Part 2: “It is like being broken up with on a Post-It note”

More details to ponder about FAA’s latest tantrum: their refusal to communicate with Marylanders because the good Governor has filed a legal challenge against FAA. Sheesh.

Washington Post followed up on the Baltimore Sun news story. (click here for the source article, click here for an aiRchived version) The piece was by Michael Laris. There is a common and consistent problem with articles by the mainstream media, including Washington Post. In the middle of this article, a paragraph implying NextGen benefits is inserted, but none of the alleged benefits are supported by any real data. That is to say, the suggestion of addressing congestion fails against the reality that total airport operations (takeoffs and landings) at the main passenger airline airports have actually declined 14% between 1989 and 2017; in other words, the only ‘congestion’ is accommodation of airlines who ‘demand’ that a select few airports become superHubs. (click here for a 3-page PDF analysis; the combined data showing the 14% decline is at the bottom of page 3) And, as for efficiency, the only ‘gains’ are potentially realized by subverting the environmental review process (e.g., liberally applying the CatEx) to impose highly impactful routes with turns lower and closer to airport runways.; in other words, FAA is orchestrating a wholesale dismissal of environmental concerns.

There’s another important detail to consider, about the Baltimore-Washington airport. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), Southwest is by far the dominant airline at KBWI, with nearly 69% of passengers. (click here for BTS website, click here for an aiRchived copy of the KBWI airport report) So, if FAA imposes changes that increase both impacts and airline profit margins, Southwest is the key player who could, in a very neighborly way, advocate on behalf of impacted residents. When is the CEO of Southwest Airlines going to stand up and protect community quality-of-life and health, by telling FAA to fix these new routes? If Southwest did this, they would stand to build even greater customer loyalty. That, coupled with their near-monopoly at KBWI (and dozens of other U.S. airports, BTW!), is always a good business move.

“It is like being broken up with on a Post-It note”

Alternatively, it is like the spoiled brat kid who, seeing his failure to get his way, abruptly takes his toys and leaves the sandbox.

Yes, this is today’s FAA.

A few years ago, FAA implemented NextGen changes that are destroying neighborhoods under heavily travelled repetitive flight segments. When people in Maryland had enough, they organized. Part of their organization was to accept FAA’s preferred process, creating a community roundtable, filled with concerned volunteers.

Now, the game plan for roundtables (and other aviation citizen-committees) includes lots of rigging. Be sure their work product conforms with what FAA/industry want to see. Assert some control. For example, FAA and the airport authority make sure plenty of pro-aviation participants ‘volunteer’ to be a part of the group. Also, the agendas for at least a year are stacked with sleep-inducing program scraps, long and boring sessions sharing koolaid glasses filled with technobabble and irrelevant metrics like ‘dNL’. Despite these shenanigans, most groups do seat at least one or two real activists. The kind who will not and do not give up. And, as happened in Maryland, sometimes real support is gained from local and state elected officials.

So, what’s going on here? Just another FAA temper tantrum. This time because the good Governor and his Attorney General took FAA to court, to protect Maryland’s people.

What’s the shortest way to spell ‘spoiled brat kid’? I’d try “F-A-A”.

Click here for the original Baltimore Sun article.

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

Now, how about a few questions:

  1. At what level of FAA was this decision made? This is a heavily top-down bureaucracy, to the point where a Deputy Regional Administrator doing as Ms. Stanco did was only following orders. So, how about if FAA produces all the records that flesh out why this decision was made, and who really made it?
  2. What level of outrage will we see from our federal elected officials? Will any of them demand FAA end their tantrum? Will any of them demand full transparency and accountability, including production of all records (see #1 above)?
  3. When will our Congress step up and do their job, serving the people? When will local communities become re-empowered, to the point where they can manage capacity at their local airport, guarding against excessive airline hubbing and scheduling?

