City of Santa Monica Rejects JetSuiteX ‘COP Application’ for Part 135 Charter

For a month now, an air charter operator based in Irvine, CA and affiliated with JetBlue, has been selling seats online for scheduled passenger flights to begin at Santa Monica in early February. Weeks ago, the CEO of JetSuiteX, Alex Wilcox, told reporters he believes the City cannot stop this proposal. This despite the fact that the airport is crowded dangerously close to dense residential neighborhoods, and there is no indication the City is prepared with the level of crash-fire-rescue support needed for scheduled flights carrying up to 30 passengers.

Here’s a PDF of the application for a Commercial Operations Permit, signed by JetSuiteX COO Michael Bata:

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

And, here’s the City’s response letter signed by Airport Director Stelios Makrides, rejecting the application as incomplete, and requiring a valid Environmental Assessment:

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

For the past month, FAA has been suspiciously (and negligently?) quiet on this matter. What’s needed next is for FAA to break this silence and take action.

FAA is the final federal authority and routinely usurps local authority, to effectively run airports from a distance and for the industry, often with severe negative impacts upon the local community. If they are to be responsible, FAA needs to immediately issue an Interim Cease & Desist Order against JetSuiteX, Delux Public Charter, and Atlantic Aviation, to ensure no scheduled air charter operations begin at Santa Monica without all required permits. This should be easy for FAA to do; after all, FAA has recent experience issuing Interim Cease & Desist Orders related to Santa Monica.

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.

2017 versus 1961

(click on image to watch 'The Best of Boris Badenov' on YuTube')

(click on image to watch ‘The Best of Boris Badenov’ on YouTube’)

Here we are, fifty-six years later.

We are still watching as the same old manipulative mainstream media delivers crafted stories to dupe a captive citizenry. With their help, we continue to believe that we are ‘in the know’, about yet another Presidential transition.

In both times, Boris Badenov was and is the bogeyman, and war hawks still haunt us with their sabre-rattling. But, in terms of quality and class of the Presidency itself, we could not see a starker difference. The 1960’s version is reflected in the speeches below; the newer and devolved version impales us with crude talk of ‘hand size’ by one man, while the other man’s declining Whitehouse tenure convincingly argues that today, both parties serve ONLY the money that empowers the oligarchs.

This contrast was brought to my attention inadvertently. I was researching the fight for local control at Santa Monica’s airport, trying to delve deeper into understanding the sides and why the ongoing delays. I was shown a recent chain of emails. In one interesting exchange, a city official mentions this quote by JFK while excusing off the city’s slower pace of change, a pace that continues to flabbergast those residents who are most impacted by the noise and air pollutants:

“Others may confine themselves to debate, discussion, and that ultimate luxury — free advice.  Our responsibility is one of decision — for to govern is to choose.”

Now, on the face of it, this JFK quote seems to say, ‘our job goes beyond debate; our job is to govern, to act, to resolve problems’. Thus, it seems like an odd quote, coming from a city official defending the city’s failure to enact long overdue changes. Be that as it may, I researched a bit deeper and came to the actual speech. Wow … what an incredible presentation about the importance of individual liberty and local control in our system of government. And a perfect bookend to a similar speech by Eisenhower. Both speeches speak to the need for governance by and for THE PEOPLE; both speeches point toward the threats to liberty by ascending unaccountable bureaucracies, such as FAA has clearly become.

Two Great Presidential Speeches, by Ike and JFK

At the start of 1961, President Eisenhower warned us about the rise of the Military-Industrial Complex, and the threat against individual liberties. One year later, his successor, President Kennedy, was equally eloquent about the same concerns, speaking at Independence Hall on July 4, 1962. You can listen to the embed video below, or view a black-and-white video archived by JFKLibrary.org here.


Below is a PDF of transcript of JFK’s speech:

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

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.

Answers Needed in Santa Monica

For safety and efficiency, we have design standards. Thus, we do not allow school playgrounds to overlap into highways, and we require freeway onramps to be constructed within specs such as gradient, lane curvature, pavement width and quality, signage and markings, etc.

