Airports and Cities: Can They Coexist?

As often happens, a good lead was tweeted regarding an interesting article. This time, @NoFlyDay tweeted with a link to an article by Ed Ayres, Airports and Cities:  Can They Coexist?, archived at WorldWatch.org. The article was first published in the July/August 2001 issue of  World Watch Magazine, for which Mr. Ayres served as editor.

The article points toward the enormous land-grab to create the Denver International Airport (DIA) or [KDEN]. That massive project, undertaken from 1989 into 1995, was intended to accommodate major hubs that pre-existed in Denver, for both United and Continental. But, Continental decided to abandon their Denver hub (and decades later was merged with United), causing annual operations to decline substantially. This huge new airport has never come even slightly close to operating at the capacity it was built for.

The article also notes how, in shifting the burden to airline passengers to drive long distances away from their homes, total air pollution was substantially increased … and all at public cost. All this was done ostensibly to better serve the general public, but in truth served only to improve airline profits. *until ten years ago, the strategy at Southwest was to completely avoid the major hubs for the legacy airlines, such as ATL, BOS, DEN, MSP and SFO … and even when their strategy was changed, they were careful to not really ‘compete’ with the dominant carrier at each hub.And, as is the case throughout the U.S. commercial aviation system, Denver has virtually zero competition on routes, and serves as a hub dominated by one airline: United (with a lesser hub by Southwest, who only began serving KDEN in 2006*).

Two other interesting aspects to contemplate while reading this article (and the related documents accessible via the links below):

  1. first, all of these documents were researched and created years PRIOR to the inception of NextGen by FAA and industry stakeholders; and,
  2. second, the article came out just prior to the 9-11 attacks, which arguably were used to justify enormous ‘Shock Doctrine’ changes in all aspects of U.S. commercial aviation, most significantly modifying security, ATC procedures, and environmental impact mitigations.

Here are links to a PDF copy as well as some related documents archived at aiREFORM.com:

Trends in Aviation Transparency: Passenger Documents In-Flight Engine Failure

The trend in aviation has been toward careful micromanagement of information, by both the airlines and the regulatory officials. So, when an airplane issue happens (an accident, an in-flight failure, or even a disappearing flight), or when ATC makes a mistake, it is nearly impossible for the press to produce a solid, informative news article. Often, in fact, the stories do not get into the news. It seems that, if the Av-Gov Complex had it their way, there would be no transparency in aviation. Increasingly, what transparency we have is driven by personal electronic devices, social media, and independent blogs.

So, it is a pleasure to see the occasional news story that DOES happen, when a passenger snaps a picture from her airplane seat. In this case, a Dash-8 feeder flight from Kansas City [KMCI] to Denver [KDEN], operated as Republic Airlines Flight 4936, was flight-planned to cruise at FL240 but levelled at FL200 (20,000 feet) when the crew had to shut down the number one engine due to low oil pressure. Here’s the photo which helped ensure the world would learn about this incident:20150123.. Republic 4936 DH-8 engine out, passenger photo
The flight then turned around and landed back at KMCI. Total flight time: one hour.

(click on image to view flight data at FlightAware.com)

(click on image to view flight data at FlightAware.com)

ANALYSIS: A 4-Hour Fuel Burn-off Following a BizJet Hydraulic Failure

A Hawker business jet departed the Centennial Airport [KAPA] at 11:03AM local time, carrying a passenger on a flight to Latrobe, PA [KLBE]. Had everything been normal, it would have landed less than three hours later. On this flight, though, a mechanical failure forced the flight to return for a landing.20141009.. HS25 KAPA-KLBE at FL390, route screencap, with states

It was believed that a tire ruptured during the takeoff, and caused damage to the hydraulic system. So, the flight crew got approval from ATC to fly delay patterns with the sole purpose being to burn off all extra fuel prior to a gear-up landing.

In the diagram below (a ‘classic view’ covering northeast Colorado, from Flightaware), the flight takes off to the south at KAPA (bottom left corner area) and eventually lands to the north at [KDEN]. Annotations have been added to help illustrate the route flown; a few locations give geographic reference, and local times (orange) help to show the sequence of loops. Essentially, the flight had taken off to the south and then climbed to 23,000-ft. It had a speed well over 400-knots when it was turned around near Yuma, CO. The flight then proceeded back to Centennial, and set up for a possible landing. Instead of landing, the flight flew southbound over the airport, then turned east and began a series of random loops, probably while a final plan was being worked out. More than an hour later, the flight was routed north, where the flight crew made seven large circuits to the north of Greeley. Then, at approximately 3:00PM, the flight turned inbound for a landing at Denver International Airport.20141016.. KDEN HS25 fuel burn to land after tire damage ion KAPA takeoff, times addedThe landing was successful. A foamed Runway 34L received the no-gear aircraft, creating a shower of sparks while the Hawker decelerated. A small fire under the fuselage was quickly extinguished. Here is a video from Denver’s Fox 31: