We need our questions answered from the FAA &/or the PA and we need them now!! No more shifting blame. Someone needs to take responsibility!!
For safety and efficiency, we have design standards. Thus, we do not allow school playgrounds to overlap into highways, and we require freeway onramps to be constructed within specs such as gradient, lane curvature, pavement width and quality, signage and markings, etc.
Aviation is no different. In fact, design standards at airports are even more critical, due to higher speeds and larger fuel quantities. A case in point is the last major fatal accident at Santa Monica, on September 29, 2013.
Four died when a Cessna 525 jet, while landing on Runway 21, swerved to the right and collided with a hangar near the west end of the airport. The accident investigation by NTSB failed to establish exactly what happened, though analysis of personal electronic devices did indicate a large dog was allowed to ride unrestrained in the jet’s cabin (could a dog cause this much loss-of-control?). So, all we know is that a local businessman who would fly almost every week between his homes in Santa Monica, CA and Sun Valley, ID, lost control during an otherwise normal landing.
This brings us back to the concept of safety design standards. If you or I are driving down a rural arterial – say, a regular old 2-lane paved highway, and right at the 55mph speed limit – we might suddenly swerve if a tire blows. Design standards exist to ensure we have a ‘clear zone’ so that our ‘errant vehicle’ can be brought to a stop without hitting a fire hydrant, a railroad trestle, a restaurant, or other object that could increase the odds of fatalities and/or serious injuries. By design, we want our ‘errant vehicle’, be it a car or an airplane, to have room to slow down and stop, with nobody getting hurt. With more room, there would not have been four fatalities on 9/29/2013; it would have instead been ‘a close call’, and likely would have triggered a decision by some of the lucky survivors to fly less. The Cessna 525 accident at Santa Monica turned out badly because the jet collided with a hangar built relatively close to the runway. After the accident cleanup, satellite images indicate that the hangar (as well as connected hangar structures, damaged by the fire) was rebuilt. It is not clear whether these structures should have been rebuilt, just as it is not clear if they were allowed to be too close to the Santa Monica runway prior to the accident. But, looking at other U.S. airports, there is evidence that a serious safety design oversight is being perpetuated at Santa Monica.
For example, consider Cobb County, GA [KRYY]. This airport, north of Atlanta near Kennesaw, also has a single runway and a ‘C-II’ Airport Reference Code (the same ARC needed for E135’s to fly scheduled charter service, as JetSuiteX proposes in early 2017).
But, within the May 2016 KRYY Airport Layout Plan (ALP), it is declared that FAA requires an 800ft wide ‘Object Free Area’ (OFA), thus 400ft either side of the runway centerline. Note, too, that on the ALP, the airport authority declares they are conformant with the OFA distance requirement, a point that is reinforced by online satellite images.
So, what’s going on here? Why is FAA allowing and funding airport expansion near Atlanta with safety design standards that appear to be routinely ignored in Santa Monica?
A Few Simple Questions
Here are four questions that both FAA and the City of Santa Monica need to answer, prior to allowing JetSuiteX to begin scheduled 30-passenger charter flights out of Santa Monica:
- prior to the accident, what was the distance between the south edge of the destroyed hangar and the runway centerline? Was this distance in compliance with FAA’s design standards for this particular runway?
- after the accident, did FAA and City confer as to the wisdom of rebuilding these hangars? Did this reconstruction require FAA to issue a specific exemption from runway setback requirements, so the new structures could continue to penetrate the runway safety areas and obstruction free areas?
- given the absence of functional Runway Protection Zones (RPZs) at Santa Monica, was either FAA or City proposed banning jets to mitigate risks? In particular, with roughly 270 residences standing inside the standard RPZ boundaries, where is there ANY FORM of ‘protection’ being achieved?
