Citizens for Quiet Skies et al v. Mile-Hi Skydiving Center

Aside

“Your home should be a place of Peace and Quiet…
…but God help you if you live near
a skydiving operation!”

Such might have been mumbled by a homeowner or an old-fashioned reporter, at the conclusion of the case, Citizens for Quiet Skies et al v. Mile-Hi Skydiving Center, heard in the U.S. District Court, in Boulder, Colorado.

The case was a bench trial before Judge Judith LaBuda, who heard five days of testimony, April 13-17, 2015. Judge LaBuda conducted a site visit on May 2nd, to experience the noise impact (while defendant Mile-Hi kept their flights far away … but only for a few hours!) and closing arguments were presented on May 6th. Both parties submitted Proposed Findings of Fact on May 15th. Judge LaBuda issued her decision on May 21st, siding with Mile-Hi Skydiving while articulating a heavy deference to FAA’s regulatory authority.

The principle spokespeople for the two sides were Kimberly Gibbs and Frank Casares. Both speak in this video, posted at TimesCall, one of the local papers that has been following this issue.

Ms. Gibbs lives 6-miles south of the Longmont airport. Like her neighbors, she pays taxes on the home in her neighborhood. She works. She comes home to relax and recover for her next workday. She sometimes invites friends over to enjoy each others’ company, to have conversations and a nice meal on a pleasant afternoon. She lives in a part of the world blessed with fine weather for outside living, where a backyard barbeque is a treat. All of these activities are possible when normal backyard noise conditions exist. These activities are destroyed by persistent noise.

20150629scp.. K.Gibbs in TimesCall video

(click on image to view video at start of Ms. Gibbs’ comments)

Mr. Casares is an aviation business owner. He makes money by carrying as many people as possible to an altitude of 17,999 feet (the highest FAA will allow), so they can drop out of an airplane and parachute back to the airport west of Longmont. The faster his airplanes climb, the more profit he makes; so, the aircraft types are selected, and propellers and fuel-flow rates are also selected, to maximize rate of climb. A consequence of these settings (prop RPM, prop pitch, etc.) is that his aircraft make a much higher level of irritant noise than do other small aircraft. So, to keep the airport happy, he simply has his pilots fly a few miles away from Longmont. This ensures that the local airport neighbors do not have to endure a droning climb noise all day long on his most profitable business days. And, as a benefit, the vast majority of people impacted, say 5- to 8- miles away, have no idea that the horrific droning airplane noise is part of a skydive operation, making all that noise heard by thousands of residents, sometimes to serve just 2- or 4- skydivers.

20150629scp.. F.Casares in TimesCall video

(click on image to view video at start of Mr. Casares’ comments)

So, the crux of the problem at Longmont is this: because Mr. Casares’ pilots go miles away from their drop zone to do their long and noisy climbs, other – and more distant – airport neighbors bear the brunt of the noise impact. FAA is granted wide deference in matters that relate to aviation. So, when a case about aviation noise nuisance goes to trial in a U.S. District Court, it is not unusual for the Judge to defer to FAA. But, what the Judge is not factoring in is how deeply FAA serves aviation money, and how the record shows, FAA would really prefer to not waste its time balancing the profit ambitions of aviation businesses to preserve the residential expectation of ‘Peace and Quiet’.

This is what is called a ‘taking’. Mr Casares’ planes fly for his profit, and when FAA lends cover to Mr. Casares, Ms. Gibbs’ home becomes not a place of ‘Peace and Quiet’, but a place to leave on days when skydiving happens. In effect, Mr. Casares, with a little help from FAA, has ‘taken away’ the rights of Ms. Gibbs and her neighbors to enjoy the homes and the liberties we like to think are protected in this nation.