Hubbing Strategies Increase Impacts, But Do Not Create Sustainable Airline Profits

Airline stocks have been tanking lately, in no small part due to strategy shifts by United. In a nutshell, United is trying to design a broad restructuring of its three domestic-focused hubs in Chicago, Denver and Houston. Why? Because this trio of domestic hubs “…has profit margins that are 10 percent below the inland domestic hubs operated by American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc….”

The situation is discussed in this Bloomberg article (click here to view source, or view the archived PDF copy below).

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

What is the most consequential quote in the article?

“As part of its strategy, United is boosting connections in its three mid-continent hubs by an average of 17 percent by adjusting its flight schedules, a process it’s completed in Houston and will commence in Chicago next month.”

In this one quote, United is making it clear that, for all major U.S. hubs, traffic growth is NOT about customer demand; it is airline schedule tweaking, to increase profits, that is causing the huge impact increases at major hubs, especially at KBOS, KJFK, KDCA, and KSEA.

Which airports/hubs are most monopolized?

Here are the main hubs for the four largest airlines:

  • American: Charlotte [KCLT], Dallas-Ft Worth [KDFW], Miami [KMIA], and Philadelphia [KPHL]
  • Delta: Atlanta [KATL], Minneapolis St Paul [KMSP], and Salt Lake City [KSLC]
  • United: Cleveland [KCLE], Washington-Dulles [KIAD], and Houston [KIAH]
  • Southwest: Baltimore [KBWI], Dallas-Love [KDAL], and Chicago-Midway [KMDW]

Most other major airports are either smaller market and dominated by Southwest, or they are duopoly hubs. Four duopoly hubs that stand out are:

  1. Denver [KDEN] – Southwest and United
  2. Chicago O’Hare [KORD] – American and United
  3. Phoenix [KPHX] – American and Southwest
  4. Sea-Tac [KSEA] – Alaska and Delta

Will hub concentration reduce over time?

No, not likely at all. The level of industry scheduling collusion, and the absence of real regulatory oversight, ensure this trend toward hub concentration will continue to intensify. As an example, look at the hub concentrations for 2013 data, at this aiReform Post. Note that nothing has changed: at the bulk of these 77 airports, monopolies and duopolies have only strengthened in the past four years.

Who is to Blame – and Who Can Fix – the Impacts Around U.S. Hub Airports?

A recent news article out of Phoenix [KPHX] shows that both FAA and local officials are again ‘collaborating’ to screw over residents impacted by NextGen routes. Click here to view an archived copy with aiReform comments.

What I find most distressing about this article is it shows the real intent of the so-called settlement between FAA and local officials. FAA plainly lost when their case was finally heard at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (USCADC). A responsible federal agency, actually serving the public (instead of just industry), would have accepted the court decision and promptly acted to correct their errors. Instead, FAA lawyers pressed local officials to compromise, to effectively defang the court decision … thus rendering the court meaningless. They crafted a deal that only perpetuates and expands the root problem: real people impacted by aviation have been shut out from having any voice, any local control, to protect their homes and communities.

An Analysis

When neighborhoods (and health) are being ruined by excessive airport scheduling, who is to blame? And, who can fix the problems?

With or without legal action,[1] there is always a small collection of ‘parties’ involved, including:

  • Elected officials (local, and federal)
  • FAA – the federal ‘regulator’ created to serve the public, funded by the public, but inordinately serving industry
  • Local/state administrative officials
  • Airlines (and other industry players)
  • Real people: impacted neighbors/residents, as well as locals who use aviation services

What role does each party play, and how are these parties interconnected? At the federal level, our elected officials have been lobbied by industry to create laws – including fee/tax systems – that shift the balance of power amongst parties. FAA, a captured regulator serving industry, then processes these laws into regulations, always with a bias that benefits the airlines. At the heart of these laws and regulations, Congress and FAA are stealing away local control. The effect is that the airlines, along with FAA, have evolved into a sovereign alien, occupying not just the sprawling airport lands but also the air above our homes. Real people – in homes, in city halls, and even in the governor’s mansion – have no meaningful powers to mitigate these absentee landlords who are indifferent about how their decisions trend their status toward ‘slumlord’.

