Air Cargo is Growing – and Concentrating – at the Most Impactful Airports

A couple months ago, a collection of reference tables was uploaded in an aiREFORM Post. One of those tables was about air cargo, and deserves a closer look.

Using FAA’s data, the 107 ‘busiest’ air cargo airports were presented, in rank order and showing the annual cargo tonnage. Not just that, but also showing annual trends (change from previous year), peak years, and percent below peak year. A scrollable PDF of the 11-pg table is added at the bottom of this Post.

So, what does all this data suggest is happening in aviation? Here are a few summary points, plus some suggestions of what should be researched further:

  • as a bit of background, readers should understand that the two largest air cargo operators are FedEx (with a main hub at KMEM, ranked #1), and UPS (with a main cargo hub at KSDF, ranked #3).
  • the overall U.S. air cargo market is flat, as summarized at the bottom of page 11 of the table; i.e., total tonnage for these 107 main air cargo airports was 151B tons in 2003, and only surpassed that in 2016 (to 155B tons). This is an average annual change of 0.2% per year, well below population growth.
  • there is substantial consolidation happening (we see this in passenger airlines as well as banking, groceries, and all industries, so this is no surprise). Notice the distribution of PEAK years. The higher the ranking within the 107 cargo airports, the more likely 2016 was their peak cargo tonnage. Likewise, look closely at the bottom of the ranked list of 107 airports, where you will find the vast majority of these airports are steeply declining (see especially the average annual rate of change in the far right column).
  • looking at the biggest annual changes, nearly all of these are happening at major hubs with large expansions (such as KSEA, with the addition of Delta’s new hub in 2012), or at former major hubs abandoned by passenger airlines and now desperately accommodating air cargo development (see especially the Ohio airports on this list, such as KCVG).
  • it appears that passenger airlines are altering their business models to haul more air cargo. Aircraft engine power has grown tremendously, plus FAA continues to fund runway expansions. The total weight capacity for newer jets is thus likely growing faster than passenger demand. As such, it behooves the airlines to load up with extra weight, collecting revenues on air freight. If every seat on a flight is filled, air cargo is cut to a minimum; but, if 50% of seats are empty, an enormous extra loading of air cargo is accommodated.
  • if airlines are hauling more/extra air cargo (plausibly, to feed stock at ‘fulfillment centers’?), those arrivals will need much more time at the gate, for trucks to haul off the excess cargo. This will cascade into more delays with arrivals having to wait until their gate becomes accessible. At KSEA, much of the proposed development on the south end may in fact be NOT for passenger airline servicing but for the unloading of excess cargo from the belly of those aircraft.
  • ponder this: the tonnage statistic may not reflect actual air cargo demand. That is, this statistic will inflate, if/when more tonnage is routed in the belly of air carriers. So, for example, let’s say Delta adds excess passenger capacity at KSEA, and has a hard time filling all the excess seats; they can still profit by hauling lots more belly-cargo. But, that cargo will weave through Delta’s hub system, not going direct to its final destination but instead causing tonnage to grow tremendously on the main Delta hub routes such as KATL-KSEA, KLAX-KSEA, and KMSP-KSEA.

Those of us who are concerned about current impact trends near major hub airports can and should do two things, in terms of how we consume air miles:

  1. we should fly as little as possible – even not at all; and
  2. we should minimize as much as possible our use of air freight, by avoiding hyper-consumer programs such as Amazon Prime.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

NextGen CONTINUES to be FAA’s Carte Blanche for Serving Industry

Late last year, an excellent article by Barbara Castleton was added here, in the ai-Rchives. A couple weeks ago, quite a few people started sharing this article at various social media sites related to airport impacts.

The November 2017 aiREFORM Post included a scrollable PDF copy, with footnotes added. Well, six months later, we decided to take a fresh new look at Barbara’s article, relate it to what FAA has done since, and create a new version, with new footnotes added. Of course, we did NOT look at the old footnotes until everything was finished. It is interesting to see how little has changed, and yet, too, how much more clearly the NextGen impact issues appear to be coming into a sharp focus.

