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).

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)

 

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.

[ai-RCHIVE] Four Versions of FAA Advisory Circular 91-36

Here’s an example of abusive pilots, that also shows how FAA is a captured federal regulator actually enabling this type of abuse.

Fort Devens is a historic U.S. Army facility in the towns of Ayer and Shirley, roughly 25-miles west of Boston. Years ago, the Moore Army Air Field was closed. According to Wikipedia, part of the land then became a hospital facility, aimed primarily at serving specialized and mental health needs for prisoners.

Back in the early 1970’s, coincident with ‘Earth Day’ and the wave of citizen empowerment toward improving and protecting the environment, FAA was nudged into creating an ‘Advisory Circular’ about small airplane noise. The advisory circulars are not binding or regulatory, but they do spell out what FAA asks the pilot community to do, toward achieving certain objectives. This is how FAA treats pilots: ‘pardon me, would you please try this?’, like royalty. If pilots do not conform to the ‘advice’ contained within an advisory circular, eventually FAA can become compelled to issue actual regulations. Now, if FAA also chose to enforce those regulations, we might achieve a nice balance, between the right of the pilot community to use their aircraft, and the rights of the non-pilot community (aka, all of us residents) to enjoy our homes and yards without excessive noise and aviation air pollution.

Roughly a decade ago, residents around Ayer prevailed in a nuisance lawsuit filed against a group of pilots. Ever since, there has been an extraordinary concentration of low-level small-plane flight activity over the homes of the residents who won that legal action. When these residents complain to FAA, to MassPort (the airport authority), or anyone, they get nothing but deadends.

Check out this disturbing example, posted on Facebook.

Now, about that ‘Advisory Circular’. In the 46-years since it was first posted in 1972, it has been updated three times. The updates are generally unsubstantial, as you can see for yourself. Here are links to archived copies of all four versions of FAA’s Advisory Circular 91-36, ‘VFR Flight Near Noise-Sensitive Areas’. Each version is 2-pages, with minor changes as the Advisory Circular evolved. Version ‘91-36B‘ was signed off in 1982, version ‘91-36C‘ appeared in 1984, and version ‘91-36D‘ (the current version) was signed off in 2004.

Frankly, these four versions of Advisory Circular 91-36 show FAA’s ‘milquetoaste approach’ to NOT managing aviation impacts. FAA has made it clear to rogue operators like this one near Boston: they may bully with impunity, knowing FAA will not impair this perceived ‘right’. The impacts that FAA recognized in 1972 have persisted because FAA refuses to serve and fails to evolve. And so, across the nation, for two generations now, residents have complained and been ignored by an agency that serves only the industry it is supposed to be regulating.

Pine Island Glacier: the latest example of rapidly melting polar ice that will eventually flood major airports

Ecowatch published an informative article about a huge iceberg, roughly 115 square miles, that has calved off of the Pine Island Glacier. The article cites an interesting series of posts by Stef Lhermitte discussing a large new iceberg, designated B-46, which is rapidly disintegrating as it drifts toward the Pacific Ocean.

The series of posts includes a GIF slideshow showing annual sea-ice extent at the Pine Island Glacier. Here is a scrollable PDF showing a series of screencaps taken from the GIF slideshow, with images at roughly a 5-year interval from 1975 to 2018 (depending on what years had available images). The sea ice extent for each year is indicated by a color-coded thick line; over time, this line progresses upward, exposing more of the seawater below. In the background of all images, the satellite image appears to be current, as taken on 10/30/2018.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

Overall, this series of images shows a pronounced decline in sea-ice coverage. Within the images, you will also notice that there were a few years, ending in 2013, where sea-ice cover was expanding. Since 2013, the melting/calving has been precipitous. Bear in mind, the polar regions are in total darkness for months each year, and it may take years for new meltwater to mix with the seawater below. Thus, massive ice melting may cause an easily frozen freshwater lens to sit atop the seawater. This will create an illusion of expanding sea-ice extent for a few winters. But, eventually, once the excessive freshwater becomes mixed, or as ambient air temperatures continue to increase, the expanded ice that peaked in 2013 will become just a distant memory.