That’s the core of it: No local control. Congress and FAA have created administrative sovereignty for an invasive and metastasizing aviation industry.

The situation is worsened today by the extent to which human greed is being played. Even our best officials are compromised by the lobbyists who now run the show.

Increasingly, it is an extremely rare official who, after winning an election or spending decades climbing to a high level administrative position, still maintains an ability to serve people, and not money. Corporations know what they want, and lobbyists (many of whom are also earning FAA retirement pensions!) know how to spin and maneuver to achieve what the corporations want. Money makes a great hearing aid; officials who seem tone deaf to constituent concerns ALWAYS come through to serve money. Some officials go totally rogue, accepting payouts, kickbacks, and jobs for the spouse. Most bought officials are careful to remain subtle. In all cases, though, nearly all officials find it easiest to bend to the lobbyist pressures; they drink their koolaid and trust their hype, without any critical assessment. Thinking and leadership are hard work; bending is far more convenient, especially if there is personal financial gain attached. In effect, and in time, many local/state officials become captured as industry servants.

Let’s be very clear on one other thing. When a new commercial airline impact appears and/or grows, it always does so because the one or two airlines who dominate that airport are tweaking the daily flight schedule, in pursuit of profits. Those profits do NOT come from adding more air travel for local residents; no, the profits come from more intense use of the local airport as a hub for more flights. The airline tallies more ‘through-passengers’ who pass through the airport as a passenger-sorting facility; the airport authority scores more PFC taxes, to pay off more accumulated airport capital improvement debt and fund more future airport growth projects. The airport sprawls larger and noise and pollutant impacts increase, yet the aviation service benefits to local residents show no meaningful gain.

Since the airlines are profit-seeking corporations, they do everything they can to minimize the costs (including labor) when implementing these changes. Thus, the fewest possible jobs are created; in other words, while noise/health impacts may soar, the real local economic benefits are held to a minimum. The marginal costs of growing a hub schedule typically always far exceed the marginal benefits to the local economy … which is why we see so much FAA/industry collaborated propaganda, spinning the illusion of airports as massive economic engines (while conveniently ignoring the massive subsidies involved).

A Short Data Example, from San Diego:

Here’s a table with enplanement data, extracted from the 2008 airport master plan for the crowded on-runway airport in San Diego [KSAN]. Operations data has been added, from FAA’s ATADS database. Also, the year-to-year change has been calculated.

  enplanements Yr-to-Yr change Operations (ATADS) Yr-to-Yr change
2002 7,471,644 206,605
2003 7,637,193 2.2% 204,713 -0.9%
2004 8,200,687 7.4% 215,211 5.1%
2005 8,692,694 6.0% 229,192 6.5%
2006 8,759,669 0.8% 230,798 0.7%
2007 9,172,966 4.7% 237,574 2.9%

Did local demand for aviation services grow 7.4% during 2004 and another 6.0% during 2005? No. If the local population had grown at such rates than, yes, it would be reasonable to expect such large annual increases. But, in fact, the enplanements grew far in excess of population growth. So, the enplanements grew due to shifts in airline scheduling. Those shifts massively increased the number of people from elsewhere, who became counted as enplanements when they changed planes or occupied a through-seat.

San Diego is a good example to study this because it is remotely located, in a corner of the nation, and close enough to the major hub at LAX. As such, it does not have the geographically central location needed to function well as an energy-efficient hub for through-passengers, at least not for domestic trips. In fact, if you study the airport’s Competition Plan,[2] you will see that all three legacy airlines (American, Delta, and United) offer very limited flights, primarily feeding only to their major U.S. hubs. The two airlines that use KSAN for hubbing are Southwest and Alaska. Southwest is the dominant airline and feeds many passengers through KSAN with origins or destinations along the West Coast. Alaska does the same thing, but Alaska’s hubbing is mostly to serve passengers vacationing at numerous Mexican destinations. If FAA wanted to minimize impacts on the local community at this very congested airport, they would remove the current incentives to use KSAN as a through-hub. If congressional officials wanted to help, they too would remove the current incentives, by pushing for changes in the laws that have defined the current problematic fee and tax system. If local officials wanted to serve impacted local residents, they would at least advocate, demanding FAA and Congress take these actions.

