NEWSCLIP-2014-07-27: Buffalo News Op/Ed About FAA’s Regulatory Capture

And, again, the Federal Aviation Administration looks to be trying to weaken the new flight safety rules enacted by Congress in the aftermath of the deadly 2009 crash in Clarence Center. It’s becoming routine, and the FAA is beginning to show what appear to be its true colors – more concerned with satisfying the airline industry than it is in ensuring air safety.

Let’s be clear: Fifty people died here because of poor pilot training. Flight Capt. Marvin D. Renslow took the exact opposite action the situation required when Continental Connection Flight 3407 stalled due to dangerously slow air speed. That’s why the Families of Flight 3407 campaigned and, with the muscular help of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., fought for legislation increasing training requirements for new pilots.

The law was passed and virtually since that day, the airlines, the FAA and even some in Congress have sought to subvert it. Schumer has helped to fight back against those efforts and we presume he will monitor this latest maneuver to ensure that the law is fully implemented.

Industry leaders are shedding crocodile tears about a lack of pilots because of the new training requirements. Basically, they want to continue, as much as possible, operating in the same way: underpaying and overworking pilots whose training doesn’t cost too much. It’s a cynical game whose consequence played out in Clarence Center five years ago.

This issue cries out not just for our congressional delegation and the Families of Flight 3407 to stand firm on this issue, but for Congress to evaluate the function and performance of the FAA. If it has been so badly infiltrated by the airline industry that it cannot reliably implement safety laws passed by Congress and supported by Americans, then perhaps its mission and organizational structure – including its lines of accountability – need to be re-evaluated.

The crash of Flight 3407 was a watershed moment. Too many Americans are being flown on regional carriers, profiting the large airlines at the expense of passengers whose safety has been placed in the hands of inadequately trained, poorly compensated cockpit crews.

That changed with the ensuing legislation. It needs to stay changed.

This content is a copy of a BuffaloNews.com Op/Ed, copied from: http://www.buffalonews.com/opinion/buffalo-news-editorials/stand-firm-on-air-safety-foolhardy-faa-again-seems-willing-to-weaken-vital-pilot-training-rules-20140727.
Minor text modifications (and annotations) may have been made by aiREFORM.com.

 

ANALYSIS: High-Altitude Shoot-Downs in Ukraine Started Just 3-Days Before the MH17 Crash

20140717.. MH17 debris and investigators in wheat field 7-22-14For the past ten days, the world has witnessed an intensive propaganda war where both sides are trying to spin the story of how MH17 ended up widely scattered over wheatfields and farms in east Ukraine. The one known element of the story is that the Boeing 777 was shot down. The consensus is that the source was a ground-based Russian-made SA-11 missile, also known as a BUK or ‘gadfly’, but it is also conceivable that the aircraft was shot down air-to-air.

On the one side we see the Russians and pro-Russian rebels, who are seeking to separate from Ukraine. On the other side we see Ukraine. And there are other players, such as the U.S., whose top officials have satellite imagery and other advanced intelligence and certainly know far more than they are sharing with the Public.

One core element of the spin aims to create plausible deniability for the prospect of involvement by major states. Early news stories talked about Russian SA-11 missile launchers being moved into eastern Ukraine, then being seen moving back to Russia shortly after MH17 was shot down. There does not appear to be any substantial denial of these movements; instead, the early spin aims to claim that the SA-11 units were brought into Ukraine then used by separatist rebels who ‘accidentally’ shot down MH17 while aiming for a Ukrainian military aircraft. It seems hard to imagine that a complex system* would be delivered by anyone other than a trained crew, and even harder to imagine that they would then let others play with the system.*Experts note that the SA-11 has three separate vehicle units: a radar (for target acquisition), a control center, and tank-like launchers with four loaded 18-ft missiles. It seems far more plausible that the SA-11 was used by trained Russian soldiers, under a cover claiming the separatists pulled the trigger. Alternatively, there have been some charges that the Ukrainian military used their own BUK to intentionally shoot down MH17, with the intent of pinning the blame on the Russians. Given known world history, it is difficult to reject this as the possible true story.

