The Impacts Are Not Due to ‘Customer Demand’, They Are Due to ‘Industry Greed’

SeaTac [KSEA] has been the fastest growing U.S. commercial airport in recent years, largely due to a 2012 decision by Delta to build a hub there. Here’s a JPEG showing KSEA annual operations and trends for each year, from 1991 through 2017:

(click on image to view the source table, which includes FAA ATADS data for 533 U.S. airports)

The data clearly reflects the operational history of KSEA. This is an airport where there was a former near-monoploy by Alaska Airlines, which is now expanding into a duopoly, with TWO airlines using it for hub operations. Notice the growth in flight numbers after 2012, following the Delta business decision. But notice also how operations at this airport declined by nearly a third, from 2000-2012. Think a bit about these sizable ups and downs: do they reflect strong swings in the local economy and population, or do they merely represent airline business decisions?

Now, ponder this concept, too: does ‘consumer demand’ drive airline business actions, or do airline business actions drive consumer demand? Is it fair to say that the entire goal of airline marketing is to stimulate more consumer demand, and ever-higher passenger mileage consumption?

Ask yourself this: regarding the demand for flying in the Seattle area (…and this is an attractive area, which has drawn many new residents from around the world), did ‘consumer demand’ DECLINE that much during the 2000-2012 timeframe, and has ‘consumer demand’ for flying by Seattle-area residents grown as massively as airport operations after 2012? In other words, is it inappropriate and misinformational for airlines, the Port of Seattle, and FAA to declare that ‘passenger demand’ is driving the current impactful hub growth, when the true driver is ‘corporate/airline demand’? Check out this screencap from page 8 of a recent FAA document (FAA’s CATEX… more about that later in this Post). If you spend any time looking at press releases by airlines and the Port of Seattle, you will find the same misrepresentations consistently repeated, all aimed at tricking readers into believing ‘consumer demand’ is driving this growth. Wouldn’t it be more accurate and truthful for the industry players to precisely attribute these hub operational changes to airline corporate decisions? Shouldn’t they instead brag about their marketing savvy and their ability to manipulate consumers, to create higher (or lower) rates of consumption? Should the industry players be more transparent, noting how when assets are reallocated from a declining hub to their latest new hub, we end up with economic decline and stagnation in the former?

The bottom-line is this: some airports grow excessively, while other airports seemingly whither away. Further evidence and examples can be viewed at the full 1991-2017 data collection for all tower airports (533 different airports, in this table). Do your own analysis for your own region, but be sure to take a closer look at the airports within the rustbelt centered on Ohio … from Detroit to Buffalo to Pittsburgh to Memphis to St. Louis and back to Detroit. Within this large region, at even the busiest airports, operational declines have averaged well over 50% from peak traffic years. And, many airport hubs have been outright abandoned.

What gives here?

Under the hub-and-spoke business model, commercial passenger operators maximize profits if they theoretically fly an infinite number of passengers into a hub airport at the same moment, have the passengers instantly sort out gate-to-gate into all the parked airplanes, and then depart all at the same instant. Of course, airports cannot be this efficient, and safety rules restrict aircraft flow rates, as both arrival and departure streams typically require around one minute spacing between consecutive flights. So, the next best thing for the airport and airlines (but certainly NOT for sleep-deprived and lung-impacted residents in the airport community!) is to tweak the rules in a way that maximizes ‘runway throughput’.

