MHFC: Technology and Design Achieve Nothing When Too Many Flights are Scheduled

An incredible airshow: Michael Huerta’s Flying Circus.

20160408.. Michael Huerta's Flying CircusIn service to the airlines, FAA has carefully worked to bypass environmental review procedures while also embarking on a scheme to abandon wholesale decades worth of noise mitigation procedures. In their effort to increase ‘throughput’, turns are being made lower and closer to the airports, for both departures and arrivals. This would reduce fuel consumption by a small amount, but the savings are routinely more than lost when excessive airline scheduling necessitates that ATC must issue delay turns (even entire delay loops) during the enroute/cruise portion of the flight.

It is really a circus. Controllers work harder, and pilots also work harder. Airline profits tweak slightly higher while many airports downsize and more flights become concentrated into a handful of superHubs. More delays are incurred, and repetitive-noise-pattern impacts increasingly damage neighborhoods that previously had no aviation noise issues. And what do FAA regulators do about it? Nothing. They just retire, take their pension, and sign up to work for the industry and as lobbyists.

An SFO arrival from Puerto Vallarta, on January 9th.

This Analysis looks at how NextGen fails at one of the few emerging superHubs: San Francisco [KSFO]. Here’s a screencap showing extensive delays ATC issued to an Alaska Boeing 737, during a January 9th evening arrival. Take a close look and you’ll see: the flight crew was issued vectors to fly a large box, then a smaller loop, then sent northwest for further descent and sequencing back into the arrival flow near Palo Alto.

Altitudes have been added to this graphic, so you can better estimate the impacts upon residents below, especially while ATC was routing the flight at the lower altitudes, from Pescadero to Portola Valley to Palo Alto and on to the landing.

An SFO arrival from Puerto Vallarta, on 3/10/17.

This is the type of inefficient maneuvering that happens everyday. Massive backups can be triggered by incidents that cause temporary runway closures or weather problems, but most of the time, these inefficiencies happen when too many flights are scheduled too close together, all because FAA refuses to properly manage arrival rates.

On days when there are not too many arrivals, this same flight normally looks like the example to the left: a direct route and a steady rate of descent, from Santa Cruz to where they turn final at the Bay, just west of the Dumbarton Bridge. This type of efficiency can become a reliable norm, but only if FAA goes one step further and imposes programs to stop airlines from exceeding workable airport arrival rates. Sadly, under NextGen, FAA is doing precisely the opposite: giving the airlines the sun and the moon, and all the stars if they have to, so long as the airlines will not oppose the expensive boondoggle that NextGen is. FAA wants Congress to throw more money at the agency, and that won’t happen, unless all the Av-Gov players ‘collaborate’ and act unified behind the NextGen fraud.

2016 ATADS Data Posted, Shows U.S. Air Traffic Activity Remains Severely Depressed Overall

FAA has posted the official traffic counts for calendar year 2016, so another analysis can be done to see how much aviation activity has declined in the U.S. This analysis is important as it fully debunks – using FAA’s own data, no less – one of the core lies being used by FAA and others while trying to sell both ATC privatization and NextGen: the false claim that air traffic is ‘increasingly congested’.

The reality is quite the opposite: the U.S. aviation system is shockingly decongested, with activity depressed far below levels two decades ago. At the vast majority of airports with ATC (and these are the airports with reliable traffic counts), operations (landings and takeoffs) are down 30%, 40% even more than 70% from peak traffic years. There is a large ‘dead-zone’ of vastly underutilized airport infrastructure across the heart of the nation, most of it abandoned by FAA and the airlines; it stretches from St. Louis to Memphis to Pittsburgh to Detroit and on to Kansas City, coinciding with much of the region that tipped the election to Donald Trump. The ‘reliever airports’ developed by FAA in the 80’s and 90’s are relieving nothing. Indeed, these airports are increasingly serving only an elite few, as FAA continues to direct air passenger taxes toward expanding and maintaining these facilities. This is a classic example of the masses paying to subsidize those who least need a subsidy … primarily to enable elites to zip about in their private jets or via expensive air charter services, staying away from the TSA hassles while using their own network of smaller secured airports.

