With FAA, ‘Collaboration’ is Just a Slick Euphemism for ‘Propaganda Campaign’

Time and again this year, the mainstream media has been shown to be fully collaborating with those they report on, thus effectively serving not as objective journalists but as servant propaganda agents. We’ve seen this in politics (yes, 2016 has been a big and very troubling year!), and we’ve seen it in the lobbying efforts of certain industries, aviation included.

The key to these propaganda campaigns is to ALWAYS frame the message (using carefully selected keywords), and coordinate the delivery of information. In the context of our U.S. Congress, in its present and ongoing state of oligarchy-serving dysfunction, it is critical that opposition voices are tamped down; that is, it would be problematic if any of the aviation stakeholders spoke up against the objective. So, within the group of stakeholders/players who are coordinating the propaganda campaign, each must find an aspect of the program that serves their own narrow interests, and accept that personal benefit as sufficient for their agreement to remain quiet about aspects they dislike. This is precisely what has evolved with NextGen and ATC Privatization; this is how we end up with the air traffic controllers’ union, NATCA, doing a reversal this year and now declaring that union leaders are onboard with both proposals.

The current propaganda campaign for the U.S. aviation system focuses on two things:

  1. ATC privatization – the ‘real goal’ is to further insulate this safety/regulatory function from accountability and transparency, making it that much harder for impacted citizens to resolve aviation-related problems. Many in industry like this idea, for obvious reasons (it creates ‘business opportunities’); top officials at NATCA see a chance to remove controllers from federal salary caps and the age-56 mandatory retirement, so thousands of the most senior controllers today would earn more than $180,000 per year (and build much larger retirement pensions).
  2. NextGen investment – as happens with most matured agencies, there is a constant need to project a message that helps the agency mission appear relevant and worthy of further funding. So, every few years, FAA dreams up a way to spend money, coordinates with ‘stakeholders’ to ensure their non-opposition, then carefully maneuvers Congress, seeking billions for a new so-called ‘transformative’ program. It is all smoke-and-mirrors and pork, benefitting not just industry players but also FAA officials who retire, collect pensions, and become consultants and lobbyists for those same industry players.

Any effective propaganda campaign requires consistent and frequent restatement of key bits of disinformation. I.e., if you repeat a lie long enough, it effectively becomes fact. This truism is understood and abused by both major political parties in the U.S., just as it is understood and abused by accountability-averse agencies, FAA included. So, what are the key bits of disinformation FAA is using…?

  1. use the words ‘increasingly congested’ … even when you know it is just a bald-faced lie (see the data analysis within the Post, The Incredible Shrinking NAS … that FAA & the Av-Gov Complex Don’t Talk About; on average, for the 504 U.S. airports with control civilian control towers, annual operations are now down 45% from the peak years at each airport. DOWN 45% … but does the mainstream media tell us this statistic?
  2. distract the citizens with snazzy graphics and jargon that pretends to be selling something new and incredible [even when the actual change is minimal to none]
  3. tack on the latest buzzwords, such as ‘transformative’, ‘collaborative’, and of course ‘NextGen’.
  4. make sure it appears that the message is organic, authentic, and sourced NOT in the agency (FAA) but in the real world (the airlines, the airline lobby, the unions, the manufacturers). [again, this is just illusion… there is a huge amount of coordination going on behind the scenes, with FAA and the other parties very carefully designing the campaign, and orchestrating who says what and when]

Here’s a recent example: a news article with warm and fuzzy airport growth hopes at the St. Paul Downtown Airport [KSTP], near Minneapolis. This is an airport catering primarily to elite personal and business travel, such as using charter bizjets. The airport management expects roughly a hundred elite sport fans to use KSTP in early 2018, for their flight to watch the Super Bowl. The article more than implies that the airport is a money-generator. But, as shown in this aiREFORM analysis, and as is so typical across the nation, annual operations at this airport peaked in 1990 and have since declined 70%. The federal monies spent there are essentially maintaining infrastructure that is increasingly underused.

So, when you read articles such as this, be sure to consider the long history of spin and propaganda by FAA and other Av/Gov Complex players.

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.

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.

