SeaTac’s NorthSTAR Project: The Av-Gov Robber Barons Are on a Roll

A project ground-breaking ‘ceremony’ for a few means further aviation impact misery for many others.

SeaTac International Airport [KSEA] is currently the fastest growing U.S. commercial airport, because Delta decided to scale up a new hub in 2012. Thus, SeaTac has become a major hub for both Alaska (the dominant carrier) and Delta. The problem, though, is that this is causing the KSEA flight schedule to become over-saturated; so, ATC stretches the flight patterns, and now residents as far as 30-miles from the airport are regularly enduring long time periods with low/loud repetitive arrival noise (and, of course, the impacts go far beyond just noise: more and more people are suffering from air pollutants, increased asthma, sleep loss, stress, and more).

As is standard practice at federally-funded infrastructure ‘ceremonies’, elected officials appear; they crow about the project, emphasizing dollars and jobs while carefully NOT speaking about the adverse impacts. Here’s a short video clip posted by the Port:

In the video above, from time 0:52 to time 1:19, Senator Maria Cantwell made this comment: “As someone who just flew in this morning, and sat on the tarmac for an extra 15-minutes because we couldn’t get to a gate, I can tell you that everybody in Puget Sound has experienced the need to have more capacity at SeaTac Airport.”

One resident near SeaTac offered this reaction: “Apparently Senator Cantwell needs to make our kids sick, destroy our home value, wake us up at night, compromise safety, destroy a few cities so she doesn’t have to wait 15 minutes for a gate … I thought she represented me….”

Elected officials, including Cantwell, lose credibility when they appear at events trumpeting aviation expansion. They do it for the photo-ops and to muster up campaign funds from the aviation industry. But, as happened here, they often show they are blinded in their pursuit of that money: Cantwell was completely blind to the simple fact that the rather trivial problem she described is nearly always caused by too many flights being scheduled in too small a time window. If she and other Senators demanded that FAA manage airport capacity and impose appropriate flow-rate restrictions, nearly all of these inefficiencies would disappear. Smart people – many of whom are impacted residents – know this, but too many elected officials cannot see this because they are blinded by money.

One example is Jean Hilde, who has lived for decades in a neighborhood nearly 25-miles north of SeaTac. With the NextGen implementations and the Delta hub expansion at SeaTac, her family now must endure low/repetitive arrival noise, even at that long distance. Jean  responded to the ‘North Satellite’ expansion ceremony video clip, and summarized the larger problem nationwide, with this brilliant analysis:

(highlights added by aiREFORM)

Will we ever move beyond this cycle of serving money interests at the expense of quality of life and health? Not with this Congress, or this Administration; not so long as all that matters to those in power is serving money and being served with money.

It’s becoming an Orwellian dystopia. Check out the bizarre phrasing in this excerpt from the Port’s 2/3/2017 News Release (click here):

Is FAA’s NextGen Mess Contributing to ‘Drowsy Driver’ Accidents?

The NextGen impacts at JFK are much more than just ‘annoying noise’; they are also causing sleep loss, which cascades into accidents, sometimes fatal.

Here’s a screen-capture of a recent Facebook post by Elaine Miller, at PlaneSense4LI. Elaine’s residential neighborhood is roughly 5-miles northeast of the departure end of the KJFK runways 4. To increase operations per hour, FAA established procedures for runway 4 departures to initiate an immediate right turn, sending them low over the Malverne area. The noise repeats for hours, even days.

(screencap of Facebook post copied 2/13/2017 at 7:12AM PST)

The New York Post article shares some alarming data: in the U.S., ‘drowsy driving’ is cited as a factor in 1,400 accidents per day, and fifteen of those daily accidents produce fatalities. So, it is not surprising that the U.S. federal Department of Transportation (DoT) expends lots of time and money trying to inform regular people (like you and me) on the need to stay rested and alert. What doesn’t make sense, though, is FAA is a major component of that same DoT … and yet it is FAA that is working against DoT and causing so much sleep deprivation, by not giving a damn about the enormous negative impacts caused by repetitive airplane noise.

How is FAA Exacerbating this Problem?

FAA wants Congress to fund billions for NextGen, in no small part because this latest ‘campaign’ gives FAA something to do and creates internal promotion opportunities. But, Congress will never approve the proposal if the corporate stakeholders who fund their reelection campaigns are opposed. So, FAA has struck a deal with the airlines: if the airlines buy in to promote NextGen (or, at least not speak against it), the agency will work to help the airlines maximize runway throughput. This means the airlines will be able to schedule more flights, thus ensuring that at major hub airports like JFK, both the arrival streams and the departure streams become nonstop.

Now, get this: the NextGen sales pitch is centered on the environment – i.e., reducing CO2 emissions by minimizing time spent with engines idling, either while awaiting takeoff at the departure airport, or while on extended approach to the destination airport. But, FAA’s part of the deal – not pushing back when the airlines schedule too many flights – guarantees enormous inefficiencies. And, of course, these delays cascade into other airports, affecting the whole nation. Clearly, FAA could do much better. But the agency can’t, because they have sold out to serve only aviation money, not the People (you and me) who pay for this system.

