Santa Monica is Failing Their Promise to Shorten the Runway

A big event happens tomorrow night (May 24th), when the Santa Monica City Council holds a Special Session with major airport-related items. Here are some key links:

It has been four full months now, since the ‘surprise’ press announcement of a Consent Decree between FAA and the City. No progress has been made. FAA had approved, and the city promised, an immediate runway shortening, but now we are seeing the City dilly dally with lots of money to consultants to create reports that defy common sense while making unsupported claims that prolong the status quo impacts.

The City hired consultants to study options for shortening the runway to 3,500-ft, as allowed now by FAA. Documents indicate the consultant delivered a report with four options, but for whatever reason, the City stripped two of those options out and is proceeding to pretend only two options are viable. These two options alone were shared with the Public a few weeks ago (the existence of the other two options were only revealed in the last few days, after City posted documents related to the 5/24 agenda; see links above).

Frankly, it looks like City is playing a drawn-out delay game. It also looks like City is ignoring the health of the citizens of Santa Monica and nearby West LA neighborhoods. Even the City of Los Angeles should be pressing hard on this matter: to protect their citizens, they should be demanding that Santa Monica quit the dilly dallying and shorten the runway … NOW!!

The City owns the airport, and the City owns the runway itself. With that ownership, the City carries risks and liabilities. At this or any airport, if a runway is dangerous – too close to homes, or even too close to hangars as at Santa Monica, where people died in the last fiery airport crash – the airport authority needs to restrict operations for safety. If only to manage their risk exposure, all airport authorities should have the right to deny access of larger aircraft to substandard runways – especially commercial operations such as charter jets.

The biggest progressive step this year, as declared by the Consent Decree, is that FAA has finally backed down just a bit, and is letting the City manage the KSMO runway. City airport officials should use this restored authority to do as they say: immediately close the northeast portion of Runway 21, making it illegal for any aircraft to touch the asphalt.

Likewise, at the southwest end of the runway, City needs to take full advantage of the existing taxiways and simply close to operational use the roughly 450-feet of runway between the existing runway end and the first set of crossing taxiways (A1 & B1).

City could have done this in late January. That they have done nothing strongly suggests that City has a different and unspoken motive. The City, managed by Rick Cole, along with the airport office and under the guidance of the City Council, is not really trying to mitigate the severe impacts on hundreds of homes within the Runway Protection Zones (RPZs). The City is not honoring the clear request of the citizens who passed Measure LC with a wide margin, back in 2014 – a measure which demanded closure as soon as possible, and which also prohibited commercial use of any land reclaimed from aviation use in the future.

Also, notably, the most severe impacts at this airport are by small- to medium-sized charter jet and bizjet operations, often carrying just one wealthy person. These elites are inflicting an extraordinary negative impact on Santa Monica residents’ quality of life, simply because they will not be inconvenienced. They could instead fly out of much safer and less impactful airports such as LAX, Burbank, or Van Nuys, which like most U.S. airports, have no homes within their runway RPZs. They could do this, but they choose not to … and FAA and the City allow this injustice to continue.

Many have picked up on this story. No Jets Santa Monica Airport posted this great analysis on FaceBook:

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

Similar concerns have been posted by Ben Wang, at SMO Future. There are a lot of good people around Santa Monica, like Martin Rubin, who have devoted multiple decades to restore local quality of life and protect health. These are good people, who have fought for a just resolution of the noise and air pollutant impacts. It looks as though FAA and a few of the current City leaders are just trying to wear them out. FAA’s intransigence, and the corruptibility of selected Santa Monica officials, has ensured no meaningful progress in all these decades.

These are but a few of the people at the forefront of the movement by the majority of Santa Monica residents, who simply want to control and close the airport .. and they need to control it for their health. They are vocal activists, but they are not the only residents who find this is a major issue. These vocal activists represents the opinions – and the votes – of probably 5,000 Santa Monicans each. This is why there have been surprisingly long public comment sessions at City Council meetings when an airport issue has come up. The citizens have a network that lets them know when to come out in force to voice their opinions. Every day, more and more citizens are learning exactly which City Council members are secretly pro-airport. A clear story has emerged. The people will vote-out the now exposed pro-airport insiders.

