FAA’s Refusal to Manage Airport Capacity

Satellite-based (aka, NextGen) technologies have been in use for decades, and at most airports they have enabled minimization of distance flown and fuel burned. In fact, at the very few airports where NextGen is failing, the problem is not the technologies: it is too many flights, and FAA’s lazy refusal to impose more restrictive airport flow rates.

If you spend any time studying today’s routes and flight profiles for U.S. commercial passenger flights (and it is REALLY easy to do, with FlightAware, FlightRadar24, and other websites that present FAA’s ATC data), you will see that all flights are already capable of and actually flying optimized routes: long, direct flights from origin airport to destination airport, with smooth and continuous climbouts and descents. But, for a small handful of airports, you will also see that ATC ends up creating long conga lines of low, slow and loud arrivals (the Long Island Arc of Doom is the classic example) … simply because there are too many flights arriving in too small a time window.

The root problem is the hub system, and FAA’s policy of enabling undisciplined hub scheduling by the dominant airline. FAA does this to maximize a theoretical number called ‘runway throughput’, and thus to help the airlines to maximize their profits. In simplest terms, a hub airline can tweak their profits upward a percentage point or two, if they can process say a dozen simultaneous arrivals, sorting the passengers quickly between gates, then send all those flights outbound at exactly the same moment.

Obviously, this is only theoretically possible. Because of limited runway capacity, each arrival and each departure needs roughly a one-minute window where the runway is theirs alone, so the scheduled ‘banks’ of a dozen ‘simultaneous arrivals’ and ‘simultaneous departures’ get spread out over two 12-20 minute windows. To safely handle the arrival banks, ATC has to level off the arrivals and extend the arrival pattern to long final legs, spacing the flights at roughly one-minute intervals; to process the departure banks, ATC issues immediate turns on departure (with terrible impacts in places like Phoenix), so that takeoff clearances can be issued in rapid succession.

The reality that FAA and Bill Shuster refuse to accept is this: runway capacity is limited, and we can pretend to be creating new technological solutions, but so long as there are only so many arrivals that a key hub airport can handle per hour, it is folly for FAA to let hub airlines schedule in excess. It only guarantees delays, which then cascade into other airports that otherwise would never see delays. Also, it is important to note that hourly flow rates do not address the problem. Delays happen every time, when just two arrivals aim to use one runway at the same minute. So, if FAA is to work with the airlines to design delay-free arrivals, the schedule needs to look at small time increments, even how many arrivals every 5-minutes. Fortunately, this finer data granularity is easily studied with todays digital processing capabilities.

The solution is obvious: we need Congress to change the laws, so as to disincentivize excessive hub scheduling; and, we need FAA to aggressively restrict airport flow rates at key delay-plagued hub airports, so that the conga lines never need to happen.

An Example: Seattle Arrivals

Here’s an example of what happens at an airport, when just one more flight creates enough traffic, to necessitate ATC stretching the arrival pattern. Seattle is a great example, because it is a major hub airport but [KSEA] is far from other major airports, thus flight patterns are not made more complicated by airport proximity issues. The dominant airline is Alaska (including its feeder, Horizon), but Delta began aggressive hub growth in 2012. The airport has triple-parallel north-south runways; a south flow is by far the dominant airport flow configuration. Whenever ATC has enough arrivals to reduce spacing to less than two minutes apart, the arrivals are extended downwind, turning base abeam Ballard (12nm), abeam Northgate Mall (14nm), abeam Edmonds (20nm), or even further north (see this graphic that shows distances on final from the runway approach ends).

The scrollable PDF below has sample arrivals on December 29th, with altitudes added to the screencaps, to illustrate level-offs and descent profiles. Five sample arrivals are included:

  • Horizon #2052 vs Horizon #2162 vs Horizon #2405: all are Dash-8s, from KPDX. Horizon #2052 has no traffic and is able to use the preferred noise abatement arrival route over Elliott Bay; the other two flights both have to extend to well north of Green Lake, including a long level-off at 4,000ft.
  • Alaska #449 vs Alaska #479: both are from KLAX. Alaska #449 has no traffic and is able to use the preferred noise abatement arrival route over Elliott Bay; Alaska #479 has to extend to well north of Green Lake, including a long level-off at 3,800ft, starting to the west of Alki Point.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

UPDATE, 01/17/2017 — further details and graphic added, re distances on final for KSEA south flow.