Click on this link to view the Post from last November; click on the black pop-out button on the scrollable PDF below (upper right corner) to read the latest analysis:

The Impacts Are Not Due to ‘Customer Demand’, They Are Due to ‘Industry Greed’

SeaTac [KSEA] has been the fastest growing U.S. commercial airport in recent years, largely due to a 2012 decision by Delta to build a hub there. Here’s a JPEG showing KSEA annual operations and trends for each year, from 1991 through 2017:

(click on image to view the source table, which includes FAA ATADS data for 533 U.S. airports)

The data clearly reflects the operational history of KSEA. This is an airport where there was a former near-monoploy by Alaska Airlines, which is now expanding into a duopoly, with TWO airlines using it for hub operations. Notice the growth in flight numbers after 2012, following the Delta business decision. But notice also how operations at this airport declined by nearly a third, from 2000-2012. Think a bit about these sizable ups and downs: do they reflect strong swings in the local economy and population, or do they merely represent airline business decisions?

Now, ponder this concept, too: does ‘consumer demand’ drive airline business actions, or do airline business actions drive consumer demand? Is it fair to say that the entire goal of airline marketing is to stimulate more consumer demand, and ever-higher passenger mileage consumption?

Ask yourself this: regarding the demand for flying in the Seattle area (…and this is an attractive area, which has drawn many new residents from around the world), did ‘consumer demand’ DECLINE that much during the 2000-2012 timeframe, and has ‘consumer demand’ for flying by Seattle-area residents grown as massively as airport operations after 2012? In other words, is it inappropriate and misinformational for airlines, the Port of Seattle, and FAA to declare that ‘passenger demand’ is driving the current impactful hub growth, when the true driver is ‘corporate/airline demand’? Check out this screencap from page 8 of a recent FAA document (FAA’s CATEX… more about that later in this Post). If you spend any time looking at press releases by airlines and the Port of Seattle, you will find the same misrepresentations consistently repeated, all aimed at tricking readers into believing ‘consumer demand’ is driving this growth. Wouldn’t it be more accurate and truthful for the industry players to precisely attribute these hub operational changes to airline corporate decisions? Shouldn’t they instead brag about their marketing savvy and their ability to manipulate consumers, to create higher (or lower) rates of consumption? Should the industry players be more transparent, noting how when assets are reallocated from a declining hub to their latest new hub, we end up with economic decline and stagnation in the former?

The bottom-line is this: some airports grow excessively, while other airports seemingly whither away. Further evidence and examples can be viewed at the full 1991-2017 data collection for all tower airports (533 different airports, in this table). Do your own analysis for your own region, but be sure to take a closer look at the airports within the rustbelt centered on Ohio … from Detroit to Buffalo to Pittsburgh to Memphis to St. Louis and back to Detroit. Within this large region, at even the busiest airports, operational declines have averaged well over 50% from peak traffic years. And, many airport hubs have been outright abandoned.

What gives here?

Under the hub-and-spoke business model, commercial passenger operators maximize profits if they theoretically fly an infinite number of passengers into a hub airport at the same moment, have the passengers instantly sort out gate-to-gate into all the parked airplanes, and then depart all at the same instant. Of course, airports cannot be this efficient, and safety rules restrict aircraft flow rates, as both arrival and departure streams typically require around one minute spacing between consecutive flights. So, the next best thing for the airport and airlines (but certainly NOT for sleep-deprived and lung-impacted residents in the airport community!) is to tweak the rules in a way that maximizes ‘runway throughput’.

An example of this rule-tweaking is the use of diverging departure headings. At SeaTac, FAA took this to an extreme when they imposed routine 90-degree left turns immediately after takeoff, for Horizon Q400 turboprops heading south during North Flows. These departures impacted residents in Burien, the community at the northwest corner of KSEA. After concerns were raised (including legal engagement), FAA backed down early last year, removing an automated turn coordination from the tower-TRACON letter of agreement (also known as the ‘SEA-S46 LOA’). That should have been the end of this, right? Well, it was not. Instead, under new Regional Administrator David Suomi, FAA spent more than a year internally discussing and drafting papers to reinstate automated turns over Burien. The culmination of all that FAA effort (and, yes, we all paid for it!) is a 51-page CATEX document titled “Categorical Exclusion for Letter of Agreement Update to Automate a 250° Westerly Turn for Southbound Turboprops When Seattle – Tacoma International Airport is Operating in North-Flow Between the Hours of 6 am and 10 pm.” Read that title to yourself again, slowly and carefully, and try to make sense of it. All of this is just to formalize a written agreement between the tower and the radar controllers, so that the turns are automated, instead of coordinated verbally (push a button down, state a few words, and get concurrence … typically takes 2-3 seconds total) on a case-by-case basis. And, the automation discards the safety element of a diligent analysis of the traffic picture for each coordination event. Anyway, here is a copy of FAA’s PDF:

