A Gatwick Missed Approach Reveals Why the Proposed U.S. ATC Privatization is a Big Fail

Summer is upon us, and Yanks love to fly on distant vacations, oblivious to the enormous carbon cost associated with that privilege. Shall we take a quick trip to Europe? Maybe lunch in London and zip back to LA for dinner?

We could fly through Gatwick. Or, maybe, let’s not. A recent tweet, with a very telling graphic, suggests Gatwick is a bad idea:

EasyJet 8222, from Valencia to Gatwick on 6/9/2017. Weather was not the issue: it was near perfect that day. On the first pass, the flight went around after descending to approx. 900-ft. This missed approach appears to have been caused solely by NATS’ refusal to properly manage capacity; i.e., too many arrivals in too small a time window. (click on image to view source Tweet)

It turns out, if you study the arrivals to Gatwick, you learn an awful lot, including:

  1. that lots of privatization has happened in the UK, both to the ATC system, and to the airports … and it is broadly failing to deliver promised ‘benefits’ used to sell the privatization scheme;
  2. that the UK ATC system, NATS, is grossly inefficient on Gatwick arrivals, even 25-years after it was privatized in 1992;
  3. that FAA’s NextGen and Europe’s SESAR (the satellite-based ATC automation systems being oversold on both sides of the Atlantic) are both very similar, in how they intensify impacts while accommodating airline profits.

Here’s a PDF compilation of the ten arrivals to Gatwick, preceding the eventual landing of EasyJet 8222. The inefficiencies are astounding. Notice that for all flights, the bulk of the trip is very direct, but the compression for landing at Gatwick is being managed by holding stacks and other arrival delays, all controlled by ATC. This is precisely the same pattern we see in the U.S. At the key hub airports, where FAA refuses to manage capacity while accommodating airline desires to schedule far too many flights, FAA imposes both enroute delays and lots of delay turns to arrivals. This is the case at all the worst NextGen-impacted airports: Boston [KBOS], LaGuardia [KLGA], Kennedy [KJFK],  Baltimore-Washington [KBWI], Reagan-National [KDCA], Charlotte [KCLT], Chicago O’Hare [KORD], Phoenix [KPHX], Seattle [KSEA], and San Francisco [KSFO].

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

Why is Gatwick Such an Inefficient Mess?

Gatwick [EGKK] is the second-busiest commercial passenger airport in the UK, after London Heathrow [EGLL]. Both of these airports are infamous for the enormous noise and air pollutant impacts they place upon residential communities – not just near the runways, but far away as well. Just like with FAA’s NextGen, arrivals are dumped low, slow, and loud, and circuitous delay patterns (like the Arc of Doom) are flown, maximizing impacts.

A key feature of Gatwick is that, although it has two parallel runways, a local environmental agreement disallows use of both runways at the same time; i.e., the main runway (08R/26L) is to be used alone, and the backup runway (08L/26R) is only to be used when the main runway is out of service (for maintenance, etc.).

So, with Gatwick, we have a classic example of limited runway capacity but no thoughtful constraints to ensure profit-seeking airlines do not schedule too many flights. And, every one of these arrival delays stands a high probability of triggering delays on all subsequent flights using the delayed aircraft, for the remainder of the day. In other words, if NATS would address the Gatwick arrival compression issue, they would make huge progress in reducing flight delays across the UK.

What Causes Missed Approaches & Go-Arounds, and are They Problematic?

In a well-managed air traffic world, missed approaches and go-arounds are very rare. Flight crews and ATC both hate go-arounds, as they are a LOT more work. And, they can be dangerous; i.e., in a system built around repetitive and predictable processes, sudden changes inject a lot of risk.

These should not be happening as often as they do for Gatwick. They would not happen there, too, if NATS would impose restrictions against excessive flight scheduling.

Will the U.S. ATC Privatization Proposal Do Better?

Probably not. Given what we have seen so far, in FAA’s fraudulent sales pitches, the botched implementation, and the growing and unresolved impacts, etc., there is a near absolute certainty that privatization of U.S. ATC would be an unmitigated disaster. No efficiency improvements. No cost savings. Reduced transparency. No accountability. Just one more sell-out to industry money, to enable the few airlines and others to do whatever the hell they want.

Just say ‘NO!’ to ATC Privatization: this is Corporatocracy run amok.

The Need for Night-time Curfews near SuperHubs, so People can Sleep

The Heathrow Airport west of London is hands-down the busiest UK hub for transatlantic commercial passenger flights. Just as we see in the U.S., where NextGen is creating health problems and destroying communities, hundreds of thousands of residents are severely impacted by the long conga lines of low, slow and loud arrivals. Plus, the noise and fumes from nonstop departure streams deny sleep and increase stress, too. Some of the worst examples in the U.S. include: Boston, NYC-JFK, NYC-LGA, DC-Reagan, Chicago-O’Hare, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Seattle.

A recent article notes a Conservative minister calling for a strong ban on all flights for the 7-hour block, from 11PM to 6AM. This would be a very good first step toward reducing Heathrow impacts. Indeed, it not only should be done, but the curfew should extend further. Given the tendency of airlines to overschedule at the main superHub airports, we commonly end up with delays cascading at the end of the day; thus, 11PM arrivals actually land at midnight or even later. This has been a huge problem at LaGuardia [KLGA], for example. So, to ensure that these arrivals actually land before the 11PM curfew, CAA (and FAA, in the U.S.) should require:

  1. the airlines need to schedule the arrivals long enough before 11PM so that, if delayed by the end of the day, they can still land before 11PM; and,
  2. substantial penalties need to be imposed – and rigidly enforced – to incentivize airlines to clean up their schedules, so that slippage past 11PM never happens.