One Table Shows the Reality of NextGen

Here’s some data to ponder as we start into a new year: a table, showing commercial operations at each of FAA’s OEP-35 airports, from 2007 onward.

Focus first on the pink column, three columns from the right edge; the airports are ranked in descending order, by the percent decline in annual operations, comparing 2015 with 2007.

Note that the largest declines, at Cincinnati [KCVG], Cleveland [KCLE], and Memphis [KMEM] are huge: down 61%, 53%, and 43% respectively. Note also, the declines are even larger when you compare Total Annual Operations in 2015 vs the various historic peak years for each OEP-35 airport, in the two columns on the far right; for these figures (which include general aviation and military operations data), all airports have declined, ranging from 74% to 2% and averaging 24%.

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

Three facts stand out from this table, and they all strongly contradict the sales pitches that FAA and industry have been collaborating on the past few years:

  1. Note the bright green line across the table. Just under it are five airports: Charlotte [KCLT], Reagan National [KDCA], Miami [KMIA], Seattle [KSEA] and San Francisco [KSFO]. These are the only five of the OEP-35 airports that recorded an increase in commercial operations from 2007 to 2015; i.e., 6 out of 7 OEP airports SLOWED substantially while the national population grew.
  2. The airport identifiers marked in a dark-red background color are the airports that in 2016 had extensive noise complaint histories (documented online, and in the mainstream media) related to route concentrations under NextGen. Routinely, FAA has imposed these routes without adequate public review, abusing the ‘categorical exclusion’ process. Numerous legal actions have resulted.
  3. For all OEP-35 airports combined, commercial operations have steadily declined 11% from 2007 to 2015, nearly every year. This is industry contraction. And furthermore, the vast majority of U.S. commercial airports peaked in the 1990s, some more than two decades ago!

WIth the new year, we’ll see a new adminstration and changes at FAA and DoT. Don’t be fooled by the impending onslaught of yet another round of propaganda. The U.S. NAS is operating at far below historic peaks and continuing to trend downward. Growth is rare, and limited to key airports where airlines are concentrating flights into superhubs that severely impact local quality of life. The only true beneficiaries of NextGen and ATC privatization are industry stakeholders (especially the airline CEOs, FAA officials, lobbyists, and manufacturers, plus a few elected officials), who will narrowly share the profits while completely ignoring the larger environmental costs.

We don’t need oversold technology fixes pitching RNAV and RNP solutions that have been used for decades; technologies that could and would serve us all beautifully, if FAA would assert its authority with balance, and manage capacity at the largest U.S. hub airports. We need airports to serve communities while being truly environmentally responsible. And for that to happen, we need a new era of transparency and accountability at FAA. We need reform.

[KSEA]: One Way FAA can Use NextGen to Optimize Noise Mitigation

Here’s a tip for how to very effectively expose FAA’s NextGen failure: study how ATC handles arriving flights during low-traffic time periods. For example, at the SeaTac Airport [KSEA], where Delta’s decision to start up a new hub in 2012 is causing substantial growth in annual airport operations, the arrivals stay busy through most of the day, but there are a few hours each night when you can find only one arrival being worked. So, the question is, what is the shortest arrival routing ATC will issue when working a single, all-alone arrival, and how does that arrival route change with the addition of more arrivals?

When you study the empirical flight data, you quickly find the answers, and they consistently show: FAA’s largest impediment to system efficiency is simply TOO MANY FLIGHTS. In other words, if FAA really cared to optimize safety and efficiency, they would focus on managing capacity, keeping operations per hour below thresholds that precipitate delays and congestion.

Consider a Recent Arrival: United 505 from Denver

One example of this was United 505, which arrived after 2AM on Tuesday, December 20th. First, notice the overall flight on the satellite view below: as has been the case for many decades, they flew a straight line from Denver, with no zig-zags. Notice, too, that the only significant distances were added at Denver and at Seattle, as needed to accomplish transition to and from the enroute portion of the flight.

How Can FAA Better Use the NextGen Technologies?


(VFR sectional with a red curve added, depicting an optimized noise mitigation approach over Puget Sound and Elliott Bay. Crossing altitudes at 8000ft and 3000ft are added, red text on green background.)

