Will ‘60 Minutes’ Help Us Expose and Correct FAA’s Nationwide NextGen Mess?

(click on image to view source Facebook page)

People everywhere – from Bethesda to Federal Way, and from Culver City to Belmont – know the failures of the NextGen program:

  • that the program is a fraud, pretending to implement new technologies that have actually already been in common use for decades;
  • that FAA is pushing NextGen solely to get Congress to dole out more money, to prop up more FAA waste;
  • that, to get the airlines (and their main lobby, Airlines for America, A4A) to not oppose NextGen, FAA is focused on removing all noise mitigation procedures and local agreements, at all airports;
  • that FAA is enabling the airlines to expand flights per hour without limits (hub concentration);
  • and that FAA is also enabling the airlines to fly repetitive routes that are lower and closer to the runways (route concentration), with a wholesale disregard for how these routes are destroying even our oldest communities.

Historically, our economic and political system has been a point of pride, in no small part because it has had a press that operates freely, a press that would reliably expose frauds and compel the correction of failures. People have been well served when reporters dig deep, unspinning the spin and propaganda.

There has been a lot of evidence in the last year, that this ‘free press’ is dead, that in fact most elements of the mainstream media now serve corporate and political agendas. Likewise, we have seen too many elected officials who seem to be incapable of comprehending the impacts, who instead can only understand serving commerce so they can get campaign contributions. ‘60 Minutes’ can do better, can help restore the balance we have lost, and in the process can help rebuild public confidence in the mainstream media.

(click on image to view source Change.org petition page)

Will ‘60 Minutes’ listen? If hundreds of us take a few minutes and send emails, letters, tweets and calls, expressing how NextGen is impacting our homes, will ‘60 Minutes’ do the diligent research and expose the depth of FAA’s NextGen failure? Let’s hope so.

There are hundreds of smart people, across the nation and standing ready to help ‘60 Minutes’ write the powerful news story needed by thousands.

Here are your contact options…

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/60minutes/
TWITTER @60Minutes
EMAIL 60m@cbsnews.com
PHONE (212) 975-2006
POSTAL MAIL Story Editor, 60 MINUTES, CBS News
524 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

An Email Exchange with David Suomi, Again Shows FAA’s Bureaucratic Indifference

David Suomi, Deputy Regional Administrator for FAA’s Northwest Mountain Region

On 4/25/2017, FAA regional officials David Suomi (pronounced ‘Sue Me!’) and Steve Karnes spent an hour giving a rosy NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle Commissioners. A citizen audience was present and listened attentively, waiting for the chance to have their precious three minutes, to ask questions at the end.

As the presentation closed, and the Commission invited citizens to come to the mic, Mr. Suomi and Mr. Karnes suddenly stood up and said they had to leave, to attend to prior commitments. Pleadings from the crowd asked them to stay, but they packed their things and quickly, quietly departed. A half hour later, one of the citizens had to leave while the last few citizens were making their comments into the record. She saw Mr. Suomi and Mr. Karnes as she left; they were standing just outside the door, around the corner.

So, in total, although Mr. Suomi collects a very substantial federal paycheck in a job intended to serve the nation (not just the industry they pretend to regulate), he spent an hour selling a program that is causing substantial damages, even health problems, for many citizens. And, when done with that dog-and-pony show, it is not surprising that he would see no problem with his refusal to listen to and answer those citizen questions.

It is in this context that the following is shared. Two days after FAA’s NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle, a citizen sent this email to Mr. Suomi:

The email exchange is revealing. Here is Mr. Suomi’s reply, still locked in to selling NextGen and refusing to even acknowledge the growing impacts. Many of Mr. Suomi’s statements are rebutted, with a series of footnotes by aiREFORM.

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

An Example of FAA’s Illegible Orders … Is There a Reason they are Mostly Incomprehensible Garbage?

