To Sham or Not to Sham? Ah, yes, another Aurora Airport Master Plan Process…

The current Master Plan process for Aurora Airport is a classic case study, showing how aviation interests work to suppress airport expansion opposition and force their own self-serving pro-expansion agenda. And the aviation interests are not just a few pilots or operators at Aurora. This is a state airport, run by the state of Oregon, via the Oregon Department of Aviation (ODAV). Oversight comes from two entities with a long history of taking care of pilots while making a mess for the rest of us: the ‘Oregon State Aviation Board’ (OSAB) oversees ODAV, and FAA ‘signs off’ on the key steps of the work product, the eventual ‘Aurora Airport Master Plan Update’.

The previous Master Plan process blew up almost twelve years ago. At that time, the contractor and ODAV had a rare moment of good judgment, when on 3/10/2011 they presented a recommendation to the OSAB for no runway extension. The reaction by pilots on OSAB quickly nudged an aggressive campaign by a beehive of other Oregon pilots, and by Fall the ‘preferred alternative’ morphed into a 1,000-ft runway extension. It was a sham. Years later it was realized that, in all the commotion, authorities never got around to formally adopting the plan. Embarrassing, but not a problem; FAA stepped in and is now spending nearly a million dollars in public money, to have a contractor, Century West, create a new Master Plan. The process today and the many returning players echo strongly the horrible events around the 2011 process. It is hard to shake off the feeling this is yet another sham.

“It is beyond dispute that a lengthening of the runway, to allow larger and heavier fuel loads, benefits an elite core of operators and adjacent landowners who sell aviation fuel. Their goal is clearly to make more money selling larger volumes of fuel… and ODAV collects more
airport revenues in the process.”

So, what’s in this Aurora Airport Master Plan, for people impacted by airports elsewhere in the United States? A LOT!! So often, for someone being run around by rogue pilots and out-of-control airports, one of the most empowering tools is simply understanding the process. Not just the process as written up ad nauseam in boring FAA and contractor prose, but also HOW the process is played by the critical players: the airport authority, the FAA, and the pro-airport community (mostly pilots and aviation commercial interests).

This aiREFORM Post is the first in a series that will dive into the history and details of Aurora Airport, not just to help a few Oregonians seeking to tamp down over-expansion at Aurora, but also to educate others far from the rich farmlands of the Willamette Valley.

Click here to view a letter sent to two people seeking citizen engagement in this Master Plan process: Sarah Lucas (an ODAV aviation planner) and Brandy Steffen (a contractor at JLA Public Involvement).

Congress Needs to Pass Legislation Ending the Inequities of ANCA

We will soon have a new Congress. I hope we ‘fire’ some of the saboteurs who side with the former guy. I hope, too, to see more electeds who listen and serve people, ahead of money.

A past Congress was misled by lobbyists to give us the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 (also known as ‘ANCA’). Notice how the title mashes ‘Noise’ and ‘Capacity’. It takes no effort to guess which was important, and which was ignored. ANCA set us up for the disasters FAA has pursued in the last two decades, pushing scam Metroplex EA’s and NextGen implementations.

The goal of NextGen and Metroplex was NOT about improving safety; it was about safely increasing ‘efficiency’ by expanding automation inputs to flight and ATC (and thus reducing human inputs, by pilots and controllers). These changes were achieved by essentially a wholesale abandonment of previous local noise mitigation procedures. The intent was to increase capacity for the airlines; problematically, at airports where airlines expanded too much, capacity gains caused massive efficiency declines, such as takeoff delays, enroute delays (added turns, slower speeds), and longer waits before taxiing to occupied gates.