The residents of Seattle are lucky to have a large water body that aligns well with their main commercial airport. But, the basic design elements needed to optimize noise mitigation were not fully considered when FAA was selling NextGen. Key design elements should have included:

  1. keep the arrivals high as long as possible. (way back in the 1970s, FAA actually had a noise mitigation program called ‘Keep em High’!)
  2. for the final ten miles, set up each arrival for a continuous rate of descent, optimally at around 300-ft per mile flown. (thus, arrivals should be designed to cross a fix at roughly ten-miles from the runway end, and 3,000ft above airport elevation)
  3. for the distance from 20-miles to 10-miles from the runway end, design a higher rate of descent, perhaps 500-ft per mile flown. (thus, arrivals would descend from 8,000ft above airport elevation to 3,000ft above airport elevation, during this 10-mile portion of the arrival; with this design, commonly used flight automation systems would enable pilots to easily comply with the designed optimized descent profile and route)
  4. plan to have ATC accomplish sequencing, spacing and speed management to the point where the final 20-miles of the approach begins. (in this case, roughly mid-channel over the Vashon ferry route, at an altitude nominally 8,000 feet MSL)

Interestingly, this proposal is quite similar to one of the approaches that FAA designed and implemented, the RNAV (RNP) Z Runway 16R Approach:ksea-20161204cpy-rnav-rnp-z-rwy16r-ifr-plate
For years, in an extended and heavily-coordinated pitch to sell the NextGen program in Seattle, FAA and others pushed the idea that all arrivals from the west side (from California, Oregon, Hawaii, coastal BC & Alaska) would be routed inbound over Elliott Bay during the predominant south flow landings at SeaTac. This was a good idea, but FAA did not go far enough. I.e., when FAA designed this approach procedure, they focused solely on the portion from the middle of Elliott Bay to the runway; they should have also focused on how each flight would get to that point in Elliott Bay (look for ‘SEGAW’ in the plate above). A truly optimized approach would define fixes and precise altitudes, starting between the fix VASHN (on the approach plate above) and the Fauntleroy ferry dock; such an optimized approach would route each arrival over-water and eventually over the vicinity of the stadiums, and would include speed and altitude profiles easily achieved by today’s air carrier fleet. Note that the profile view for the current deficient approach procedure (above) starts at fix WOTIK, which is at a 6-mile final and well south of Spokane Street.

[KLMO]: Oral Arguments Today, in the Colorado Court of Appeals

A classic example of the sacrifices commonly made by aviation impact activists is happening today, in a Denver courtroom. A single airport operator, Mile-Hi Skydiving, makes money by using their fleet of skydiving planes, outfitted to climb faster AND make more noise. So as not to annoy the actual near-airport residents, the planes are flown a few miles away and the climbs, which commonly drone on for 15- to 20-minutes, impact the residents below. The problem came many decades after the airport was built, coinciding with aircraft purchases and modifications by Mile-Hi owner Frank Casares.

As is nearly always the case, FAA is doing nothing to help resolve the problems. Indeed, doing the quite the opposite, FAA is enabling the operator (Mile-Hi) and ensuring these impacts will persist and even worsen. Just as they do at East Hampton, Santa Monica, Mora, and a dozen or so NextGen-induced noise canyons (e.g., [KLGA], [KPHX], [KCLT], [KSEA], [KBOS]), FAA is  obstructing every effort for meaningful LOCAL CONTROL of local airports. Somehow, we are supposed to suspend rational thinking and believe that, if the local City Council wanted to impose reasonable restrictions on the lease they have signed with Mile-Hi, it would compromise safety to have them execute quieter climbs or limit their operations to say a 6-hour block each day? Likewise, FAA (and the industry they protect from the Public!) expects us to believe this total capitulation to the profit-motives of a single skydiving operator is critical for our National Airspace System (NAS) integrity?

Bullshit. Shame on you, FAA et al, for continuing to obstruct reasonable attempts toward local resolution. Sleep, and the quality of our home environments, is important … far more necessary than your propping up the narrowly distributed profits of operators like Frank Casares. Let’s bring some balance back to these situations: more LOCAL control at our local airports.

Thank you, Kim, Citizens for Quiet Skies, and the others who have bravely spoken up to fix this local problem. Against a hostile local press, a corrupt and commerce-biased state court system, you fight on. And your battles help many others, from East Hampton to Santa Monica to Mora.