This all has to change. If this does not change, we really do not have any functioning Democracy.


UPDATE, 6/1/2017:Written Public Comments, submitted to the City (copy posted by CRAAP, 89p)

What Is FAA Hiding from the Public? And Why??

FAA, like many federal agencies, has a nasty habit of expending lots of time and money working to keep the people in the dark. They are supposed to comply with FOIA laws, but instead they redact the hell out of what should be disclosed. Making matters worse, in recent decades it seems as though most in Congress are ‘too busy’ and/or ‘too inert’ to force FAA to follow the FOIA laws.

Every once in a while, we get a great chance to look past these barriers. Sometimes, FAA’s redactions become unmasked. When that happens, it is like sitting down with the devil, and sharing tea and a candid conversation. So much can be learned….

In this Post, a 27-page FAA memo is offered in two forms, redacted and unredacted. This memo documents how a safety investigation produced copious details and a strong recommendation for corrective action … which was then nixed by a higher FAA official. The heavily redacted copy was provided to an investigative report team. Seeing that so much data was hidden, they filed an appeal. An appeal response letter was eventually sent, rejecting the appeal, but somehow a copy of the unredacted 27-page was included in the appeal response letter.

Here are the two versions, presented as scrollable/downloadable/searchable PDFs. View them side-by-side. See for yourself what FAA chose to redact, when a reporter team tried to help the public understand how FAA was handling a dangerous safety failure involving commercial aircraft maintenance.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the heavily unredacted version, as initially sent by FAA (and after extensive review by numerous FAA managers). Click here to download the PDF file.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the full, unredacted version. Click here to download the PDF file.

The Background:

A few days ago, an aiREFORM Post encouraged readers to read the excellent investigative series done by the Tampa Bay Times. In the third article of the series, Nathaniel Lash showed how higher level FAA managers were over-riding the conclusions and recommendations of their field inspectors. The inspectors were investigating how a nut had detached causing an elevator jam, forcing an Allegiant MD80 to do a high-speed aborted takeoff at Las Vegas. This was an extremely serious situation that would have assuredly killed everyone on board, if the nut had failed while actually airborne. A similar failure caused the 1/31/2000 crash of Alaska 261, an MD83 that lost flight control near Santa Barbara and plunged into the Pacific, killing all 88 on board.

The similarities are in two troubling areas:

  1. the casual failure by maintenance crews to properly execute their tasks and to follow needed steps that would identify and fix failures (so as to ensure nuts do not fall off leading to catastrophic crashes); and,
  2. FAA’s gross failure at safety oversight, where key FAA officials knowingly allow maintenance crews to sidestep required procedures.

The latest Times article showed that FAA was found to be covering up dangerous maintenance failures performed by AAR on the Allegiant passenger jet. Note that AAR is a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operation; over the past decade, airlines have been reducing labor costs related to employing their own mechanics by increasingly outsourcing aircraft maintenance to MRO contractors. Costs may go down, but so do safety margins.

Will ‘60 Minutes’ Help Us Expose and Correct FAA’s Nationwide NextGen Mess?

(click on image to view source Facebook page)

People everywhere – from Bethesda to Federal Way, and from Culver City to Belmont – know the failures of the NextGen program:

  • that the program is a fraud, pretending to implement new technologies that have actually already been in common use for decades;
  • that FAA is pushing NextGen solely to get Congress to dole out more money, to prop up more FAA waste;
  • that, to get the airlines (and their main lobby, Airlines for America, A4A) to not oppose NextGen, FAA is focused on removing all noise mitigation procedures and local agreements, at all airports;
  • that FAA is enabling the airlines to expand flights per hour without limits (hub concentration);
  • and that FAA is also enabling the airlines to fly repetitive routes that are lower and closer to the runways (route concentration), with a wholesale disregard for how these routes are destroying even our oldest communities.

