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.
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.
- 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?
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.
- 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!!”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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:
- it would broaden dispersal of economic benefits;
- it would reduce and even eliminate noise and pollutant impacts by repetitive flights; and…
- 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:
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.
Here is an article worth reading: ‘Why the Phoenix Sky Harbor flight-path noise may drive you crazy’, by Caitlin McGlade, published in August 2015. A PDF copy of the article is provided in this Post, with highlights (and one footnote) added by aiREFORM.
The article covers much of the impacts on specific neighborhoods, but the most interesting part of the article is how well the writer reviews the psychological impact of aviation noise. See especially the sections from page 2 through page 6 of the PDF copy: ‘The Unpredictable’, and ‘The Low-Frequency Rumble’.
The article also refers to a 214-page study of noise impacts by the KPHX RNAV routes, done by Landrum & Brown in early 2015, and paid for by the City of Phoenix (view a PDF copy here).
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
The footnoted point cannot be over-emphasized: FAA and the industry are flat-out lying when they sell NextGen as an improvement in U.S. commercial aviation safety and a way to reduce airline emissions. They are using these as selling points, but the REAL OBJECTIVE of NextGen routes is to discard decades-old noise abatement routes, so as to help the airlines grow larger profits. Here is a closer look, debunking these two selling points:
- On the safety point, U.S. commercial passenger aviation is very safe, with a proven record showing the vast majority of fatal accidents are caused by fatigue, inattention and poor decisions (by both pilots and controllers, who commonly are quite bored and lulled into complacency, then easily distracted, even by personal electronic devices). FAA has presented no evidence substantiating the claim that the new routes being implemented under NextGen actually ‘improve safety’, because there is no such evidence. Their claim is simply an empty selling point.
- On the emissions point, think of it this way: under the ‘NextGen’ banner, ATC is issuing turns lower and closer to airports. This reduces total fuel consumption for each flight by a small fraction of a single percent (but, cumulatively, it adds up to millions saved by airlines in fuel costs and pilot-time costs). By comparison, major airlines lock passengers into traveling 10%, 20%, even more than 30% actual flight distances to get from point A to point B via major airline hubs. For example, suppose you are flying from Portland, OR to Burlington, VT (and this is just one example; the concept applies to hundreds of U.S. city-pairs). You could theoretically fly three ways: nonstop-direct (which we would all prefer), or via a hub along the direct route (which enables airlines to offer more flight options), or via a hub away from the direct route (which enables airlines to fill all their seats). Clearly, the least efficient choice, in terms of both time and emissions, is via the off-route superhub; a flight on Delta via the Atlanta superhub, increases flight distance by 32%, from 2,064 miles (direct KPDX-KBTV) to 2,717 miles (via a KPDX-KATL-KBTV routing). Current aviation fees strongly incentivize the overdevelopment of major hubs in cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Minneapolis and Phoenix, and this produces nonstop, highly impactful streams of arrivals and departures. So, the key point is, if FAA really cared to reduce emissions, they would not waste their efforts trading local noise impacts against miniscule emissions reductions, as they are doing with these NextGen RNAV routes. Instead, they would push for an airline fee structure where each passenger ticket would reflect total direct-miles flown – and be priced proportionately, so as to strongly disincentivize tickets that route passengers via out-of-the-way superhubs. If FAA successfully implemented this one simple and rational change, they could then brag about reducing overall U.S. airline emissions by easily 10% or more … much, much more than the insignificant savings on NextGen RNAV routes.
- 10/30/2015 – NextGen: A Formal Complaint by Phoenix Neighborhoods
- 6/24/2015 – GIGO: Lessons Learned from FAA’s Bad NextGen Deployment at Phoenix
- 6/22/2015 – The Investigation of the KPHX NextGen Departure Procedures Implementation
- 6/4/2015 – [QUOTE]: Floor Speeches by Rep. Gallego & Rep. Schweikert
- 6/1/2015 – City of Phoenix Files Lawsuit Against FAA’s NextGen Implementation
- 5/18/2015 – A Two-Hour NextGen Reprieve in Phoenix
- 4/18/2015 – ANALYSIS: Flight Tracks Showing Noise Impacts in the Phoenix Area
- 10/16/2014 – Video of Regional Administrator Glen Martin, Pausing in Disbelief While Reading FAA’s Written Statement to the People of Phoenix
One of the leading climate activists in the UK is George Monbiot. He also understands the significant (and growing) impacts by aviation, and the unfortunate fact that today, nearly all governmental agencies are captured and serving industry, not the people. He understands that gross imbalances have evolved, where capacity is always expanded to accommodate corporations, while impacts against local quality of life are always ignored.
