Shuster/A4A’s AIRR Act is All but Dead

20160226scp.. AIRR all but dead (FAA Google Alerts)

(a sampling of headlines/articles generated today in a Google Alert on the word ‘FAA’)

The ridiculous scheme to privatize the U.S. ATC system appears to have died a quick death, but give Bill Shuster, Nick Calio, and Paul Rinaldi credit for putting a lot of effort into it.

The legislative proposal was introduced with great fanfare on February 3rd – even a slick video, loaded with spin (not sure who paid for that production!?!, though it looks like an A4A production). The rollout was after years of work and hundreds of meetings with so-called ‘stakeholders’, to craft the precise language that best served their interests. A fatal error was that the ‘stakeholders’ did not include airport neighbors, airline customers, environmental representatives or ANYONE in the general public. As has become routine in recent years, the ‘stakeholders’ set was limited to parties that stood to personally gain from scheme implementation: the airlines, the airline lobbyists, the air traffic controllers lobbyist (i.e., the union NATCA), and potential ATC contractors.

The need for Transformational Reform of FAA/ATC remains. Let’s hope our Congressional leaders get to work pass REAL legislation, including:

  1. restoration of local authority, including the power of local residents to vote democratically on airport activity limits, so as to ensure local citizens lead in the management of airport impacts, and to ensure the airport serves the local community first, industry last.
  2. a complete reconfiguration of the aviation fee & tax structure, so as to:
    • disincentivize overdevelopment of airline hubs (to encourage wider distribution of moderate traffic levels, and to avoid saturated repetitive flight patterns);
    • minimize fossil fuel consumption;
    • maximize percentage of passenger trips that proceed from origin to destination, without layovers.
    • maximize transparency by both airlines and FAA/ATC, to include required annual data reports, so citizens can see quantified progress toward efficiency and environment system goals.
  3. a thorough correction of aviation noise metrics and rules, to include:
    • remove authority from FAA and place it clearly within an EPA noise office;
    • upgrade the false ’65 dNL’ metric with a more realistic ’55 dNL’ metric, and also establish rules based on other non-dNL noise metrics.

AIRR: Going Nowhere (while Shuster schleps in Florida!)

FAA’s arrogance in ignoring NextGen noise impacts is legendary, but that arrogance is amazingly exceeded by Bill Shuster, Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. And, it is all a glaring conflict of interest.

On Day One, Mister Shuster is waterboy for lobbyist Airlines for America (A4A), pushing a poisoned legislative proposal that would grant the airlines control of ATC via a so-called ‘not-for-profit privatization’ scheme; on Day Two, Mr. Schuster is ‘on the beach and tipping cocktails’, hanging in Florida with his best buddies: lobbyist A4A CEO Nick Calio, and A4A VP of Government Affairs Shelley Rubino. Oh, and the A4A Government Affairs VP also happens to be ‘engaged’ in a personal relationship with Mr. Shuster.

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

The rollout of the Shuster/A4A legislative proposal included clearly coordinated support by all the intended beneficiaries: representatives Shuster & LoBiondo, lobby Airlines for America, and even the controllers union, NATCA (though the vast majority of controllers quickly rose up, charging their elected leaders with selling out the future … and other FAA employee unions were quick to distance themselves from NATCA’s Executive Board decision). But, there was strong opposition even at the rollout. Even before the big shows – the Hearing on 2/10/2016, and the Markup on 2/11/2016 – the Republican committee members voiced a clear opposition to the proposed ATC privatization. The legislative proposal was rolled out on February 3rd, but an article by Jazz Shaw at HotAir.com provided a copy of a leaked memo showing five substantial points why the House Freedom Caucus opposes this FAA restructuring plan:

  1. The AIRR Act is Not Conservative
  2. Creates a New Special-interest Bureaucracy
  3. Diminishes Congressional Oversight
  4. A High Cost to Taxpayers and a Sweet Deal for Unions
  5. The Proposal is Less Safe

Despite their strong conservative opposition, at the Markup, eight days after the rollout, conservative members rejoined ranks. Nearly every amendment vote produced a strict party-line split: Republicans (34 seats on the committee) consistently outnumbering Democrats (25 seats on the committee).

Bear in mind, Shuster wanted to introduce this legislation a full year ago, but was forced to delay and retool, due to the growing FAA NextGen debacles. So, in total, the Shuster/A4A proposal is seeing opposition from everyone EXCEPT the cronies who stand to reap the core of the intended special interest gain: i.e., the only consistent support comes from industry (A4A and the airlines), the NATCA NEB members (all of whom are near retirement), and the Congress-critters who earn campaign contributions by advocating for this bad idea.

At time 9:21:58 of the nearly ten-hour Markup, just prior to the quick series of final votes, Representative DeFazio offered this comment: “…(the amendments) are generally – how would you describe them – tweaks to the imaginary ATC corporation (laughter) … they would make it better, if it happened (more laughter)….”.

In other words, the Shuster/A4A proposal distills down to just one big joke – a waste of our time and money.