In another week or so, the 2022 election will close and this round of attack ads will end. The dust will settle and another iteration of Dems and Repubs will be seated, ready to hear concerns from citizens, and proposals (and deals) from lobbyists. It’ll be ‘rinse and repeat’ time for aviation legislation. Some of our electeds will be working to fix the flaws of ANCA, but they will also be subjected to a heavy barrage of articles, papers, speeches, and so forth, funded by the deep money interests of aviation. This will include new variations on articles like one titled, 30 Years After ANCA: Can Airports Live with New Community-Imposed Noise Restrictions?‘ In late April of 2020, at a time when refrigerator trucks were stacking up in New York City to store the overflow of COVID victims, when the pandemic was at its most terrifying point, this article was written, hoping to protect aviation interests. Lobbyists then felt a need to defend aviation from one simple and frankly innocuous proposal: that local airports should have the right to discuss and possibly implement local airport restrictions. The article is filled with garbage and disinformation, much like the assertions at that time that it might help to drink bleach. Here is a copy with aiREFORM analysis footnotes (4page PDF) at page 2, or click here to download the PDF.

House Oversight Hearing: How Leaded Aviation Fuel Is Poisoning America’s Children

An important hearing was held today at the Environment Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Representative Ro Khanna. Both FAA and EPA were asked to attend; they both refused to attend. No surprises there… failure hates to confront accountability.

The hearing is well worth a listen. It ran for 106-minutes, but your listening time is actually only 76-minutes, due to a full 30-minute recess (starts at minute-24, and you can skip ahead to minute-54) for a House Vote. A general timeline follows at the bottom of this post.

One interesting twist to ponder… so, as mentioned at the Hearing, FAA refused to show when invited. Where were they? Well, it so happens today is the middle of the week for the biggest General Aviation (GA) event of the year: AirVenture at Oshkosh, WI. Yes, FAA will have MANY officials rubbing elbows with the mostly recreational-flying community, as they celebrate their rights and freedoms at Oshkosh, but our national regulator cannot find even one FAA official to appear at this hearing. And, the interesting twist… well, as testimony to how FAA is deploying its ‘delay-delay-delay’ tactic, check out FAA’s PDF of their PAFI presentation at Oshkosh this same week 6-years ago, on July 26, 2016. Back then, FAA sent a team to present to pilots, letting them know how hard FAA was working (budget ~$6M per year, thank you Congress!) to safely and quickly achieve the end of leaded fuels. Within the PDF it declares goal was implementation by 2018. Um, that was how many years before how many pandemics and how many insurrections?

And, wouldn’t it be interesting to know just one short set of figures:

  1. how many gallons of leaded fuel were consumed for flying to and from (and at) this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh?
  2. how many aircraft flew to and departed from the AirVenture event this year, and what is their composition, in terms of how many must burn leaded fuel versus how many can burn unleaded fuel or leaded, versus how many can burn ONLY unleaded fuel?
  3. can we have a short list of all aircraft types within each of the three categories listed above?
  4. similarly, can we have a short list of all aircraft engine models that are lead-only, versus lead or no-lead, versus unleaded only?
  5. and, lastly, can we include on the above two lists the year of introduction for each aircraft type and engine type?

The last item on this list would be fascinating to learn. Is it possible, in the roughly thirty years FAA has had to ‘fail’ to phase out lead, that nonetheless FAA has successfully certified numerous NEW aircraft types and NEW engine types that must burn leaded fuel, only perpetuating the problem … and just how messed up is that, from an environmental justice and health perspective?

What was my read?

As an ‘overall view’, I found it interesting AND VERY CLEAR that (R)’s tended to be on the side of aviation and commerce, while (D)’s were pushing to clean this up. No surprise there, given recent history. Just as interesting, clearly, D’Acosta was the mouthpiece (sort of the Giuliani?) for the (R)’s to bounce questions off, all aimed at legitimizing this ongoing failure… or, at least, aimed at suckering regular people into believing the lie that FAA and industry are actually making progress. It’s all smoke and mirrors and lots of delay.

Other Activist Views:

During the preparation of this Post, other activists shared a few good thoughts:

  • Cindy Chavez deserves a National award!
  • Does anyone know how to obtain a copy of the AOPA letter Herrell entered into the record? Her opening statements regarding GA had more to do with fire-fighting and life flight whereas the complaints filed by the public are much more focused on flight training and private pilots. As far as the economic benefits of GA, it’s a heavily subsidized industry. If it was a good business investment then why the chronic dependence on public handouts? I’d rather see my taxpayer dollars spent on jobs focused on environment safeguards, reducing global  warming, education, health care, parks and the arts as well as high speed rail.
  • Democrats and Republicans have very different reasons for wanting to issue subpoenas. A lot of politics involved. That being said, both parties seem to be frustrated by the FAA and EPA foot-dragging. Flood’s comment on EPA top down decision-making regarding an endangerment finding or leaded fuel ban is preposterous. If any sector engages in a top down approach its the FAA and the aviation industry.
  • Both Khanna and Lofgren called the avgas issue a national health crisis. There was a declaration of this nature made during the Flint water crisis and a lot of bottled water was shipped in as a result, but how replace lead polluted air?
  • Dr. Lanphear referred to it as an urgent public health problem. Tlaib also emphasized the need for a greater sense of urgency as children are being poisoned now. Lofgren described the RHV lead study findings as “terrifying.” Both she and Khanna spoke of being outraged by the ongoing inaction. Like Lofgren, I’m appalled that the FAA would tell communities they have to continue poisoning children due to grant assurances.

Hearing Timeline: (…times PDT)

~1106: Rep. Ro Khanna (D, CA Dist.17) chair, opening statement.

1111: Rep. James Comer (R, KY Dist.1), brief statement handing off to Rep Herrell.

1113: Rep. Yvette Herrell (R, NM Dist.2) member. Opening statement; she read off the debatable pro-aviation points so often pushed by FAA and industry, while ignoring the impacts. But, on a positive note, she did say the committee needs to issue subpoenas for FAA and EPA.

1117: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D, CA Dist.19) her district includes KRHV.

1119: witnesses sworn in

1119: Cindy Chavez (Santa Clara County supervisor): discussed KRHV scope, lead history, efforts eliminate lead, role of industry lobbyists to block health initiatives, etc.

1124: Maricela Lechuga: lives 5-blocks from KRHV. Family history, historical context of Mexicans having East San Jose available for housing. Impacts of proximity to airport, to the point of not even being allowed to grow trees to offer shade for children.

1129: recess for voting at Congress. Reconvened at 11:59 PDT. (recess was for a vote related to semiconductor chips)

1200: Bruce Lanphear presented short video about impacts of lead on growing children, loss of IQ score even for very lead pollution levels. Also, increased ADHD incidence, increased risk of heart disease. Airborne lead: aviation produces ~70% of total pollution; particles are much smaller than lead particles associated with old-paint lead.

1206: George Braly, chief engineer at GAMI. Link to an AOPA article dated 7/21/21. “It’s just amazing, the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that has gone on….” He believes FAA is in defiance of Congress, in its failure to act, failure to even communicate.

1212: Chris D’Acosta, CEO of swift Fuels. Link to an AOPA article dated 11/11/13 when FAA approved use of Swift’s unleaded fuel.

1218: Rep. Khanna recognized self for 5-minutes of questions:

  • Supervisor Chavez, would you say lead is an environmental justice issue?
  • Lechunga, Do you feel your comment has received the concern and action it deserves?
  • further questions to Mr. Braly, Supervisor Chavez,…

1224: Rep. Herrell recognized. Offered AOPA written statement into the record. Series of Q&A to Mr. D’Acosta. Herrell: “It’s obviously a very robust process.”

1229: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D, MI Dist.13) member. Concerns about what she has learned about impacts in Detroit area airports. Question to Mr. Lanphear, about the ‘cost’ of lead on IQ and health. Question to Supervisor Chavez.

1235: Rep. Pat Fallon (R, TX Dist.4) recognized. Asked Mr. D’Acosta to detail history on PAFI and EAGLE fuel programs. Video cut out before end. Links to background info…

  • PAFI White Paper (FAA, no date, 4p) at link. (download saved)
  • FAA’s webpage about Eagle Initiative at link. (PDF printed)

1241: Re. Lofgren recognized. Thank you to Supervisor Chavez. One question to Professor Lanphear, regarding blood level study. Expressed outrage over DoT Secretary not replying to letter from Congressional reps; “Hopefully we will get some action from this administration that is sorely lacking.”

1246: Rep. Mike Flood (R, NE Dist.1) Concerns about impact on agriculture (spray planes) if leaded fuel was disallowed. Questions to D’Acosta. At 12:50, at end of Rep. Flood’s time, Mr. D’Acosta asked to clarify on aircraft types.