Some might suggest these growth figures do not reflect airline scheduling strategies, but instead reflect a recovery from 9/11. This is not the case. It is absolutely true that, across the U.S., enplanements and operations dropped after 9/11. But, two other truths also exist: (1) at all but the biggest hub airports, airline activity growth rates were already starting to decline in 2000;[3] and (2) the bulk of the recovery was completed in 2003. In other words, if FAA applied its resources to objectively study the data and report it to the public, FAA itself would prove that, by the end of 2003, the real people residing in and near San Diego had fully resumed their local consumption of aviation services. An uncaptured federal regulator writing such a report would confirm: the growth in impacts upon the local community are solely due to FAA’s accommodation of airline scheduling; more through-passengers means more profits … and more impacts.

What does this analysis mean, for resolving aviation impacts?

It all comes down to airline schedule changes for which marginal impacts increase far more than marginal benefits.[4] The impacts are increasing because the Av-Gov Complex is a machine that has airlines, FAA, and various local/state officials ‘collaborating’ to feed benefits to corporations … and this very same machine is screwing over the people. There is no local control. Instead, we have predictable choreography, with Av-Gov Complex players finger-pointing and claiming they are powerless, with zero accountability as impacts continue to worsen.

People want aviation services, but they also want (and need!) local control.

Since 2012, when Delta announced a new hub expansion at Sea-Tac [KSEA], all airport metrics have grown enormously (annual operations, enplanements, fuel consumption, air cargo tonnage). But so too have grown the many problems that both FAA and Port of Seattle take no action to fix: noise impacts, air pollutant impacts, arrival congestion forcing delays even at cruise altitude, road congestion for Seattle-area access to the airport terminal, even lengthy tarmac delays simply because the airlines are allowed to schedule in excess of existing gate capacity. The ongoing non-performance by FAA and Port of Seattle, and their bias toward accommodating airline greed, is shameful.

If O’Hare [KORD] scaled back to half its operations, would the Chicago area still be amply served with excellent service across the globe? Absolutely. And, at the same time, would impacts upon neighborhoods to the east and west be reduced? Yes, and to an astonishingly positive degree (as would national system delays).

Is the same true at other major hub airports? Yes. All of the communities where summer barbeques are destroyed (the food just doesn’t smell right, when the air smells like jet fuel), where incessant and repetitive noise patterns deny the restorative powers of nature or enjoying backyard play, where sleep is lost to accommodate loud early-morning cargo flights … all of these communities want their local airport to provide local services. But, these residents also want (and need!) local control, so that the scale of airport development and airline scheduling does not end up destroying health and quality of life.

The problems are not just at Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle and Chicago. While most U.S. airports continue to scale back (this is a shrinking industry), there is a small handful of other airports where one or two airlines want to grow more hubbing profits. To enable this, FAA’s NextGen implementation is plowing down residential quality of ([KBOS], [KJFK], [KLGA], [KBWI], [KDCA], [KCLT], and [KSFO] are all on that list).

Solutions will not happen, so long as the co-conspirators continue to conspire. The problems are local, and the best people to define and resolve the problems are the local residents. We are long overdue for the restoration of REAL LOCAL CONTROL, even (and especially!) at our largest hub airports.

— <> <[]> <> —


footnotes:

[1] It is also important to understand: the legal actions, such as the case heard when Phoenix sued FAA, are not full-fledged lawsuits where a plaintiff can force corrections and payment of damages; these are practically administrative hearings, as they are directed (by Congress) to be filed under a very short time limit, to the USCADC, which has a long history of bias favoring corporations, federal agencies, and other status quo powers. If Congress cared to protect citizen rights, we would be granted far more latitude, to pick more favorable court venues.