In a world of spin-control, one strategy is to launch a diversionary story. Ukraine was shockingly quick to release a collection of alleged intercepted communications, first between rebel leaders and Russian military officials and then amongst rebel leaders. They reflect that the news story broke as a shoot-down of an An-26 military aircraft (as first happened three days earlier, in the first high-altitude shoot-down, on 7/14/14), but soon transitioned to a realization that a civilian aircraft had been hit. Some charge that this is all a fabrication to cover for what may have been an air-to-air missile shoot-down from a Ukrainian jet.

One key area where Ukraine is clearly blocking Public knowledge is their refusal to share ATC data. The airspace is managed by Ukrainian air traffic controllers, under an international agreement. Sadly, that agreement does not mandate each state to be transparent and produce data, even after a major incident such as MH17. Interestingly, Russian radar claims to have tracked portions of MH17, and in a Defense Ministry presentation on 7/21/14, Russian officials offered radar data which they interpret as showing a Ukrainian military Su-25**Ten days earlier, on 7/7/14, an Su-25 was reportedly captured by separatists. So, conceivably, the alleged shadow Su-25 may have been Ukraine, rebel, or even Russian. shadowing 3-5 kilometers from MH17. If this is true, perhaps Ukraine is trying to hide the important fact that they did have a military aircraft in close proximity to the downed airline. That same Russian Defense Ministry presentation had many other strong arguments questioning the veracity of western claims, many of which are laid out near the bottom of the lengthy 7/26/14 report by Andre Vltcheck, at Global Research.

High-Altitude Shoot-downs were New on 7/17/2014

The first high-altitude shoot-down was just three days earlier, on 7/14/14, when an An-26 was hit; eight parachuted out and two died. Then, on 7/16/14, two Ukrainian Air Force Su-25′s were downed, apparently at higher altitudes, producing no fatalities; one was claimed to have been a MANPADS hit, and the other was claimed to have been an air-to-air hit by a Russian fighter. Prior to 7/14/14, there had been numerous shoot-downs, but most were helicopters, and all were at low altitudes, generally during takeoff or approach. In other words, the SA-11 system appears to have been first used on 7/14/14, just three days prior to MH17. Given the higher altitudes, it is quite conceivable that the two Su-25′s on 7/16/14 were also shot down using the SA-11.

Certainly, the major world military powers know the precise date and time that the Russian SA-11′s were delivered into and became operational in eastern Ukraine … but we don’t know that, because the leaders are hiding this information. The spin-games will continue and all parties will ensure the Public is in the dark. This is a pattern we have all come to expect in recent decades … from the U.S., Russian, Ukraine, the agencies (e.g., FAA), the airlines, etc. It is said that power corrupts; here, it appears a key part of the corruption is to control the flow of even basic information. Where is a good Whistleblower when we need one?

We Have to Look Elsewhere for the Facts

An outstanding resource for information on aviation accidents and incidents is AviationSafetyNetwork (A-SN). It includes two databases: one that covers major aviation incidents, and another that allows user-inputs to compile data and news links for even minor GA incidents. The A-SN database was queried by aiREFORM.com, using a filter to show all recent Ukraine accidents. Nearly all ‘accidents’ are war-related; all shoot-downs are listed in the table below:

5/2/2014 (2) Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopters, shot down near Luvyansk, using MANPADS. 5 fatalities.
5/2/2014 Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-8 helicopter, damaged by gunfire near Slavyansk. No fatalities.
5/5/2014 Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopter, shot down by ground-fire near Luvyansk, crew is rescued, then Ukrainian Su-25 fires to destroy the downed helicopter. No fatalities.
5/29/2014 Ukrainian National Guard Mi-8 helicopter, shot down by ground-fire near Slavyansk. 12 fatalities.
6/3/2014 Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopter, shot down by small-arms fire near Slavyansk. No fatalities.
6/4/2014 (3) Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters were damaged/destroyed by MANPADS and ground-fire near Slavyansk. No fatalities.
6/5/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Mi-8 helicopter, hit by small-arms fire near Slavyansk, forced to make emergency landing. No fatalities.
6/6/2014 Ukrainian Air Force An-30 jet with 8 on board, hit by ground-fire near Drobyshevo, catches fire and crashes. 5 fatalities.
6/14/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Il-76 jet, hit by MANPAD while on approach to Lugansk airport. 49 fatalities.
6/24/2014 Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-8 helicopter, hit by MANPAD while taking off near Slavyansk airport. 9 fatalities.
7/1/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jet, on an attack mission and hit by defense forces but able to return to its base. No fatalities.
7/2/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Su-24 jet, on an attack mission and hit by defense forces but able to return to its base. No fatalities.
7/12/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Mi-24 helicopter, on an attack mission near Snezhny, shot down by MANPAD. No fatalities.
7/14/2014 Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jet, destroyed by separatists (no other information available). No fatalities.
7/14/2014 Ukrainian Air Force An-26 jet, shot down at higher altitude (6,500m) near Izvaryne. 2 fatalities.
7/16/2014 (2) Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jets, one shot down by MANPAD, the other allegedly shot down by Russian fighter, both at altitude around 20,000-ft, near Ukraine-Russian border. No fatalities.
7/17/2014 Multiple older aircraft damaged/destroyed by Ukraine forces while parked at Tarasovka Airfield, northwest of Crimea. No fatalities.
7/17/2014 MH17 shot down at FL330, flying east of Donetsk. 298 civilian fatalities.