These concerns are well articulated in his 1/20/2016 article, ‘The Heathrow ‘Hooligans’ are Our Modern Day Freedom Fighters’.
Click here to read the original online article.
In Washington, DC, a congressional committee is using the need to ‘re-authorize’ FAA spending as an excuse to try to ramrod a packaged sellout to the airlines. The package, generously called the ‘Aviation Innovation, Reform & Reauthorization Act’ (AIRR), contains 273-pages of ‘transformational’ legislation that seeks to insulate the airlines and ATC from Congressional oversight.
At the same time, across the nation, the repetitive noise of FAA’s NextGen operations continues to destroy once pleasant neighborhoods. One of those neighborhoods is in the Chicago area, the Village of Bensenville to the west of O’Hare Airport.
Residents along Hillside Drive began enduring horrific repetitive flight noise when a new runway was opened in the Fall of 2013. Although FAA swears they complied with NEPA regulations and found the noise impacts would not be significant, some residents have hardly slept since.
Judge for yourself. Look and listen to the residents in this recently published video:
Frankly, the root of the problem at O’Hare is the use of this location as a major airline hub. It can be bad even if only one of the ‘final four’ major U.S. airlines operates a ‘superhub’, but at O’Hare, this is done by two: both United/Continental and American/USAir.
We all understand the concept of ‘economy of scale’, but in reality, there is an enormous ‘diseconomy of scale’ that sets in when airports grow too large. Multiple airlines and the airport authority can run a very successful operation at a smaller and more easily manageable airport, such as with a single pair of parallel runways, generating lots of profits while also serving the air transportation needs of the local community members. Economy of scale continues to this level of airport development. But, once the third parallel runway goes in, or if ATC is using multiple sets of parallel runways, diseconomy sets in. The added airport capacity, when utilized, creates a mess in many ways: not just the repetitive noise impact on neighborhoods, but also the magnified air pollution, the near-airport traffic congestion, the passenger chaos within the airport terminal, and the near-collisions and ‘SNAFU’ aspect that controllers must contend with. All so that the airline can tweak out a bit more profit.
In the worst cases (U.S. airports KORD, KATL, KPHX and KCLT come to mind), the hub airlines schedule heavy ‘banks’ of non-stop arrivals and departures. The noise impact can stretch for hours, and yet much of the noise has nothing to do with serving the local community. People fly into the airport, walk to another gate, and fly out – never even visiting the community. The high traffic levels (and impacts) are thus related only to serving the airline’s ‘passenger sort facility’ (aka ‘hub’) business model. Of course, this business model is aimed solely at generating profits …and corporate representatives have a palpable disdain for homeowners and residents who complain about noise and other impacts. A disdain that FAA happily enables.
So, here we are in February 2016. After months of intensive preparatory work coordinated by the airline lobbyist, Airlines for America, Bill Shuster has capitulated to that same lobbyist by proposing his ‘transformational’ REFORM package. REFORM is in the name and yet the package has nothing to do with correcting problems like the Noise Ghettos being created in places like Bensenville (…and FQ Story, and Palo Alto, and Seattle, and Milton, and Flushing, and Mount Holly, and Georgetown…). And, on top of that, Mr. Shuster has admitted to having a personal relationship with a high-level official at Airlines for America, the sort of conflict of interest that past Congresses would never tolerate.
Here’s a suggestion for Mr. Shuster (& Ms. Rubino), Mr. LoBiondo, Mr. Calio, Mr.Huerta and Mr. Rinaldi: sit down with your family and watch this Hillside video (and, while you are at it, check out the video of flight-attendant Serena). Then, REFORM. Let these people sleep and enjoy their yards, for crying out loud!
Quit teasing the public and playing games to enrich your crony friends. Re-authorize FAA immediately, but insert REAL TRANSFORMATIONAL change, such as congestion pricing and a steep aviation fuel tax. You are lying when you claim the ATC system is operating on antique technologies, and you are also lying when you claim NextGen benefits that are already being realized without additional NextGen development. You are claiming ‘ATC corporatization’ is necessary, when you know this is just a bogus sales pitch. And most importantly, you know: the cascading delays and most other ‘claimed problems’ would be solved, almost immediately, if you would simply do two things:
- change the aviation taxes and fees to disincentivize the overuse of superhubs like O’Hare, and
- demand accountable performance at FAA.