The database is searchable via the ATADS-OPSNET webpage. For this analysis, the annual operations data was compiled for 86 airports, including all of the ‘ASPM-77’ airports and nine other airports that have previously been studied by aiREFORM. It is reasonable to assume that FAA’s ASPM airport list essentially includes all of the most significant commercial airports, accounting for over 99% of all routes flown for both passengers and cargo. That said, the list is also a bit odd for the airports it does not include, most of which were busy GA training fields in 2016, such as: Deer Valley, AZ (DVT, with 370K ops in 2016), Centennial, CO (APA, with 332K ops), Daytona Beach, FL (DAB, with 307K ops), and Sanford, FL (SFB, with 289K ops).

The 86 airports are divided into four groups below. The first three groups comprise the 36 busiest U.S. airports since 1990; i.e., these are the 36 airports known to have had at least one year averaging 1,000 operations per day, in the historical record going back to 1990. These 36 airports are broken into three groups: airline hubs that are generally not declining, airline hubs that have already declined substantially, and non-hub airports serving primarily general aviation (GA). The fourth group, includes the 50 other key U.S. airports, though these are slower, as none of them has ever achieved an annual average of 1,000 daily operations.

This First Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the eleven primarily-commercial airports that show sustained performance. For 2016, two of these airports were in their peak year (SFO and JFK); the nine other airports each declined no more than 13% from peak year operations levels. These airports have the following characteristics:

  1. each of these airports had a Peak Year in their history, with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations; only MCO (Orlando) did not sustain that performance in 2016.
  2. notice that each airport is nearly pure commercial traffic; at each of these airports, 95% to 99% of operations are air carrier or air taxi.
  3. notice also, each airport had less than 5% local traffic (most had zero local pattern operations).
  4. these airports tend to be major ‘hubs’, where the airlines schedule more flights than are needed to serve the local community; thus, noise and pollution impacts on neighborhoods are increased, so that the airlines can bolster profits by accommodating many ‘through-passengers’.
Airport 2016 Total Operations 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
ATL (Atlanta, GA) 898,356 99% 2007 991,627 -9%
ORD (Chicago, IL) 867,635 99% 2004 992,471 -13%
LAX (Los Angeles, CA) 696,890 96% 2000 783,684 -11%
DEN (Denver, CO) 572,520 99% 2010 635,458 -10%
CLT (Charlotte, NC) 545,742 95% 2013 557,955 -2%
JFK (Queens, NY) 458,707 98% 2016 458,707 0%
SFO (San Francisco, CA) 450,391 97% 2016 450,391 0%
EWR (Newark, NJ) 431,214 97% 1997 467,443 -8%
SEA (Seattle, WA) 412,170 99% 2000 445,677 -8%
LGA (Flushing, NY) 374,487 98% 2006 406,211 -8%
MCO (Orlando, FL) 323,914 95% 2007 367,860 -12%
average change: -7%

The Second Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the sixteen primarily-commercial airports that have NOT shown sustained performance. A quick review of this group shows:

  1. each of these airports had a Peak Year in their history, with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations; in 2016, nine of the airports sustained that performance (though with an average decline of 25% from Peak Year), while seven of the airports now average below 1,000 ops/day (with an average decline of 50% from Peak Year).
  2. notice that, as with the first group, each airport had less than 5% local traffic, and each airport is predominantly commercial. I.e., air carrier and air taxi traffic accounts for 85% to 99% of total operations; twelve airports were 90% or higher commercial, and only Honolulu (HNL), Washington-Dulles (IAD), Pittsburgh (PIT) and Salt Lake City (SLC) had less than 90% commercial traffic.
  3. these airports tend to be lesser ‘hubs’, former hubs, or non-hubs.
  4. the bottom five airports [Washington-Dulles (IAD), Memphis (MEM), St. Louis (STL), Pittsburgh (PIT), and Cincinnati (CVG)] illustrate the consequences of wholesale hub abandonment by airlines. In each case, a dominant airline typically was having difficulty getting tax or labor concessions from the community, so they chose to abandon billions of dollars worth of terminal, runway, and other infrastructure, in the pursuit of marginal profits.
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DFW (Dallas – Ft Worth, TX) 672,748 99% 1997 934,624 -28%
LAS (Las Vegas, NV) 535,740 92% 2006 619,474 -14%
IAH (Houston, TX) 470,780 98% 2007 603,641 -22%
PHX (Phoenix, AZ) 440,643 95% 2000 638,757 -31%
MIA (Miami, FL) 414,234 95% 1995 576,936 -28%
MSP (Minneapolis – St Paul, MN) 412,898 97% 2004 540,727 -24%
BOS (Boston, MA) 395,811 96% 1998 515,788 -23%
PHL (Philadelphia, PA) 394,022 96% 2005 536,153 -27%
DTW (Detroit, MI) 393,427 98% 1999 559,548 -30%
SLC (Salt Lake City, UT) 320,259 85% 2005 455,214 -30%
HNL (Honolulu, HI) 305,608 80% 1992 403,708 -24%
IAD (Washington-Dulles, VA) 292,124 87% 2005 553,021 -47%
MEM (Memphis, TN) 224,883 90% 2003 402,362 -44%
STL (St Louis, MO) 190,517 95% 1995 517,961 -63%
PIT (Pittsburgh, PA) 141,630 89% 1997 457,732 -69%
CVG (Cincinnati, OH) 137,225 95% 2004 515,851 -73%
average change: -36%