Here’s an archived copy of the article:

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

Kudos to Mr. Hands for pressing forward on this proposed curfew at Heathrow. FAA should give serious consideration to imposing similar curfews at the busiest U.S. commercial hubs. If FAA refuses to do this, at the least FAA should pass the authority on, so that local officials and the communities can impose these restrictions.

Heathrow Airport Pays Guardian to Create ‘News Content’

20170110scp-about-explanation-of-paid-content-produced-by-guardian-labs-theguardian-comOne of the more disgusting details from the U.S. elections this past year was seeing the death of the journalism profession. We learned how the mainstream media no longer does hard research, no longer asks tough questions, but instead exists only to collect money for delivering spin and propaganda services. Not just for companies, but also for political parties. Evidently, propaganda going mainstream is a problem in the UK, too.

Here’s a copy of a tweet by BackOffHeathrow, a longstanding and vocal opponent of Heathrow airport expansion. Just like is happening under NextGen routes near a few major U.S. airports, the people who live east and west of Heathrow’s two runways are having their homes and lives destroyed. Same impacts, too: stress and distraction by repetitive noise interruptions, and compromised health due to elevated air pollutants and chronic sleep loss.


(click on image to view archived copy of this ‘paid content’)

Why so much misery and destruction? Primarily to accommodate air travel by airline passengers from North America, Asia, and Europe. Many people use Heathrow as an entry-exit point for Europe; many of them pass through Heathrow because the major airlines decided decades ago that they would use this piece of land for sorting their passengers and maximizing their company profits. By far, the biggest airline at Heathrow is British Airways (BAW, Speedbird). Airline profits are improving, while resident quality of life is steadily declining. No wonder so many people are fighting so hard to stop a third runway at Heathrow.

The Airport Paid For This (with your money)…

Notice who paid for this item that looks like a ‘news article’, which is one of a series of ‘paid content’ by the Guardian Labs team. Yes, Heathrow, the airport authority. Where do they get money to buy these services? From the passengers who fly through Heathrow. The airport authority, just like the regulator, can skim money off of the process, and evidently has no accountability or restrictions to preempt using that money beyond what is needed to operate the airport. In this example, they use that money to promote the airport’s expansion, and in opposition to the anti-expansion efforts by impacted airport neighbors seeking sleep and other relief. They use that money to create paid content, aka ‘Fake News’.

…And it is Nothing but Spin and Propaganda

This is a full-fledged program. On the upper left of the webpage it says, ‘Heathrow sustainable mobility zone’. Click on this and it opens up a whole new webpage with many more ‘articles’.

Take a close look at the article title: ‘How Air Traffic Controllers are Helping Clean Up Aviation Emissions’. The spin implies new technologies are being used to reduce the environmental impacts of aviation. It is spin partly because the methods listed in the ‘article’ for reducing impacts are nothing new … techniques and technologies that have already been used for decades. But, more critically, the spin flies right past the real elephant in the room: that for each of us, when it comes to generating CO2, hours spent travelling as a commercial air passenger are the worst hours in our life. Frankly, the only way for one individual to do more damage to the atmosphere, more quickly, is either to take up a new hobby setting arson fires, or have too much money to blow and start zipping about in your own private jet.

Obviously, if the aviation stakeholders here (the regulators and airport authorities and airlines) REALLY wanted to reduce aviation emissions, they would do five things:

  1. the regulator would reduce Heathrow arrival rates, and the airlines would agree to alter their schedules accordingly, so that the four holding stacks for Heathrow arrivals, as discussed in the ‘article’,  would never even be needed again;
  2. they would get the airlines to do a much better job filling the seats on their flights (the passenger load factor for British Airways, is barely above 80%, an absurdly low rate of seat occupancy that greatly increases the per passenger carbon emissions);
  3. they would agree to impose uniform fees that disincentivize use of Heathrow as a hub airport, while also encouraging airlines to fly a larger percentage of their passengers on nonstop-direct flights to their final destinations (for example, impose a steep fee for flying through, or impose fees that are directly proportional to the itinerary distance flown);
  4. they would advocate for imposition of a heavy aviation carbon tax (which should also replace most other aviation fees and taxes) so as to disincentivize hub connections that are not efficiently located along the direct route of flight; and,
  5. they would immediately abandon the third runway at Heathrow — this additional runway, and the industry that profits from it, are just further bad investment to accelerate the fossil fuel destruction of our planet.

The Impacts of Repetitive Airport Noise: One Man’s Story from Near UK’s Heathrow

Here’s a copy of a Post blogged today by HACAN Clearskies, related to impacts near the London Heathrow Airport. This story is one man’s anonymous experiences. He first believed he would never be bothered by airplane noise, but the persistence eventually led him to anxiety attacks. He is thankful for his dog and having the limited resources to escape, to drive away to a park. But, obviously, people should not have their homes destroyed in the name of air commerce, with assistance from faux-regulators like UK’s CAA and our FAA.

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

Even the Queen is Distressed with Excessive Aviation Noise


(click on image to view archived copy of the source article)

(click on image to view archived copy of the source article)

The proposed addition of a third parallel runway at Heathrow has been debated for decades. The proposal accommodates airlines, who have created artificial excess need for airline operations because they are using London as a hub in the profitable trans-Atlantic air transport business. The imbalance is obvious: corporations over people, profits over quality of life. Exactly as is happening in so many NextGen impact areas in the U.S.

Sadly, more and more people under the Heathrow flightpaths are being impacted. Indeed, this article notes that Her Majesty the Queen has acquired a sharp ear capable of discerning different aircraft types. She is known to comment ‘747’ or ‘Airbus’, as each overflight interrupts royal conversations at Windsor Castle.