aimed at getting Congressional approval of ATC privatization. One of the witnesses is Paul Rinaldi, head of NATCA, who has been pressing an absurd point, claiming ATC is using archaic technologies including ‘paper strips’. Another witness, Randy Babbitt, was forced to resign from his position as FAA Administrator when he failed to report an alcohol/driving charge after a Christmas party in 2011; after his abrupt resignation, he was quickly hired by Southwest Airlines.


Below are scrollable PDF files listing the committee members. These may be helpful for identifying speakers during the proceedings. They also can be used to study how powerful Congressional committees are structured, and how severely gerrymandered their districts tend to be (to ensure their reelection).

Click on either of the two images below for a scrollable view; red shows republican members (R) PDF file, blue shows democrat members (D) PDF file.
Aviation Subcommittee members are marked with a blue box around their name. Click on the PDF links to download either list.


UPDATE, 6/15/2016 at 12:23 EDT: — The hearing ended at 12:19. Random notes are viewable on page 2 of this Post. Additional updates will follow.

Unspinning the Spin: A Liberal Rant by the Conservative Wall Street Journal

It is bad enough that the mainstream media tries every trick in the book to manipulate the outcome of our major elections … and, more often than not, they succeed. Their greed and power know no boundaries. No surprise, then, that the media applies these same propaganda tactics to prop up industries and bogus programs, such as NextGen and the Av-Gov Complex co-conspirators’ latest stab at privatizing ATC.

A new opinion piece was published yesterday by the Wall Street Journal editors. One reader’s comments summarize it very well: “…Although I think the FAA is completely inept and has bungled the NextGen rollout on all levels, some of the WSJ’s statements were very unfair (aka the old ‘World War II technology’ argument), and I fear the airlines being in charge even more.”

Another reader’s comments are drawn from his profession, as an airline pilot with extensive knowledge about labor and aviation politics:

“This article has absolutely nothing in it except for many errors and convenient omissions. For example, the comparison to the 1960’s is totally inaccurate because today all aircraft have the ability to fly direct, point-to-point with GPS and other similar navigation devices that all airliners have, even the “older” ones. The United States has complete, 100% radar coverage, so the statements referring to enroute delays are totally incorrect. Plus, it states that Schuster’s proposal “isn’t perfect” without pointing out what those imperfections are.

This is “airline deregulation” all over again, but this time targeting ATC. As far as FAA “oversight” goes, just look at the fines the airlines have accumulated for improper maintenance—and those are only the cases that were caught.

The true problem lies in the terminal areas of the busiest airports and neither NextGen nor any other fancy-sounding baloney has come even close to resolving that. All it has done is increase the noise levels for airport neighbors.”

Here’s a PDF of aiREFORM’s analysis of the WSJ piece, with numerous rebuttal notes added as footnotes:

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

Clearly, this will not be the last of an ongoing series of lame propaganda pieces. The collusion by members of the Av-Gov Complex – called a ‘collaboration’ – will not end until they pull off yet another change that serves industry profits at the expense of everyone else. A Congress weakened and compromised by too much focus on fundraising may eventually capitulate to this fraudulent campaign.