An example of this rule-tweaking is the use of diverging departure headings. At SeaTac, FAA took this to an extreme when they imposed routine 90-degree left turns immediately after takeoff, for Horizon Q400 turboprops heading south during North Flows. These departures impacted residents in Burien, the community at the northwest corner of KSEA. After concerns were raised (including legal engagement), FAA backed down early last year, removing an automated turn coordination from the tower-TRACON letter of agreement (also known as the ‘SEA-S46 LOA’). That should have been the end of this, right? Well, it was not. Instead, under new Regional Administrator David Suomi, FAA spent more than a year internally discussing and drafting papers to reinstate automated turns over Burien. The culmination of all that FAA effort (and, yes, we all paid for it!) is a 51-page CATEX document titled “Categorical Exclusion for Letter of Agreement Update to Automate a 250° Westerly Turn for Southbound Turboprops When Seattle – Tacoma International Airport is Operating in North-Flow Between the Hours of 6 am and 10 pm.” Read that title to yourself again, slowly and carefully, and try to make sense of it. All of this is just to formalize a written agreement between the tower and the radar controllers, so that the turns are automated, instead of coordinated verbally (push a button down, state a few words, and get concurrence … typically takes 2-3 seconds total) on a case-by-case basis. And, the automation discards the safety element of a diligent analysis of the traffic picture for each coordination event. Anyway, here is a copy of FAA’s PDF:

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

Like its title, this document is a doozy. Spend a little time studying it and you will see the extremes FAA goes to so as to enable excessive airport expansion. Page after page, lacking in substance, heavy on repetitive ‘safety’ and ‘efficiency’ soundbites, none of which are substantiated. If a particular detail or two really grab you, and you have an insight or a question, please email the aiREFORM administrator so we can share that on (odds are high, if you read something as puzzling or shocking, others will read it the same way, too). And, by the way, don’t waste your time trying to search this FAA PDF, because FAA scanned it to be unsearchable. I.e., although this captured agency claims to be engaging the community on matters such as early turns over Burien, in truth they are knowingly reducing the value of tools (such as this 51-page CATEX document) that concerned citizens need to carefully study). This trend, away from searchable PDFs, has been observed in FAA’s FOIA responses; whereas in the past nearly all PDF FOIA response documents were searchable, in time nearly all have become non-searchable.

The Dark Side of So-Called ‘Collaboration’

When two parties conspire in a way that adversely impacts a third party, we have collusion. In an age of propaganda, when collusion happens between aviation parties such as FAA, airport authorities, and airlines, they just call it ‘collaboration’. The true and unspoken purpose of their so-called ‘collaboration’ is to achieve a consistency in their soundbites. The early turns over Burien are an example of this ‘collaboration’. Another example is how these same players routinely claim the excessive growth at SeaTac is to meet customer demand. The short answer to that claim is, well, ‘Bullshit!’. Frankly, ‘demand’ is just a lame and misrepresentative excuse; the real cause of extreme over-expansion at airports is greed by the aviation players. And let’s be clear: it is not just the airlines, but also the airport authorities and the FAA. There is plenty of collusion to go around.

Here’s some data that proves the above point. It offers data from three Delta hub airports that have been scaled down, and shines a light on the downsizing of aviation in Middle America:

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

Conclusion:

This data reflects the harsh reality that today, in the U.S., FAA serves the airlines with a propaganda line, trying to sucker taxpayers into believing passenger demand creates impact problems at places like Seattle, Boston, Long Island, Maryland, and Charlotte. This is blatantly false, and most people at FAA know this. Hub concentration is NOT driven by consumer demand; no, airline greed is driving hub concentration, at great cost to local communities.

Congress needs to demand FAA serve all of us, not just the airlines and airport authorities. FAA is out of control and needs to be reigned in, and must not be allowed to continue operating as the captured regulator it has become.

TheBriefingProject: One man against a government agency, one public comment at a time

Airlines and airport authorities have millions to spend and all the time they want, to manipulate citizen panels and elected representatives. A concerned citizen, on the other hand, typically is allowed a mere 2-minutes to make their points.

The fastest growing commercial aviation impact zone in the U.S. today is around SeaTac [KSEA]. Steve Edmiston, a multiple-times cancer survivor, is doing an outstanding job framing his 2-minutes for the industry-serving Port of Seattle. Check his latest video out here:
See also this article in the b-town blog, VIDEO: Local Activist Steve Edmiston’s third ‘Briefing’ to Port of Seattle, which includes links to the previous two 2-minute briefings. Watch for more 2-minute briefings, all year long, and take a look at The Briefing Project‘ Facebook page.