- regarding JetSuiteX, a recent news story includes this line: “We’ll begin operating whether we get permission or not,” Wilcox said. “We can use the existing facilities at the airport.” Has either FAA or the City confirmed this cowboy assertion? Has either FAA or City (hopefully BOTH!) taken immediate action to inform Mr. Wilcox of his errant views and the reality that safety dictates he will NOT operate until both the City and the FAA are assured his scheduled charter flights can meet basic safety standards?
The content and quality of presentation at this citizen protest is outstanding. The statements and the stories just scream out:
How can FAA and the Santa Monica Airport continue to do the damage being done, not just the noise but the serious health destruction, too?
This protest offers a great example for others, being impacted across the nation by an out-of-control FAA and aviation businesses. Perhaps viewing these will help you to become motivated to reclaim local control of your local airport … to serve the LOCAL COMMUNITY first, and to assure that the airport’s operations are properly balanced with the environment and local quality of life.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded. Click on the links within the PDF to view each video portion, uploaded to YouTube.
A Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) is a trapezoidal space, positioned at the ends of all runways, designed to create a safety buffer for when aircraft fail to stay on the runway. Santa Monica has no meaningful RPZs. In fact, despite lots of searching, I have not been able to find any other U.S. airport with hundreds of homes standing inside the RPZ. The vast majority of U.S. airports have ZERO homes standing inside the RPZs.
This graphic illustrates where the Santa Monica RPZs would be, if FAA applied its safety standards there:
Nationally, FAA has generally done a good job on RPZs; they have defined the dimensions, and they have firmly and consistently guided airport authorities to comply with these design standards that are needed to protect pilots, paying passengers and airport neighbors. FAA has thus secured safety control at essentially all airports, but NOT at Santa Monica. There, a close inspection of the RPZs shows approximately 270 homes exist in the Santa Monica RPZs that are frankly nonexistent. Here are larger images: Nice homes, in a beautiful area with the finest weather, yet these people endure air pollution, noise pollution, and the constant fear of an off-airport crash. This makes no sense, and it does not have to be this way.
How Does Santa Monica Compare With Other Airports?
The PDF below presents a compilation of satellite views, comparing airport RPZs for Santa Monica with thirteen other airports in five western states (California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada). Each of the airports selected for comparison is noted for heavy use by air charters and private bizjets. Two especially notable conclusions from this analysis are:
- homes are virtually never allowed to stand within RPZs, as it is just too dangerous. So, why hasn’t FAA either bought out the homes in the Santa Monica RPZs or, far more pragmatically, simply shut down jet operations there?
- if FAA shut down jets at Santa Monica, the capacity to absorb them at larger and safer airports in nearby Van Nuys [KVNY] and Burbank [KBUR] is enormous. As is typical throughout the U.S., both of these airports were built to accommodate traffic levels that have since declined by half.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
Recent news articles report that a charter operator hopes to start flying 30-seat Embraer E135 jets on scheduled flights out of Santa Monica [KSMO]. Rumor has it they are already selling tickets. This sounds crazy, because there is no evidence that the operator has first obtained an approval for these operations, at an airport that appears to not conform with FAA’s runway safety design standards, as required for this type of operation and aircraft.
FAA requires airports to provide emergency equipment and design elements that will adequately protect the public. A first step in this process is to assess the airport and assign an Airport Reference Code, or ARC. The ARC is defined by the size and speed of the most demanding aircraft to use the airport at least 500 times in a year. The Embraer E135 has a maximum takeoff weight nearly 42,000 pounds, a 67 feet 9 inch wingspan, and an approach speed around 130 knots. FAA considers the E135 to be a ‘C-II’, and the airport has to be designed accordingly.
For safety, all airports have a defined Runway Protection Zone (RPZ), typically a set of trapezoidal areas delineated reference the approach end and departure end of the runway. The RPZ for a C-II airport, as would serve the E135, can be seen on airport master plans across the nation, and measures 500ft and 1000ft on the ends, by 1,700ft long. An RPZ is ideally OWNED by the airport authority, and is to be clear and level to accommodate errant flights; the ONLY structures allowed are those necessary for the airport, such as lighting and navigational aids.
Just to get an idea of how incompatible and unsafe the KSMO runway geometry is, here is a trio of satellite images. The first is a screencap showing the approach end of KSMO Runway 21, with a thin red 500ft circle added, centered on the end of the runway; lots of houses, and yet the full C-II RPZ extends roughly 1,400ft further to the east!
The second screencap of a satellite view shows what the same 500ft circle looks like at Hayward [KHWD], where the nearest homes are approximately 800ft from the end of the runway. Notice how wonderfully clear, flat and open the area is, to safely contain any accidents that can and do happen … and notice the contrast with KSMO.
The third image shows what FAA wants – (and what the Public needs!) – at all certified airports: runways away from homes, with full RPZs. This example shows the Tallahassee, FL airport [KTLH] in comparison with KSMO; both at the same scale, one airport on wide open flat land, the other airport wedged in between mature residential neighborhoods.So, an air charter operator may already be selling tickets for scheduled jet flights out of KSMO, and the FAA is saying nothing.
Are you kidding me!?!!!!!?!
Where is the safety regulation here? Where is the application of all the Airport Design standards in Advisory Circular AC 150/5300-13A? Doesn’t FAA have to ensure Part 139 is followed for these 30-seat charter flights?
The fight in Santa Monica continues to heat up. City officials have labored for nearly four decades, and patiently endured one FAA delay tactic after another, in their quest to assert local control so they can best manage their local airport. Now, an official at FAA Headquarters in Washington, DC, has issued an ‘Interim Cease and Desist Order’. For what it’s worth, here is a copy of the City’s official response:
The Order appears authoritative and very threatening, but a closer inspection suggests it is just another bluff by an out-of-control federal agency. Here’s the closing declaration, at page five of FAA’s 15-page document, signed by Kevin Willis, an FAA Director at the Office of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis, on 12/12/2016:
‘Cease & Desist’ … hmm, my first thought was, roughly,
“…where does FAA have the authority to issue a ‘Cease & Desist Order’, intervening in the relationship an airport authority has with an airport tenant? I mean, by this logic, FAA should also have the right to dictate all sorts of airport management details, not at all related to aviation safety.”
Evidence That This is Just a Bluff
FAA’s authority to issue the Order is cited as footnote one, on the bottom of page 1 which reads: “This Order is issued pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 46105 and 14 CFR § 16.109.” So in the probably 100-200 man-hours that went into drafting this Order, FAA’s legal team offered not one but two cites. But, is either cite valid?
I’ll lead off with the second cite. According to GPO’s eCFR website, FAA’s second cite DOES NOT EXIST. I.e., per the screencap below, 14 CFR § 16.109 is a ‘reserved’ section of the CFR framework, meaning there is no language to be consulted.
And note, too, this is NOT an out-of-date version; the GPO website declares this eCFR is current as of 12/12/2016 … the same date as Mr. Willis’s signature!
And now let’s consider the other cite. FAA cited 49 U.S.C. § 46105, but their error is immediately revealed by simply reading the language of the law. The actual section contains these words: “…a regulation prescribed or order issued by (…) the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration with respect to aviation safety duties and powers designated to be carried out by the Administrator (…) takes effect within a reasonable time prescribed by the (…) Administrator.”
Note the qualifier, “…with respect to aviation safety duties and powers designated…” FAA’s current action against Santa Monica has nothing to do with ‘aviation safety duties’, and FAA’s legal team has failed to actually cite any real authority. If you want to look even further, see this archived PDF copy of the entire Chapter 461, which contains all sections, from 46101 through 46111. It is a searchable copy, so it is easy to quickly establish: Chapter 461 contains neither the term ‘cease’ nor the term ‘desist’, and the cited § 46105 contains no real authority.
Now, just to be clear, I am not a lawyer. BUT, as a forced-to-retire FAA ATC whistleblower, I have plenty of experience with FAA’s bluff and bluster. FAA pays plenty for their hundreds of inside attorneys, and these civil servants are expected to distort and deceive at will, in support of the true and not-so-ethical FAA mission. If my quick legal assessments are flawed, please show me my error. And if they are not flawed, clearly, it is time for FAA to get off their bureaucratic butts and let the People in Santa Monica get on with owning AND controlling their local airport.
— a week has passed and nobody has yet provided even a flimsy legal basis for FAA’s administratively issuing an ‘Interim Cease & Desist Order’ against the City of Santa Monica. The most substantial response I have yet seen was sent by Chris Harshman, and a screencap is provided below:
Here’s what I sent back to Chris:Chris did make one good point in his email. He identified my error in interpreting the CFR nomenclature. The Code of Federal Regulations are an extremely deep and tangled set of rules. When I researched my blogpost, I could not find a 14 CFR § 16.109 and ended up finding a list that looked like it was regarding 14 CFR § 16.109, but was actually declaring that 14 CFR Part 109 was reserved. The online version is viewable here (and I archived a copy, all 31-pages, here).
Of course, we also have the problem that the preamble for the 31-pages of 14 CFR Part 16 says that “…provisions of this part govern all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proceedings involving Federally-assisted airports….” This strongly suggests that Part 16 cannot be applied against Santa Monica, because Santa Monica dropped their addiction to airport federal assistance many decades ago.
Thankfully, all of this confusion is easily solved. We just need FAA to start serving ALL OF US, not just the elite aviation interests. Airports serve communities, not businesses; airport impacts need to be properly balanced against health, residential quality of life, and other issues. Attorneys can help make this happen… IF they choose to serve more than just the mighty dollar.
A classic example of the sacrifices commonly made by aviation impact activists is happening today, in a Denver courtroom. A single airport operator, Mile-Hi Skydiving, makes money by using their fleet of skydiving planes, outfitted to climb faster AND make more noise. So as not to annoy the actual near-airport residents, the planes are flown a few miles away and the climbs, which commonly drone on for 15- to 20-minutes, impact the residents below. The problem came many decades after the airport was built, coinciding with aircraft purchases and modifications by Mile-Hi owner Frank Casares.
As is nearly always the case, FAA is doing nothing to help resolve the problems. Indeed, doing the quite the opposite, FAA is enabling the operator (Mile-Hi) and ensuring these impacts will persist and even worsen. Just as they do at East Hampton, Santa Monica, Mora, and a dozen or so NextGen-induced noise canyons (e.g., [KLGA], [KPHX], [KCLT], [KSEA], [KBOS]), FAA is obstructing every effort for meaningful LOCAL CONTROL of local airports. Somehow, we are supposed to suspend rational thinking and believe that, if the local City Council wanted to impose reasonable restrictions on the lease they have signed with Mile-Hi, it would compromise safety to have them execute quieter climbs or limit their operations to say a 6-hour block each day? Likewise, FAA (and the industry they protect from the Public!) expects us to believe this total capitulation to the profit-motives of a single skydiving operator is critical for our National Airspace System (NAS) integrity?
Bullshit. Shame on you, FAA et al, for continuing to obstruct reasonable attempts toward local resolution. Sleep, and the quality of our home environments, is important … far more necessary than your propping up the narrowly distributed profits of operators like Frank Casares. Let’s bring some balance back to these situations: more LOCAL control at our local airports.
Thank you, Kim, Citizens for Quiet Skies, and the others who have bravely spoken up to fix this local problem. Against a hostile local press, a corrupt and commerce-biased state court system, you fight on. And your battles help many others, from East Hampton to Santa Monica to Mora.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
At FAA’s ‘Optimization of Airspace & Procedures in the Metroplex (OAPM)‘ webpage, which is marked as last modified on 6/27/2016, there is a link to a video uploaded to FAA’s YouTube page. As has been the practice for FAA and others trying to dupe the Public into buying NextGen, the video is filled with disinformation.
Here’s an example. The two images below are screencaps, showing consecutive slides in FAA’s video, at times 1:07 and 1:13. The first is a satellite view of a hilly, minimally developed and predominantly forested land area; the second is a blue graphic with FAA’s splashy declarations alleging ‘transformative’ benefits of NextGen.
No explanation is necessary, but what the hell. Lies annoy me, so I love to skewer them with facts. Here goes… the satellite view presents the direct green line and a zigzag red line route. The clear intent of this green vs red graphic is to impress upon us that our commercial airliner will become amazingly more efficient if, via NextGen, we let them fly those direct ‘greenlines’.
The problem is, it is utter bullshit. Our commercial passenger planes have been flying direct routes (the equivalent of these greenlines) for more than four decades. Thus, this graphic implies a change that will not happen, an alleged benefit never to be gained.
And, furthermore, study that satellite view. It’s fuzzy, but it offers enough detail, including roads and granularity related to both vegetation and topography, that anyone who studies aerial imagery can see: this land area is no more than 10- or 20-miles across. A commercial jetliner would NEVER be able to fly the red zigzag route as the turns are far too tight. But, of course, that does not stop FAA from pushing this kind of NextGen disinformation. All for the money.
And think this one step further: as stated by FAA, those red lines represent a ground-based route; thus, there have to be navigational stations at the locations where the red lines bend. Out in the middle of this area of hills and hollers. Yeah, right. I wish FAA would show more respect for our intelligence, and for our money.
Michael Huerta: you’ve been FAA Administrator through all of this. Are you going to tell your FAA employees to clean this up, or are you just going to leave the NextGen mess for the next Administrator?
Time and again this year, the mainstream media has been shown to be fully collaborating with those they report on, thus effectively serving not as objective journalists but as servant propaganda agents. We’ve seen this in politics (yes, 2016 has been a big and very troubling year!), and we’ve seen it in the lobbying efforts of certain industries, aviation included.
The key to these propaganda campaigns is to ALWAYS frame the message (using carefully selected keywords), and coordinate the delivery of information. In the context of our U.S. Congress, in its present and ongoing state of oligarchy-serving dysfunction, it is critical that opposition voices are tamped down; that is, it would be problematic if any of the aviation stakeholders spoke up against the objective. So, within the group of stakeholders/players who are coordinating the propaganda campaign, each must find an aspect of the program that serves their own narrow interests, and accept that personal benefit as sufficient for their agreement to remain quiet about aspects they dislike. This is precisely what has evolved with NextGen and ATC Privatization; this is how we end up with the air traffic controllers’ union, NATCA, doing a reversal this year and now declaring that union leaders are onboard with both proposals.
The current propaganda campaign for the U.S. aviation system focuses on two things:
- ATC privatization – the ‘real goal’ is to further insulate this safety/regulatory function from accountability and transparency, making it that much harder for impacted citizens to resolve aviation-related problems. Many in industry like this idea, for obvious reasons (it creates ‘business opportunities’); top officials at NATCA see a chance to remove controllers from federal salary caps and the age-56 mandatory retirement, so thousands of the most senior controllers today would earn more than $180,000 per year (and build much larger retirement pensions).
- NextGen investment – as happens with most matured agencies, there is a constant need to project a message that helps the agency mission appear relevant and worthy of further funding. So, every few years, FAA dreams up a way to spend money, coordinates with ‘stakeholders’ to ensure their non-opposition, then carefully maneuvers Congress, seeking billions for a new so-called ‘transformative’ program. It is all smoke-and-mirrors and pork, benefitting not just industry players but also FAA officials who retire, collect pensions, and become consultants and lobbyists for those same industry players.
Any effective propaganda campaign requires consistent and frequent restatement of key bits of disinformation. I.e., if you repeat a lie long enough, it effectively becomes fact. This truism is understood and abused by both major political parties in the U.S., just as it is understood and abused by accountability-averse agencies, FAA included. So, what are the key bits of disinformation FAA is using…?
- use the words ‘increasingly congested’ … even when you know it is just a bald-faced lie (see the data analysis within the Post, The Incredible Shrinking NAS … that FAA & the Av-Gov Complex Don’t Talk About; on average, for the 504 U.S. airports with control civilian control towers, annual operations are now down 45% from the peak years at each airport. DOWN 45% … but does the mainstream media tell us this statistic?
- distract the citizens with snazzy graphics and jargon that pretends to be selling something new and incredible [even when the actual change is minimal to none]
- tack on the latest buzzwords, such as ‘transformative’, ‘collaborative’, and of course ‘NextGen’.
- make sure it appears that the message is organic, authentic, and sourced NOT in the agency (FAA) but in the real world (the airlines, the airline lobby, the unions, the manufacturers). [again, this is just illusion… there is a huge amount of coordination going on behind the scenes, with FAA and the other parties very carefully designing the campaign, and orchestrating who says what and when]
Here’s a recent example: a news article with warm and fuzzy airport growth hopes at the St. Paul Downtown Airport [KSTP], near Minneapolis. This is an airport catering primarily to elite personal and business travel, such as using charter bizjets. The airport management expects roughly a hundred elite sport fans to use KSTP in early 2018, for their flight to watch the Super Bowl. The article more than implies that the airport is a money-generator. But, as shown in this aiREFORM analysis, and as is so typical across the nation, annual operations at this airport peaked in 1990 and have since declined 70%. The federal monies spent there are essentially maintaining infrastructure that is increasingly underused.
So, when you read articles such as this, be sure to consider the long history of spin and propaganda by FAA and other Av/Gov Complex players.
Recent news stories have chilled those of us who care about good governance, Democracy, and the critical need for a free Press. We have learned that, yet again, FAA is abusing its authority, imposing flight restrictions to shut down the Press, so they cannot obtain valuable imagery at the major environmental protest happening in eastern North Dakota. (click here to view a copy of the Cannonball, ND DAPL TFR
Readers may wonder about these TFR’s (Temporary Flight Restrictions): what are they, and what would be an appropriate TFR imposed by FAA?
Here’s an example, and not very far from North Dakota. One clearly appropriate TFR would be to protect aircraft from being hit by rocks during a large-scale surface blasting operation.
Hibbing Taconite operates a massive strip mine in the Mesabi Range of Minnesota. They have operated the Hull–Rust–Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine north of Hibbing since 1976, and online mining production data (which oddly ends in the early 1990s) shows that they shipped an average 8 million metric tons of taconite pellets during the timeframe 1987-1993. The Wikipedia page on ‘Mesabi Range’ says this is one of the world’s largest open pit iron ore mines.
An analysis of satellite imagery reveals that the mining process (documented in a series of screen captured satellite images in this scrollable PDF) is as follows:
- remove the vegetation and soil overburden (averaging 5 meters depth).
- set and detonate an array of charges over the area to be extracted.
- load the blasted ore layer into massive dump trucks and haul it to the processing plant, where the ore is separated/cleaned. The ore is shipped for steel production; the byproduct (water, soil, and other materials) is flowed into a tailings pond, where the sediments settle out.
- when the supply of extractable ore begins to run out, repeat the process, blasting a new extraction area.
The latest blast area is within the eastern part of the pit, and is the subject of the TFR on 12/7/2016. During a one hour window, FAA is excluding flights, from using airspace within a 2-mile radius of the blast, at altitudes below approximately 2,500-ft above ground level. A temporary flight restriction seems quite appropriate, as there is a real hazard.
Contrast this with the DAPL protest near Cannonball, ND. There, FAA has AGAIN abused its authority to impose flight restrictions aimed NOT at safety, but at hampering the Press. This, clearly, is wrong.