See also:
  • 2/23/2016 – ‘FAA reform bill raises concern from Queens leaders’
  • 2/22/2016 – ‘The FAA restructuring bill already looks like it’s on life support’
  • 2/22/2016 – ‘AIRR Delayed Amid ATC Reform Opposition’
  • 2/12/2016 – LAMA Resolution opposed to HR4441
  • 2/4/2016 – ‘Republicans Introduce Plan to Remove 30K People From the Federal Government’s Payroll’

Even with all this opposition and concern, the talking heads at the source keep trying to sell this crap; check out this USA Today interview of an A4A mouthpiece:

LIVESTREAM: AIRR Act Hearing

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is holding an AIRR Act hearing at this moment, chaired by Bill Shuster. Two hours in, the witnesses include Ed Bolen, Robert Poole, Paul Rinaldi and Nick Calio, all of whom (except Bolen) are strong advocates of this corporate giveaway. Shuster has unfortunately set such small time allotments that the representatives and witnesses simply cannot get into sufficient depth to clearly debate the issues and arrive at solid solutions. Nonetheless, lots of concerns and opposition are being strongly declared.

Here is an embed for the livestream … The hearing ended at 1:43pm EST. Here is a link to a video of the full hearing, which ran for nearly 4-hours:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-OC0cfW_Nc&feature=youtu.be&t=690

Note the link starts at 690-seconds into the recording; it appears that the recording was begun nearly 11-minutes prior to the actual gaveled opening by Shuster.

See also this opinion piece from TheHill.com (PDF below, annotated by aiREFORM):

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

UPDATED at 1:00pm EST on 2/10/2016: — 5-minute recess; will resume with session #2 momentarily.

“We were nice and low, saw this really cute bar…”

A funny way to point out the corruption, cronyism and failures by the ‘players’ in today’s Av-Gov Complex….

A flight attendant hanging out at a bar is handed the phone and told she has a call. She chats with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta for a few minutes. She happens to be interested in buying a house in Phoenix, and knows home prices have been plummeting due to new lower routes imposed for NextGen. She asks Mr. Huerta if he can help her to get a better price by allowing flights even lower to the ground. Here’s the video:

During the phone conversation, Serena learns that Mr. Huerta is having dinner with ‘Bill’ and ‘Shelley’. This is a reference to the relationship between House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster and Shelley Rubino, a VP at a major aviation lobbyist firm, Airlines for America.

As of this week, the two biggest ‘aviation impact people’ pushing legislation to move ATC out of FAA are Bill Shuster and Nick Calio, Shelley’s boss at Airlines for America.

The video is a funny joke; on the other hand, Mr. Shuster’s apparent conflict of interest is not funny at all.


See also these other ‘Serena’ videos:

FAA’s NextGen Hydra: Breathing Hellish Noise-Fire Upon Charlotte, NC

Source: tabletophell.com

Source: tabletophell.com

When the noise seems to never go away, in areas where only months before there just wasn’t any airport noise, people tend to get worn out. The noise becomes an occupying force, a controlling presence. Perhaps it was after nights of enduring NextGen sleep deprivation that a retiree near Charlotte, NC began to see FAA’s NextGen as a mythical, multi-headed hydra, breathing noise-fire from Hell.

The heads of this monster are the many newly designed routes, wherein FAA is effectively mandating pilots to let the autopilot fly the airplane as soon as they lift off. In FAA’s current NextGen implementation, these automated routes are being focused by the navigational precision of new GPS technologies. The result, being ignored by FAA, is the creation of intense noise impact areas. People are speaking up, but FAA won’t listen; instead, agency spokespersons just try to drown out the popular concerns by repeating their mantra, “NextGen is needed for ‘safety and efficiency’.”

The Charlotte NextGen Hydra Looks Like This

Here’s a map showing actual flight tracks during a North Flow at Charlotte. Green lines are departures, red lines are arrivals. The pink ellipses mark the areas heavily impacted by crossing compressed routes. The airport runways are identifiable in the small area where the green lines butt into the ends of the red lines, midway between the bottom edges of the two upper pink ellipses.[KCLT] N Flow, route compilation map with pink markups

20150531cpy.. portion of Munch's 'The Scream'

(click on image to view painting in a larger window)

It is uncanny, how much this plot of FAA’s NextGen impact on Charlotte resembles the tormented subject in Munch’s priceless painting, ‘The Scream’. Priceless.

Actually, not just Priceless. Pointless too, because FAA doesn’t need NextGen to continue to manage what FAA has been telling Congress for decades is the safest and most efficient aviation system ever. So, the only valid justification for spending tens of billions to ‘upgrade’ would be to handle higher traffic levels.

Which brings us to exactly what is wrong with FAA’s NextGen (other than the wasted money): there is no capacity demand justifying NextGen.

In fact, air traffic has declined sharply in the past two decades, and FAA has produced no evidence that traffic levels will be going up any time soon. The Av-Gov Complex (FAA and their ‘collaborators’) knows this, but they remain careful not to talk about it. So, while people are upset, losing sleep, and speaking up more, FAA just continues with their mantra that NextGen is ‘critically needed for safety and efficiency’.