An Aviation Impact haiku…
Pol’tics & Money…
Helps ‘merican & ‘nited…
Rahm gets a kickback?
Spend some time studying the politics of money in aviation and one thing becomes crystal clear: elected officials love airport projects for self-serving reasons. Not just for the photo-ops – standing in front of an oversized federal check or cutting a ribbon with celebrities – but also for the campaign funding potential, to bolster odds of being reelected. They speak and smile, and they cheerlead on the arguable claim that airports generate massive economic growth (while conveniently ignoring the ‘costs’, and ignoring the economic growth that would happen if the airport was not there); in return, some big money interests can reward elected officials like Rahm Emmanuel with something tangible to smile about: money and political support.
We are seeing a trend toward a consolidation of power to the airports/airlines at the expense of local residents, just as we are seeing a deeply interconnected trend toward elected officials who ‘say-one-thing-but-do-otherwise-behind-the-scenes’. Officials who generally refuse to govern in the Public interest (allowing their legislative body to wallow in a protracted stalemate). Officials and bodies who do NOTHING to hold agencies accountable. Perhaps we should call it ‘Stage 4 Cronyism’?
And where does all the money come from? For decades, FAA has worked with industry lobbyists (airlines, aircraft and avionics manufacturers, airports, etc.) to get Congress to pass the laws that fuel this cycle. Generating billions each year. A veritable slush fund. A monetary ‘carrot-on-a-stick’ that sets in motion so many of today’s failures, in aviation AND in governance.
Click on the image below to view a copy of the article in a scrollable PDF file…
When the noise seems to never go away, in areas where only months before there just wasn’t any airport noise, people tend to get worn out. The noise becomes an occupying force, a controlling presence. Perhaps it was after nights of enduring NextGen sleep deprivation that a retiree near Charlotte, NC began to see FAA’s NextGen as a mythical, multi-headed hydra, breathing noise-fire from Hell.
The heads of this monster are the many newly designed routes, wherein FAA is effectively mandating pilots to let the autopilot fly the airplane as soon as they lift off. In FAA’s current NextGen implementation, these automated routes are being focused by the navigational precision of new GPS technologies. The result, being ignored by FAA, is the creation of intense noise impact areas. People are speaking up, but FAA won’t listen; instead, agency spokespersons just try to drown out the popular concerns by repeating their mantra, “NextGen is needed for ‘safety and efficiency’.”
The Charlotte NextGen Hydra Looks Like This
Here’s a map showing actual flight tracks during a North Flow at Charlotte. Green lines are departures, red lines are arrivals. The pink ellipses mark the areas heavily impacted by crossing compressed routes. The airport runways are identifiable in the small area where the green lines butt into the ends of the red lines, midway between the bottom edges of the two upper pink ellipses.
It is uncanny, how much this plot of FAA’s NextGen impact on Charlotte resembles the tormented subject in Munch’s priceless painting, ‘The Scream’. Priceless.
Actually, not just Priceless. Pointless too, because FAA doesn’t need NextGen to continue to manage what FAA has been telling Congress for decades is the safest and most efficient aviation system ever. So, the only valid justification for spending tens of billions to ‘upgrade’ would be to handle higher traffic levels.
Which brings us to exactly what is wrong with FAA’s NextGen (other than the wasted money): there is no capacity demand justifying NextGen.
In fact, air traffic has declined sharply in the past two decades, and FAA has produced no evidence that traffic levels will be going up any time soon. The Av-Gov Complex (FAA and their ‘collaborators’) knows this, but they remain careful not to talk about it. So, while people are upset, losing sleep, and speaking up more, FAA just continues with their mantra that NextGen is ‘critically needed for safety and efficiency’.
How Far Has U.S. Air Traffic Declined?
The key metric for assessing both airport noise impact and ATC workload is the number of airport operations (i.e., how many airport takeoffs and landings in a year). FAA’s ATADS database is maintained specifically to track this metric. According to FAA’s ATADS data for all towered airports, total U.S. airport operations peaked way back in 1999; since then, there has been a steady decline, and in 2014 total operations at ALL TOWERS were DOWN 28% from the 1999 peak.