See also… (blue dates link to online content)

5/2/2015
With ears to the sky, judge visits 2 homes in Longmont airplane-noise lawsuit
TimesCall article by Karen Antonacci. Includes webtrak screen captures indicating that, during the site visits by Judge LaBuda, Mile Hi kept their flights miles away, operating in distant parts of the climb box.
5/15/2015
Plaintiff’s Proposed Findings of Fact
22-pages.
5/15/2015
Defendant’s Proposed Findings of Fact
17-pages.
5/21/2015
Decision by Judge LaBuda, Gibbs et al v. Mile-Hi Skydiving (2013CV031563)
3-pages.
PDFs of related documents are attached at pages 2 thru 5.

ANALYSIS: 2015-01-16.. Forced Landing of an Air Tour Flight Near Halawa Falls, Molokai

A Cessna Skyhawk flying an apparent air tour lost engine power and crashed in rough forested terrain, while touring near Halawa Falls in the northeast part of Molokai. The tour passengers were a Japanese couple and their daughter. News reports indicate that the pilot and two passengers had minor injuries, but the mother was hospitalized with serious injuries.

20070819scp.. C172 forced landing field on Lanai, pilot pic (M.Richards)

The pilot, happy for his good luck. (click on image to view article/source)

The pilot, 35-yr-old Michael Richards, had previous experience with forced landings while flying this same aircraft type. On August 16, 2007, he was doing an instructional flight with N5207D, a C172, when he lost engine power; all three survived (the instructor, his student, and an observer/student). Then, on June 24, 2014, Mr. Richards and a student lost power at 2,000-feet and made a forced landing with N66540, ending up in a plowed pineapple field, near the Waipio Costco.

The most recent forced landing was with N5660E, a C172 registered with an operator named Hawaiian Night Lights LLC.

20070819scp.. C172 forced landing field on Lanai (M.Richards)

(click on image to read article about another forced landing, involving the same pilot, in 2007)

Is the Safety Oversight Missing?

Interestingly, neither the 2007 nor the 2014 forced landings are included within the NTSB aviation accident database. They clearly should have been. On the same day as the 2007 Hawaiian incident, another student pilot had a hard landing at an airport in Keystone Height, FL; that incident, far less significant (and far more common) than an in-flight engine failure, was investigated and added to the NTSB database [LAX07CA256]. And, on the day before the 2014 Hawaiian incident, another C172, in Miami, FL, had a hard landing when the pilot’s seat slid during touch-and-go pattern practice. It was written up at NTSB [ERA14CA331].

So, it will not be a surprise if neither NTSB nor FAA produces an investigation and report for the latest incident. They should. These are commercial activities. Just like the ‘instructional flights’ sold to tourists on ultralights are ‘commercial’ and generally overlooked by FAA. In fact, two died ten months ago in Kauai, the latest in a long history where both pilots and paying passengers have died in commercial flight accidents.

An agency that takes civil action against those who use low-altitude drones to capture real estate or news photos, should be far more concerned with ensuring safety in commercial air tourism. Get the data on these incidents, share it widely, and clean up Hawaiian air tourism before the next fatality happens.


See also:

“Unfit for Flight” news investigation wins the NPF ‘Feddie’ Award

National Press Foundation recognized Thomas Frank for his USA Today investigative series about aviation fatalities and regulatory capture.

A non-profit foundation, NPF cited Mr. Frank for his “extraordinary investigation” in his series, ‘Unfit for Flight’, which appeared in June. He was given the ‘Feddie’ award, recognizing that his writing helps to show how federal policy affects local government. Judges were also impressed with how the presentation of the  news series “…effectively uses the techniques of digital journalism: video, animation and responsive design. This is modern journalism at its best.”

The series revealed how design defects have been allowed to persist in private airplanes and helicopters for decades, often because of cover-ups by manufacturers. The stories also showed how National Transportation Safety Board crash investigations often overlook the causes of aircraft crashes and deaths, and how the Federal Aviation Administration allows brand-new aircraft to be manufactured under safety regulations that are decades old, thus perpetuating known design flaws.

New Investigative Report on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Li-ion Battery Fires

20130117.. Burnt Li-ion Battery B787

An NTSB picture of a charred Li-ion battery, January 2013.

In early 2013, FAA was forced to ground the entire U.S. Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet, after two serious incidents in which Li-ion batteries had caught fire. Many aviation safety professionals were very impressed with the transparency and safety advocacy subsequently shown by NTSB and NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. At the same time, much of FAA’s response smacked of being a loyal waterboy for damage control efforts by Boeing and other corporations in the aviation world.

20140910.. Li-ion Battery becomes a torch

The battery design is extremely volatile. When shot during testing, it quickly became a veritable blow-torch.

FAA’s grounding of the Dreamliner went on for more than three months, and ended on 4/27/2013. In the months since, a few minor incidents have made the news, but more notably there has been a concerted effort by Boeing marketers (with assistance from FAA) to both re-shine the Dreamliner’s image AND micromanage the coverage of all incidents. Eventually, Ms. Hersman resigned her NTSB post and moved on, and Boeing stock has made more than a complete recovery. So, we wait and we hope.

If we are lucky, and if the re-configured marketing efforts were not just hype, we will not see a repeat battery fire or other problem. We will not dread the news when a  Dreamliner filled with passengers has a major failure, out over an ocean and two hours from land.

We hope.

A detailed 48-minute investigative report has been posted on YouTube. Will Jordan and an Al Jazeera team of reporters spent more than a year investigating. They talked with Whistleblowers, management, outsource ‘partners’, union officials, workers, and former DoT Inspector General Mary Schiavo, but they did not talk to any FAA officials. Clay Foushee (AAE-1), as head of the office that is supposed to protect aviation Whistleblowers, would have been an extremely appropriate interview … and his name appears on a memo at around 37-minutes. But, no FAA interviews or, if they did, perhaps the answers were empty and got edited out?

Here are a few quotes and time-marks from this excellent analysis of an FAA/Boeing work culture that appears to have drifted sharply, from safety to earnings reports.

4:50 “We have a contract with Boeing, so we can’t tell any comments to you.”
7:25 “After my building burned down, after that they realized, very emphatically, the danger of this chemistry.”
9:40 “When it comes to building airplanes, the FAA delegates oversight almost completely to the aircraft manufacturers .”
10:35 “I don’t think it’s a sufficient fix. Even inside that steel box, with all of its fortification, all the elements are still there for fire.”
13:50 “…it was almost as if, at times you thought Boeing executives believed, well maybe they could sit in Chicago and have other companies do things, and they would just rake in the money somehow by putting it all together and putting a Boeing sticker on it at the end.”
16:46 “More than any other single event, it was the big lie, and it was a statement that the Boeing Company is now all about the big lie.”
21:10 “They changed basic engineering principles to meet schedule. We all protested.”
24:15 “It’s been eating me alive to know what I know, and to have no avenue, no venue to say anything.”
32:00 The John Woods Whistleblower story (5-minutes)
35:20 “…He turned to the FAA, filing a Whistleblower complaint. The document alleged seven serious violations in the South Carolina plant.” Former DoT-IG Schiavo: “I’ve gotten to the page where they reach their conclusions and the discussion and what they found was that all the allegations, all but one of them they could not substantiate, and the one that they could substantiate, they asked Boeing to fix it, Boeing said ‘OK, we fixed it’, and then they close the investigation. And that’s pretty much how they all go, I mean I’ve seen this so many times.”
37:00 “…It shouldn’t be this hard to do the right thing.”
38:30 “One day you’re regulating the airline, and the next day you’re working for it. You can’t possibly be tough on the industry that you’re regulating, because you’ll never get that plum job after you leave. The regulators at the FAA will rarely cross Boeing.. They simply won’t.”
42:30 Interview with a Boeing VP (and GM of the 787 Program) (2-minutes in, the interview was stopped by Boeing’s Communications Director, and he asked that the cameras be turned off)

Here are links to the aiReform.com Posts related to this issue:

see also:

 

AD 2014-03-03 adopted by FAA (icing hazards on Cessna light twins)

Earlier this week, FAA announced adoption of a new airworthiness directive [AD 2014-03-03] aimed at Cessna’s light twin engine aircraft. This is a new fix to an old problem, as most of these aircraft models were built more than thirty years ago. The most abundant of the group, the Cessna 310, was produced from 1954 until 1980, with more than 6,300 sold (Wikipedia notes the 1978 purchase price was under $148,000). NTSB’s accident records show that there have been 436 fatal incidents involving the Cessna 310 in the last fifty years. Last year, three Cessna 310’s were involved in fatal U.S. accidents (2/14/13 at Vero Beach, FL; 11/12/13 at Junction, TX; and, 12/8/13 at Jacksonville, FL).

Yes, FAA has finally announced their new safety directive. Take a closer look at what FAA wrote when they initiated the proposed rule via an NPRM proposal, on June 3, 2011:

These airplanes’ certification basis did not include Amendment 7 of CAR 3 Dated May 15, 1956, which required an applicant to provide to the pilot the types of operations and meteorological conditions (e.g. icing conditions) to which the operation of the airplane is limited by the equipment installed (CAR 3 § 3.772). Therefore, the pilot may not realize that, even with de-ice boots or other similar equipment installed, the airplane is not certificated for flight into known icing conditions. To address this condition and based on the accident history, there is a need to add a limitation to prohibit flight into known icing conditions due to the limitations of the installed equipment.

So, in 2011, when FAA turned age 53, suddenly a middle-aged agency finds serious limitations in the installed equipment on aircraft manufactured even BEFORE the FAA came into existence? Suddenly, this situation needed new regulation? Naahhhhh.

FAA Whistleblower Richard Wyeroski knows a lot about this issue. He flew (and instructed in) light twins, and he also served as an FAA inspector, before they retaliated against him. Here is his view…

“…(FAA was) controlled by industry and allowed piston twins to fly even when they knew it was dangerous. The accident rate sure does reflect it. This is because of the money!… not safety! Quite frankly there are very few if any piston 135 operators, because the insurance companies have priced insurance too high, and the accident rate is high. So FAA is back peddling and after 30 years coming out with a “cover their puny asses AD” now prohibiting flight into known icing….”

…to read more about light twins, the air cargo industry, insurance rates and the NTSB accident investigations (including links), please click on page two…

Allegiant’s MD80’s: ancient, noisy, … and a maintenance mess?

On Friday, September 20th, Allegiant Travel Co canceled 18 of its 121 scheduled flights. The action was taken when FAA discovered that the airline had failed to follow a 2007 directive increasing the frequency for inspections of the four inflatable emergency slides from once every three years to once each year.

An emergency on Monday, September 16th, involved use of the evacuation slides at the airport in Las Vegas, after smoke was observed. FAA investigated and directed Allegiant to report on the status of the slides. “The FAA this week became aware that Allegiant Air may not have inspected some emergency evacuation slides on its MD-80 fleet at required intervals,” Ian Gregor, public affairs manager with the FAA Pacific Division, said in a statement. The airline promptly ‘discovered’ that it had not been complying with a 2007 recommendation by the manufacturer of the slides, Zodiac Aerospace, to overhaul all four inflatable chutes annually on aircraft older than 15 years. Then, the airline began flight cancellations, to immediately conduct the inspections. [article]

Why is Allegiant using MD80’s?

For the simple reason that they are cheap. This is an old plane that sold well forty years ago, because it was more efficient to operate than the Boeing 727. But when compared with today’s newer jet models, the MD80 (and its many variants) is a gas guzzler. And, the MD80 is notoriously noisy, thus far more impactful on people within forty miles of airports, during the approach and climbout phases of flight. For example, this noise is a huge part of the opposition to Allegiant at the airport in Bellingham, WA [KBLI].

The MD80 is very much like a large sedan at a used car lot. A buyer can spend a lot less on equipment that gets the job done, but at a tradeoff in much more gas consumed, as well as other discomforts such as noise and that ‘old car smell’. But, in the aviation industry, an airline can make money by leasing old equipment, especially if they are careful to market value (and turn the focus away from the negatives). The most infamous example of a U.S. airline following this model was Valujet, a low-cost airline that grew too fast in the mid-1990’s, accumulated a disturbing maintenance record, and then abruptly ceased operations in their fourth year. Valujet’s logo included a cute, smiling airplane.

The safety record of the MD80 is also not stellar, though this may have more to do with maintenance cost-cutting than with aircraft design. Two of the most horrific U.S. airline accidents, in which passengers endured minutes of shear terror before being disintegrated upon impact, were the Valujet Flight 592 crash (Everglades, May 1996) and the Alaska Flight 261 crash (near Santa Barbara, January 2000). Both of these accident investigations uncovered serious maintenance deficiencies, one involving the jack screw that controls the horizontal stabilizer, and the other involving fire hazards with a defective relay switch.

As for passenger comfort, the MD80 is a mixed bag. The ride inside is pleasantly quiet in the front, far from the rear-mounted engines. But, if you happen to have a seat in the back rows, the noise and vibration is terribly unpleasant, because you are effectively sitting between the two engines.

How does Allegiant save money flying the MD80?

This is not that clear. The aircraft reportedly costs a tenth of what a Boeing 737 costs, so there is that initial cost savings. But, the operational cost is much higher. The most successful U.S. airline today is Southwest, and they use a fleet of 554 Boeing 737’s. Southwest pays more for newer and far more efficient aircraft, and averages more than six flights per day for each aircraft. In contrast, Allegiant averages just two or three flights per day for their MD80 fleet. Perhaps the real savings is in the fact that Allegiant can buy these ‘MD80 used car units’ outright, and the airline is thus not saddled with leasing costs. [article]

Does FAA do anything to discourage use of the MD80?

In a word, ‘No’. In fact, quite the opposite. FAA (as well as DoT Secretary Federico Pena) was a huge cheerleader for Valujet, and it appears FAA is still overly supportive of low-cost, cut-rate airlines.

For example, FAA puts pressure on airport authorities to accommodate the airlines using the MD80. In 2008, Allegiant approached the airport authority at Paine Field in Everett, WA, to discuss starting two roundtrips per week between Everett and Las Vegas. Local officials quickly rejected the proposal. “We’re still very opposed to commercial air service,” said Christopher Schwarzen, spokesman for County Executive Aaron Reardon. “We don’t think it fits with the surrounding community.” FAA then issued a letter warning that the airport authority must negotiate with Allegiant, because of the $57 Million in airport grants received since 1945. In that letter to airport director David Waggoner, Seattle Airports District Office Manager Carol Key said, “Failure to negotiate in good faith may subject the County to an enforcement action” and could put continued receipt of federal funding at risk.

Nor is FAA doing anything to discourage use of the MD80 at small airports near the Canadian border, such as Bellingham, WA, Niagara, NY, and Plattsburgh, NY. As a consequence, passengers who would more efficiently catch flights out of Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal, save some money by spending time and gas on long commutes across the border. The environment suffers (in CO2 from the MD80’s, as well as from the excessive airport commute distances), and the Canadian aviation system has its operating funds siphoned away.

So, in the big picture, the MD80 is a gas-hog and the worst performing aircraft today, in U.S. passenger aviation. And, FAA has a great opportunity here, to help the environment, as well as airport neighbors.

 

FAA Orders Inspections & Repairs for 34,000 Pipers

NOTE:

This is a good example of FAA’s ongoing failure to serve safety with diligent regulation.

In this case, a series of accidents in the 1990’s caused NTSB to issue Safety Recommendation A-01-006 on 4/16/01. WEB FAA was partially responsive, and issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) in November 2001. NTSB considered this ‘recommendation’ by FAA to be sufficient, and showed A-01-006 ‘Closed, acceptable’ on 5/17/02. [NOTE: history has since shown NTSB between 2001 and 2009 was exceptionally passive, and focused on whittling down the list of Safety Recommendations.]

Pilots were not required to make any repairs, and accidents continued to happen. A more aggressive NTSB has emerged in the last couple years. When the 3/14/12 accident occurred (and it was the first flight after an annual inspection on 3/13/12!), NTSB pressed FAA for action. FAA then issued a proposal in early August 2012 and now, another six months later, has decided to make this inspection and repair a safety requirement.

It is astonishing that, given the speed at which things happen in aviation, FAA seems to be ‘glacial’ in their efforts to resolve known safety problems. One more clear example, showing the need for FAA REFORM.

The Federal Register WEB for Monday, February 2, includes an Airworthiness Directive issued by FAA ordering an estimated $15 Million worth of inspections and repairs on 34,013 older small aircraft manufactured by Piper Aircraft, Inc. Included are the single-engine PA-28 and PA-32 models, and the PA-34 and PA-44 (both twin-engine models). The safety issue was corrosion of stabilator control cables, as identified on these four Piper models. The AD applies to those aircraft in service for 15-years or more. For the record, the airplane service manuals include a special inspection with a requirement that the cable be replaced if any corrosion is found.

Numerous accidents preceded FAA’s issuance of the proposed order, as published in the Federal Register on 8/2/12. WEB Two of the most recent accidents investigated by NTSB include:

  1. 4/7/11: WEB a PA32 at Sundance Airport (HSD), in Oklahoma City. The pilot had just taken off when the cable snapped, causing the nose to point downward. He impacted the runway, did another hard bounce, and came to a stop with substantial damage but no injuries. The pilot and a passenger had been practicing touch-and-go landings.
  2. 3/14/12: WEB a PA32 at Warrenton, VA (HWY). A commercial pilot and flight instructor had departed the Manassas airport (HEF) earlier to practice maneuvers in a local practice area. They then went to Warrenton airport with intentions to do closed pattern practice. One landing was done and, on landing flare for the second landing, the pilot heard a loud ‘boom’ and the airplane’s nose dropped.

This analysis by aiREFORM does not (yet) include a closer look at the larger NTSB accident history, to determine extent of damage and numbers of fatalities during the decade-plus delay.

NTSB’s statement supporting the proposal was summarized as follows:

“Deborah A.P. Hersman, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), stated that two special airworthiness information bulletins (SAIBs) have been issued that recommend inspecting the entire surface of each cable terminal, turnbuckle, or other cable fittings for corrosion or cracking. Within the past 2 years, the NTSB has investigated two accidents and one incident involving Piper airplanes where control cable assembly failures due to stress corrosion cracking led to failures of the horizontal stabilator control system. She stated that the fact these events continue to occur more than 10 years after the SAIBs were issued shows that the SAIBs were not effective.

The NTSB supports the need for this AD.”

 

It is good to see NTSB not only making Safety Recommendations, but also following through until they are implemented. Back in 2002, when NTSB prematurely ‘Closed’ their 2001 Safety Recommendation, they were clearly operating with a deficient concern for safety.

Also, it is a promising development, that FAA has chosen to finalize this AD. Doing so will likely save at least a few dozen lives in the next decade. The average cost to the owners of these aircraft will be less than $500 — money very well spent to not be confronted with the physical hazard, or the intense emotional distress, of a sudden loss of stabilator control.

Hopefully, this marks a new direction for FAA, in which they will quickly and decisively address safety issues for PA28’s, Boeing 787’s, and all types of aircraft.