How Far Has U.S. Air Traffic Declined?

The key metric for assessing both airport noise impact and ATC workload is the number of airport operations (i.e., how many airport takeoffs and landings in a year). FAA’s ATADS database is maintained specifically to track this metric. According to FAA’s ATADS data for all towered airports, total U.S. airport operations peaked way back in 1999; since then, there has been a steady decline, and in 2014 total operations at ALL TOWERS were DOWN 28% from the 1999 peak.

Another way to assess growth or decline to try to justify a need for NextGen is to look at commercial operations at a subset of the largest commercial airports. FAA says that 70% of all passengers enplane at the ‘OEP-35 airports’. At these 35 major airports, ANNUAL OPERATIONS PEAKED IN 2000, AND BY 2014 HAD DECLINED 19%. [see: OEP-35 Airports (list & links) which shows trends for each OEP-35 airport]

During the 2000 to 2014 timeframe, nearly half (16) of the U.S. OEP-35 airports, declined by 21% or more. During this same time period, the U.S. population grew by 13%. Seemingly, any healthy service industry should at least keep pace with population growth. Well, of the 35 marker airports on the OEP list, only TWO beat population growth: operations at New York JFK was one (up 20%), and Charlotte was the other (up 18%).

All other of FAA’s busiest airports declined versus population, most of them substantially. The five worst case declines (and these numbers would be still lower if population growth was factored in!) happened at:

  • Cincinnati Northern Kentucky [KCVG]: down 72%
  • Pittsburgh [KPIT]: down 70%
  • St Louis [KSTL]: down 62%
  • Cleveland [KCLE]: down 61%
  • Memphis [KMEM]: down 43%

The Significance of KCLT

As noted, between 2000 and 2014 the hub airport in Charlotte, NC was one of only two major U.S. airports to grow faster than population (though it did peak in 2013, and showed a 2% decline in 2014). How did Charlotte do this? By becoming a larger hub airport, and with lots of federal subsidy. Charlotte is now a Super-Hub for US Airways, which is just now finishing its merger with American Airlines.

The [KCLT] super-hub is to American/USAirways as the Atlanta [KATL] super-hub is to Delta. Both are positioned with multiple parallel runways, and between two key major passenger markets: the north/northeastern U.S. market, and the Florida market. Their business model is simple: bring passengers in from both markets, have them ‘self-sort’ in the KCLT terminal, and send them out to their destinations. Interestingly, both the KATL and the KCLT model rely on extreme monopoly. The merged American/US Airways (and it’s subordinate feeder airlines) handled 96% of the KCLT commercial passenger operations in December 2013; that same reference month, Delta dominated KATL with 91% of all operations. [see: A Table Showing the ASPM-77 Airports (Peak Years, Traffic Declines, and Trends Toward Airline Monopolies)]

A huge environmental problem with this type of ‘Passenger Sort Facility’ is the out-scaled impact on airport neighbors. In particular, these airports have many more flights per local resident, simply because most of the flights are not scheduled to serve locals, they are scheduled to serve non-residents ‘just-passing-through’.

The impacts are intensified by airline practices. When an airline like American ‘banks’ its KCLT schedule with heavy inflows and outflows, it is going to create congestion. ATC will manage that congestion by designing routes, to proceduralize the flow, and these route designs will include holding departures to lower altitudes to avoid arrivals at higher altitudes. In some critical locations, especially where focused routes cross, neighbors have to endure nearly continuous noise for hours – or even days – at a time.

Overflights. Over and over and over again. Near constant noise. After a while, residents may start to see a Hydra.

So, Charlotte is Just One More Example, showing NextGen is Really all About CAPACITY

(Foxx, Huerta, and Calio: the program is even more off balance than the photo)

(Foxx, Huerta, and Calio: the program is even more off balance than the photo)

What it all distills down to is a reality many have recognized for a very long time. FAA is a politicized beast that extracts billions every year and has to spend that money. Furthermore, our Presidents have nearly always demonstrated a bipartisan appetite for encouraging FAA spending, often seeking to prop up local economies. Both agencies and Presidents are inclined to spend for political advantage. In these times, political advantage rests with money. So, the role of Administrator Huerta and Secretary Foxx is reduced down to being just a pair of very well-paid cheerleaders, a Congressionally-appointed lobbyist duo.

In other words, FAA is working FOR the airlines, with false cover from the RTCA committees who make ‘NextGen recommendations (and who are dominated by the airlines) to essentially eliminate all environmental restrictions that we (the people) have needed to impose on the airlines.

In Charlotte and elsewhere, NextGen is a workaround to environmental regulation. It is a wholesale discarding of decades worth of environmental balance, implemented to protect neighborhoods from commercial aviation noise. With NextGen, FAA is essentially allowing departures to immediately turn, no longer requiring straight-out climbs to altitude before turning toward their destination. And the local residents, who never had a voice in the change process, are forced to endure the NextGen Noise-Hell.