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

Like its title, this document is a doozy. Spend a little time studying it and you will see the extremes FAA goes to so as to enable excessive airport expansion. Page after page, lacking in substance, heavy on repetitive ‘safety’ and ‘efficiency’ soundbites, none of which are substantiated. If a particular detail or two really grab you, and you have an insight or a question, please email the aiREFORM administrator so we can share that on (odds are high, if you read something as puzzling or shocking, others will read it the same way, too). And, by the way, don’t waste your time trying to search this FAA PDF, because FAA scanned it to be unsearchable. I.e., although this captured agency claims to be engaging the community on matters such as early turns over Burien, in truth they are knowingly reducing the value of tools (such as this 51-page CATEX document) that concerned citizens need to carefully study). This trend, away from searchable PDFs, has been observed in FAA’s FOIA responses; whereas in the past nearly all PDF FOIA response documents were searchable, in time nearly all have become non-searchable.

The Dark Side of So-Called ‘Collaboration’

When two parties conspire in a way that adversely impacts a third party, we have collusion. In an age of propaganda, when collusion happens between aviation parties such as FAA, airport authorities, and airlines, they just call it ‘collaboration’. The true and unspoken purpose of their so-called ‘collaboration’ is to achieve a consistency in their soundbites. The early turns over Burien are an example of this ‘collaboration’. Another example is how these same players routinely claim the excessive growth at SeaTac is to meet customer demand. The short answer to that claim is, well, ‘Bullshit!’. Frankly, ‘demand’ is just a lame and misrepresentative excuse; the real cause of extreme over-expansion at airports is greed by the aviation players. And let’s be clear: it is not just the airlines, but also the airport authorities and the FAA. There is plenty of collusion to go around.

Here’s some data that proves the above point. It offers data from three Delta hub airports that have been scaled down, and shines a light on the downsizing of aviation in Middle America:

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

Conclusion:

This data reflects the harsh reality that today, in the U.S., FAA serves the airlines with a propaganda line, trying to sucker taxpayers into believing passenger demand creates impact problems at places like Seattle, Boston, Long Island, Maryland, and Charlotte. This is blatantly false, and most people at FAA know this. Hub concentration is NOT driven by consumer demand; no, airline greed is driving hub concentration, at great cost to local communities.

Congress needs to demand FAA serve all of us, not just the airlines and airport authorities. FAA is out of control and needs to be reigned in, and must not be allowed to continue operating as the captured regulator it has become.

TheBriefingProject: One man against a government agency, one public comment at a time

Airlines and airport authorities have millions to spend and all the time they want, to manipulate citizen panels and elected representatives. A concerned citizen, on the other hand, typically is allowed a mere 2-minutes to make their points.

The fastest growing commercial aviation impact zone in the U.S. today is around SeaTac [KSEA]. Steve Edmiston, a multiple-times cancer survivor, is doing an outstanding job framing his 2-minutes for the industry-serving Port of Seattle. Check his latest video out here:
See also this article in the b-town blog, VIDEO: Local Activist Steve Edmiston’s third ‘Briefing’ to Port of Seattle, which includes links to the previous two 2-minute briefings. Watch for more 2-minute briefings, all year long, and take a look at The Briefing Project‘ Facebook page.

By the way, I came to know Steve a year ago, when we worked together on the QSPS ‘Fight the Flight 101’ Community Forum. A lot of work went into creating the ‘Dissecting Nextgen’ presentation. One year later, the archived PDF copy of the presentation is still packed with information to help us better understand how FAA and industry (including airport authorities) are destroying communities with NextGen … all for money.

First StART Meeting at KSEA: Great Write-up by David Goebel

The first StART Meeting was held at KSEA, on February 28th. Vashon Island activist David Goebel posted a great write-up at the NORNP.org website (click here for aiRchived copy). It also is clear that Sheila Brush asked some great questions, to try and help Port of Seattle (PoS … perfect acronym, no?!?) officials drill down into the real impacts of this major airport, which appears stuck in a mode of selling out to profit-seeking by Alaska and Delta airlines.

As I understand his story, it was around two decades ago that David purchased land near the north end of Vashon Island, hoping to enjoy the bucolic setting a ferry ride away from the city. Those dreams crashed when FAA implemented the HAWKZ arrival and accommodated Delta’s hub development, creating nearly nonstop arrival streams at lower altitudes. There are many nice places to call home, around Seattle, but sadly airline over-accommodation is destroying them.