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

An Example of a Serious Weather Delay … but Delays Can Also Happen by Scheduling ‘Too Many Arrivals’

A recent day with foggy weather in the Puget Sound area produced a few examples of weather-related delays. ksea-20161110at1009-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-data-wxdlasIn the example presented below, Jazz Air 8089, a Dash-8, departed Vancouver [CYVR] on a short 30-minute flight to SeaTac [KSEA]. The flight departed at 8:55am, just as the KSEA visibility was reducing to a half mile. The crew was turned toward the Olympic Peninsula and issued turns to delay their arrival.

Here is a screen-cap of the METAR weather sequence, reading from bottom to top; thin red boxes have been added, marking the departure time at CYVR and the arrival time at KSEA. The column in the middle is most critical, showing visibility deteriorating from 10-miles to a half-mile; the magenta text to the right, reading BKN001 and VV001 is also significant, indicating low clouds and fog obscuring the sky at 100′ above the surface.ksea-20161110-metar-0825am-to-1120am-low-wx-markedupThe flight altitudes and times at points on the JZA8089 route have been added to this enlarged map view of the delay portion of the flight, over the Olympic National Park:ksea-20161110at1009-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-analysis-of-dlas-over-olypennIn normal weather conditions, the flight is routine, even boring to both pilots and ATC. ksea-20161109at0929-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-dataksea-20161111at0950-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-dataksea-20161112at0915-jza8089-arr-f-cyvr-map-dataTo the left are screen-caps for the same flight on days before and after… on 11/9, 11/11, and 11/12. In all cases, KSEA is in a South Flow, so the minor variations in these three flights are almost entirely due to other arrival traffic.

In an extreme case, if traffic volume is sufficiently large, ATC may need to issue a holding loop, or multiple turns to achieve even 20+ minutes of delay. Note on these screen-caps, the busiest day of the week for air travel (Friday) shows the most extreme excess turns to final; the slowest day of the travel week (Saturday) shows essentially no added delays.

One way that FAA fails to prevent excessive delays is by refusing to manage capacity. Especially at hub airports, arrival rates are set too high, so as not to restrict the airlines. In their NextGen studies, FAA has repeatedly referred to maximizing ‘runway throughput’. The problem, though, is that when arrival rates are set too high, it takes just one minor weather glitch to create a cascade of delays, one airplane after another, often for hours. In the worst cases, typical at LaGuardia Airport, cascaded delays can cause arrivals to finish well after midnight, even more than two hours beyond their schedule times. And these delays nearly ALWAYS result in continuous arrival streams, with repetitive noise patterns impacting residential neighborhoods, a problem being exacerbated under NextGen.

(All graphics & flight data from FlightAware)

NextGen Brings Us ‘Noise Canyons’

A recent tweet shared a new term: ‘Noise Canyons’. Evidently, the UK aviation authority, CAA, has adopted this term to describe the narrow corridors on the ground that are most impacted by newly deployed precision airline routes.

(click on image to view source tweet by @bakerainlondon)

(click on image to view source tweet by @bakerainlondon)

The image above comes from page 7 of the 17-page report, ‘Airspace Change Process & Airspace Trials in the context of Modernising UK Airspace’. Here’s a link to an archived copy of the report, which was created by Dr. Darren Rhodes, Head of the Environmental Research and Consultancy Department (ERCD) at UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The report is well worth studying, even in the U.S., as the technologies as well as the implementation strategies (and failures) are of a global scope.

Why Are We Seeing These New ‘Noise Canyons’?

Under the ‘NextGen’ label, FAA (and in the UK, CAA) is using GPS-based aircraft automation systems to set up new routes, ostensibly to trim a few more miles, to shorten flight routes to the absolute minimum distances possible. In reality, the NextGen program is just a wholesale abandonment of the noise mitigation procedures that have existed for decades to minimize noise and pollution impacts upon community residents.

Of course, GPS has been effectively used for more than two decades. Moreover, GPS was preceded by inertial navigational systems, which have allowed airlines/ATC to use long direct routes for more than four decades. Despite this fact, the industry propaganda being foisted by Av-Gov complex players keeps trying to fool elected officials and the general public into believing NextGen has ‘benefits’ such as the straightening of routes. That is bunk. The only ‘shortening’ is happening near the airports, and ONLY due to wholesale abandonment of decades-old noise mitigation procedures.