Aviation is no different. In fact, design standards at airports are even more critical, due to higher speeds and larger fuel quantities. A case in point is the last major fatal accident at Santa Monica, on September 29, 2013.

ksmo-20130929-c525-crash-while-landing-rwy21-fig-22-from-video-study-distance-groundspeed-on-satview-ntsb

(yellow marks show aircraft position during the crash sequence; large numbers show the groundspeed decreasing from 83 knots to 51 knots at impact; smaller numbers show net distance from runway threshold)

Four died when a Cessna 525 jet, while landing on Runway 21, swerved to the right and collided with a hangar near the west end of the airport. 20130929pic.. C525 crash at KSMO, ramp & smoke plumeThe accident investigation by NTSB failed to establish exactly what happened, though analysis of personal electronic devices did indicate a large dog was allowed to ride unrestrained in the jet’s cabin (could a dog cause this much loss-of-control?). So, all we know is that a local businessman who would fly almost every week between his homes in Santa Monica, CA and Sun Valley, ID, lost control during an otherwise normal landing.

This brings us back to the concept of safety design standards. If you or I are driving down a rural arterial – say, a regular old 2-lane paved highway, and right at the 55mph speed limit – we might suddenly swerve if a tire blows. Design standards exist to ensure we have a ‘clear zone’ so that our ‘errant vehicle’ can be brought to a stop without hitting a fire hydrant, a railroad trestle, a restaurant, or other object that could increase the odds of fatalities and/or serious injuries. By design, we want our ‘errant vehicle’, be it a car or an airplane, to have room to slow down and stop, with nobody getting hurt. With more room, there would not have been four fatalities on 9/29/2013; it would have instead been ‘a close call’, and likely would have triggered a decision by some of the lucky survivors to fly less. The Cessna 525 accident at Santa Monica turned out badly because the jet collided with a hangar built relatively close to the runway. After the accident cleanup, satellite images indicate that the hangar (as well as connected hangar structures, damaged by the fire) was rebuilt. It is not clear whether these structures should have been rebuilt, just as it is not clear if they were allowed to be too close to the Santa Monica runway prior to the accident. But, looking at other U.S. airports, there is evidence that a serious safety design oversight is being perpetuated at Santa Monica.

For example, consider Cobb County, GA [KRYY]. This airport, north of Atlanta near Kennesaw, also has a single runway and a ‘C-II’ Airport Reference Code (the same ARC needed for E135’s to fly scheduled charter service, as JetSuiteX proposes in early 2017).

kryy-20161230scp-alp-w-portion-of-runway-marked-up-for-rofas

(portion of the KRYY Airport Layout Plan. Red ellipses added, to identify the 400ft ROFAs, parallel to the north and south of the runway centerline. Not that the current hangars are much further than 400ft distant from the runway.)

But, within the May 2016 KRYY Airport Layout Plan (ALP), it is declared that FAA requires an 800ft wide ‘Object Free Area’ (OFA), thus 400ft either side of the runway centerline. kryy-20161230scp-alp-portion-of-runway-data-table-declaring-ofa-distancesNote, too, that on the ALP, the airport authority declares they are conformant with the OFA distance requirement, a point that is reinforced by online satellite images.

kryy-20161230scp-satview-of-airport-vicinity

The satellite image further illustrates yet another stark contrast with Santa Monica: look at all the wide open space, not just to enable a safe conclusion to an errant flight, but also to minimize noise and pollutant impacts on airport neighbors (it appears there are no residences close to KRYY; just a rock quarry, office parks, and highways).

So, what’s going on here? Why is FAA allowing and funding airport expansion near Atlanta with safety design standards that appear to be routinely ignored in Santa Monica?

A Few Simple Questions

Here are four questions that both FAA and the City of Santa Monica need to answer, prior to allowing JetSuiteX to begin scheduled 30-passenger charter flights out of Santa Monica:

  1. prior to the accident, what was the distance between the south edge of the destroyed hangar and the runway centerline? Was this distance in compliance with FAA’s design standards for this particular runway?
  2. after the accident, did FAA and City confer as to the wisdom of rebuilding these hangars? Did this reconstruction require FAA to issue a specific exemption from runway setback requirements, so the new structures could continue to penetrate the runway safety areas and obstruction free areas?
  3. given the absence of functional Runway Protection Zones (RPZs) at Santa Monica, was either FAA or City proposed banning jets to mitigate risks? In particular, with roughly 270 residences standing inside the standard RPZ boundaries, where is there ANY FORM of ‘protection’ being achieved?
  4. regarding JetSuiteX, a recent news story includes this line: “We’ll begin operating whether we get permission or not,” Wilcox said. “We can use the existing facilities at the airport.” Has either FAA or the City confirmed this cowboy assertion? Has either FAA or City (hopefully BOTH!) taken immediate action to inform Mr. Wilcox of his errant views and the reality that safety dictates he will NOT operate until both the City and the FAA are assured his scheduled charter flights can meet basic safety standards?