1251: Closing comments by Rep. Khanna, noting that House Reps have 5-days to submit written materials. Adjourned at 1252.


REFERENCE MATERIALS: (more to be added as found later)

 

Billionaires Selling the Planet Short This Week in Idaho

These are some of the wealthiest people in the world. In 2022, wealth is power like never before; as such, these people have more power than the bottom 95% of the population, to change laws, to change social structures, to change everything. If only a few of these people – maybe even just one? – would accept the threat of climate change due to excessive fossil fuel consumption and work toward decisions that can protect future generations, we could make progress. They could, but instead they choose to add to the problem. They fly to Hailey, for a week of ‘summer camp for billionaires’. And, they fly in the most carbon-intensive mode: on private or charter jets.

Prior to our invention of the internal combustion engine,and long before humans rose to dominate the planet, CO2 concentrations went through a cyclical pattern always peaking at around 280 ppm (parts per million). We have been steadily climbing for over a century, and peaking this year at over 420 ppm. More heat is trapped, more moisture is circulated, and weather patterns intensify each year. Something has to give. We are killing the atmosphere we need to live here.

The three fastest ways for a human being to intensively add CO2 to the atmosphere are:

  • war,
  • arson,
  • and, flying in a small jet.

Yeah, something has to give.

Links to articles:

  1. When Private Jets Ferry Billionaires to Small-Town Idaho
  2. Allen & Co. remains as quiet as it is impressive

Our Unsustainable Secret: Leaded Fuel and City-Owned Fuel Tanks at Santa Monica

UPDATE, 30 MAR 2022:Elected officials in Santa Monica continue to be paralyzed and unable to do the right thing: discontinue leasing out their old tanks for leaded avgas and jet fuel sales, tanks that are decaying and well past their prime. They fear a lawsuit, and the City Attorney is only adding to their fears, by failing to identify who might file, at what venue, and citing what laws or regulations. Lacking any legitimate basis for a lawsuit, the Council is effectively being bullied into paralysis.
Here are two recent items: a letter to the editor by Joseph Schmitz, and a Facebook Post by Charles Blum.

Here’s an excellent OpEd by Alan Levenson, a resident of Sunset Park, printed in the Santa Monica Lookout. His concerns are about toxic lead, still in the aviation fuel used by recreational pilots in small planes, a situation that persists in no small part because FAA resists changes, and because local elected officials are often too intimidated by FAA to lead and serve. This is a national problem, too; there are dozens of posts under the category ‘LeadedAvGas‘. Read on…

We are all aware of the controversial airport that sits behind a fenced area in the southeast corner of Santa Monica. We have heard of the noise problems, the safety problems and the pollution. We know we were promised a great park.

What most have not heard much, if anything, about is the lead. The same lead that has been banned in auto gasoline, paint and toys is used in aviation fuel.

The leaded fuel is burned by most of the small planes that take off and buzz around over neighborhoods. The lead comes out in the exhaust and falls on people, homes, and schools below; it drops like lead at the rate of two grams per gallon. The City need not sell aviation fuel. Storing and supplying fuel is not our responsibility, and it is definitely not a sustainable business.

What most do not know is the City owns six underground tanks, three of which are 36 years old. That’s old for an underground tank; old even when not in earthquake county. The tanks sit above our aquifer; the same aquifer that has already been fouled in the past by Douglas Aircraft and leaking tanks from gas stations in years gone by. The same aquifer that supplies drinking water. Sure, the tanks are periodically checked, but accidents and failures happen.

The City is voluntarily storing and selling a known toxin. Lead has been proven to be unsafe at any level. It has been found in the blood of children around a similar airport, Reid Hillview, in San Jose, CA, at the same levels found in the children of Flint Michigan. A recent air quality study found elevated lead levels in the air around our airport and declared the airport to be the only source of airborne lead in the area.

Last November 2021 Councilmembers Brock and de la Torre proposed the City staff divest from the storage and sale of leaded fuel and the council unanimously agreed (“Santa Monica Could Join in Call for Ban on Leaded Aviation Fuel,” November 5, 2021).