The Third Group (below) provides a ranked listing of the nine busiest general aviation airports that historically had a Peak Year with traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations. Only one of these airports has shown a sustained performance: Deer Valley (DVT), a major training airport in the Phoenix area. A quick review of this group shows:

  1. only one of these airports has more than 36% commercial (air carrier and air taxi) operations; five of the airports have less than 25% commercial operations.
  2. the outlier is Oakland (OAK), which is a unique airport that has historically operated as two separate airports, even with separate ATC towers. It has served as a major hub for Southwest on the east side of the Bay Area, but aside from that is essentially a non-hub.
  3. even with major training airports (which often cater to students from around the world), the decline in operations is profound. For Florida, the two listed airports averaged a 22% decline; for California, the four listed airports averaged a 52% decline from Peak Year.
  4. when airport flight schools import students, the flight school expands profits while airport neighbors endure substantially higher impacts; not just noise, but also air pollutants, including toxic exhaust from the leaded fuel still used in most small airplanes and helicopters. This is a serious issue for airport neighbors, in terms of both health and quality-of-life. Hillsboro, OR (HIO) is another example (see further down, in the Fourth Group); here, the Hillsboro Aero Academy gets cover from the Port of Portland and FAA while imposing their impacts.
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DVT (Phoenix, AZ) 370,034 65% 2006 406,507 -9%
APA (Englewood, CO) 332,111 47% 1998 466,267 -29%
DAB (Daytona Beach, FL) 307,333 47% 36% 2001 373,812 -18%
SNA (Santa Ana, CA) 300,354 30% 36% 1991 569,241 -47%
LGB (Long Beach, CA) 294,886 52% 1994 488,313 -40%
SFB (Sanford, FL) 289,312 55% 36% 2001 397,557 -27%
OAK (Oakland, CA) 222,799 15% 67% 1999 524,205 -57%
VNY (Van Nuys, CA) 213,566 31% 1999 598,564 -64%
BFI (Seattle, WA) 169,641 26% 1994 422,804 -60%
average change: -39%

The Fourth Group (below) provides a ranked listing of fifty additional airports, none of which has had Peak Year traffic exceeding 1,000 daily operations (at least not since 1990). A quick review of this group shows:

  1. these airports tend to be either minor commercial hubs heavily dominated by one airline, or general aviation airports. some of the airports are , including.
  2. the extent of decline is again profound, averaging 38% for the whole group.
  3. The one most significant outlier in this list is Bellingham, WA (BLI). Here, we have an airport near the Canadian border, catering to passengers who cross the US-Canada border to catch cheaper flights. When the Canadian ATC system was privatized, a schedule of steep fees and taxes was imposed to generate needed revenues. Niche airlines like Allegiant took advantage of this, offering scant flight schedules (often just one or two trips per week) out of airports within a few hours’ drive of Canadian residents. Impacted communities include: Bellingham, Flint, Toledo, Niagara Falls, Ogdensburg, Plattsburgh, Burlington, and Bangor. The result, again, was airline profits and a tiny few local part-time jobs, with uncompensated aviation impacts on airport neighbors.
  4. Washington-Reagan (DCA) is an emerging hub. Here, we have a major commercial airport near the Capitol, growing quickly and increasingly impacting neighborhoods, but its growth comes from the downsizing of two other DC-area airports; i.e., both Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Baltimore-Washington (BWI) are declining as their seat capacity and operations are shifted closer in to the nation’s capitol.
  5. Dallas-Love (DAL) is another emerging hub. In this case, we have an airport for which FAA and Congress imposed restrictions, way back in the 1960s, to prop up the new major hub at DFW. Those restrictions ended a few years ago, so now Southwest is busily growing their DAL schedule to destinations previously not allowed. [Interestingly, the same pattern of lifted restrictions applies to the DC area; when federal funds were used in the 1960s to develop IAD, restrictions were imposed on DCA, but now that the restrictions are lifted, IAD is being largely abandoned.]
Airport 2016 2016 % Local 2016 % Comm Peak Year Peak Year Total Ops 2016 v PkYr
DCA (Washington-Reagan, VA) 299,670 98% 2000 342,790 -13%
FLL (Ft Lauderdale, FL) 290,239 87% 2005 330,967 -12%
ANC (Anchorage, AK) 279,861 68% 1997 318,080 -12%
MDW (Chicago, IL) 253,046 85% 2004 339,670 -26%
BWI (Baltimore-Washington, MD) 248,585 94% 2001 323,771 -23%
PDX (Portland, OR) 227,709 90% 1997 329,790 -31%
DAL (Dallas, TX) 224,193 73% 2000 256,787 -13%
HOU (Houston, TX) 202,106 71% 1997 262,892 -23%
HIO (Hillsboro, OR) 197,763 58% 2008 260,957 -24%
SAN (San Diego, CA) 196,935 95% 1995 245,280 -20%
BNA (Nashville, TN) 194,758 80% 1993 315,049 -38%
RDU (Raleigh-Durham, NC) 193,453 73% 2000 296,434 -35%
AUS (Austin, TX) 192,032 68% 2003 222,100 -14%
TPA (Tampa, FL) 189,682 88% 2000 278,632 -32%
TEB (Teterboro, NJ) 177,606 42% 2000 282,847 -37%
HPN (White Plains, NY) 164,511 43% 1999 222,274 -26%
SAT (San Antonio, TX) 164,393 66% 1998 273,345 -40%
IND (Indianapolis, IN) 162,294 90% 2000 259,860 -38%
SJC (San Jose, CA) 160,509 79% 1991 340,875 -53%
SDF (Louisville, KY) 156,200 91% 1994 184,653 -15%
SJU (San Juan, PR) 154,727 89% 2000 236,903 -35%
PBI (West Palm Beach, FL) 144,527 58% 1993 233,558 -38%
TUS (Tucson, AZ) 137,561 22% 37% 2005 284,555 -52%
OGG (Maui, HI) 136,654 85% 1999 188,387 -27%
MSY (New Orleans, LA) 134,263 90% 1994 175,493 -23%
ABQ (Albuquerque, NM) 133,828 10% 55% 2002 254,568 -47%
BUR (Burbank, CA) 132,391 21% 48% 1991 224,033 -41%
ISP (Islip, NY) 124,164 47% 2000 238,239 -48%
MCI (Kansas City, MO) 122,844 97% 1999 219,956 -44%
CLE (Cleveland, OH) 118,653 92% 2000 331,899 -64%
MKE (Milwaukie, WI) 113,715 87% 1999 221,866 -49%
SMF (Sacramento, CA) 111,187 91% 2007 180,037 -38%
JAX (Jacksonville, FL) 103,788 70% 1999 161,539 -36%
BUF (Buffalo, NY) 97,605 16% 72% 2000 165,334 -41%
OMA (Omaha, NE) 96,275 71% 1999 188,216 -49%
BDL (Windsor Locks, CT) 94,812 81% 1999 183,444 -48%
BHM (Birmingham, AL) 94,401 53% 1991 180,961 -48%
ONT (Ontario, CA) 91,671 80% 1994 159,895 -43%
BLI (Bellingham, WA) 84,600 32% 29% 2000 89,730 -6%
RSW (Ft Myers, FL) 79,151 89% 2005 96,148 -18%
OXR (Oxnard, CA) 74,151 55% 1993 137,933 -46%
BTV (Burlington, VT) 71,133 26% 37% 1991 123,146 -42%
PVD (Providence, RI) 70,088 17% 62% 1999 156,366 -55%
PSP (Palm Springs, CA) 55,919 55% 2002 109,509 -49%
MHT (Manchester, NH) 55,537 73% 1993 116,272 -52%
DAY (Dayton, OH) 51,854 76% 1991 189,896 -73%
SWF (Newburgh, NY) 43,851 21% 26% 1999 168,603 -74%
SLE (Salem, OR) 34,646 32% 2007 101,800 -66%
RFD (Rockford, IL) 34,356 21% 30% 1991 114,593 -70%
GYY (Gary, IN) 25,844 31% 1995 64,725 -60%
average change: -38%