Another way to assess growth or decline to try to justify a need for NextGen is to look at commercial operations at a subset of the largest commercial airports. FAA says that 70% of all passengers enplane at the ‘OEP-35 airports’. At these 35 major airports, ANNUAL OPERATIONS PEAKED IN 2000, AND BY 2014 HAD DECLINED 19%. [see: OEP-35 Airports (list & links) which shows trends for each OEP-35 airport]
During the 2000 to 2014 timeframe, nearly half (16) of the U.S. OEP-35 airports, declined by 21% or more. During this same time period, the U.S. population grew by 13%. Seemingly, any healthy service industry should at least keep pace with population growth. Well, of the 35 marker airports on the OEP list, only TWO beat population growth: operations at New York JFK was one (up 20%), and Charlotte was the other (up 18%).
All other of FAA’s busiest airports declined versus population, most of them substantially. The five worst case declines (and these numbers would be still lower if population growth was factored in!) happened at:
- Cincinnati Northern Kentucky [KCVG]: down 72%
- Pittsburgh [KPIT]: down 70%
- St Louis [KSTL]: down 62%
- Cleveland [KCLE]: down 61%
- Memphis [KMEM]: down 43%
The Significance of KCLT
As noted, between 2000 and 2014 the hub airport in Charlotte, NC was one of only two major U.S. airports to grow faster than population (though it did peak in 2013, and showed a 2% decline in 2014). How did Charlotte do this? By becoming a larger hub airport, and with lots of federal subsidy. Charlotte is now a Super-Hub for US Airways, which is just now finishing its merger with American Airlines.
The [KCLT] super-hub is to American/USAirways as the Atlanta [KATL] super-hub is to Delta. Both are positioned with multiple parallel runways, and between two key major passenger markets: the north/northeastern U.S. market, and the Florida market. Their business model is simple: bring passengers in from both markets, have them ‘self-sort’ in the KCLT terminal, and send them out to their destinations. Interestingly, both the KATL and the KCLT model rely on extreme monopoly. The merged American/US Airways (and it’s subordinate feeder airlines) handled 96% of the KCLT commercial passenger operations in December 2013; that same reference month, Delta dominated KATL with 91% of all operations. [see: A Table Showing the ASPM-77 Airports (Peak Years, Traffic Declines, and Trends Toward Airline Monopolies)]
A huge environmental problem with this type of ‘Passenger Sort Facility’ is the out-scaled impact on airport neighbors. In particular, these airports have many more flights per local resident, simply because most of the flights are not scheduled to serve locals, they are scheduled to serve non-residents ‘just-passing-through’.
The impacts are intensified by airline practices. When an airline like American ‘banks’ its KCLT schedule with heavy inflows and outflows, it is going to create congestion. ATC will manage that congestion by designing routes, to proceduralize the flow, and these route designs will include holding departures to lower altitudes to avoid arrivals at higher altitudes. In some critical locations, especially where focused routes cross, neighbors have to endure nearly continuous noise for hours – or even days – at a time.
Overflights. Over and over and over again. Near constant noise. After a while, residents may start to see a Hydra.
So, Charlotte is Just One More Example, showing NextGen is Really all About CAPACITY
What it all distills down to is a reality many have recognized for a very long time. FAA is a politicized beast that extracts billions every year and has to spend that money. Furthermore, our Presidents have nearly always demonstrated a bipartisan appetite for encouraging FAA spending, often seeking to prop up local economies. Both agencies and Presidents are inclined to spend for political advantage. In these times, political advantage rests with money. So, the role of Administrator Huerta and Secretary Foxx is reduced down to being just a pair of very well-paid cheerleaders, a Congressionally-appointed lobbyist duo.
In other words, FAA is working FOR the airlines, with false cover from the RTCA committees who make ‘NextGen recommendations (and who are dominated by the airlines) to essentially eliminate all environmental restrictions that we (the people) have needed to impose on the airlines.
In Charlotte and elsewhere, NextGen is a workaround to environmental regulation. It is a wholesale discarding of decades worth of environmental balance, implemented to protect neighborhoods from commercial aviation noise. With NextGen, FAA is essentially allowing departures to immediately turn, no longer requiring straight-out climbs to altitude before turning toward their destination. And the local residents, who never had a voice in the change process, are forced to endure the NextGen Noise-Hell.