Terrorism Comes Home

Both days were bright and sunny, and yet both mornings brought the darkest of news.

20010911.. twin towers pic, second impactIn September 2001, I awoke to yet another beautiful day in Fremont, CA, and prepared to run before heading to my afternoon shift, working as an oceanic air traffic controller at FAA’s Oakland Center. I was renting a room in a house where an 89-yr-old former merchant marine was being cared for by his niece, with extra care provided by a cheerful Filipina who arrived each day. He lived in a reclining medical chair/bed next to the kitchen, adjacent to a phone and a breathing machine, and his TV was often on. I came out ready to run and walked by just to say ‘good morning’. I stopped when I saw his TV showing the images of the first tower strike, and minutes later I watched as the network showed images of the second tower strike. I watched a bit more, in shock, then went for my run. Not a quarter mile later I stopped and I bent over and I cried.

In July 2014, I awoke in my rural Oregon home, with plans to harvest more blueberries and finish building planter boxes for my Fall garden. I was having some coffee and checking the news online when I learned that a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 had crashed, and was possibly shot down by a missile. I spent the next few hours learning as much as I could about Ukraine, Russia, the history of the area, and the emerging details of what soon was confirmed to be a terrorist attack that killed all 298 aboard.

Thirteen Years Later, Things are Just Slightly Different

In 2001 I cried, but in 2014 I did not. Was it that they were different, in Ukraine, not American? No, not at all. In fact, as I hurriedly searched for information about the crash/attack, I was frankly stunned when I saw the local videos on YouTube. I was stunned, not by the black smoke and falling debris, but by the peripheral image: the rustic farm buildings, the vibrant mid-summer garden, the young walnut tree — it all looked just like my home, here in rural Oregon. 20140717.. MH17 screen-cap showing black cloud and gardenAs I studied the images, I heard the muffled crying of Ukrainians, also shared by YouTube. These Ukrainians were witnessing this event with debris and bodies raining upon their homes, and I felt they were just like me and my neighbors here in Oregon. God, this debris could have fallen here today. It has been a week, yet I still cannot help but to wonder: the way things appear to be trending, how many years will it be before domestic terrorists bring down U.S. airliners upon sleepy agricultural areas in the American heartland? Really, just how sick is humanity?

I cried in 2001 because this terrorist act was new and ramped up; and, it indicated how the world was changing in the wrong direction. I cried for my kids, and for our future. But, in 2014, I did not cry. At least not yet. I think it was the numbing effect, of a horrific human tragedy repeated. It makes us stoic; it destroys our humanity.

2014-07-17: Malaysia Flight #17, EHAM-WMKK, Shot Down Over Ukraine at FL330

According to numerous news articles, a Malaysia Boeing 777 has been shot down over Ukraine. The flight reportedly had 295 on board. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that his country’s armed forces didn’t shoot at any airborne targets. “We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets,” he said. “We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible.”

20140717.. MH17 route, FlightAware flight info viewA quick analysis of data viewable at FlightAware.com shows the flight departed Amsterdam a half hour late, at 12:30PM local time (Central European Summer Time, CEST). The flight was planned for 11 hours and 28 minutes flying time, to arrive at Kuala Lumpur  at 5:59AM local time. No route plan is available at FlightAware, but the total direct distance is noted at 6,368 statute miles.