The Incredible Shrinking NAS (…that FAA & the Av-Gov Complex Don’t Talk About)

A new year is upon us and it is clear that forces in Washington, DC are carefully applying pressure. The current deadline for renewing FAA’s budget authorization is in March. So, the lobbyists, many of whom receive FAA paychecks every two weeks, are coordinating their daily efforts, with two goals in clear focus:

  1. they hope to aid the airlines in achieving even higher profits by accelerating and expanding their ongoing NextGen implementation debacle; and,
  2. they hope to further insulate FAA – and the industry – from accountability.

They are aiming to accomplish these two goals by getting elected officials to remove ATC from FAA (creating a sort-of privatized entity run largely by the so-called ‘stakeholders’), and by getting Congressional authorization to spend more on NextGen. The lies and misstatements used to justify their targets are many and frequent … and increasingly egregious. For example, out of one side of the mouth, they boast how incredibly safe the U.S. commercial aviation system is; then, out of the other side of the same mouth, the cry about how absolutely critical it is that we invest billions in Public money to ‘modernize’ the ATC system.

As another example, the NextGen-&-Privatization ‘collaborators’ are repeatedly shouting a false claim that our National Airspace System (NAS) is limited by serious ‘capacity issues’. Here are four snippets from online articles:20160109scp.. four samples of propaganda on Capacity need for NextGen

These snippets hammer home the idea we are maxing out, needing to extend capacity. But, the data shows a very different reality: that air traffic operations peaked in the late 1990s and have since declined substantially. Frankly, the ONE REAL capacity issue impacting the system of U.S. airports is that FAA refuses to impose rational capacity management controls. Instead, FAA sits back and lets the airlines routinely over-schedule at even the most capacity-sensitive airports. FAA does this because airlines want to maximize profits, and this captured agency does everything it can to not impede that airline objective. And the controllers union (NATCA) goes along with this charade, because the flight proceduralization being imposed via NextGen means they do much less real work while continuing to collect some of the highest paychecks in all of Federal civil service.

So, here is some hard data…

The PDF file below was compiled using FAA’s own data from their ATADS/OPSNET webpage. Annual totals for each year from 1990 through 2014 were compiled, for all 516 airports that submitted data into the 2014 ATADS database. The ‘Peak Year’ was identified for each airport. Data for both the Peak Year and Calendar Year 2014 was then refined into the presentation, and statistics were added to show key change parameters: changes in total annual operations, as well as itinerant air carrier (ITIN-AC) and itinerant air taxi (ITIN-AT) operations. (NOTE: this pair of parameters accurately reflects passenger flights, and also reflects how the airlines changed their mix of aircraft sizes between the larger AC fleet and the smaller AT fleet). Additional parameters include local operations (primarily flight training), and VFR operations (primarily general aviation). Some color-coding has been added, to aid in identifying trends (mostly downward) and airport types (three types stand out: primarily commercial air passenger airports, vs. primarily instructional airports, vs. primarily GA airports).

One of the most shocking realities illuminated by this 64-page spreadsheet is how far downward the aviation industry has declined, in terms of the need for ATC services. Specifically, of the 504 airports in this PDF file for which ATADS data shows a ‘change’ in annual operations (i.e., takeoffs and landings), the trend is overwhelming downward:

  • the average 2014 traffic for all 504 airports is 45% below Peak Year.
  • even the strongest performers, the current top-ten airports in terms of daily traffic counts, had declines in 2014 that measured 12% below Peak Year.
  • the average 2014 traffic for the top 30 airports (an accurate indicator of traffic demands by the commercial passenger aviation sector) is 21% below Peak Year.
  • the average 2014 traffic for the top 100 airports (the busiest 3% of airports on FAA’s list of 3,300+ NPIAS airports) is 31% below Peak Year. Please note, this list of the top 100 airports is a very accurate indicator of traffic demands by the entire aviation system, as these airports produce nearly all commercial passenger flights and enplanements.
  • the average 2014 traffic for the top half of the 504 airports is 38% below Peak Year.
  • the average 2014 traffic for the bottom half of the 504 airports is 52% below Peak Year.
This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

Not only is there no pressing need for NextGen to alleviate capacity issues, but, in fact, the data shows an industry in a steep and prolonged decline. Put it this way: if the U.S. commercial aviation sector was to make a truthful presentation seeking venture capital, they would have zero success, because the charts show steady decline and no reliable growth. Given other major trends (downsizing of the U.S. middle class, growing wealth inequality, and fossil-fuel-related Climate Change impacts, for example) it appears increasingly improbable that commercial passenger aviation will change into a ‘growth’ industry.