Putting this in a Geographic Context

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia, describing this specific glacier:

Pine Island Glacier (PIG) is a large ice stream, and the fastest melting glacier in Antarctica, responsible for about 25% of Antarctica’s ice loss.[3] The glacier ice streams flow west-northwest along the south side of the Hudson Mountains into Pine Island Bay, Amundsen Sea, Antarctica. It was mapped by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) from surveys and United States Navy (USN) air photos, 1960–66, and named by the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (US-ACAN) in association with Pine Island Bay.[1][4]

The area drained by Pine Island Glacier comprises about 10% of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.[5] Satellite measurements have shown that the Pine Island Glacier Basin has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea than any other ice drainage basin in the world and this has increased due to recent acceleration of the ice stream.

Here are a pair of images, showing Pine Island Glacier’s location on Antarctica, and showing the seas that surround Antarctica, connecting it to the extreme southern oceans.

What Does this Suggest for Our Global Future, and for Aviation?

The rate of calving in recent years is disturbing, and reflects a harsh reality: if our ever-expanding over-consumption of fossil fuels is not reined in, and we continue to see 2- or 3- ppm annual increases in average atmospheric CO2 concentrations (see Keeling Curve), we can expect collapse of these polar glaciers and large-scale sea-rise. Hundreds of the busiest airports across the globe will become underwater. Homes for more than a billion people will also become uninhabitable, under sea-rise. Displaced people will need to find new homes, and that situation will result in global conflict and likely massive human depopulation.

Would it not be a good idea to immediately impose policies that strongly disincentivize excessive and arbitrary use of aviation?

A Closing Image: Accelerated Melting is Likely

Below is a different perspective, rotated, but showing the recession of the glacier (roughly from left to right) and how it compares to actual shorelines beneath. The areas of ice over water are designated as the ‘northern ice shelf’ and ‘southern ice shelf’. Over land, colors appear to show ice flow rates using a spectrum, with red being fast, yellow being moderate, and blue being slow. A major concern among scientists who study polar ice loss and related sea-level rise is that loss of sea-ice eventually removes an important ‘plug’ that holds back glacial ice over land; kind of like eroding the footing out from under a bridge pier. In other words, in this example, the fear is that once the Pine Island Glacier recedes beyond the base of the SW tributary and the southern ice shelf is nearly gone, ice flow from the SW tributary will rapidly accelerate, which in turn will rapidly accelerate global sea-level rise.

It would seem to be very foolish, to continue to ignore this evidence.

The Fraudulent ‘Greener Skies’ Salespitch at Seattle

A recent pair of articles by Dominic Gates, at the Seattle Times, draws attention once again to the collaborated fraud known as ‘Greener Skies’.

Fraud is not too strong a word. Both FAA and Port of Seattle (POS) knew that the Elliott Bay arrival route would not be usable, and would not deliver any improvements on efficiency or impacts, so long as the airport had more operations than the runways can handle. They knew, but they coyly avoided discussing this fact. Nor have they addressed this problem. Instead, both FAA and POS have pretended they can do nothing to stop the massive growth that has beset KSEA since 2012. The net result is a community burdened with growing costs – declined health, diminished quality of life, and destroyed environments (for wildlife as well as for people), all solely to accommodate excessive hub growth by both Alaska and Delta.

Here are some randomly chosen insights into the history of this fraud, including screencaps of various documents.

(1) KSEA Annual Operations Data: Let’s start by looking at FAA’s ATADS data, showing the official operations count per year, from 1991 through 2017. Peak year was 2000, and operations bottomed out in 2012. Delta announced a new hub in 2012 and, after a short lag to shift their airline resources, KSEA saw huge growth in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Growth slowed in 2017 but is on target to be approximately 6% this calendar year. Notice the two columns on the left, marked ‘AC’ and ‘AT’; AC is air carrier (larger commercial planes), while AT is air taxi (which FAA has formerly used to identify Horizon Q400’s and other smaller commercial planes). There is a distinct shift away from AT to AC, as noted by Gates in his recent articles, but that shift is not as significant as the fact that airline hubbing is causing huge increases in operations per hour, for the two largest airlines at KSEA. Notice also that, from 1998 onward, KSEA is basically a commercial-only airport, with less than 1% of operations flown by military or general aviation.