Overall, ATADS data shows the ASPM-77 airports increasing commercial operations by 2%, from 2015 to 2016. But, the total remains 14% below system peak year (2000) and below annual totals for all years from 1993 through 2011. And, most importantly, if you separate out the main airports the few major airlines are increasingly focusing on, the operations at all other commercial airports are routinely down 30% or more from peak years. What we are watching is a slow reconfiguration by the airlines, to rely on roughly a dozen main ‘superHub’ airports, while gutting and even abandoning service at hundreds of communities.


See also:

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.

egll-20170110at0853scp-example-of-guardian-com-content-paid-for-by-heathrow-tweet-by-backoffheathrow

(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.

EPA’s Online Resources

20170108scp-epa-regions

(map and table, showing EPA’s ten administrative regions)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in 1970 “…for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.”

The effectiveness of EPA has been questioned by practically everyone; pro-commerce types swear EPA is too onerous, while pro-environment types insist EPA consistently falls short in protecting the environment.

Back in 1970, the year of the first ‘Earth Day’, our Congress was as constructively focused on environmental issues as they have ever been. Sadly, most Congress’s since have served commerce far ahead of people, passing laws, bending rules, and granting targeted exemptions that always further undermine EPA. This includes in the area of aviation impacts. Congress has consistently redistributed authority away from EPA and into FAA, on critical environmental matters including aviation noise and leaded aviation fuel. And, Congress has also consistently federalized authority; they’d rather strip local officials of their basic rights to run their local airports to serve the needs of their local community, and instead give that authority to faceless and unaccountable FAA bureaucrats.

A regulatory agency can be constrained by laws, but the most fundamental power is in information. Thus, even a defanged EPA can empower people, so that each individual can understand environmental impacts and effectively advocate for their family, to protect their environment. EPA can serve us – and they do, with work such as their ‘Citizen Science for Environmental Protection’ Program (selected content copied and archived here). But, and especially in the present political landscape, it is UP TO EACH OF US to do the work beyond the data: we have to take that data, formulate the message, and advocate the change.

So, for example, we can look at reports such as this one, showing diminished air quality and other impacts in the neighborhoods to the north of SeaTac Airport [KSEA]. We can also look at the December 2016 report done by the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy & Technology, ‘Environmental Protection Belongs to the Public – A Vision for Citizen Science at EPA’.

Where Do We Go Now?

If we take away one lesson from the politics of 2016, it should be this: a Democracy is doomed to fail, where the people are not actively engaged in the decision-making process. We cannot expect to achieve the ideals we want and need as a nation (or as a small, local community), if people do not participate. We cannot be distracted; we cannot be lazy; we must guard against the manipulation of voting data and other forms of election fraud; and, we must not allow the selective disenfranchisement that is happening due to ‘the new Jim Crow’ discriminatory laws. Similarly, we cannot expect to benefit from the sound application of science where many of our elected leaders are collaborating with lobbyists seeking to discredit science; climate change denialism is a good example of this failure.

With that in mind, there is a glimmer of hope for the new administration. The GOP has championed de-federalization and expanded LOCAL authority in all matters. Thus, it is conceivable that we may be surprised; Trump, Ryan, McConnell and others may shrewdly use aviation as an example, demonstrating how to reduce bureaucracy, save money and localize control while de-federalizing the authorities that FAA has increasingly abused.

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.

The Impacts of Repetitive Airport Noise: One Man’s Story from Near UK’s Heathrow

Here’s a copy of a Post blogged today by HACAN Clearskies, related to impacts near the London Heathrow Airport. This story is one man’s anonymous experiences. He first believed he would never be bothered by airplane noise, but the persistence eventually led him to anxiety attacks. He is thankful for his dog and having the limited resources to escape, to drive away to a park. But, obviously, people should not have their homes destroyed in the name of air commerce, with assistance from faux-regulators like UK’s CAA and our FAA.