Arctic Ice Melt on a Tear in Recent Weeks

Thus far in 2015, we have set new records for low Arctic sea-ice extent, during three timeframes:

  • March 4 through March 22,
  • April 6 through April 10, and
  • May 18 through June 9.

For the past two weeks, melt rate has accelerated and we may be setting up for another record to begin in the next month. The chart below shows sea-ice extent for each of the years 2011 through 2015. The all-time record year was 2012, marked with a black-dashed line. The gray shaded area shows +/- two standard deviations from the 1981-2010 average (black line). The gold line (1980) has been added for reference, showing when we were well above the average, and also showing the ongoing downward trend in Arctic sea ice.

(click on image to view current arctic ice data at NSIDC.org)

(click on image to view current arctic ice data at NSIDC.org)

While it can not be predicted how low this year’s sea-ice extent will fall, we do know that melt will continue for nearly two more months. The melt-season reliably ends in mid-September, when new seasonal ice begins to form.

What is Regulatory Capture?

Here is a short definition, as cleanly summarized at Wikipedia:

“…Regulatory capture is a form of political corruption that occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or special concerns of interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating. Regulatory capture is a form of government failure; it creates an opening for firms to behave in ways injurious to the public (e.g., producing negative externalities). The agencies are called “captured agencies”….”

Last year, a Washington Post article by Will Baude took another look at regulatory capture, noting that the problem may in fact go further, into academia and the legal profession. Here is a paragraph from his article [PDF], where he is quoting University of Chicago economist Luigi Zingales:

“When economists talk about regulatory capture, they do not imply that regulators are corrupt or lack integrity. In fact, if regulatory capture was just due to illegal behavior, it would be easier to fight. Regulatory capture is so pervasive precisely because it is driven by standard economic incentives, which push even the most well-intentioned regulators to cater to the interest of the regulated. These incentives are built in their positions. Regulators depend upon the regulated for much of the information they need to do their job properly. This dependency creates a need to cater to the information providers. The regulated are also the only real audience of the regulators, since taxpayers have all the incentives to remain ignorant. Hence, the regulators’ on the job performance will be naturally defined with the regulated in mind, pushing the regulators to cater to the interest of the regulated. Finally, career incentives play a big role. The regulators human capital is highly industry specific and the best job for people holding that specific human capital are with the regulated. Hence, the desire to preserve future career options makes it difficult for the regulator not to cater to the regulated.”

Examples of FAA’s Regulatory Capture

FAA is a captured agency. Indeed, a careful study of FAA’s history suggests that this agency has nearly always been serving aviation interests first, frequently with complete indifference to the negative impacts upon the general public.

One early example was fifty years ago, in 1964. The Av-Gov Complex wanted to make money by developing supersonic air travel. So, they got the Military-Industrial Complex to help out, to use military aircraft to ‘test’ the impacts of sonic booms on people in Oklahoma. Very similar to how today, FAA is ‘testing’ noise impacts of their flawed and oversold NextGen technologies, in Phoenix and Flushing and elsewhere. Check out this recent article at Gizmodo.com:

An example from a few years ago is the Colgan crash in Buffalo, in January 2009. Fifty were killed in this horrific accident which plainly exposed a bucketload of failure within commercial passenger aviation: FAA’s lack of effective oversight, underpaid and chronically fatigued feeder pilots, airline deceptive marketing (e.g., Continental was selling Colgan seats as ‘Continental’ flights), and more. The regulatory capture aspect of this was well defined in a Buffalo News Op/Ed in July 2014.

And the latest example is the ongoing NextGen implementation debacle. The use of GPS satellite signals for air navigation began in earnest in 1994. FAA spent a decade fine-tuning their funding proposal, then finally got Congress’ blessing (i.e., funding authorization) in 2003. They spent a few more years lining up needed support from their employee unions (NATCA, PASS), and also made deals with airline and manufacturer stakeholders to get their ‘collaboration’. All of this meticulous groundwork by FAA was to ensure none of the stakeholders would oppose what FAA was preparing to take to Congress. With that done, in early 2012, FAA got Congress to pass ambiguous legislation that waives the longstanding requirement to conduct public environmental review of new air traffic routes. Which brings us to today’s NextGen mess.

FAA has done years of hard work for the airlines (and for the manufacturers who are raking in $billions$ for new systems and mandated products). And the result? Thousands of residents in communities across the country have risen loudly AFTER FAA has imposed new, noise-impactful NextGen routes. Astonishingly, even after local officials and senior Senators send written appeals to FAA, all FAA does is delay fixing the problems created by NextGen; in fact, they salt the fresh wounds by continuing to aggressively sell NextGen as ‘green’, and by conducting months and years of ‘studies’.

Just like in 1964.

FAA imposes an impact, and then they waste airline passenger taxes to spend years inconclusively ‘studying’ the impacts.

It seems that, at FAA, regulatory capture is more than just a phenomenon: it is an entrenched culture.

See also… (blue dates link to online content)

10/5/2012
Aviation Impacts & FAA’s Regulatory Capture: the Reasons the aiReform.com Website was Created
Early post from the first month of aiREFORM.com, with a deeper look at FAA history and citing numerous examples of FAA’s Regulatory Capture.

2015-01-25.. Near Collision, JetBlue Arrival to White Plains, NY

An Airbus A320, flown as JetBlue Flight 94 from Orlando, FL [KMCO] to White Plains, NY [KHPN], reportedly took evasive actions during the arrival, to avoid a collision with a small plane. The news story was widely reported four days later.

(click on image to view source/original article at cnbc.com)

(click on image to view source/original article at cnbc.com)

Below is arrival portion of the route of flight, from FlightAware. Note the flight-planned crossing of the midsection of Long Island and the box-shaped route over the Sound, apparently to transition through the flows in/out of KLGA and/or KJFK.
20150125scp.. JBU94 Arrival to KHPN, FlightAware route plotIf reports are accurate and the JetBlue crew did in fact take last-second evasive actions, this was most likely a controller error. And this does happen; controllers get bored or distracted. Or, they may be coming to work with deprived sleep, due to bad workshift planning, with compressed work schedules (though, many controllers ‘benefit’ from this type of schedule, by having what feels like a 3-day weekend every week).

In any event, if there is any possible ATC involvement, NATCA and FAA will both encourage the controller to file an ATSAP report. Doing so grants that controller immunity for his/her error, meaning less re-training  and less discipline. More importantly (to FAA and NATCA), filing the ATSAP report means the Public will likely learn nothing more about what happened here.

Why not? Because in May 2014, FAA Administrator Huerta signed off on a new administrative rule that declared all ATSAP report data ‘fully exempt’ from release under FOIA laws. Now, not even the courts will compel release of ATSAP data. This change makes ATSAP effectively a ‘black hole’ for U.S. aviation safety data. Thus, no matter how diligently the media investigates this incident, FAA will refuse to release the real details, as reported by the controller.

If it helps to sweeten your bitter, just give it a fuzzy new name and catch-phrase:

ATSAP – FAA’s new ‘Flying Blind’ program

‘We keep you safely in the dark!’

FAA’s Culture of Unaccountability (PIX11 Investigative Series, by Mario Diaz)

This looks like a solid news investigation, and something sorely needed to bring accountability to FAA. Reporter Mario Diaz conducted a four month investigation which has now aired as a series of news stories at PIX11 TV (New York). He found fifteen cases where air traffic controllers were found partially responsible for fatal air crashes, yet the controllers were never held accountable … and some returned to work in just days. He also notes that FAA paid out more than $100 Million to settle the fifteen identified cases, in which 54 people died.

Mr. Diaz reported a lack of cooperation from many aviation officials who declined interview requests during the initial investigation. This included the controllers’ union (NATCA), the main pilots’ union (ALPA), Senator Jay Rockefeller (who chairs the senate committee that oversees transportation), Representative Frank LoBiondo (Chair of the House Subcommittee on Aviation), and most significantly the FAA. Those who did speak (and thus appear more devoted to real transparency) included: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (NJ), U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (NY), and Representative John Mica (FL).