(2) 2018 operations prediction: based on monthly operations counts, using FAA ATADS data, 2018 is on target to reach approximately 439,400 operations. This is a 6% increase year-over-year, and a 42% increase from the bottom year 2012. In other words, since Delta announced their hub development at KSEA, both Alaska and Delta have ramped up annual operations so that the total operations per day averages 42% more than it did in 2012, just six years ago. That is an average annual growth rate of 7%, far exceeding population growth or economic growth in the Puget Sound area.

(3) An Earlier Prediction, the Part 150 study: this was completed in October 2013, though oddly it uses old historical operations data, only through 2008. See image below; the blue line shows the chosen forecast for total operations; the red line, added by aiREFORM, shows actual growth trends, keyed to FAA’s ATADS figures for 2012 and 2018.
Now, think about this: between the peak in 2000 and the bottom in 2012, did the Seattle economy and population tank? No. Did Puget Sound area per capita demand for air travel drop by 30%? No, not at all. And, between 2012 and 2018, has Puget Sound area population and economy seen growth anywhere near 42%, averaging 7% growth per year? Again, of course not, nowhere near that strong.

So, what is going on here? Why are the annual ops at KSEA growing so fast? The answer is simple: since 2012, two airlines (Delta and Alaska) have been feverishly adding capacity to route more and more passengers – and flights – through Sea-Tac. Both FAA and POS have the data that will show this reality, how a higher percentage of passengers ‘enplaned’ at KSEA are actually just pass-through-passengers, who never even leave the airport terminal. Both FAA and POS are careful to avoid releasing this data, because industry does not want citizens empowered with hard data. Operations and impacts are expanding way beyond population and economic metrics. This is solely to serve airline profit margins. If FAA and POS would start serving the people, too, we’d be better empowered to bring this injustice back to a reasonable balance.

(4) FAA Spin, promoting ‘Greener Skies’ in June 2012: here is a recent screencap (made on September 22) of an FAA webpage crowing over ‘great success’ with Greener Skies… the plan that cost millions to develop and promote, yet it was never implemented (now 6 years later).Notice an important fact: FAA first posted this in June 2012, and they actually updated the content in late August 2018. FAA is ignoring the important reality, that Greener Skies was never implemented. No mention, in FAA’s recent update, of the fact that FAA is not even using Greener Skies. Will anyone at FAA be held accountable for this disinformation failure? Of course not.

(5) The Greener Skies EA: signed off by Elizabeth Ray, on 10/31/2012, here is a screencap noting FAA’s conclusion of ‘no significant impacts’. Notice how the EA predicted a 30.7% increase in annual ops by 2023. Well, we are now way past that. We are on target for a 42% increase by the end of 2018; five years earlier than 2023, and we are already a third higher than the original long-term prediction. Also, understand this: this EA was not about creating ‘efficiencies’; this EA was aimed at removing procedures that protected people and the environment, to increase CAPACITY.Wow. Just, wow. Do we need any further evidence of how tone-deaf FAA is to the impacts caused by excessive hub development? Is there a better piece of evidence showing FAA’s regulatory capture?

(6) FAA Spin, One Week After Signing off the EA: here’s a screencap of how FAA again claimed ‘great success’ on Greener Skies, published in FAA’s ‘FY2012 Performance and Accountability Report’, on 11/9/2012, a week after the EA was signed off:There is zero evidence that FAA has achieved ANY of the claimed benefits. Meanwhile, there is ample evidence (especially looking at enroute delays at cruise altitudes on arrival streams, and at departure delays, and even at arrivals stuck waiting for a gate to become available) that efficiency has plummeted. And, of course, there is enormous evidence that people on the ground below are impacted immensely, by both arrivals and departures.