And one more thing: the shortening near airports is often for naught. Time and time again, online flight tracking websites are showing enroute delays at cruise altitude. The real problem is simply overscheduling at major hub airports; i.e., FAA and other aviation regulators are doing nothing to stop airlines from trying put too many arrivals into too little time. When the arrival queue becomes too full, ATC needs to issue delays; so, flights are routinely issued large turns while cruising at altitude, to delay their arrival.

Silly, isn’t it. If FAA really wanted to minimize distances flown and fuel burned, the solution is easy: scale back the hub airports to flow rates that ensure enroute delays are needed only in the most extreme situations (not hourly, not hourly, but perhaps every few months or so).

Enroute Delays are Routine as Part of NextGen, Even for Slower Hubs like SEA

The previous aiREFORM Post presented a sequence of eight arrivals from California to SeaTac [KSEA], during a half-hour window from 10:22 to 10:52 on Thursday May 12th. The sequence showed some very substantial enroute delays, mostly over Oregon. Well, it turns out the exact same series of arrivals had very similar (and again substantial) enroute delays on the very next day, during the time window 10:13 to 10:49 on Friday May 13th. Here is a JPEG compilation:

KSEA.20160513.. compiled ARRs, similar enroute delays as with 5-12-2016

Here are the important points to be made, looking at these KSEA arrivals for both days:

  1. For all flights, with the exception of the enroute delays, the routes are incredibly direct … proving that the current system is fully capable of maximizing efficiency by minimizing distance flown. That is, we do NOT need any new technologies to accomplish direct flights.
  2. In the big picture, SeaTac is a relatively simple ATC example, in that it is remote (far northwest corner of the nation), far removed from saturated delay-prone hubs (mostly in the northeast), has no major complications related to other airports, and has a very simple triple-parallel runway configuration.
  3. Despite this simplicity, empirical evidence viewed online indicates ATC begins imposing enroute delays to KSEA arrivals, even in perfect clear weather, whenever the arrival rate gets to around 30-40 aircraft per hour or more.
  4. SeaTac’s problems relate entirely to its current use as a hub by Alaska, Delta, and Southwest. Delta is the new player, aggressively initiating a hub expansion in 2014. At KSEA, Delta’s growth is creating many periods each day, with arrival flurries that necessitate enroute delays and long, inefficient landing patterns (e.g., extended downwinds to 20-mile+ finals).
  5. That the problem is caused by too many arrivals is proven by looking at the arrival data, and comparing days of the week that are slowest against days of the week that are busiest. Routinely, Thursdays and Fridays are two of the busiest days, while Saturdays are nearly always the slowest day of the week. As presented in this pair of aiREFORM Posts, the eight flights are all delayed on both Thursday and Friday. Odds are, if you study the routes for any of these same eight scheduled flights as conducted on a Saturday, you will find that no enroute delays were issued … simply because ATC is working 10-20% fewer arrivals.
  6. To accommodate an industry preference for large hubs (which maximize airline profits), FAA’s approach in the past decade has become to serve only the airlines and at the expense of taxpayers/citizens. Coincident with the evolution of the NextGen program, FAA’s efforts have included a wholesale abandonment of procedures that mitigate environmental impacts, while also doing the following:
    1. maximizing flow rates in/out of the airport (the term used in the industry is ‘runway throughput’);
    2. removing all airport-specific noise mitigation procedures (some of these date back to the 1970s, and billions have been spent installing noise insulation reference these procedures);
    3. creating RNAV departure routes that minimize distances flown, by allowing the earliest possible turns, in some extreme cases immediately after taking off;
    4. creating RNAV arrival routes that minimize actions by both ATC and pilots, proceduralizing the arrival into a steady repetitive stream along a narrowly defined route with a steady descent rate; a key part of this strategy is to get pilots to let the autopilot fly the arrival;
  7. Logically, FAA could manage/avoid hub-related delays by simply regulating hub traffic levels, to ensure arrivals never exceed a sustainable arrival rate upper limit. But, FAA refuses to regulate this, apparently due to their desire to accommodate the industry.
  8. The Av-Gov complex (and, yes, that includes shills like Bill Shuster) is pitching NextGen, but the technology essentially already exists, and has been in use for decades. Nonetheless, and despite rational opposition, they continue to pitch this in order to spend billions padding the financial positions of Av-Gov players (which includes many FAA employees who retire early and collect pensions but supplement their retirements working in industry!), while also using ‘NextGen implementation’ as an excuse to implement noise-impactful new RNAV routes.
  9. These two aiREFORM Posts look at the impacts related to KSEA, but the exact same situation is ongoing (and even worse) at many other major airports, including KSFO, KPHX, KCLT, KBOS, KLGA, KORD, KDCA, and KJFK.
  10. We can have all the whiz-bang technology we can buy, but if we allow the major airlines to schedule even brief arrival flurries that exceed airport capacity (which is ultimately a function of runway configurations), we will see delays. And, these delays not only magnify the environmental impacts of aviation, but they also wipe out all efficiency improvements that are potentially realized with more direct RNAV routes.
  11. The agency is failing, and our elected officials are also failing us. They are too busy fundraising, abandoning their duty to serve constituents. Like FAA, Congress has become too beholden to money.