David offered this closing comment:

“…something that struck me as sadly ironic is that it was really quiet in the conference room; I didn’t hear any planes. This is in stark contrast to my cabin on Vashon Island, where as often as every two or three minutes they drown out all the sounds of nature, destroying the reason I moved there 20 years ago…..”

See also:
  • PoS StART webpage – link
  • 2/28/2018 – POS’ Agenda for StART meeting (link for archived copy)
  • 2/28/2018 – Lance Lyttle’s 22-pg slideshow for StART meeting (link for archived copy)

Federal Way’s Mayor at PSRC, Expressing Numerous Concerns about KSEA Over-Expansion

Here’s a summary of some concerns opposing KSEA over-expansion, expressed by Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, at a meeting of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) executive board. Highlights and aiReform footnotes have been added. To view the three attachments in the summary, click on these links:

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

What’s Going On Here?

The pattern observed across the nation is that decision-making behind airport expansions is intentionally dispersed and distorted, so as to create plausible unaccountability for all involved officials. In this example, the industry (especially Delta and Alaska airlines, the two major hub players at KSEA) are getting FAA assistance to push through even more hub development, with two regional authorities offering cover: Port of Seattle, and Puget Sound Regional Council. It needs to be understood that both of these regional authorities are heavily biased toward commerce; they have no meaningful concern for impacts in residential communities, as evidenced by non-mention of these growing problems in Lance Lyttle’s POS slideshow.

What is the Biggest Distortion?

Lance Lyttle’s slideshow, especially the part pretending that the expansion is serving local demand. Quite the opposite, the two major hub airlines are simply adding supply and scheduling huge numbers of passengers THROUGH KSEA, to boost their profits. People in and around Puget Sound have not and will not massively increase their alleged ‘demand’ for air travel, as Mr. Lyttle is implying (i.e., the 41% growth in enplanements in just 5-years is almost entirely to serve people outside Puget Sound). Again, the expansion is solely for airline benefit, and entirely at a cost to local community health and quality of life.

Why is aiReform.com Archiving These Documents?

These documents are being archived to encourage people to study them, and to ensure the records remain available to future airport impact victims who may seek to study the past. It is hoped that this archiving will help people to become more effective in advocating for balance, to protect their homes and communities. Readers are invited to send their comments and reviews to aiReform, which may be included in Updates to this Post.


See also:

KSEA: Beacon Hill’s Fight for Health & Quality of Life

Archived copy of a good article, shared at Facebook, with some footnoted analysis by aiReform. This may help define what we need from our elected officials, to reclaim long-needed local control, so our airports are in balance with our local communities.

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

At Sea-Tac, Enplanements (and Impacts) are up 41% in Five Years

A Port of Seattle (PoS) News Release today crows about the airport setting a new annual record with 46.9 million passengers in 2017. (click here to read an archived copy, with aiReform footnotes added). As is the pattern, economic benefits are exaggerated, while environmental impacts are completely ignored.

Back in 2010, PoS went to great expense to draft a Part 150 study. Within that document package was a 44-page ‘Aviation Activity Forecast’. The key graphs within that study are condensed into this scrollable 3-page PDF:

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

You can dive deeper, looking at an archived copy of the 44-page analysis here.

One of the most disgusting statements in the PoS News Release is the leadoff to the second sentence, a classic example of greenwashing, which reads: “Demand for air travel at Sea-Tac Airport increased 41 percent the last five years…” Let’s be clear. The good people in and around Seattle did not suddenly wake up 5-years ago and start spending more money and increasing trips out of Sea-Tac. Nor did the area population explode anywhere close to 41% in 5-years. No, this alleged ‘demand’ is engineered by two airlines – Alaska and Delta – as part of their escalation of hubbing intensity, all in pursuit of slightly higher airline profits. More people fly INTO [KSEA] without ever leaving the airport terminal, either sitting in their cramped seat of rushing to catch another plane at another gate. Lots more people – up 41% in 5-years. This is NOT increased ‘demand for air travel’. And, it also means fewer people are able to get direct flights from origin to destination, without the increasing number of detours through KSEA; in other words, everyone loses, except the airlines and the airport authority.

Clean up your act, PoS: get the excessive growth at KSEA under control, and knock off the greenwashing propaganda, OK?

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.

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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.