The Net Result: more sleep loss, contributing to more accidents by drowsy drivers. FAA could fix this problem, if they would do their TRUE job and actually manage airport capacity.

NYU Journalism projects, with video

Here’s a video and two NYU journalism projects about the impacts caused by LaGuardia [KLGA] air traffic.

By far, the worst impacts by KLGA flights are in the Flushing area, where residents endure repetitive noise and air pollution for arrivals to Runway 31 and departures off Runway 13. The impacts at Jackson Heights happen mostly when wind conditions cause ATC to use Runway 4 for arrivals or Runway 22 for departures. Although this configuration is relatively rare, the impacts are still quite significant, as evidenced by the video and articles.

At the root of the KLGA impacts is the fact that FAA refuses to manage capacity. Quite the opposite, FAA is promoting NextGen to help the airlines maximize ‘runway throughput’, seeking ever-higher flow rates of arrivals (or departures) per hour. The airlines are all for this, as it helps them increase corporate profits. The downside, though, is the airlines are increasingly doing this with banks of near-simultaneous arrivals that allow for passengers to use LaGuardia not as a destination but as a transfer point. More flights and more through-passengers translates to more pollution and more congestion, reducing quality of life and threatening health.

Click on the images below for a scrollable view; the files may be downloaded at these links:

Genesis and the Story of the SERFR Arrival (according to FAA)

…But the Community continued to cry out in ever greater numbers.

And their complaints numbered in the thousands,

and then tens of thousands,

and then hundreds of thousands.


Crying out in a loud voice they said
Oh Lord, remove this plague of noise and pollution from above our heads.”
And the FAA said:
“For sooth. This has not happened before within our short memories. Why did the communities never before complain?”
And the Air Traffic Control angels replied saying:
Verily, the number of aircraft popping out of our bottom in ancient times were few. But now the number doth wax greatly.

A brilliant and humorous analysis of how FAA failed to serve the people impacted by NextGen arrival changes, feeding San Francisco [KSFO] from the south. The technical details presented in this are also impressive, and quite informative for anyone burdened with the health and quality-of-life costs imposed by FAA’s worsening NextGen implementation debacle.

Great work is being done by some very talented people at Sky Posse Los Altos.

Created by Ron Rohde, with Sky Posse Los Altos. Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

Aviation Impact Activism Documentary: ‘Destination East Boston’

This is an excellent documentary covering five decades worth of airport expansion impacts on Boston residents, even back into the 1960s. Somebody who knows this history more intimately, perhaps an East Boston resident, needs to write up a chronology about this history.

If someone takes on this project, aiREFORM will offer support, helping to create a webpage that includes maps, photos, links and more to share this story.

Destination: East Boston from Lucas La Battaglia on Vimeo.

The film appears to be connected to Airport Impact Relief, Inc., a nonprofit.

Timeline (subjects & appearances) in the film:

  • (1:24) – Mary Ellen Welch
  • (2:18) – Chris Marchi
  • (3:14) – Wood Island Park
  • (3:28) – Anna DeFronzo
  • (4:16) – Rich Gavegnano
  • (6:06) – Frederick Salvucci
  • (7:20) – Father Corrigan
  • (7:30) – SEP 1968, residents follow the example set in the 1960s civil rights marches. They realize that letters and attending airport meetings was not changing the airport growth ambitions; so, they began to protest more actively, blocking construction trucks.
  • (16:07) – Brian Gannon
  • (17:21) – Gail Miller
  • (20:16) – Wig Zamore
  • (21:28) – Sumner Tunnel & Callahan Tunnel
  • (23:13) – “It’s really frustrating … they really have a hold of our neighborhood, our community, in such a way that you can’t really challenge them….”
  • (23:35) – Father Sallese
  • (24:27) – Frank Sargent
  • (26:46) – Luz Heredia, her two children have asthma
  • (36:57) –  an example of the propaganda machine in East Boston
THANKS!Facebook post by Jana Chamoff Goldenberg.

Please Standby While this Airplane Passes Over

Humanity has achieved good and bad. Our buildings often suggest our best progress, though we have been known to destroy them in wars.

NightVision, by Luke Shepard

Watch this short video and notice how you are allowed to focus, even disappear, into the time-lapse images and the music. The video is not interrupted by needless noise and distraction. It’s technologically impressive, honoring humanity.

Now, here’s a question: would the glorious achievements presented herein be diminished, if we had to pause our tour of these achievements, while planes passed over, one after another after another?
Can aviation be brought back to balance, to serve people first and money last?