By the way, I came to know Steve a year ago, when we worked together on the QSPS ‘Fight the Flight 101’ Community Forum. A lot of work went into creating the ‘Dissecting Nextgen’ presentation. One year later, the archived PDF copy of the presentation is still packed with information to help us better understand how FAA and industry (including airport authorities) are destroying communities with NextGen … all for money.

Debunked: FAA’s Latest 20-Year Forecast

It is that time of year, when FAA again parades out a 20-year forecast to prop up agency spending. These forecasts are notorious for being routinely exaggerated, i.e., robustly unrealistic, but the pro-spending bias keeps happening, since the exaggerations work well to dupe the public.

The opening line is revealing; compare this statement (“…All indicators show that air travel in the United States is strong…”) with FAA’s own data, which has been compiled into the table below.

This table shows combined total tower operations for all of the 500+ FAA and contract control towers, as documented in ATADS. Note that total operations peaked in 1999, and have fallen 26% since. The decline has gone on for decades, and has been steady; there is no concrete sign of a reversal.

Note also a paragraph deep in the FAA news release, justifying further expansion of infrastructural spending, on the weak FAA assumption that total airport operations will rise 19% in the next 20 years (from 51.0 million in 2018 to 60.5 million in 2038). Think about it; airport operations cannot even keep up with the positive growth rate of our national population. The data is clear: this industry has been declining. And, yes, the new forecast truly is based on FAA’s ‘assumption’, that a downward-flat trend for two decades will suddenly inflect upward.

While you critically study FAA’s news release, 24-page Forecast, and Fact Sheet (archived copies at the three links), ponder these notes:

  • The RPM metric is not a valid metric for industry growth. As the few remaining airlines continue to adjust schedules with increased hub concentration, passengers end up flying LONGER flights with added legs (origin-to-hub-to-destination, and even origin-hub1-hub2-destination, instead of origin-direct-destination). This increases RPM totals. If a routing via the Atlanta hub adds 24% to the total flight distance, RPMs also increase by 24%. The fastest growing hub right now is Seattle; when Delta sells tickets for passengers between California and the Midwest or East Coast, more and more itineraries end up flying via KSEA. Likewise, as FAA continues to over-accommodate airline excessive hubbing on the East Coast, we will see RPM increases on trips to the West Coast out of Boston, the NYC airports, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Reagan National.
  • Here’s another piece of spin, from the fifth paragraph of the News Release: “Air Traffic Modernization is rapidly moving towards satellite navigation technologies and procedures which will continue to allow enhanced navigation for more aircraft….” The truth is, there has been no rapid modernization because most of the GPS system was implemented in the mid-1990s! Also, the so-called ‘enhanced navigation’ is potentially a valuable improvement, but it is consistently rendered worthless by FAA’s failure to manage capacity, such as by imposing hourly flow limits. In other words, so long as FAA continues to allow airlines to over-schedule at a handful of airline-chosen hubs, ATC will have to continue to issue delays … as we routinely see at KBOS, KJFK, KLGA, KDCA, KSEA, and elsewhere. Using online flight tracking programs, we see thousands of delays everyday, in the form of gate holds, long taxi-out times due to congestion, turns and loops during the enroute/cruise segment, extended patterns to sequence arrivals via radar vectors, and long taxi-in times due to congestion. If FAA does not change their strategy, these delays will only grow.
  • The news release notes that there were 840.8 million domestic enplanements in 2017. If we fly a nonstop ticket from our origin to an airport destination, it will count as one enplanement, but ONLY if it is a direct nonstop flight. If we fly via a hub, or a series of stops, the number of enplanements increases (one enplanement per takeoff segment). Thus, a figure of 840.8 million enplanements in 2017 sounds like a big number, but actually means no more than 420.4 out-and-back ‘trips’. With more data, we could establish an estimate that is likely even fewer than 300 million actual full ‘trips’ per year, once we factor out extra trip legs (such as via hubs).
  • The news release also cites a 1.7% annual growth rate estimate for domestic enplanements, but how much of this will be due to increased hubbing? Even the simplest hub-related flights (e.g., outbound routed origin-HUB-destination, and return trip routed destination-HUB-origin) tallies four enplanements, which is roughly double the national annual average. If Delta, JetBlue, and others intensify hubbing, we can end up with an annual growth rate far exceeding the national population growth rate. But, with more hubbing, this would actually be less energy-efficient; lengthened flight distances and more stops would INCREASE fossil fuel consumption, having an even higher impact on climate and communities.
  • On average, U.S. citizens fly less than one commercial passenger air trip per year. And, importantly, some of us travel a whole bunch, many times per week. So, in this annual forecast, we really need FAA to go deeper with the data and attempt to accurately define just how elite air travel is. What percentage of our national population did not fly at all in 2017? And what is the trend year to year; are more people responding to climate change concerns by electing to travel less, or not at all? It could actually be that airlines serve an elite few U.S. citizens, more so than the larger ‘general public’. Considering the intensive fuel consumption (and impacts, upon climate change as well as health and neighborhood quality of life), it would be an appropriate national policy to stop subsidizing this industry and shift costs away from communities and onto the airlines and passengers; it would also be an appropriate national policy to impose a fee structure that discourages excessive flying by one passenger (e.g., no tax on the first two roundtrips per year, a steep tax for the third thru fifth roundtrip each year, and a very steep tax for subsequent roundtrips).
  • Aviation is the most intensive fuel-consumption activity in our modern lifestyle. It has enormous negative impacts, not only upon climate change, but also upon public health and neighborhood quality of life. Efforts to increase airport capacity do not reduce these impacts; they INCREASE these impacts.
  • Near the bottom of the news release, a paragraph glows about how this annual forecast is the ‘industry-wide standard’. More accurately, this annual forecast is a propaganda tool issued by a captured regulator, in collaboration with industry players and their lobbyists. It is disinformational, an improper use of public monies.