[KSMO]: No Runway Protection Zones, in Stark Contrast with Other Airports

kuao-201205-rpz-rwy-17-on-satview-w-dimensions-showing-trees-later-removed

The green trapezoid delineates an RPZ at the north end of the Aurora Airport, near Portland, OR. This RPZ, similar in size to what is needed to accommodate charter jets at Santa Monica, measures 500ft by 1010ft by 1700ft long. As is the case nearly everywhere, all obstructions were removed from this RPZ: there are no structures within the trapezoid, and the lines of trees have all since been removed (not even stumps are allowed… they are considered too dangerous).

A Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) is a trapezoidal space, positioned at the ends of all runways, designed to create a safety buffer for when aircraft fail to stay on the runway. Santa Monica has no meaningful RPZs. In fact, despite lots of searching, I have not been able to find any other U.S. airport with hundreds of homes standing inside the RPZ. The vast majority of U.S. airports have ZERO homes standing inside the RPZs.

This graphic illustrates where the Santa Monica RPZs would be, if FAA applied its safety standards there:

ksmo-20161223-rpzs-rwys-3-21-v2-labels-added

In contrast with the RPZ at KUAO, these safety areas at Santa Monica have hundreds of houses. (click on image for larger view)

Nationally, FAA has generally done a good job on RPZs; they have defined the dimensions, and they have firmly and consistently guided airport authorities to comply with these design standards that are needed to protect pilots, paying passengers and airport neighbors. FAA has thus secured safety control at essentially all airports, but NOT at Santa Monica. There, a close inspection of the RPZs shows approximately 270 homes exist in the Santa Monica RPZs that are frankly nonexistent. Here are larger images:ksmo-20161223-500x1000x1700l-rpz-sw-of-rwys-3-21 ksmo-20161223-500x1000x1700l-rpz-ne-of-rwys-3-21Nice homes, in a beautiful area with the finest weather, yet these people endure air pollution, noise pollution, and the constant fear of an off-airport crash. This makes no sense, and it does not have to be this way.

How Does Santa Monica Compare With Other Airports?

The PDF below presents a compilation of satellite views, comparing airport RPZs for Santa Monica with thirteen other airports in five western states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada). Each of the airports selected for comparison is noted for heavy use by air charters and private bizjets. Two especially notable conclusions from this analysis are:

  1. homes are virtually never allowed to stand within RPZs, as it is just too dangerous. So, why hasn’t FAA either bought out the homes in the Santa Monica RPZs or, far more pragmatically, simply shut down jet operations there?
  2. if FAA shut down jets at Santa Monica, the capacity to absorb them at larger and safer airports in nearby Van Nuys [KVNY] and Burbank [KBUR] is enormous. As is typical throughout the U.S., both of these airports were built to accommodate traffic levels that have since declined by half.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

[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.
ksea-20161220at0229scp-ual505-arr-f-kden-crossover-s-of-ksea-for-elliott-bay-to-s-flow

How Can FAA Better Use the NextGen Technologies?

ksea-20161220scp-optimized-route-and-profile-over-elliott-bay-to-s-flow-vfrsectional-marked-up

(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.

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.

What Is an Example of an Appropriate TFR for a ‘Hazard’?

Recent news stories have chilled those of us who care about good governance, Democracy, and the critical need for a free Press. We have learned that, yet again, FAA is abusing its authority, imposing flight restrictions to shut down the Press, so they cannot obtain valuable imagery at the major environmental protest happening in eastern North Dakota. (click here to view a copy of the Cannonball, ND DAPL TFR

Readers may wonder about these TFR’s (Temporary Flight Restrictions): what are they, and what would be an appropriate TFR imposed by FAA?

Here’s an example, and not very far from North Dakota. One clearly appropriate TFR would be to protect aircraft from being hit by rocks during a large-scale surface blasting operation.20161205scp-mine-blasting-tfr-fdc-notam-6-5664-hibbing-taconite-mine-in-mn-for-20161207

Hibbing Taconite operates a massive strip mine in the Mesabi Range of Minnesota. They have operated the Hull–Rust–Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine north of Hibbing since 1976, and online mining production data (which oddly ends in the early 1990s) shows that they shipped an average 8 million metric tons of taconite pellets during the timeframe 1987-1993. The Wikipedia page on ‘Mesabi Range’ says this is one of the world’s largest open pit iron ore mines.

An analysis of satellite imagery reveals that the mining process (documented in a series of screen captured satellite images in this scrollable PDF) is as follows:

  1. remove the vegetation and soil overburden (averaging 5 meters depth).
  2. set and detonate an array of charges over the area to be extracted.
  3. load the blasted ore layer into massive dump trucks and haul it to the processing plant, where the ore is separated/cleaned. The ore is shipped for steel production; the byproduct (water, soil, and other materials) is flowed into a tailings pond, where the sediments settle out.
  4. when the supply of extractable ore begins to run out, repeat the process, blasting a new extraction area.