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

‘Sitt on itt’, Joe!

Crain’s New York Business recently published an Op-Ed by Joe Sitt, Chairman of the Global Gateway Alliance (GGA). The Op-Ed offers the predictable slanted view coming from a lobbyist for airport expansion and non-regulation: essentially, GGA’s position is that all three major NYC airports (KLGA, KJFK, KEWR) should be expanded further to remove capacity restrictions that diminish profits, especially in the hotel/tourism industry. Ironically, while the streets and neighborhoods of NYC are perhaps the most congested in the nation, Sitt and GGA complain about airport congestion and want to increase passenger counts … which clearly will further congest the streets and neighborhoods of New York City. It seems that money rules (and people suffer) in too many parts of this nation.

A PDF copy of the Crain’s Op-Ed is provided below, complete with an aiREFORM footnoted rebuttal of Mr. Sitt’s statements. Further down in this Post, the footnotes are expanded, to include relevant links and graphics.

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

  1. Candidates are known to say all sorts of crazy stuff when campaigning. they are also known to always speak positively about creating jobs. During the 2016 campaign season, infrastructure was pushed as a palatable way to create jobs and keep money within our borders. More often than not, though, whenever large sums were proposed for infrastructure (such as this $1 trillion figure) there was little if any reference to airports and aviation. Why not?
    KJMR.20110419scp.. 'Notice to the Citizens of Kanabec County' (full page ad, posted at Scribd by FreedomFoundationMN)

    (click on image to see the in-depth Post about Mora’s new crosswind runway… including maps, pictures, studies, articles, etc.)

    Because aviation is the one area of infrastructure that actually has a very rich revenue base, in the tens of billions in taxes/fees collected (with the majority paid on each leg flown by each airline passenger); indeed, this slush fund is so deep, DoT and FAA are pushing construction of unneeded runways at the most remote locations (see for example the Post about the new crosswind runway at Mora, MN, built in a wetland used by migratory waterfowl!). And, it gets worse: FAA funds and eminent domain were used to acquire lands for this runway.

