Thursday, November 08, 2007

Can I Help ?

I was reading John Carr’s latest post over at The Main Bang this morning and thought to myself, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The FAA is (once again) redesigning airspace and the citizens that live under the airspace are (once again) suing the FAA.

I know that some find the “FAA History Lessons” that I regularly post on my blog rather dull but there is a method to my maddening dullness. We really aren’t dealing with anything new here. Even the rationales aren’t new...”new procedures reduced traffic congestion”...”increase the capacity”...” complaints of increased noise...”

Perhaps the information below will help the public debate. It is available (free) at the link posted. (Hint: You can do your own research for your own interests.) Try not to be lulled into a stupor by it’s dullness because I’ve saved one really important lesson for the last part. The FAA is (once again) failing to the learn the lessons of it’s own history.

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Jun 25, 1970: FAA introduced major changes in the New York Metropolitan Area's air traffic patterns and procedures. Known as New York Metroplex, the new procedures reduced traffic congestion in and around New York airports, and accelerated the movement of aircraft along major northsouth routes. Under Metroplex, primary holding patterns, or arrival fixes, for area airports were moved farther out from the center of the city. This enabled FAA to add five new en route corridors, with the following results: the number of departure routes increased significantly, traffic distribution improved, bottlenecks were reduced, and crisscrossing of incoming and outgoing flight corridors was minimized. The introduction of the new procedures, first scheduled for Apr 2, 1970, but delayed by a postal employees strike and then the air traffic controllers strike, was made possible by the presence of the New York common IFR room (see Jul 15, 1968), which gave the New York area a greater and more flexible traffic handling capability than the older, unintegrated terminal control system. (See Jan 15, 1969.) “

“Feb 12, 1987: FAA initiated Phase 1 of the Expanded East Coast Plan (EECP) to help increase the capacity of the National Airspace System (see Aug 21, 1986). The plan had been originally intended to relieve traffic congestion in the New York and Washington, D.C., areas through the more effective use of airspace, but was expanded to cover the airspace from Maine to Florida and west to Chicago. The EECP: created new departure and arrival routes; established separate paths and altitudes for jets and slower propeller aircraft; set up new city-pair routes; and used new traffic management techniques to increase airport departure flows and reduce holding procedures. The agency initiated Phase II of plan on Nov 19. That phase involved a realignment of the northwest departure quadrant from the New York Metropolitan area. The agency also increased the number of westbound high-altitude, routes from one to four to expedite traffic flows to Chicago, Detroit, and the west coast. The final phase of the EECP, implemented on Mar 10, 1988, was designed to improve traffic flow from the New York area to the northeast, and involved changes affecting the airspace in New England, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. (See Aug 25, 1988.) “

“Aug 25, 1988: FAA announced changes to the Expanded East Coast Plan because of numerous complaints of increased noise by New Jersey residents. Changes to the EECP included rerouting Newark westbound departures from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. (See Feb 12, 1987, and Mar 11, 1991.) “

“Mar 11, 1991: FAA began a series of hearings in New Jersey to obtain public comment on the noise effects of air traffic changes under the Expanded East Coast Plan (EECP), which had been implemented in phases between Feb 1987 and Mar 1988 (see Aug 25, 1988). The meetings reflected strong citizen discontent with the EECP. On Jun 28, FAA announced a contract with PRC, Inc., to assist in developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the effects of New Jersey flight patterns revised under the EECP. In Oct 1992, Congress acted to freeze the pay levels of certain FAA employees involved with the project until the final impact statement was completed. In a response to another congressional action, FAA on Oct 28 announced a series of public meetings in New York and Connecticut as part of an Aircraft Noise Mitigation Review for the New York metropolitan area (see Nov 20, 1992). On Nov 12, 1992, FAA released a Draft Environmental Impact Statment (DEIS) on the EECP's effects on New Jersey. The agency scheduled public hearings and gathered public views on the DEIS during a comment period that was subsequently extended until Nov 23, 1993. (See Oct 31, 1995.) “

We suffer through all this fuss because we (once again) refuse to learn this simple lesson. It isn’t the airspace. It’s the airports.

“Dec 30, 1963: FAA made public a study completed for the agency by a private research firm with the cooperation of the Air Transport Association. The study concluded that airport surface congestion was the principal cause of airport delays, a finding that corroborated an Aug 1962 FAA staff study. The firm found that runways, taxiways, ramp space, and gate positions were inadequate for modern-day air traffic, particularly during the evening rush hour. Only about one in five flights encountered delay, however, and significant delays were concentrated within a relatively few large airports. “

”Jun 1, 1969: In response to growing congestion, FAA implemented a rule placing quotas on instrument flight rule (IFR) operations at five of the nation's busiest airports between 6 a.m. and midnight. The rule assigned the following hourly quotas: Kennedy International, 80 (70 for air carriers and supplementals; 5 for scheduled air taxis; 5 for general aviation); O'Hare, 135 (115 for air carriers and supplementals; 10 for scheduled air taxis; 10 for general aviation); La Guardia, 60 (48 for air carriers and supplementals; 6 for scheduled air taxis; 6 for general aviation); Newark, 60 (40 for air carriers and supplementals; 10 for scheduled air taxis; 10 for general aviation); Washington National, 60 (40 for air carriers and supplementals; 8 for scheduled air taxis; 12 for general aviation). The rule did not charge extra sections of scheduled air carrier flights (such as hourly shuttle flights) against the established quotas, except at Kennedy; this airport, however, was permitted 10 extra air carrier operations per hour during the peak traffic period between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. ...

... In taking this action, FAA noted that the percentage of aircraft delays at the five airports had decreased substantially since the rule was put into effect.

Think about it. Less airplanes equals less congestion equals less delays. It also negates the rationale the FAA uses to redesign the airspace. Honesty won’t let me leave you with the impression that airspace never needs to be redesigned. It does. Occasionally. But redesigning airspace isn’t a substitute for runways -- or a rational public policy limiting the number of scheduled flights to the airport’s capacity to handle them.

Don Brown
November 8, 2007

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