The flight on the day before (7/16/2014) appears to have flown through the same location, slightly south of the incident route, crossing the length of Ukraine and over the Sea of Azov.20140717.. MH17 route, sat.view for previous day

The flight profile shows a normal climb, a long cruise at FL310, then a climb to FL330 and a level off for less than ten minutes. The FlightAware data viewed with the earliest news reports showed a long series of positions, without altitude encoding. Later data presentations showed a 68-minute gap, from the position in northwest Ukraine where tracking first appeared to end, to a single lat/long position near Donetsk, at what appears to be the vicinity of the debris.20140717.. MH17 route, FlightAware alt-spd profile

Here are a few maps and satellite views, from FlightAware: 20140717.. MH17 full route, FW classic view20140717.. MH17 route, sat.view20140717.. MH17 route, sat.view of Ukraine, showing FlightAware route projection
This picture of a portion of the fuselage is said to have landed near Donetsk which is in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border, and hundreds of miles east of where the flight data ended in northwest Ukraine. An online video shows streaming and fluttering debris in front of a background of black smoke.20140717.. MH17 fuselage piece near Donetsk
NOTE: in the first hours while this news story was breaking, the flight data depicted on FlightAware ended in western Ukraine, at approximately latitude 51.20N and longitude 25E. The flight data was eventually updated, to show one more position more than an hour later, in the vicinity of the debris field. Here is a portion of the World VFR chart, with an orange circle at the Lat/Long.20140717.. UKR-311 airspace on World VFR Chart

After Decades of Delay, Possible Progress to Get the Lead Out of U.S. Aviation Fuel

Tetraethyl lead warning, gas pump (copied from wiki)An FAA Press Release on July 10, 2014 announced that FAA has received nine candidate lead-free fuel formulations to soon be evaluated. This is part of a decades-delayed program to phase out dangerous lead that is still being added to aviation fuels. Here’s an excerpt from FAA’s Press Release…

“We’re committed to getting harmful lead out of general aviation fuel. This work will benefit the environment and provide a safe and available fuel for our general aviation community.”

- Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

The Press Release goes on to note that “…there are approximately 167,000 general aviation aircraft in the United States using leaded aviation gasoline…,” and, “…it is the only remaining transportation fuel in the United States that contains the addition of lead, a toxic substance….”

The health hazards of lead have been known for centuries. Lead poisoning is considered to have contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire. The soft metal is smelted and easily worked at low temperatures, creating air and soil pollutants throughout Roman communities. The Roman water system was plumbed using lead pipes. Lead was used in paints, and a lead compound was even used to sweeten the wine of affluent Romans. In its modern form, as the fuel additive tetraethyl lead, the compound is absorbed through skin. Human ingestion of lead causes loss of brain function, headaches, damage to organs, neurovascular and cardiovascular disorders, and even gout.

Despite these known health hazards, tetraethyl lead became a common gasoline additive during the explosive rise of the automotive industry in the 1920′s. It boosted octane ratings and enabled improved engine designs. The health impacts were simply ignored. After a few decades of robust ignorance, a renewed recognition of the health hazards led the U.S. Congress to pass laws to remove lead. The first such laws were passed four decades ago. With subsequent laws, lead was completely phased out of automotive fuels more than two decades ago. But, the use of lead in U.S. aviation has persisted, effectively grandfathered in by FAA’s failure to phase it out. Tens of thousands of new GA engines have been manufactured, and put on new U.S. GA aircraft designs, all relying on the continued use of leaded aviation fuels … decades after lead was outlawed from other transportation modes.

And who is most impacted by this FAA delay?

Children are extremely susceptible. Those who live near airports where intensive flight training happens, or where hundreds of small GA aircraft still use leaded aviation fuel, are being exposed to lead that has accumulated for decades in neighborhood soils and in the air they breathe. Making things even worse, FAA and the airport authority are commonly beholden to the airport tenants, including businesses like the flight schools, and do everything they can to obscure any citizen concerns and obstruct any efforts to clean up the problem.