  2. Much has been written about the waste and cronyism behind public-private partnerships. Likewise, it is worth noting that ‘private investments from tax incentives’ are essentially a cost-shift, putting the cost burden onto others (while the corporations get their projects and the elected officials get campaign funds and future consulting gigs). In other words, the ‘tax incentive’ aspect of these deals all too commonly reduces down to elected officials saying; “…well, Mr. CEO, your corporation will not have to pay these taxes – that’s our incentive to YOU – and, instead, we’ll just collect these taxes from everyone else … the regular Joe’s who are not part of this deal. Cheers!!”
  3. The delays at these three airports (KEWR, KJFK, and KLGA) will not be resolved by so-called ‘modernizing ATC’. Sitt and others need to demand that FAA actually ‘manage’ the capacity at the most congested airports. Key solutions would include:
    • impose strict (and much lower) limits on operations per hour. Set these rates low enough and, even in the crappiest weather, you will NEVER see JFK or LaGuardia or Newark backing up. You would also eliminate the enormous loops commonly flown, such as the infamous JFK ‘Arc of Doom’. And, the unseen enroute delays at cruise altitude (typically 30-60 flight minutes prior to landing) would also be substantially reduced.
    • disincentivize indirect two-leg (and even longer, less direct) flights, by setting fees appropriately. For example, set passenger fees directly proportional to direct distance flown from origin to hub stopover (to other hub stopovers) to destination. If a direct flight is 1,000 miles but Airline X sells an itinerary that is 2,000 miles, let the passenger and/or airline pay twice the fees for a direct flight.
    • while the Arctic melts (IN MID-NOVEMBER!) it sure would be appropriate to disincentivize fossil fuel consumption. Simplest solution: impose a steep carbon tax, focused initially on the aviation sector.
    • Some have offered yet another brilliant disincentivizing proposal: let air passengers fly their first flight in a calendar year with a small fee (or even zero fees), but step up fees for subsequent trips. For example, a 10% fee on the first trip could become 20% on the second and third trips, and 30% on all additional trips.
  4. Sitt (and GGA) want the NYC airports to build more runways, like they now plan to do at London’s Heathrow. The problem at Heathrow is that the airport is the top hub for through-passengers between North America and Europe. This third runway does not serve the local residents as much as it serves the airlines seeking to ratchet up profits at Heathrow, with the massive through-passenger processing done under the hub concept. A third Heathrow runway will ratchet the local economy minimally upward, but will maximally diminish health quality of life (in terms of noise, congestion, and reduced air quality) for hundreds of thousands of residents. The exact same scenario is happening in the NYC area: FAA is aiding profit-seeking airlines to abandon all environmental regulation (i.e., decades-old noise abatement procedures) to increase ‘hub throughput’ and thus slightly increase corporate profits.
  5. No, what REALLY intensifies the problem of delays cascading out of the NYC airports is that FAA and the airlines are simply scheduling too many flights into too little time each day. The current scheduled traffic levels, all aimed at aiding airline profits via hubbing (accommodating through-passengers who never even leave the airport!) guarantees delays every day. This is a no-brainer. If you or I were trying to manage a congested road area, we would figure out how to REDUCE vehicles, not INCREASE vehicles. But, in this case, as demonstrated by Sitt, the pursuit of profits makes us blind to pragmatism.
  6. The Partnership for New York City study is not only an extremely biased joke, it also contains substantially false data. A table within (here’s a link to an archived copy; see Figure 1 at page 10 of the 37-page PDF file) cites FAA as the source for figures showing annual growth in airport operations at the three main NYC airports. The data is false; the real data, available online at FAA’s ATADS-OPSNET database, proves the P4NYC report grossly exaggerated annual operations. According to the P4NYC report, which was done in February 2009, annual totals peaked in 2007 at 1.45 million operations; but, ATADS shows the true figure was 1.30 million. Furthermore, FAA’s ATADS shows this count declining, with the latest figure (1.23 million, in 2015) down 5% from the peak in 2007.
  7. This line gets the ‘BullSitt Award’. Here, Sitt is citing the same-old false argument, that today’s controllers are burdened with equipment from the 1940’s. This is incredible disinformation. The fact is, the radar system has advanced through a series of improvements, in basic technology (vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits to microprocessors and massive data storage/manipulation capacities), in regulations imposed by FAA (requiring transponders, defining airspace boundaries, requiring sophisticated avionics systems for collision avoidance and navigation, etc.), and in FAA’s development of GPS routes (WAY BACK IN THE MID-1990’s!). At the same time, though, the use of this blatantly false argument strongly suggests how P4NYC is collaborating with FAA, Airlines for America, and other players to sell the fraud that is NextGen.

Even the Queen is Distressed with Excessive Aviation Noise

Image

(click on image to view archived copy of the source article)

(click on image to view archived copy of the source article)

The proposed addition of a third parallel runway at Heathrow has been debated for decades. The proposal accommodates airlines, who have created artificial excess need for airline operations because they are using London as a hub in the profitable trans-Atlantic air transport business. The imbalance is obvious: corporations over people, profits over quality of life. Exactly as is happening in so many NextGen impact areas in the U.S.

Sadly, more and more people under the Heathrow flightpaths are being impacted. Indeed, this article notes that Her Majesty the Queen has acquired a sharp ear capable of discerning different aircraft types. She is known to comment ‘747’ or ‘Airbus’, as each overflight interrupts royal conversations at Windsor Castle.

U.S. Aviation Impact Activists Can Learn a Lot by Looking at London’s Gatwick Hub

One of the oldest activist groups fighting to manage aviation impacts and preserve their local community is the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC.org.uk).  This group has been around since 1968. The website for GACC.org.uk is impressive, and well worth a look … especially for anyone near a U.S. airport searching for ways to reduce hub-related NextGen impacts.

A significant detail about Gatwick is that this airport operates using a single runway; thus, it’s closest stateside equivalent would be the San Diego International Airport [KSAN].