Our Airport Commission also agreed. Even though we are not required to do so, the City staff has recently undertaken a project to sell unleaded fuel from one of our tanks, but our staff has not charted a known course of action to stop the sale or storage of lead in the second and older 12,000-gallon tank.

The City Attorney claims shutting out of the second tank might cause a problem in the future with the FAA or the aviators. Yet we know that in the real and now present that lead is coming out of Santa Monica Airport, exposure to lead reduces the IQ in children, and its effects are permanent.

Lead is a clear and present danger. We know the tanks sit above our aquifer. Lead is the elephant in the room and in our tanks, and that elephant must be shown the door. Santa Monica does not have to participate in this dirty business that should have ended decades ago as it was with cars, paints and toys.

Pilots and aviation businesses alike claim they too would like to get the lead out of aviation fuel. Yet while leaded fuel is available, they continue to use it. We know lead is bad. Even a little lead is bad. No lead is good. Not in our water, our air, our soil or our bodies.

No one is putting a gun to anyone’s head to sell and store leaded fuel at Santa Monica Airport.

It’s not green, it’s not sustainable, and it’s not defensible. In fact, after being asked for a clear explanation as to why we cannot get out of the fuel business we were not shown a convincing answer. We are talking lead, not bacon wrapped hot dogs on the pier. You cannot refuse or hide from airborne lead. Aviation fuel is the serious stuff of industry. Toxic to living things.

Our FAA obligations do not allow the City to ban the total use or sale of leaded fuel at the airport, but in no place do they clearly state the City must provide tanks or the City must sell fuel. It is time to retire our old tanks and get out of the leaded fuel business. It makes sense to get out of the aviation fuel business altogether.

If an aviation business wants to bring in their own newer safe and up-to-code tanks, then let them bear the costs, as well as the responsibility for the harm they are causing to those on the ground.

There comes a time to stand up for what is clearly right and reject what is not. It is wrong for a responsible and sustainable city to support and participate in the sale and storage of lead and any toxic fuels. There is no safe level of lead in our water or our air. 

We have an obligation to keep the airport open until 2029. We have no obligation to store and sell fuel until then. 

Please get out of the fuel business. Do it for the kids.

Santa Monica: The Quest for Local Control Continues

The last time the City of Santa Monica accepted FAA grant monies was in 1994. But, airport grants are not just for subsidizing the few who use the airport; they are also for imposing restrictions on the airport sponsor (in this case, the City of Santa Monica), so as to perpetuate the airport and also to compel airports to become dependent on more FAA grants. The list of restrictions, called ‘Grant Assurances’, is extensive. One of them, Grant Assurance 22, comes up time and again, used by FAA and aviation interests to confound airport sponsors and activists seeking balance or closure. 

By definition, Grant Assurances remain valid for 20 years; thus, 20-years after a grant is accepted, if an airport sponsor accepts no grants for those twenty years, they have finally earned their freedom from grant-slavery, come clean, and can theoretically regain local control of their local airport. This is what the people of Santa Monica aspired to do eight years ago, in 2014.

The Santa Monica Airport is jammed up against houses and, in fact, the spacing is so deficient residents have had lawn furniture overturned by the blast behind taxiing jets. The lead from leaded aviation fuel continues to be deposited on area homes, because FAA and the aviation industry have stonewalled the replacement of leaded aviation fuel. Indeed, in the 25-years since lead was removed from all U.S. automotive gas stations, there have been thousands of new engines built, put into new small recreational airplane designs, all centered on the consumption of leaded aviation fuel.

Activists have been fighting for health and quality of life for many decades, so it is not surprising that, when the City of Santa Monica finished their last grant obligations in 2014, a ballot measure was added to the November election seeking local control and conversion of the property to a park. The aviation lobbyists spent lots (estimates were 8-times the spending by Local Control proponents,) but they lost. The majority spoke and voter empowerment made it look like residents were going to see a park soon. It was headed that way until late January 2017, when a few City officials, fearful of dragged out legal challenges and an ongoing lack of FAA cooperation, caved to FAA’s pressure and ‘settled’ with a Consent Decree that made airport closure arguably a lot less likely.