The day after the Fight the Flight forum, one of the local impacted citizens shared her concerns about research she was doing, to learn about the problems. She provided a link to FAA’s 19-page Desk Reference for Noise and Noise-Compatible Land Use. Here is her comment:

People all across the nation run into this problem when trying to take care of their family and community. FAA creates a problem by enabling excessive airport expansion, and by forcing the abandonment of noise abatement procedures. When our best citizens then take their valuable time to learn and be heard, to fix the new problem,  they run into FAA’s next wall: the concealment of valuable information. Sometimes the concealment is simply by refusing to talk, as happened when David Suomi and Steve Karnes left ‘early’ after their 4/25/2017 NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle Commissioners; other times it is by FAA’s wasting taxpayer money, creating voluminous and byzantine standards and illegible procedural documentation.

One of the roles aiREFORM tries to serve is to archive the documents that are relevant to aviation impacts. A new Reference webpage has been created, with archived copies of the Desk Reference as well as the full Current Order and full Previous Order. Click here to view it, and download any copies that may be helpful in your local fight for quality of life.

Also, a request: if anyone finds they are doing some deeper analysis of these documents, creating a thorough outline or notes just to REALLY know this material (or to precisely define FAA’s failures), please consider sharing your work back; we can make a PDF of that and share it online, too, to help others.

[ai-RCHIVE] 1997-02: Sea-Tac International Airport Impact Mitigation Study, Initial Assessment & Recommendations (347p)

Take a close look at this impact study done more than two decades ago, which includes these opening paragraphs:

(click on image to view a downloadable copy of the report)

Twenty years later, how well have the Port of Seattle (POS) and local elected officials applied the content in this study, to protect and serve the local residents and taxpayers?

Is the proper BALANCE in place, so that the airport serves the local community rather than destroy it?

Is KSEA becoming yet one more case of an over-expanded airport creating benefits for airlines and the industry, at great costs in destroyed communities and lost quality of life?

Dissecting Nextgen: a Presentation at the ‘Fight the Flight 101’ Community Forum

The forum, at the Mt. Rainier High School in Des Moines, was well attended, with at least double the number who attended the Port of Seattle Commission meeting a day earlier. Toward the end of the event we learned that 1,600 were online watching the livestream video!

The energy of the QSPS members was excellent, as was their organization. The one aspect that fell short was there was simply not enough time to cover the material we were all prepared to present, but then again, we did not want to make people sit for hours. So, at the presentation, it was noted that online copies of the presentations would be posted. Here is a copy of the 42-slides by aiREFORM. Roughly half were covered to some extent, but very many were not even addressed … just not enough time.

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

Thanks to Steve, Sheila, Debi, Larry and many others, whose hard work will help to educate people, so we can get back the quality of life being taken by the aviation industry at the overexpanded Sea-Tac airport.

UPDATE, 4/29/2017:Working to Solve the Problems Created by NextGen This earlier project, an aiREFORM Post to create a short document summarizing the problems of NextGen and how to solve them, offers a text version of the 42-slide PDF above. Just click on the blue link title to view and/or download your own copy.

KSEA: ‘Fight the Flight 101’ Community Forum, Tonight

One of the only major U.S. airports growing right now serves the Seattle area, Sea-Tac [KSEA]. While most other U.S. airports remain flat or in decline, Sea-Tac is growing simply because Delta Airlines chose to build up a new hub there in 2012. Time will show other Delta hubs (KSLC, KMSP, KDTW) will diminish to feed the excess of flights to KSEA, where areas even 20-miles from the runway are now getting far more noise and pollutant impact.

Here is the announcement by Quiet Skies Puget Sound, a group of impacted residents who have had enough and are coming together, activating to fix this mess at Sea-Tac, pressing elected officials to serve, and FAA and other authorities to become transparent and accountable:

(click on image to view event announcement and learn more)

And, here are two slides from the conclusion of the aiREFORM presentation, to be given tonight at this community forum:

The problem is a broken and corrupted culture at FAA, enabling abuses upon people by money-interests in the aviation industry. This is a widespread problem, extending far beyond Sea-Tac’s impact zone. The entire aiREFORM presentation will be posted online in the near future.


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.