[2] One of the more interesting details within this Competition Plan is at pages 11-12; it is there noted that KSAN offers direct scheduled passenger flights to 56 destinations, but 47 of those are served by only ONE airline. Routes are thus 84% monopoly-flown.

[3] FAA ATADS data shows that KSAN commercial operations peaked in 1995 (219K), then dropped every year, bottoming out at 191K ops in 2000. In 2001, when airports were totally shut down for days, KSAN commercial ops actually INCREASED to 192K. Fifteen years later, the 2016 commercial ops had retreated 2.9%, to 186K; also, between 2001 and 2016, declines in TOTAL airport ops were even steeper, down 4.8%.

[4] Significantly, too, while the benefits accrue solely to the non-resident airline corporation, the costs accrue to the local residents. This cost-shift is a taking.

Here’s an online search worth trying: ‘Lane McFadden FAA’

Do any quick online search using these three words ‘Lane McFadden FAA’ and you will find quite a few links. Most are to articles and court activities related to petitions for review, filed by communities upset with FAA’s impacts and arrogance.

Mr. McFadden must be accomplished and well trained: he is a lawyer for the Department of Justice. But, the poor lad must have made a bad impression at DoJ, as he has been stuck for years, wheeling and dealing to get cases thrown out, and sometimes arguing before 3-judge panels, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (USCADC). Or, then again, maybe in the legal world he is a rock star for always having so much work to get paid for. At any rate, he was last seen – just last week – again trying to bail out FAA. He lost the Phoenix ‘petition for review’ last summer, and had to repeat his canister of ‘NextGen is good’ arguments all over again, this time for a similar case filed by residents being impacted by NextGen routes in and out of Washington National Airport.

Why Lane McFadden? Primarily because his name comes up in the article discussed below. But, even more, because I am sure glad I am not a DOJ environmental attorney stuck defending FAA. Too dark for my taste.

Here are archived copies for three cases: Click here for a USCADC decision that Mr. McFadden won for FAA in February 2009; click here for another he won, in June 2009; click here for the Phoenix PFR he lost in August 2017. Study them and you may just learn a LOT about how biased USCADC is, how they nearly always side with agencies and large corporations (first, they do all they can to just dump the PFR, then, if they do hear it, they strain their attention to side in favor of FAA; a real dog-and-pony show).

Now, about that article… here is a worthwhile analysis by Tony Verreos:

“This article says it took 2 years or more to get to the same Federal Appeals Court that ruled on the Phoenix case last year. No surprise the plaintiffs claim the FAA failed to give proper notice, and the FAA counters they went above and beyond the requirements.
Meanwhile – the one statistic that stands out very plainly is the growing number of complaints. It seems like wherever the FAA installs its new changes, complaints go up in multiples of double, triple, quadruple and even higher.
For all of the money wasted, and time people will never get back attending meetings they wish they never went to about jet noise and chemical pollution, the FAA still flat out refuses to change its Mission Statement to “Protecting Public Health and Safety” from Safety and Efficiency which it interprets very strictly as fuel savings while knowing full well how anti public health that is. And their claims of safety look great when you see no crashes. The safety chart does look great, but then they don’t display all the go arounds (wasting fuel and polluting our air), and the near misses which seem to be a growing number!”

Click here to view an archived copy of this Washington Post article.

BTW, Tony’s comment was posted at a new Facebook public group he recently created, STOP Jet Noise NOW! SFOAK North S.F. Bay Area.


See also:
  • 8/29/2017FAA Ordered to Vacate Their 2014 NextGen Routes in Phoenix (aiReform Post)

UPDATE, 1/24/2018: — An opinion piece was published at WaPost, and a copy is archived here. The author is Paul Verchinski, who is a member of the community roundtable for yet another airport where FAA’s NextGen mess is impacting residents: Baltimore-Washington [KBWI].