First StART Meeting at KSEA: Great Write-up by David Goebel

The first StART Meeting was held at KSEA, on February 28th. Vashon Island activist David Goebel posted a great write-up at the NORNP.org website (click here for aiRchived copy). It also is clear that Sheila Brush asked some great questions, to try and help Port of Seattle (PoS … perfect acronym, no?!?) officials drill down into the real impacts of this major airport, which appears stuck in a mode of selling out to profit-seeking by Alaska and Delta airlines.

As I understand his story, it was around two decades ago that David purchased land near the north end of Vashon Island, hoping to enjoy the bucolic setting a ferry ride away from the city. Those dreams crashed when FAA implemented the HAWKZ arrival and accommodated Delta’s hub development, creating nearly nonstop arrival streams at lower altitudes. There are many nice places to call home, around Seattle, but sadly airline over-accommodation is destroying them.

David offered this closing comment:

“…something that struck me as sadly ironic is that it was really quiet in the conference room; I didn’t hear any planes. This is in stark contrast to my cabin on Vashon Island, where as often as every two or three minutes they drown out all the sounds of nature, destroying the reason I moved there 20 years ago…..”

See also:
  • PoS StART webpage – link
  • 2/28/2018 – POS’ Agenda for StART meeting (link for archived copy)
  • 2/28/2018 – Lance Lyttle’s 22-pg slideshow for StART meeting (link for archived copy)

Federal Way’s Mayor at PSRC, Expressing Numerous Concerns about KSEA Over-Expansion

Here’s a summary of some concerns opposing KSEA over-expansion, expressed by Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, at a meeting of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) executive board. Highlights and aiReform footnotes have been added. To view the three attachments in the summary, click on these links:

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

What’s Going On Here?

The pattern observed across the nation is that decision-making behind airport expansions is intentionally dispersed and distorted, so as to create plausible unaccountability for all involved officials. In this example, the industry (especially Delta and Alaska airlines, the two major hub players at KSEA) are getting FAA assistance to push through even more hub development, with two regional authorities offering cover: Port of Seattle, and Puget Sound Regional Council. It needs to be understood that both of these regional authorities are heavily biased toward commerce; they have no meaningful concern for impacts in residential communities, as evidenced by non-mention of these growing problems in Lance Lyttle’s POS slideshow.