After Part One aired on April 28th, both FAA and Rep. LoBiondo provided brief responses. FAA’s response was incredible, in that the agency declared FAA’s dedication to ‘safety’ while ignoring their own failed safety record, as evidenced by this investigative series. FAA added a declaration that they investigate “…every accident and incident that occurs in the system to determine whether it could pursue further improvements to continue to enhance aviation safety.” This is patently false, as evidenced by the concealment of the 7/25/2010 controller error at Camarillo, CA, which FAA continues to pretend did not happen.

FAA’s statement went even further, citing ‘Due Process’ concerns in defense of their failure to take accountable action against rogue controllers. Those who are aware of FAA’s terrible history of retaliation against Whistleblowers will find this especially galling because, in nearly all Whistleblower cases, FAA has done everything in their power — including lying repeatedly — to obstruct Due Process. So, there is a disturbing double-standard: destroy the Whistleblowers, while supporting those who participate within the corrupt culture. Want to see an example? See the extensively documented Lewis-FAA WB Case, related to the TV set pictured below.

As one aviation attorney said in the PIX11 news series, “…this is the government’s stonewalling … what amounts to incompetent behavior that can, does, and has resulted in death.”

<< <> <<>> <> >>

20140428.. Mario Diaz article, FAA ATCS still employed after deadly crashes4/28/14, Part One:
Reporter Mario Diaz presents his extensive investigation into the lack of accountability by FAA and air traffic controllers. He identifies cases where FAA air traffic controllers were found to have contributed to fatal air crashes, yet are still working in FAA’s control towers and en route radar facilities. In two examples, fatal accidents in both Texas and Florida, all pilots and passengers were killed after the controllers knowingly failed to advise pilots of lines of severe weather. Comments are mostly by controllers, and are ‘unappreciative’ of Diaz’ report.

20140429.. Mario Diaz article, HEMS accident, Andrews AFB4/29/14, Part Two:
The sole survivor of a 2008 medevac helicopter crash is interviewed, and is surprised to hear that the controller who refused to provide an ASR approach is still working. She had heard the controller was fired. That controller was assigned to work the tower at Andrews AFB, but FAA had failed to train her to conduct ASR approaches. NTSB found significant FAA failures at two towers as well as at the Potomac TRACON radar facility. A former FAA attorney noted this criticism: “The NTSB categorized the FAA’s actions in this case as casual and sloppy. I’d say it was casual and sloppy at its best.”

20140430.. Mario Diaz article, FAA probe soon by Maloney4/30/14, Part Three:
Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York found FAA’s response was unacceptable, and vowed to send FAA a letter, demanding answers.
Congressman John Mica, former Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, as well as the former Chairman of the House Aviation Sub-Committee, suggests that controllers are being improperly shielded. “This pendulum has swung I think too far in the direction of protecting people who should be held accountable and should be dismissed.” The article also discusses the failure of the ATSAP program, which is effectively burying safety information into a black hole (and thus protecting FAA personnel — and FAA — from accountability)

20140505.. Mario Diaz article, Maloney letter to Huerta5/5/14, Part Four:
U.S. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney discusses the reason he has sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. The letter presents his concerns and asks specific questions, including “What transparency measures exist when the FAA investigates an accident?” The letter was also copied to Rep. Bill Shuster, the chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Maloney sits on that same committee, which oversees FAA.

<< <> <<>> <> >>
caused a near-midair collision in March 1989

Same Culture of Unaccountability, but two decades earlier. This is the TV set in an Oregon tower cab that caused a near-midair collision and led one FAA air traffic controller to become a Whistleblower. When he spoke up, he became a target of retaliation by FAA officials. [click on image to read more]

Mediation Panel Concluded FAA’s Imposed Work Rules, Antics Were ‘Draconian’

Image

The image below provides a portion of the 7/6/2009 decision by the ‘Mediation to Finality’ Panel, to resolve nearly four years of intense conflict between NATCA and FAA. This conflict was strongly exacerbated by FAA management when they imposed the ‘Whitebook’ contract, effective September 3, 2006.20090706.. Intro portion from 'Mediation to Finality Panel, decision re FAA-NATCA (draconian) (1p)