Heathrow Airport Pays Guardian to Create ‘News Content’

20170110scp-about-explanation-of-paid-content-produced-by-guardian-labs-theguardian-comOne of the more disgusting details from the U.S. elections this past year was seeing the death of the journalism profession. We learned how the mainstream media no longer does hard research, no longer asks tough questions, but instead exists only to collect money for delivering spin and propaganda services. Not just for companies, but also for political parties. Evidently, propaganda going mainstream is a problem in the UK, too.

Here’s a copy of a tweet by BackOffHeathrow, a longstanding and vocal opponent of Heathrow airport expansion. Just like is happening under NextGen routes near a few major U.S. airports, the people who live east and west of Heathrow’s two runways are having their homes and lives destroyed. Same impacts, too: stress and distraction by repetitive noise interruptions, and compromised health due to elevated air pollutants and chronic sleep loss.


(click on image to view archived copy of this ‘paid content’)

Why so much misery and destruction? Primarily to accommodate air travel by airline passengers from North America, Asia, and Europe. Many people use Heathrow as an entry-exit point for Europe; many of them pass through Heathrow because the major airlines decided decades ago that they would use this piece of land for sorting their passengers and maximizing their company profits. By far, the biggest airline at Heathrow is British Airways (BAW, Speedbird). Airline profits are improving, while resident quality of life is steadily declining. No wonder so many people are fighting so hard to stop a third runway at Heathrow.

The Airport Paid For This (with your money)…

Notice who paid for this item that looks like a ‘news article’, which is one of a series of ‘paid content’ by the Guardian Labs team. Yes, Heathrow, the airport authority. Where do they get money to buy these services? From the passengers who fly through Heathrow. The airport authority, just like the regulator, can skim money off of the process, and evidently has no accountability or restrictions to preempt using that money beyond what is needed to operate the airport. In this example, they use that money to promote the airport’s expansion, and in opposition to the anti-expansion efforts by impacted airport neighbors seeking sleep and other relief. They use that money to create paid content, aka ‘Fake News’.

…And it is Nothing but Spin and Propaganda

This is a full-fledged program. On the upper left of the webpage it says, ‘Heathrow sustainable mobility zone’. Click on this and it opens up a whole new webpage with many more ‘articles’.

Take a close look at the article title: ‘How Air Traffic Controllers are Helping Clean Up Aviation Emissions’. The spin implies new technologies are being used to reduce the environmental impacts of aviation. It is spin partly because the methods listed in the ‘article’ for reducing impacts are nothing new … techniques and technologies that have already been used for decades. But, more critically, the spin flies right past the real elephant in the room: that for each of us, when it comes to generating CO2, hours spent travelling as a commercial air passenger are the worst hours in our life. Frankly, the only way for one individual to do more damage to the atmosphere, more quickly, is either to take up a new hobby setting arson fires, or have too much money to blow and start zipping about in your own private jet.

Obviously, if the aviation stakeholders here (the regulators and airport authorities and airlines) REALLY wanted to reduce aviation emissions, they would do five things:

  1. the regulator would reduce Heathrow arrival rates, and the airlines would agree to alter their schedules accordingly, so that the four holding stacks for Heathrow arrivals, as discussed in the ‘article’,  would never even be needed again;
  2. they would get the airlines to do a much better job filling the seats on their flights (the passenger load factor for British Airways, is barely above 80%, an absurdly low rate of seat occupancy that greatly increases the per passenger carbon emissions);
  3. they would agree to impose uniform fees that disincentivize use of Heathrow as a hub airport, while also encouraging airlines to fly a larger percentage of their passengers on nonstop-direct flights to their final destinations (for example, impose a steep fee for flying through, or impose fees that are directly proportional to the itinerary distance flown);
  4. they would advocate for imposition of a heavy aviation carbon tax (which should also replace most other aviation fees and taxes) so as to disincentivize hub connections that are not efficiently located along the direct route of flight; and,
  5. they would immediately abandon the third runway at Heathrow — this additional runway, and the industry that profits from it, are just further bad investment to accelerate the fossil fuel destruction of our planet.

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.

[KJFK]: PlaneSense 4 LI’s Latest Letter sent to Carmine Gallo, Seeking Relief

Elaine Miller’s letter lays out the facts about the ongoing and expanded Noise Hell, brought by FAA & NextGen (and sustained by the failure of elected officials to demand reform at FAA). This is a growinng problem, not just at Malverne (which is hit by KJFK ‘Arc of Doom’ arrivals to runways 22 and KJFK Runway 4 departures using the DEEZZ4 RNAV DEP and the JFK3 DEP, as well as Localizer arrivals to KLGA Runway 31), but across the nation.

Categorical Exclusions were a bad idea. They enabled FAA to approve more operations, at lower altitudes, closer in to the runways, and with excruciating repetition. Frankly, these past few years, FAA’s failed performance is serving only airline profits … and at great cost to the People. A change is long overdue.

Here’s a copy of the latest letter sent to Carmine Gallo, Regional Administrator for FAA’s Eastern Region:

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