The aviation lead hazard exists at all GA airports, but is particularly intense at about 50-100 mostly GA airports. Here are links to twelve of the most impacted airports:

Southwest Airlines is Dominating U.S. Domestic Routes, and Raising Fares

A USA Today article by Bill McGee has a good analysis of Southwest Airlines. The article looks at how Southwest has matured, is charging higher fares, but still maintains a lot of customer loyalty. Not surprising that the fares are rising; a recent analysis by aiREFORM assessed traffic and airline monopolies at FAA’s ASPM-77 airports (essentially the 77 busiest U.S. airports). The analysis shows that Southwest now provides the most flights of any U.S. major passenger airline at 42 of the largest airports. This is WAY ahead of all the other major passenger airlines, who dominate at no more than eight locations, as follows:

  • American/USAirways: (8), dominating at CLT, DCA, DFW, LAX, LGA, MIA, PHL, PHX.
  • United/Continental: (6), dominating at CLE, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD, SFO.
  • JetBlue: (6), dominating at BOS, FLL, HPN, JFK, LGB, PBI.
  • Delta/Northwest: (5), dominating at ATL, CVG, MEM, MSP, SLC.
  • Alaska: (4), dominating at ANC, PDX, PSP, SEA.

The article also takes a close look at how confusing and frustrating airline charges have become. A quote: “…the bottom line is the airline industry — not consumers — has made it difficult and at times virtually impossible for shoppers to compare bottom line airfares inclusive of all fees in a true and transparent way. That’s why for years I have actively supported stronger DOT rules requiring greater transparency of fares and fees. The good news is last week the DOT proposed just that….”

Is NTSB Failing to Investigate Wake Turbulence at the KSTC Crash?

It was a pleasant Minnesota summer evening, on June 20th, when a 60-yr-old airline pilot took off from the St. Cloud Regional Airport for a quick sightseeing flight. He was carrying a 16-yr-old high school exchange student, who soon would finish his year — as a house-guest of the Mayor — and fly home to his family in Germany.  The pilot wanted to provide the young man a chance to see his temporary home one last time, from the air, and capture some photographs. An added feature was that the Mississippi River waters were very high with late Spring floodwaters. They took off shortly after 8PM, and not much later were flying over the Sauk Rapids area.

At the same time, Allegiant Airlines Flight #108 was inbound from Mesa, Arizona. The airline maintains a schedule with two arrivals each week, at 8:08PM on Monday evenings and Friday evenings. On this night, the flight was running about twenty minutes late. St. Cloud Airport sits roughly six-miles southeast of Sauk Rapids, and has a 7,000′ runway aligned northwest-southeast (Runways 13 and 31). On this particular evening, the winds favored use of Runway 13, so when the air traffic controller at Minneapolis Center descended Allegiant Flight #108, they also issued vectors to approach from the northwest. As the flight approached the city of St. Cloud, the pilot was told to contact the control tower at KSTC.

20140620.. VFR sectional, KSTC Wake.Turb upset

Orange line approximates Allegiant route; red circle marks accident location.

The Allegiant crew would make their radio call to the tower while northwest of the city and east of Sauk Rapids. The tower controller would be expecting the call, because the Minneapolis Center controller would have already coordinated the planned arrival, via a phone line. What the controller would not know, however, was whether the pilot would bring his jet in higher or lower than the normal/average arrival. The pilot had full discretion to vary his altitude, within safe limits.

On the evening of June 20th, the Allegiant flight came in particularly low, perhaps to take a closer look at the flooding near Sauk Rapids. Flight profile data, viewable online, indicates that the jet may have been as low as 1,000′ above ground level (AGL) when at a five-mile final to Runway 13. [KSTC] RWY13 ILS profileIn cloudy conditions, flying the instrument approach, the planes must cross this distance at roughly 1,800′ AGL. Eyewitness reports suggest that the sightseeing flight was close by. If this is true, the pilot of the RV-6 was likely already talking to the tower controller, or was just about to call the tower to return for landing. Numerous witnesses on the ground reported seeing a ‘big airplane’ pass just before seeing a small airplane suddenly flip and dive into a fiery crash in their residential neighborhood. What should have been a thrilling experience at the end of a young man’s year visiting America, instead became yet another tragic fatal accident for NTSB to investigate.