The fight goes on. City Council met just last Tuesday, and was given a 94-page packet by City Manager David White, ‘Update on Dispensing Unleaded Fuel at SMO’. They also received 72-pages of citizen comments, all advocating for an end to leaded fuel sales, and preferring a full closure of the four underground fuel storage tanks the City owns. Included was this 3-page PDF investigating the integrity of the fuel tanks.

So, What’s With ‘Grant Assurance 22’?

Grant Assurance 22 is ten pounds of ambiguity under the headline, ‘Economic Nondiscrimination’. It has nine listed elements. Three of them are:

Grant Assurance 22a states: “It will make the airport available as an airport for public use on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination to all types, kinds and classes of aeronautical activities, including commercial aeronautical activities offering services to the public at the airport.”

Grant Assurance 22h states: “The sponsor may establish such reasonable, and not unjustly discriminatory, conditions to be met by all users of the airport as may be necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the airport.”

Grant Assurance 22i states: “The sponsor may prohibit or limit any given type, kind or class of aeronautical use of the airport if such action is necessary for the safe operation of the airport or necessary to serve the civil aviation needs of the public.”

So, while 22a seems to imply ANY aviation activity has to be allowed without discrimination and on reasonable terms, both 22h and 22i offer exceptions, allowing specific conditions and even outright prohibitions, as needed for safety and efficiency.

Would it be a ‘reasonable term’ to NOT allow lease of an underground tank past its designed age limit? Should FAA’s view of safety include protecting area residents from lead toxin exposures? Is FAA our friend or our enemy (with us or against us)? What kind of a regulatory agency is it that leans hard with its sole authority but lacks the heart to cooperate with communities impacted by its activities?  Is this the same agency that handed off regulatory action to Boeing for the deadly 737MAX fiasco, and the same agency that grounds all tiny drones in yards to protect manned aircraft (yet is now slowly repealing rules so drones can fly low over crowds of people)? Yup, this is FAA: the U.S. aviation ‘faux-regulator’ captured to serve aviation, and working to protect industry from problematic people.

Oddly, the City Attorney is hung up on Grant Assurance 22, acting and speaking uncomfortably to question its applicability. And, unfortunately, the City Manager appears to be parroting the statements by the City Attorney. As a result, the City’s residents are being subjected to an unsafe, unhealthy perpetuation of aviation privilege that benefits a tiny elite. But these City officials are missing an important reality, so fearful they are of FAA. Both of them should ponder this: if they shut down all the tanks and an aviation lobbyist files a Part 16 complaint (against the City, claiming they are not compliant with grant assurances), their biggest penalty will be placement on the ‘Airport Noncompliance List’ and loss of grant eligibility… neither of which matter, for an airport set to close later this decade.

So, let’s close down the underground tanks. And, thank you, City of Santa Monica, for standing up to the FAA bully.

“This is obviously deliberate harassment, but the pilots tell me they can do whatever they want”

These are the words of the supervisor of the Town of Austerlitz, NY, summing up the situation — mostly recreational flyers and student pilots, flying out of Great Barrington airport [KGBR] in southwest Massachusetts, and polluting noise and toxic lead upon residents across the state line, in New York.

Incredibly, this is the case at many airports across the nation. Why? Because FAA leadership sees its role as serving excessive privilege to pilots, not serving the whole nation. And, too often, elected officials are too beholden to campaign contributions, which continue to generously come from aviation industry players, lobbyists, and pilots. So, the problems persist. Reforms are long overdue.

View the article at TheNation.com, or click here to view an aiRchive copy (2page PDF).

Let’s replace the failed DNL metric; Submit Comments by March 15th

When it comes to mitigating (or even simply recognizing!) aviation noise, FAA has a proven track record of failure. This agency serves only industry, always working to enable more operations per hour at even the busiest airports. FAA consistently fails to properly assess noise impacts, and they persist in using the failed DNL noise metric designed to guarantees any and all expansion.