NextGen is the FAA’s Carte Blanche to Wreak Havoc on the Public’s Ears and Serenity

Here’s an archived copy of an excellent article, written by Barbara Castleton, one of many NextGen victims in the Seattle area. She accurately portrays how FAA and industry do not care at all about the health impacts (and diminished quality of life) caused by NextGen. A few aiREFORM footnotes have been added to this archived copy, to expand on some technical aspects.

Click here to view the source article at Medium.com.

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

Did This Letter Motivate Huerta’s Response to Governor Hogan?

Activists in Maryland shared a copy of this letter, another excellent effort by their Governor, Larry Hogan.

(click on image to view archived copy of full letter)

Essentially, the Governor sent a letter on May 11, pressing FAA to take actions to reduce impacts on constituents under flight paths for both Reagan National [KDCA] and Baltimore-Washington [KBWI]. Nearly three months after sending his letter to Michael Huerta, and having gotten no reply, Governor Hogan followed up with a letter to the Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao. Here’s an excerpt:FAA’s reply letter, dated 8/3/2017, is here. That is, if you can even call it a reply.

FAA has a shameful record of not just blowing off everyone – even Governors! – but also engaging in obfuscation to frustrate activists. This pattern of failure needs to end.

President Trump: You Need to Fire Michael Huerta

Whatever happened to draining the swamp? Is there any agency more dysfunctional, more corrupt and more locked into serving industry cronies than the FAA, the faux-regulator headed by Administrator Huerta?

Here’s the latest example of how out of control this agency has become, and how badly Mr. Huerta fails at leading long overdue change. Back in early May, the Governor of Maryland wrote an excellent letter (view a copy here), pressing FAA to bring relief to thousands losing sleep and health under NextGen routes. It took nearly three months for Mr. Huerta to finally send a response letter. The long delay was not necessary to do any difficult analysis or produce any changes. No, nothing was analyzed, and nothing was changed; the long delay was just to waste time. In fact, Huerta’s letter was chock full of platitudes and unsupported sales pitches. Here’s a PDF copy of the entire letter, showing portions with footnoted analysis added by aiREFORM:

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

Enough is enough. Huerta’s belated reply letter is garbage: a classic example of what we would expect from an agency head who views the airlines as his ‘customers’, not the regulatory subject for the rigorous regulations FAA fails to write and fails to apply. Through the botched NextGen implementation, Mr. Huerta’s agency has also become a case study in ‘runaway captured regulators’. FAA is a perfect target for sweeping reforms. If President Trump wants to do good while throwing fire and fury, he should direct his energies domestically. Cleaning up FAA can set the example for how all federal agencies need to be trimmed back to a focused mission and restrained from federal over-reach, while becoming massively transparent and accountable.

It’s an easy call: fire Michael Huerta, and make FAA serve the people, first.

NextGen: “A Virtual Highway, and the Traffic Never Stops”

A good opinion piece related to NextGen impacts (and ongoing FAA failures) near the Baltimore-Washington Airport [KBWI]. This airport serves as the hub for Southwest, in the DC area (NOTE: the two other major airports serving the DC area are Dulles [KIAD] and Reagan National [KDCA]; United hubs at KIAD, and American dominates at KDCA]. There is some misinformation in the Op/Ed, as happens in a world run by money and set on crafting and pitching propaganda, but they also make some great points.

Here is an archived copy, with aiREFORM footnotes added:

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

Another community up in arms against NextGen: Linthicum, MD

Image

(click on image to view source tweet)

As is the pattern everywhere, FAA’s NextGen implementation throws away the balance that previously existed between airport expansion and local quality of life. Near Baltimore [KBWI], and with FAA’s help, airline profits trump sleep and health. Click here to view an archived copy of this news article.

(kudos to Elaine Miller, at PlaneSense4LI, for tweeting this link!)


UPDATE, 7/17/2017: — The FAA/NextGen impacts around KBWI were brought up during a radio call-in show with Governor Hogan, who said: “This thing was a terrible decision in my opinion by the FAA, without really getting the proper input from the state and local authorities….” Click here for the article, or here for the 4-minute audio.