NTSB’s Preliminary Report

Four days later, on June 24th, NTSB issued their ‘Preliminary Report’, which read:

“On June 20, 2014, about 2034 central daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Brumwell RV-6; N135BB, impacted a house after a departure from cruise flight about 6 miles northwest of the St Cloud Regional Airport (STC), St Cloud, Minnesota. The airplane was destroyed by post-crash fire. The pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot under 14 CFR Part 91 as a personal flight and was not operating on a flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The local flight originated from STC about 2010.”

- NTSB Preliminary Report, 6/24/2014

The NTSB made no mention of the fact that MANY residents reported observations consistent with a Wake Turbulence encounter: no mention of the possibility of wake turbulence, and no details confirming (or denying) the involvement of the Allegiant flight. The report even erred substantially, saying the crash time was at 8:34PM; this implies no connection to Allegiant (since that flight landed at 8:30PM), and also contradicts the 8:26PM crash time presented in news articles, as reported by local police.

This was a shocking accident, and very well covered by the local media, whose early news reports show many residents saw a big plane and a small plane and a crash. And yet, none of these details were included in NTSB’s ‘Preliminary Report’. Why not? Shouldn’t NTSB try to answer the questions that were being raised as the details were emerging for this news story? Is NTSB expecting to have credibility with the citizens they serve, when they release reports appearing as slipshod as this?

The Wake Turbulence Hazard

NTSB maintains a ‘Most Wanted List’ for transportation safety issues. In the 1990′s, ‘Wake Vortex Turbulence’ was included on the list. At around the same time, NTSB conducted a special investigation to examine in detail five wake turbulence events. NTSB’s special investigation raised concerns about the adequacy of:

  1. the current aircraft weight classification scheme to establish separation criteria to avoid wake vortex encounters,
  2. air traffic control procedures related to visual approaches and VFR operations behind heavier airplanes, and
  3. pilot knowledge related to the avoidance of wake vortices

NTSB then sent a March 2, 1994 letter to FAA Administrator David Hinson, listing nineteen Safety Recommendations. Within its opening paragraphs, that letter notes: “…between 1983 and 1993, there were at least 51 accidents and incidents in the United States … that resulted from probable encounters with wake vortices.  In these 51 encounters, 27 people were killed, 8 were seriously injured, and 40 airplanes were substantially damaged or destroyed….” Eventually, in response to NTSB’s safety recommendations, FAA lengthened its wake turbulence separation distances, making them slightly safer. Based on these limited actions, NTSB removed ‘Wake Vortex Turbulence’ from their Most Wanted List in 1998. But, the separation distances may not be enough.

As revealed in ANALYSIS: Selected NTSB Investigations Involving Wake Turbulence, these upsets still happen, and many are being killed at a surprisingly high frequency. At St. Cloud, the potential for an upset was even higher, simply because the RV-6 has a very short wingspan (only 23′, vs ~35′+ for a typical PA28, C172 or SR22). So, it seems unacceptable that NTSB has produced a preliminary report with no mention of wake turbulence. And, worse, it appears possible that NTSB’s empty statement may reflect a routine failure to document evidence of Wake Turbulence events.

Rapid Ice Loss in the Arctic Region

Sea ice is melting in the Arctic at near record rates. The chart below shows the area of Arctic Ocean covered with at least 15% sea ice. The wide grayish-blue band area shows a statistical average for the period 1981-2010. The solid line in the mid-range of this band is the yearly average for this thirty-year time period. Note that average sea ice area peaks in March each year, at around 15 million square kilometers; also, sea ice area declines to a minimum in late September each year, averaging around 6 million square kilometers.

The largest recorded melt in human history occurred in 2012, when the decline plummeted to around 3.5 million square kilometers. This is depicted by the dashed line.

And how are we doing this year? Look closely at the orange ellipse below. At its center, the gray line marks sea ice conditions for 2014 and is updated each day. Note the steepening line, indicative of a very high rate of melting. There are many variables in weather, but this year’s record-high temperature levels in northern hemisphere oceans, and the intensified flow of weather systems north to the pole area, will tend to further accelerate rates of polar warming. This means faster polar ice melting.

There is a high probability that 2014 will shatter the 2012 record with a new record low in Arctic sea ice extent. Sometime around September 20th, the results will be in. How low will we go … 2.5 million square kilometers?20140630.. Charctic Sea Ice Graph, steep decline

If you want to track this melting process, the graph is revised daily and viewable online at: http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/charctic-interactive-sea-ice-graph/

Also, the chart is interactive, so you can select other years for comparison. The other years showing the most extreme melt rates are 2007, 2010, and 2011.