What is the Biggest Distortion?

Lance Lyttle’s slideshow, especially the part pretending that the expansion is serving local demand. Quite the opposite, the two major hub airlines are simply adding supply and scheduling huge numbers of passengers THROUGH KSEA, to boost their profits. People in and around Puget Sound have not and will not massively increase their alleged ‘demand’ for air travel, as Mr. Lyttle is implying (i.e., the 41% growth in enplanements in just 5-years is almost entirely to serve people outside Puget Sound). Again, the expansion is solely for airline benefit, and entirely at a cost to local community health and quality of life.

Why is aiReform.com Archiving These Documents?

These documents are being archived to encourage people to study them, and to ensure the records remain available to future airport impact victims who may seek to study the past. It is hoped that this archiving will help people to become more effective in advocating for balance, to protect their homes and communities. Readers are invited to send their comments and reviews to aiReform, which may be included in Updates to this Post.


See also:

At Sea-Tac, Enplanements (and Impacts) are up 41% in Five Years

A Port of Seattle (PoS) News Release today crows about the airport setting a new annual record with 46.9 million passengers in 2017. (click here to read an archived copy, with aiReform footnotes added). As is the pattern, economic benefits are exaggerated, while environmental impacts are completely ignored.

Back in 2010, PoS went to great expense to draft a Part 150 study. Within that document package was a 44-page ‘Aviation Activity Forecast’. The key graphs within that study are condensed into this scrollable 3-page PDF:

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

You can dive deeper, looking at an archived copy of the 44-page analysis here.

One of the most disgusting statements in the PoS News Release is the leadoff to the second sentence, a classic example of greenwashing, which reads: “Demand for air travel at Sea-Tac Airport increased 41 percent the last five years…” Let’s be clear. The good people in and around Seattle did not suddenly wake up 5-years ago and start spending more money and increasing trips out of Sea-Tac. Nor did the area population explode anywhere close to 41% in 5-years. No, this alleged ‘demand’ is engineered by two airlines – Alaska and Delta – as part of their escalation of hubbing intensity, all in pursuit of slightly higher airline profits. More people fly INTO [KSEA] without ever leaving the airport terminal, either sitting in their cramped seat of rushing to catch another plane at another gate. Lots more people – up 41% in 5-years. This is NOT increased ‘demand for air travel’. And, it also means fewer people are able to get direct flights from origin to destination, without the increasing number of detours through KSEA; in other words, everyone loses, except the airlines and the airport authority.

Clean up your act, PoS: get the excessive growth at KSEA under control, and knock off the greenwashing propaganda, OK?

Hubbing Strategies Increase Impacts, But Do Not Create Sustainable Airline Profits

Airline stocks have been tanking lately, in no small part due to strategy shifts by United. In a nutshell, United is trying to design a broad restructuring of its three domestic-focused hubs in Chicago, Denver and Houston. Why? Because this trio of domestic hubs “…has profit margins that are 10 percent below the inland domestic hubs operated by American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc….”

The situation is discussed in this Bloomberg article (click here to view source, or view the archived PDF copy below).

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

What is the most consequential quote in the article?

“As part of its strategy, United is boosting connections in its three mid-continent hubs by an average of 17 percent by adjusting its flight schedules, a process it’s completed in Houston and will commence in Chicago next month.”

In this one quote, United is making it clear that, for all major U.S. hubs, traffic growth is NOT about customer demand; it is airline schedule tweaking, to increase profits, that is causing the huge impact increases at major hubs, especially at KBOS, KJFK, KDCA, and KSEA.

Which airports/hubs are most monopolized?