There is currently a solicitation for public comments. Please go to the Federal Register webpage and submit your comments, which might include:

  • Reject FAA’s use of the DNL noise metric, the 65 dB threshold, and continued use of the Schultz Curve.
  • Reject FAA’s desire to continue to research (and thus delay reforms).
  • Demand the use of noise metrics that already exist and actually work: a good choice might be simply quantifying the number of flights per hour in peak hours and the number of flights above (or audible) per day.
  • Demand widespread selective reversion of NextGen PBN procedures to reduce today’s impacts caused by repetition and route concentration; and,
  • Demand restored local controls (ability to limit traffic levels, impose curfews, etc.) and reassignment of federal ‘noise impact oversight’ from FAA to a restored ONAC-Aviation office at EPA.

Click here to view or download the packet of documents and analysis by aiREFORM. Click here to view the Federal Register webpage, and here to submit a public comment.

Happening this Week: the Aviation Noise & Emissions Symposium

This week, aiREFORM is attending a series of presentations about aviation impacts, at the 2021 Aviation Noise & Emissions Symposium. In recent years, the annual symposium sponsored by UC Davis has been held in southern California and Florida, in late winter. This year, due to the pandemic, it was transitioned into an online symposium, using the Pheedloop virtual event platform. Organizers did a great thing: they opened registration to activists everywhere, to participate at a reasonable $25 price. As a consequence, many of the U.S. aviation impact activists are participating.

In the first two days we’ve heard four presentations. While some presenters have seemed to lack an ability to see outside the culture that delivers their industry-sourced paycheck, a few have offered great comments. Steve Alterman and Nick Miller (retired principal from HMMH) come to mind.

Those activists who did not register can still benefit. Check out the ANES-UCD website and, under the ‘About’ menu bar, open up the webpages for the 2019 and 2020 Symposia; you can then view or even download numerous PDFs with material used in the earlier events. And, the same should be posted soon after this year’s event is finished.

Some Context on ‘Noise & Emissions’

It is not clear from a cursory online investigation precisely when and how UC Davis began this series of events (we hope to add those details in the near future). But, research does show that ‘Noise & Emissions’ are at the thematic heart of what FAA was working with, as NextGen evolved nearly twenty years ago.

It starts in December 2003. That’s when Congress passed Public Law 108-176, the Vision 100–Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act. At Section 321, FAA was directed to work with NASA and others to “…conduct a study of ways to reduce aircraft noise and emissions and to increase aircraft fuel efficiency.” Noise and Emissions.

The Reauthorization included language ordering a report back to Congress, for delivery within a year. That report, authored by Ian Waitz et al at MIT, was delivered in December 2004, and at three points (p.7, p.31, and p.42) it identifies the name for the new program: Next Generation Air Transportation System, aka NGATS. It was early 2006 when FAA Administrator Marion Blakey started using the ‘NextGen’ brandname, in FAA’s 2005 Annual Performance Report.

Hard to believe, nearly 18-years later, that FAA was supposed to do good, environmentally, with the NextGen implementation. Instead, we have a program serving only industry, destroying decades-old noise abatement procedures, and imposing hugely impactful concentrated computer-flown tracks over new noise-ghettos below. Bad for community, bad for health, but good for industry, so FAA ensures it flies.

In a nutshell, NextGen is not about ‘noise and emissions’ as Congress ordered, nor is it about ‘safety or efficiency’; it is about automation, replacing human controls (pilots and controllers) with computer controls, all to accommodate heavier hub scheduling (and slightly tweaked profit margins) by the few remaining U.S. airlines. Airlines that typically operate near-monopolies at most of the U.S. commercial service airports.

For a deeper dive into how NextGen evolved and why it is failing these environmental goals, download this 2017 aiREFORM presentation (42 slide PDF, 4Mb), delivered at a Quiet Skies Puget Sound forum.

COVID’s Impact on U.S. Airports, Through December 2020

The COVID pandemic has deeply impacted the passenger aviation industry. Despite enormous (and repeated) payroll subsidies from the federal government, many people remain highly resistant to the pay-to-fly experience, most likely due to the crowding, shared air, and other dangerous conditions. This Post uses FAA’s latest ATADS data to show how the ASPM77 airports have been impacted since March 2020. The analysis goes a step further to look at the FAA’s 35 biggest commercial airports (OEP35), showing how far they had declined BEFORE the pandemic, as well as how they further declined due to COVID.

Click here to view or download the analysis.