MHFC: NextGen Enroute Delays & Noise Impacts over Vashon Island

An incredible airshow: Michael Huerta’s Flying Circus.

20160408.. Michael Huerta's Flying CircusIn service to the airlines, FAA has carefully worked to bypass environmental review procedures while also embarking on a scheme to abandon wholesale decades worth of noise mitigation procedures. In their effort to increase ‘throughput’, turns are being made lower and closer to the airports, for both departures and arrivals. This would reduce fuel consumption by a small amount, but the savings are routinely more than lost when excessive airline scheduling necessitates that ATC must issue delay turns (even entire delay loops) during the enroute/cruise portion of the flight.

It is really a circus. ATCs work harder, and pilots also work harder. More delays are incurred, all so that FAA can justify increasing the repetitive-noise-pattern impacts on neighborhoods that previously had no aviation noise issues.

This Analysis looks at how NextGen is destroying quality of life for residents of Vashon Island, west of SeaTac [KSEA]. As shown in the map below, with FAA’s NextGen redesign of the Seattle airspace, ATC is compressing small planes to fly lower in corridors crossing east-west over KSEA (specifically, note the magenta arrows and magenta text boxes). This is to accommodate lower (and heavier) arrival flows on north-south downwind legs roughly 6-miles west of SeaTac (over the island’s eastern half). KSEA.20160512.. portion of VFR sectional focused on S ARR flow impacts Vashon level-offsOn a beautiful clear day (May 12, 2016), KSEA was landing south. In a south flow, all arrivals from California/Oregon are aligned northbound on a published RNAV route over the east half of Vashon Island. Thus, Vashon Island residents become subjected to the noise of one flight after another. Problematically, with the NextGen changes, this noise impact pattern is repeated all day long and all night long.

A scrollable PDF of the Analysis is presented below. Note that the Analysis also looks at how NextGen is being oversold and consistently fails to deliver on the ‘benefits’ claimed by FAA and others. In this example, every KSEA arrival from California was turned early after taking off, and then given a direct flight to the KSEA arrival fix at Battle Ground, just north of Portland. But then, once enroute, ATC issued significant delays to each arrival, eliminating all time and fuel savings benefits of the NextGen departure procedures. These delays were necessitated by the excessive arrival flows that happen at hub airports. In this example, KSEA is a major hub used by both Delta (including Compass, or CPZ) and Alaska (including Horizon).

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

If FAA chose to, they could substantially mitigate these Vashon Island noise impacts. Notably, a natural descent corridor exists a few miles to the east, over Puget Sound. NextGen technologies would easily allow FAA to create a simple customized noise-mitigation arrival route over the middle water area. But, unfortunately, it appears FAA is set on cookie-cutter downwind legs.

More Examples of ‘Enroute Delays’ for KSEA Arrivals

Three months ago, five arrivals to Seattle were analyzed in A Set of KSEA Arrivals Helps to Expose FAA’s NextGen Fraud. In the time since, on repeat occasions, readers have submitted other examples of more arrivals for which ATC issued substantial en route delays, sometimes with multiple loops. For example, check out the extensive work by ATC to sequence the December 7, 2015 arrival of ASA124 from Fairbanks, as shown in this FlightAware satview:

ATC issued multiple delays, including a huge loop east of Dungeness Spit, then a turn to Alki Point only to be turned downwind and extended on the downwind all the way back to Whidbey Island.