The latest blast area is within the eastern part of the pit, and is the subject of the TFR on 12/7/2016. During a one hour window, FAA is excluding flights, from using airspace within a 2-mile radius of the blast, at altitudes below approximately 2,500-ft above ground level. A temporary flight restriction seems quite appropriate, as there is a real hazard.

Contrast this with the DAPL protest near Cannonball, ND. There, FAA has AGAIN abused its authority to impose flight restrictions aimed NOT at safety, but at hampering the Press. This, clearly, is wrong.

[KSMO]: Grossly Incompatible with the Community Around It

It has been a busy Fall at the Santa Monica Airport [KSMO], where FAA is flexing its administrative-legal muscles, intervening to delay city efforts to evict two private operators. The City wants to take over fuel sales and other airport services (known as ‘FBO services’), but the private FBOs do not want to accept that their leases are expired, nor do they want to give up lucrative profits. Just like FAA does not want to adhere to the agreement they struck with the city, in 1984, which meant the city could outright close the airport in July 2015.

In a recent email, Nelson Hernandez, the Senior Advisor to the Santa Monica City Manager, offered yet another update on the city’s progress. He noted that, “…on August 23, Council directed the City Manager to establish a city-owned FBO by December 31, or as soon as practicable….” He then added, there is ample precedent for airport authorities (in this case, the City of Santa Monica) setting up their own FBO services at an airport, instead of letting an out-of-state operator reap the hefty profits. He noted three airports: “…in the last two years, Fort Wayne, Greenville, and Chattanooga, created their own City FBO for similar financial reasons….” He was referring to airports in Fort Wayne, IN [KFWA], Greenville, NC [KPGV], and Knoxville, TN [KDKX].

Out of curiosity, I did some online research and confirmed that, yes, all three of these airports have city-operated FBOs. And, all three appear to be very healthy airports. Nelson’s list of three airports included one with an FAA control tower [KFWA] and two with no control tower [KPGV] and [KDKX]). Here’s the data on these three airports, with [KSMO] added for comparison:

    • KFWA: 70 based aircraft, a 12,000ft runway and an 8,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 36,100 landings and takeoffs in 2015, down 71% from its peak year (124,000 ops in 2000). [3,400 acres, surrounded by farmland]
    • KPGV: 71 based aircraft, a 7,200ft runway, and a 5,000ft runway. Form 5010 shows 48,200 annual operations in the year ending 5/30/2016 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [872 acres, surrounded by forest, farmland and limited residential development]
    • KDKX: 167 based aircraft, and a single, 3,500ft runway. Form 5010 shows 68,400 annual operations in the year ending 4/30/2013 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [200 acres, surrounded by a river, a large quarry, and farmland]
    • KSMO: 249 based aircraft, and a single 5,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 90,200 annual operations in 2015, down 62% from its peak year (234,800 ops in 1991). [215 acres, surrounded by dense residential neighborhoods; and, within the airport, substantial footage is presently subleased to non-aviation business uses, generating profits for the FBOs.]

I noticed something else, too, which was a bit startling. You’ll see it starkly presented in the three image-pairs below. When you look at how Santa Monica’s runway is shoe-horned into the neighborhoods, and when you compare it to the ‘airport normality’ of these other three, far less crowded airport locations, it just jumps out at you. And, when you look at the series of images showing how many houses were removed in recent years for a runway expansion at a very slow Greenville airport, you just have to wonder how in the world people can coexist with business jets so close to their Santa Monica homes. I mean, if FAA moves people out of their homes in Greenville, what is it about Santa Monica homeowners that makes them less at risk than North Carolinians? And given that there are so many Santa Monica homes, would it not make the most sense to simply close the airport??

Clearly, each of these three airports is far more compatibly located than is the Santa Monica Airport. In fact, looking at these three, I just have to say: if I was the new FAA Administrator, I’d be quick to ask my new highly-paid subordinates:

“Why are we NOT working with the city to expedite closing this airport? After all, it is grossly incompatible with the community (look at all those houses, and so close to the runway!), it is clearly a health hazard, and we have plenty of other LA Basin airports and longer, safer runways to serve the business jets and general aviation, all of which are far below their historic high traffic levels. So, when are we going to start serving everyone, not just our buddies who employ us after we retire?”

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UPDATE, 12/6/2016: — per a request, click here for a PDF version of this entire Post.