FAA Investigates: Police Helicopter ‘Crashing’ of a Football Tailgate Party

Who’s idea was it, anyway, to use a helicopter to fly over tailgating crowds ‘to make crowd announcements’?

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

OK, let’s suppose a nearby nuclear reactor is melting down, say Three Mile Island (though I understand, yes, it is not actually near the stadium Lot 23 area for Penn State football games!). But, just to put this in perspective, would it be a good idea for a helicopter pilot with an announcement system to swoop down very low over a crowd to issue an urgent message aimed at triggering an immediate orderly evacuation? Well, yes and no. First, how likely is it the announcement will not be heard over the ‘whop whop’ roar of the helicopter? And, second, how smart is it to apply this level of intervention, this form of technology, to potentially trigger a stampede? If there is an urgent need for people to vacate an area, sending in a helicopter at tree-top level or even lower is like throwing gas onto a fire. Not a good idea.

Now, is it surprising that this pilot flew so low, endangering so many people? No, not at all. FAA’s regulations for Minimum Safe Altitude (officially known as FAR 91.119) are carefully worded so as to exempt helicopters from the ‘1,000-ft above’ requirement that all fixed wing aircraft have to comply with. Well, sort of. The ambiguity within FAR 91.119 creates a barn door wide enough to fly a helicopter through … or, at least, it creates opportunities for FAA to justify taking no enforcement actions. The key phrase within FAA 91.119 is this:

“(Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below) … an altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.”

Check out the videos online, by tailgaters at this Penn State incident. How was this helicopter going to safely execute an emergency landing without actually crushing or chopping people and ‘property’ below in the congested, open air assembly of tailgaters? And, when the impact causes fuel to burst out and ignite, how does the PA State Police mitigate the ‘undue hazards’ of being burnt to death?

Let’s put this in FAA’s perspective: aviation is good, people are dumb, and we, as the federal ‘regulator’ with sovereign authority for all things U.S. aviation, do everything we can to grow aviation commerce and allow even stupid aviation activities.

  • From FAA’s perspective, why not allow the use of helicopters swooping low and back-and-forth to herd wild horses or cattle … or PEOPLE?
  • From FAA’s perspective, why not ignore the obvious hazard and imprudence of using helicopters for drying cherries, or suspending enormous brush-trimming devices? Why not also ignore the ‘candy drops’ and ‘turkey drops’? After all, candy drops help sell aviation to kids, the same way turkey drops and heli-hunting sell aviation to, well, redneck yahoos … so, both are best ignored, right? [Check out this Heli-hunting video. with two shooters on the left side of a low-flying Robinson R44. Try to estimate the altitude, but try not to ponder too hard the possibility that any human or animal (a dog or livestock?) might be within the aerial hunt zone.]

  • From FAA’s perspective, why not pretend to care about safety – better yet, make ‘safety’ our most over-used word – by creating rules such as FAR 91.119 but carefully including enough ambiguity to ensure every errant pilot can walk away from enforcement – that is, so long as they are not killed by their own stupidity? Did you know: the FAR 91.119 language protects persons and property ‘ON THE SURFACE’, but the pilot (a person) and aircraft (a form of property) are NOT ‘on the surface’, and are therefore disposable?
  • From FAA’s perspective, why not perpetuate a convenient privilege for those people who choose aviation as their hobby or profession? Why not continue FAA’s ongoing failure to meaningfully investigate and enforce violations of FAR 91.119 and other FARs? After all, we wouldn’t want to dampen demand for flying, would we?

It amazes me that FAR 91.119 is so riddled with ambiguity, almost as much as it amazes me that FAA does not really give a damn about enforcing safe practices … at least not when they interfere with the expansion of air commerce. In this context, I suspect FAA will do nothing to correct the excesses that happened with the state police helicopter, at the Penn State tailgate last Saturday.

FAA investigates? We all have our doubts.