ANALYSIS: Airport Expansion Proposal at Ravalli County in Hamilton, MT [6S5]

[6S5] VFR Sectional, north to KMSO and showing nearby mountainsRavalli County Airport sits approximately forty miles due south of the commercial service airport in Missoula, Montana. The airport elevation is 3,642′. To the west is the Bitterroot Range (and Idaho), with summits near 10,000′ elevation; the Sapphire Mountains are on the east edge of the valley, with summits around 9,000′.

A proposal funded by FAA calls for building a new and longer runway, the construction of new taxiways, and the addition of dozens of new hangars. Farmland and wetlands would be consumed for airport expansion. A step in the plan process is to complete an Environmental Assessment (EA).

Millions may be spent to build out this airport. None of this would even be considered if FAA did not collect billions in airline passenger fees each year, then dole them out as AIP grants. A tiny few reap financial gains in what often are crony handouts. Incumbent officials steer these grants to help ensure their reelection. And meanwhile, many near the airports see their lives diminished by noise and pollution. Maybe this pattern needs to end soon…

Here is a link to a newspaper Op/Ed by Rich Morissey, from November 19, 2013.

An Analysis:

Here are some short notes on factors that FAA and local residents might consider when deciding if this plan should be abandoned, modified, denied, or approved…

  • Should jets be discouraged from using this airport? Jets and other high performance aircraft could more safely use (and hangar at) the airport in Missoula [KMSO], which provides contract ATC services, averages more than $3 Million annually in federal grants, and has enormous capacity to add based aircraft and flights.
  • The plan shows construction of many new hangars, including numerous large hangars to accommodate jets and larger aircraft. This may be an inappropriate development for this particular area. To encourage these aircraft to base at this rural airport that is generally boxed in by tall mountain ranges only invites an eventual accident. Operations at Missoula would be far safer.
  • Destruction of wetlands and other natural terrain on and adjacent to airport property. The north half of the airport is built on and surrounded by wetlands. Should these be left alone?
  • Removal of agricultural land from production. The new runway construction on land to be acquired to the east would reduce crop land under a center-pivot.
  • Noise and leaded fuel impacts on neighbors. Deep, U-shaped valleys commonly have an amplifying effect, furthering the noise impact upon all residents. Plus, after forty years, FAA has STILL not remedied the use of lead in Avgas.
  • Conflict with ongoing residential expansion. Note the new development close-in, just southwest of the airport.
  • Compatibility with the developer of the largest subdivision in the valley, who also happens to own nearly all parcels to be sold for airport expansion.

Here is the proposed airport layout plan: [6S5] proposed airport layout For further information, please click on page two, where you will find:

  • a link to the airport webpage at Ravalli County
  • a satellite view
  • AFD airport data page
  • the local Noise Abatement guidelines
  • links to elements of the new Master Plan proposal
  • and more (added in the future).

FAA’s ATC Traffic Continues Well Below Peak Year 2000

20130921.. Graph of CWP 2014 Staffing & Targets FAA recently published the 2014 version of their Controller Workforce Plan. This document offers a quick view of two ongoing trends: ATC staffing remains high, while the workload, as measured in takeoffs, landings, and higher altitude en route operations is down 25% from the peak. As the graphs show, Air Traffic operations peaked fourteen years ago, in 2000, and have declined nearly every year since. The graph also shows an inflection back upward; despite the trends, FAA remains adamant as they have in all recent years: the growth will start NOW.

20140400.. Graph showing CWP 2014 Traffic Forecast
Using data from the 2012 CWP, an in-depth analysis showing extensive ATC overstaffing was done. In total figures, when comparing 2014 and 2012 staffing levels, in the past two years FAA has made an improvement:

  • In September 2011, the target for total FAA ATC staffing ranged between 10,939 and 13,405 employees. FAA had 15,236 personnel, which exceeded the high target by 14%, and the low target by 39%.
  • In September 2013, the target for total FAA ATC staffing ranged between 10,656 and 13,041 employees; FAA had 14,461 personnel, which exceeded the high target by 11%, and the low target by 36%. Thus, a slight improvement (down three percentage points).