Here are the main hubs for the four largest airlines:

  • American: Charlotte [KCLT], Dallas-Ft Worth [KDFW], Miami [KMIA], and Philadelphia [KPHL]
  • Delta: Atlanta [KATL], Minneapolis St Paul [KMSP], and Salt Lake City [KSLC]
  • United: Cleveland [KCLE], Washington-Dulles [KIAD], and Houston [KIAH]
  • Southwest: Baltimore [KBWI], Dallas-Love [KDAL], and Chicago-Midway [KMDW]

Most other major airports are either smaller market and dominated by Southwest, or they are duopoly hubs. Four duopoly hubs that stand out are:

  1. Denver [KDEN] – Southwest and United
  2. Chicago O’Hare [KORD] – American and United
  3. Phoenix [KPHX] – American and Southwest
  4. Sea-Tac [KSEA] – Alaska and Delta

Will hub concentration reduce over time?

No, not likely at all. The level of industry scheduling collusion, and the absence of real regulatory oversight, ensure this trend toward hub concentration will continue to intensify. As an example, look at the hub concentrations for 2013 data, at this aiReform Post. Note that nothing has changed: at the bulk of these 77 airports, monopolies and duopolies have only strengthened in the past four years.

We should start educating youngsters early on about the dangers of noise

In a big city, we all expect noise. But, the most responsible among us also expect to do all they can to minimize the impacts and manage how we live with it, so that children can learn, homes can be enjoyed, nature can be heard, and we all can get daily sleep. The importance of sleep to New York City is reflected in the following education module:

(click on image to view source)

BTW, one of the key advocates for ‘noise-management-sanity’ in the NYC area is Dr. Arline Bronzaft. See two of her archived articles, spanning TWO DECADES(!), at these links:

And let’s be careful to never forget: it is not just the noise, but the pollutants, too. The toxins we breathe near airports, as well as the rapidly growing aviation contribution to global warming.


UPDATE, 11/17/2017: — Another excellent reference resource is the Noise Awareness webpage, at GrowNYC.org:

(click on image to view source webpage, at grownyc.org)

…Martin Rubin and Jack Saporito helped identify this activism resource … THANKS!

 

FAA Ordered to Vacate Their 2014 NextGen Routes in Phoenix

After three years of misery and sleep loss, residents in the Phoenix area may finally see some relief. This Judgment was just announced:Using the only legal recourse available to those impacted by FAA’s NextGen implementations, both the City of Phoenix and historic neighborhoods filed a Petition for Review at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. FAA lawyers, aided by attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice, delayed and wrangled for dismissals. It took nearly two years to get the case argued; that happened on March 17, before Judges Griffith, Rogers, and Sentelle. (Click here to go to the USCADC website, where you can read the bios for each judge.)

Nearly six months later, finally, the Judges issued their decision: for the people, and against the FAA. Here’s a copy:

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

The Opinion found that FAA was arbitrary and capricious, and in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Department of Transportation Act, and the FAA’s Order 1050.1E.

This Decision deserves careful study by all of us who are increasingly impacted, across the nation, by FAA’s brutally impactful NextGen implementations. City officials and airport authorities need to take notice: quit telling everyone that nothing can be done; instead, start advocating for health, quality of life, and real local control at these airports.


See also:

UPDATE, 8/30/2017: — Peter Dunn’s Analysis – a condensed review, posted at the Fair Skies Nation Facebook page (Boston area); click here for the source, or here for the archived copy.

UPDATE, 9/1/2017: — see the analysis written by Steve Edmiston (click here for the source, or here for the archived PDF); Steve is a Seattle-area attorney, and a lead activist seeking to correct the over-expansion of the Sea-Tac Airport [KSEA].

UPDATE, 9/5/2017: — yet another excellent analysis, this one blogged by Kevin Terrell (click here for the blog source, or here for the archived PDF). Kevin resides in an area impacted by the Delta hub at Minneapolis- St. Paul [KMSP]. Kevin’s activism has included creation of an outstanding series of educational videos that explain aviation noise while also illuminating FAA’s total failure to manage the noise impacts.

Hub Airports, Repetitive Airplane Noise, and Hypertension

A sobering read. Also, a growing body of evidence supporting the need for sleep-hour curfews, local control, and scaling back the over-scheduling common at the largest U.S. hub airports.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; click here to download the PDF file.


See also: