[KORD]: Safety is Losing Out with the O’Hare Modernization Plan

One week ago, United 441 departed Orlando [KMCO] late in the day on a scheduled trip to O’Hare [KORD]. The flight history was normal up until the last moment, when the Boeing 757 slid off the edge of the runway and ended up in the mud at 12:53AM. FlightAware shows the flight made it to the gate two hours later.

It turns out, the flight was cleared to land on Runway 4L at a time when runway traction was reduced (after hours of light snow and mist) and the winds were poorly aligned with the runway (nominally a 70-degree crosswind per this official weather: METAR KORD 180651Z 33017G25KT 1SM R10L/P6000FT -SN BR BKN017 OVC043 M08/M11 A2994 RMK AO2 PK WND 33029/0618).

A group in the Chicago area, FAiR.org, issued this press release, making some very credible points. It appears that, in the mad rush to spend billions replacing the O’Hare runway system with a gazillion east-west runways, the busiest commercial airport in the world is losing its capacity to offer runways aligned with the wind, which are needed most during poor weather. The multi-parallel runways, and the NextGen reliance on automation (in the tower, and on the flight deck), are increasing runway throughput but decreasing safety margins.

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

And what is driving all of this? The desire to be the world’s number one airport, in terms of operations per year. For a few years, Atlanta [KATL] took that title away from O’Hare. Atlanta operates using a set of five parallel east-west runways. Atlanta is Delta’s superHub, and an enormous fraction (well over half?) of arriving passengers never leave the airport… they sit and wait enjoying the comfortable seatpitch on the same plane, or they walk to another gate and depart on a different flight.

FAA is collaborating with the airlines with the same business plan at O’Hare, which is a superHub for both United and American. The safety consequences are not insignificant, but there are environmental impacts, too. Here’s two serious environmental problems with these superHubs:

  1. when a huge portion of arriving passengers are using the airport only as a connecting point, the number of flights in and out of the airport each day far surpasses what is needed to serve the actual community. So, you end up with double, triple, or more flights per hour as are needed. Under NextGen, some neighborhoods like Bensenville are inundated with nonstop noise related to the superHub airport.
  2. the carbon footprint for each passenger is greatly increased. Essentially, every time a passenger connects at a superHub not on the direct route between origin and destination, it increases miles travelled. It is quite common in the U.S. for airlines to offer discounted airfares to fill seats, so they offer itineraries that add 20% or more to the miles travelled. This translates to that passenger generating a proportional increase in fuel consuming to carry their butt/baggage to their destination. More time, more hassle, more CO2, but too many of us are conditioned to ignore that because we ‘stole a great deal’, saving $20 when we clicked the buy button.

Exposing a NextGen Fraud: the so-called ‘Conventional’ ZigZag Routes

It is quite clear that, with the election results and the imminent White House occupancy change, coordinated efforts are ramping up to try and push through the latest pet projects: ATC privatization, and accelerated NextGen funding. These efforts are sourced in some backroom ‘collaboration’ between top-level FAA officials, key aviation leaders in Congress, and the industry (the airlines, the manufacturers, and the lobbyists).

As has always been the pattern, the Av-Gov Complex will knowingly lie to sell their schemes. One of the most graphic lies of the present cycle is variations of this graphic:


This misleading graphic is liberally posted in news articles, FAA reports, etc. It implies that today’s air navigation systems are primitive, needing to upgrade via a progression from zigzag routes (left image) through RNAV routes and eventually RNP routes. An important fact being hidden, though, is that RNAV and RNP routes already exist, as they have for years. (SOURCE: pg.7 of FAA’s SatNav News, Summer 2011 edition)

Time and again, this image is pushed to help brainwash the Public (and especially Congress) to believe the current ATC system is incredibly archaic and shockingly inefficient, with flights zigging and zagging all across the continent. They pitch NextGen as ‘transformative’, while ignoring and concealing the facts that:

  1. commercial passenger flights have been flying mostly direct flights for decades, and thus these graphically presented zigzags are a complete lie;
  2. RNP & RNAV procedures have been available and usable by these flights for roughly two decades, and thus the whiz-bang NextGen changes are not really changes (we can accomplish the expensive NextGen goals by smartly using what we already have); and,
  3. an entirely new class of delays has been recently invented – enroute delays, at altitude; typically 100-200-miles from the destination airport, these are used to smooth out arrival surges because FAA refuses to restrict appropriate arrival rates to accommodate known airport capacity limits.

FAA et al need to be called out on this misinformation. It turns out, you will find two versions of this deceptive diagram in Chapter One of nearly every recently completed ‘Environmental Assessment’ for various airspace changes around the nation. Here are some examples, from recent OAPMs (Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex); look at the identical content in any of these cookie-cutter documents, at these pages:

  1. June 2013: Draft EA for DC OAPM (216p; see pages 6 and 14 in chapter one, marked pages ‘1-6’ and ‘1-14’)
  2. March 2014: EA for Atlanta OAPM (122p; see pages 1-6 and 1-14)
  3. July 2014: Final EA for NorCal OAPM (134p; see pages 1-5 and 1-11)
  4. December 2014: Draft EA for Charlotte OAPM (118p; see pages 1-5 and 1-11)
  5. August 2016: Final EA for SoCal OAPM (144p; see pages 1-6 and 1-12)

Global Warming Denialism Is as Wrong as FAA’s NextGen

There is so much work to do, just trying to stay on top of FAA’s full frontal assault. Over the past three years, and under the guise of ‘safety and efficiency’, FAA has begun imposing NextGenHell and OAPMfraud, and thus destroying quality of life in residential neighborhoods across the nation. [NOTE, added 12/10/2016: FAA has frequently amended their webpages after issues have been raised in aiREFORM Posts; a copy of the FAA webpage connected to the ‘OAPMfraud’ link above is archived here.]

New Posts by aiREFORM will soon discuss the OAPMFraud issue, and will also cover impacts around Atlanta [KATL], the Bay Area [KSFO], Boston [BOS], Charlotte [KCLT], Chicago [KORD], Minneapolis [KMSP], Seattle [KSEA], and other emerging NextGenHell Impact Zones.

But other important news is happening, and it is quite related. For example, the rain events and deadly flooding, particularly in Texas, are indicative of what we can expect when we seed more intense weather by adding more water vapor (melted ice) and more energy (higher air temperatures, including enhanced solar energy absorption by much higher CO2 levels) to our changing atmosphere.

The Arctic Ice situation continues to worsen.

20150525.. NSIDC ArcticIce graph showing 5 days record low (w markups)

NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice Extent graph for 5/25/2015. Gray band is +/- 2SD’s off the mean value (solid black line). Dashed black line is 2012. Dark blue line is 2015. The year holding the record low value is labeled in orange, at bottom. Note that the current 2015 value is more than two standard deviations below the historical mean. (click on image to view current graph at NSIDC)

Ten days ago, an aiREFORM Post offered a pair of graphs showing low Arctic sea ice extent. The Post also noted that 2015 looks likely to set many new records. Well, we are now five days into a third new record this year.

Thus far in 2015, new low-records for Arctic Sea Ice Extent have been set from March 4th through March 22nd, April 4th through April 10th, and May 20th onward. And worse, not only is the sea ice extent plummeting, but weather and other conditions stand to keep it plummeting, maybe even accelerate it. For example, loss of white sea ice is replaced by dark open water, which tends to reflect less and absorb much more of the energy (thus, heating). This is an example of ‘positive feedback’ with negative climatological consequences.

Here are two ClimateReAnalyzer images, for May 26, 2015:20150526scp.. Arctic Sea Ice Extent and Air Temp Anomaly (ClimateReAnalyzer)

In both images, the North Pole is depicted by the crossing dashed lines (main meridians) centered and a third of the way down from the top. These modified satellite images are updated daily at their website (once you are at the website, note that the words listed to the left of the globe are all links to images; click on ‘Sea Ice & Snow‘ to view the left image, and click on ‘Temperature Anomaly‘ to view the right image).

The left image shows ‘Sea Ice Extent’. Open water is dark blue, 100% ice is solid white, and partial melt is in darker white shades. A thin cyan line marks the average sea ice extent for the years 1979-2000.

The right image shows ‘Temperature Anomaly’ for air temperature at 2-meter height above the surface. Colors grade toward warm extremes (brown) and cold extremes (blue). The anomaly values are relative to a baseline for temperatures during the 1979-2000 timeframe. The predominant brown shows that the Arctic Ocean is substantially warmed, with areas near the North Pole at 10-degrees+ Fahrenheit above normal.

It’s Global Warming, and it is Anthropogenic

These images, when compared with past Sea Ice Extent images, destroy the claims by those who deny Global Warming. 20150526scp.. Arctic Sea Ice Extent year 2000 gray(ClimateReAnalyzer)Here are two earlier images, for the same date in 2000 and in 2012.

The year 2000 was chosen because it most closely matches the ‘average 1979-2000’ graph (see the solid black line).

The year 2012 was chosen because it was the blockbuster year with the most records and the lowest readings during human history (see the dashed black line in the large graph near the top of this Post).20000526scp.. Arctic Sea Ice Extent (ClimateReAnalyzer)20120526scp.. Arctic Sea Ice Extent (ClimateReAnalyzer)

Look particularly at two map features: terrain snow cover, and open water. The terrain snow cover is a light gray overlay of brown land, and has clearly declined in Alaska, across northern Canada, and in the Rocky Mountains, from 2000 to 2012 to 2015. Likewise, the dark blue ‘open sea water’ has extended far northward, including:

  • the Bering Sea is now nearly ice free, and earlier melting in the Chukchi Sea north of the Bering Straits.
  • earlier open water in the lowest latitudes of the Beaufort Sea, around the MacKenzie River delta.
  • recession of the northern tips of both the Greenland Sea and the Barents Sea, north of Europe.
  • earlier meltoff of both Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay.

See also:

ANALYSIS: An ATC Joke-Gone-Bad at Atlanta [KATL]

Nobody was hurt, but it made the news. A controller working the arrivals landing on Runway 27L at Atlanta [KATL] made a flippant comment on frequency, telling a flight on a five mile final to ‘Go Around’, then followed up just two seconds later saying, “I’m kidding,” and gave a clear response to the pilot’s earlier request.

It turns out the Boeing 777 flightcrew played the joke against the controller. They ignored the controllers subsequent transmissions and executed the ‘Go Around’. Here’s the transcript:

15:30 DAL630: “Tower, Delta 6-30 heavy, DEPOT 2-7 left”
15:45 TWR: “Delta 6-30 heavy, Atlanta Tower, wind 2-3-0 at 1-4, runway 2-7 left, cleared to land”
15:50 DAL630: “Cleared to land, 2-7 left. Uhh, we do not have a gate yet so you might want to figure out some place for us to park while we sort it out”
15:56 TWR: “Delta 6-30 go around”
15:59 TWR: “I’m kidding. Delta 6-30, after your landing I’ve got no one behind you. Expect to exit right the second high-speed we’ll… we’ll hide you out somewhere down by Papa”
16:10 TWR: “Delta 6-30 you copy?”
16:11 DAL630: “Sorry, say again ?”
16:13 TWR: “Expect exit the second high-speed November Two… Delta 6-30 you’re cleared to land runway 2-7 left”
16:19 DAL630: “You sent us around. Delta 6-30’s on the go”

20140611.. KATL, scrap showing FAF and descent profile on RNAV RY27L APCHThe audio can be heard at this link at LiveATC.net. Times in the above transcript reflect the timestamp on the LiveATC audio.

The table at the bottom shows the flight data, from FlightAware. In the altitude column, the flight is shown stopping its descent at around 2,400′ altitude (which puts it roughly 1,400′ above the ground, since the runway is at roughly 1,000′ altitude MSL). The pilot had just reported a fix called DEPOT. According to the published RNAV Runwy 27L approach (see the scrap above, showing the profile for the final 9-miles of the approach), pilots will ideally cross DEPOT at 2,800′.20140611... KATL, DAL630 go around map view So, the data at FlightAware appears to be accurate, and the flight was roughly 1,400′ AGL and five miles from the runway when the Go Around was initiated. The table below also shows that the extra turn in the pattern (with a climb to 4,000′) cost approximately seven minutes total flying time.

Was there a hazard here? No, not at all. Could this aircraft have easily made a safe landing from that height and distance. Absolutely, and most pilots would have. Was it a bad joke? Yeah, a little, but not that far from the banter controllers and pilots use all the time. And did some in the media blow this out of proportion. Yes, WAY out of proportion.

UTC time LAT LONG Heading Compass Knots MPH ALT ClimbRate
08:37PM 33.8944 -83.9136 193° South 269 310 10,400 -600
08:38PM 33.8256 -83.9364 195° South 264 304 9,800 -600
08:39PM 33.7567 -83.9589 195° South 264 304 9,200 -900
08:40PM 33.6878 -83.9814 195° South 258 297 8,000 -1,260
08:42PM 33.6333 -84.1333 247° West 228 262 5,100 -1,080
08:43PM 33.6333 -84.2000 270° West 204 235 4,400 -900
08:44PM 33.6333 -84.2667 270° West 191 220 3,300 -1,020
08:45PM 33.6333 -84.3333 270° West 187 215 2,400 60
08:46PM 33.6333 -84.3833 270° West 173 199 3,500 3,420
08:47PM 33.6167 -84.4333 248° West 217 250 9,300 180
08:48PM 33.5667 -84.4167 164° South 222 255 3,900 -2,820
08:49PM 33.5500 -84.3500 107° East 254 292 4,000 -120
08:50PM 33.5500 -84.2667 90° East 242 278 3,700 -480
08:51PM 33.6000 -84.2500 16° North 215 247 3,100 -480
08:52PM 33.6167 -84.3000 292° West 182 209 2,800 -600
08:53PM 33.6167 -84.3500 270° West 159 183 2,000 -780
08:54PM 33.6167 -84.4000 270° West 140 161 1,300 -720