Gatwick is the second-busiest airport in the UK, behind Heathrow. And, as discussed in an earlier aiREFORM Post about Heathrow, the traffic intensity is amplified by airline hubbing, nearly all related to international and transatlantic flights. Management of environmental impacts is made worse by the fact that both Gatwick and Heathrow have been ‘privatized’, in schemes where private equity firms and other financial interests acquire the airports. This is problematic because it appears to further insulate all the stakeholders (airlines, airport authorities, and national regulators) from accountability, as they can now hide behind the idea that ‘investors abroad must be protected’. And so it is that in the UK, too, schemes such as the narrow repetitive NextGen-related routes are destroying neighborhoods while enhancing airline profits. [NOTE: the European equivalent of FAA’s ‘NextGen’ program is SESAR, which stands for Single European Sky ATM Research; click here to view a copy of the 152-page SESAR plan dated 3/30/2009, or click here to read a comparison of NextGen & SESAR in a 10/18/2011 presentation]

A frequent argument against expansion of both Gatwick [EGKK] and Heathrow [EGLL] is that the addition of any new runway(s) will only exacerbate a pre-existing economic disparity across regions of the UK. The conflict is between the ‘north’ and the ‘southeast’. Specifically, because the two largest UK airports are in the southeast, the potential job and economic benefits that airports allegedly create are not shared with regions to the north. Effectively, aviation is a parasitic form of economic development, advantaging one region while disadvantaging another region.

This is a problem in the U.S., too. That is to say, for every superHub airport being expanded even further beyond manageable traffic levels ([KATL], [KCLT], [KORD] are three examples), there are numerous other airports in decline, with billions in development costs going unused. All it takes is for the dominant airline to abandon a hub and, within a few years, the entire airport begins to look like an unmarketable brownfield. In the U.S., the most notable examples include: United at Cleveland [KCLE], American at St. Louis [KSTL], USAir at Pittsburgh [KPIT], and Delta at Cincinnati [KCVG] or Detroit [KDTW].

It is notable that aviation regulators such as FAA and NATS have a huge opportunity to resolve these problems. All it takes is the establishment of sound national policies that disincentivize hub overdevelopment. A more evenly distributed aviation system, imposed in the U.S. or UK (or both!), would yield these three substantial benefits:

  1. it would broaden dispersal of economic benefits;
  2. it would reduce and even eliminate noise and pollutant impacts by repetitive flights; and…
  3. it would greatly improve the so-called ‘customer experience’ that airline CEOs and A4A are increasingly talking about; i.e., it would reduce or eliminate connection hassles while also reducing total flight times for passengers!

For an indexed compilation of some key Gatwick-related documents, as copied from the GACC website, please see page two of this Post:

‘Just Say No’ to a Third Runway at Heathrow

The impacts are already too large at two runways, and the air travel industry is evolving to reduce the need for Heathrow as a major international hub. So, let’s be done with this ridiculous idea of adding a third parallel runway.

Consider how technologies have changed. There was a time in the U.S. when all transcontinental flights had to stop at ‘hubs’ in the mid-continent, making for very busy airports in places like Wichita, Kansas. These former hubs are now all but ‘ghost-airports’, because we developed more powerful engines and larger fuel capacities, enabling much longer flights.

London’s Heathrow Airport should follow that same path, and the role of this airport as a major international hub should decline substantially. Geography made London a logical (and necessary) refueling hub location for Transatlantic flights, but that necessity has ended in recent decades. We now have direct flights from the U.S. West Coast to Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Oslo, Copenhagen, Munich, Istanbul, Dubai, etc. So, we really do not need to stop anymore, in London or Dublin or even Iceland.

It makes far more sense for flights between North America and Europe to carry passengers directly from actual origin cities to actual destination cities. The carbon impact is minimized, the air traveler’s time-cost is minimized, and noise impacts upon airport neighbors are also minimized. And one more benefit: an evolved system with more thin routes takes pressure off of major U.S. hubs like KJFK, KBOS, KCLT, KORD, KPHX, and KSFO … and this has potential to greatly reduce the local impacts being magnified by the ongoing NextGen implementation debacles.

We can have better air service for people. We can minimize impacts on neighborhoods and the planet. The key to moving forward on this is to get national regulators and politicians to quit perpetuating inefficiencies, to quit subsidizing the airlines with excessive airport expansion. And in the UK, this means:

NO THIRD RUNWAY at HEATHROW!!

The ‘machine’ that keeps pressing for a third Heathrow runway is motivated by greed. Here is a copy of a recent news article about their campaign efforts, with analytical footnotes added by aiREFORM.

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