KSEA is the tiny orange text in the bottom-right corner. ATC issued multiple delays to ASA124, including a huge loop east of Dungeness Spit, then a turn to Alki Point only to be turned downwind and extended on the downwind all the way back to Whidbey Island. The same flight on Saturday 1/16/2016 was issued no delays, during a more moderate arrival flow. Click on the link to study all recent ASA124 arrivals.

Even with a new year, the pattern of en route delays to the airport at SeaTac [KSEA] continues. A particularly galling aspect of this is that both FAA and the management at this airport have expended a huge effort promoting these so-called ‘NextGen improvements’, even going so far as to over-use a ‘Greener Skies’ eco-moniker. To help reveal this propaganda, an analysis was recently done, looking closely at 25 arrivals during a half-hour-long push on the late evening of Thursday, January 14, 2016. Here is a table listing the flights, with departure airport, times, color-coded delay amounts, and time gained/lost en route:KSEA.20160114.. Data on delays related to 2120-2131 Arrival pushA more in-depth analysis was prepared for the first ten in this series of arrivals (those landing between 9:20pm and 9:31pm). A distinct pattern is apparent, revealing the following facts for how ATC is routinely issuing en route delays (which consistently cancel all NextGen time-savings, thus negating all ‘potential benefits’ being oversold to the Public and to Congress):

  1. The bulk of each route of flight is extremely direct, for both transcontinental and regional flights.
  2. During the last hour of each flight, ATC consistently delays the flight, typically with vectors or one or more ‘loops’. Delay durations of 10- or 20-minutes are common. The most common location for these delays is in the sectors at the Center/TRACON boundary.
  3. Even with these en route delays, the arriving flights are routinely subjected to additional delays, such as extended downwind legs stuck in low level flight.
  4. For each flight, any time-savings gained by early turns after takeoff is more than lost if and when ATC issues delay instructions

For the record, airlines have flown these optimized direct routes for decades, using technologies deployed more than three decades prior to FAA’s first use of the term ‘NextGen’. In other words, the ‘benefits’ FAA and others are claiming when they seek Congressional funding are a bald-faced lie, just selling again benefits that already exist.

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

FAA’s NextGen Fraud

The SeaTac airport has a triple-parallel runway configuration, oriented north-south. Thus, arrivals to KSEA will land in a NORTH FLOW or a SOUTH FLOW, depending on winds.

Like most major U.S. airports, the Seattle area has winds that are reliably consistent and, most of the time, changes are accurately predictable. This is important, as wind reliability means airspace can be designed to flow arrivals to strategically located ‘gates’ that efficiently feed arrivals into a manageable final flow.

If FAA chose to use NextGen technologies optimally, the airspace would be designed to minimize distance flown while also ensuring minimal noise and air pollution impacts, particularly on noise-sensitive areas in the airport vicinity. Airspace would also be designed so as to keep arriving flights as high as possible, and as late as possible… to minimize noise and air pollution impacts. Unfortunately, FAA is not using NextGen to accomplish these improvements: instead, FAA is using NextGen as a ‘shortcut’ to eliminate pre-existing noise-abatement procedures.

In short, NextGen is a fraud being foisted on both the People and the Congress. The alleged ‘benefits’ have been grossly oversold, and the very real impacts are routinely ignored by an agency captured in service to the industry.

Finally! … a Fair Article about NextGen Impacts!


“…Over and over again, it’s like a stab in your brain….”

– a resident of Palo Alto, describing FAA’s NextGen Impact on her home

Thank You, Los Angeles Times, for your article about FAA’s NextGen impacts in the Bay Area. You got it right.

There are many articles being published about these NextGen impacts nationwide, particularly at Phoenix, at Boston, and around New York City’s LaGaurdia and JFK airports. This article did not go so far as to reveal the NextGen fraud FAA is pulling, with their greenwashing the public and manipulating Congress to spend billions, but it is truly one of the best articles yet. The reporter actually looked into the situation and compiled her own story, instead of lazily posting the pre-spun talking points that FAA and the industry provide. And, critically, the article was published without being re-spun by editors catering to FAA/industry money and power … a democracy-killing problem at most of today’s news outlets.

With their botched NextGen implementations and tone-deaf arrogance, FAA is making itself the poster child of failed federal agencies. A captured agency, serving only the industry they were created to regulate, while also destroying quality of life for the masses. This must end. We are long overdue for real FAA reform, with full accountability and transparency.

A short video, posted by Save Our Skies Santa Cruz, showing the impact on people, south of San Francisco…