Historically, our economic and political system has been a point of pride, in no small part because it has had a press that operates freely, a press that would reliably expose frauds and compel the correction of failures. People have been well served when reporters dig deep, unspinning the spin and propaganda.

There has been a lot of evidence in the last year, that this ‘free press’ is dead, that in fact most elements of the mainstream media now serve corporate and political agendas. Likewise, we have seen too many elected officials who seem to be incapable of comprehending the impacts, who instead can only understand serving commerce so they can get campaign contributions. ‘60 Minutes’ can do better, can help restore the balance we have lost, and in the process can help rebuild public confidence in the mainstream media.

(click on image to view source Change.org petition page)

Will ‘60 Minutes’ listen? If hundreds of us take a few minutes and send emails, letters, tweets and calls, expressing how NextGen is impacting our homes, will ‘60 Minutes’ do the diligent research and expose the depth of FAA’s NextGen failure? Let’s hope so.

There are hundreds of smart people, across the nation and standing ready to help ‘60 Minutes’ write the powerful news story needed by thousands.

Here are your contact options…

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/60minutes/
TWITTER @60Minutes
EMAIL 60m@cbsnews.com
PHONE (212) 975-2006
POSTAL MAIL Story Editor, 60 MINUTES, CBS News
524 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

Earthen EMAS: How to Make the Most of the KSMO Consent Decree

What is going on in Santa Monica? Is the City honoring the will of the people who rejected massive campaigning by aviation lobbyists, and resoundingly approved Measure LC back in 2014? Or, is the City pulling a fast one on its people?

(click on image to view an aiREFORM Post about the accident and the lack of runway safety areas at KSMO)

Increasingly, it looks like the City is pretending to care about the lead, the particulates, the noise, and the obvious health impacts, yet is doing nothing to correct these problems.

Then, too, there is the problem of airport proximity to dense residential properties; airport neighbors have actually had lawn furniture blown over by the blast behind jets taking the runway; the smell of jet exhaust is a regular occurrence in backyards, where children play.

The fiery crash of an arriving bizjet back in 2013 killed four, but would have been far worse if that volume of jet fuel had ignited while crashing through the houses within the designated Runway Protection Zones (RPZs). Yep, although RPZs are supposed to be vacant land, hundreds of houses exist in the trapezoidal spaces at the ends of the Santa Monica runway; both FAA and the airport authority – the City – are going to be held accountable and found totally liable, if and when a crash happens in the RPZs.

The Consent Decree itself is suspect … no, doubly suspect. The City had a solid legal case, Nelson Hernandez had been insisting to noise activists that there were no discussions toward settlement, and yet City suddenly gave away all their advantage and caved to FAA pressures … AND Chamber of Commerce pressures, … and wealthy jet owner and wealthy airport users’ pressures. Twelve more years were added, with no guarantee of eventual airport closure. The only ‘gains’ received by the City were the right to shorten the runway, from 5,000-ft to 3,500-ft. The shortening was supposed to be immediate; rational people assumed it would take at least a few weeks or months to formally shorten the runway on paper, and add some surface markings. Instead, this process is being badly bungled, and is really calling to question, the integrity and intent of City Manager Rick Cole and key personnel such as Mr. Hernandez. Here are some examples of their bungling:

  • on 4/25, a meeting was held to share options for how to shorten the runway. The only options offered were to shorten it by clipping 750-ft off each end, or to shorten it by removing the bulk of the 1,500-ft from the west end. There was no option offered to remove 1,500-ft from the east end, which would best serve the most impacted airport neighbors (because the airport is nearly always in a west flow, the engine runups and idling by bizjets and charter jets nearly always happen on the east end; the jets often fly out IFR, thus have to wait until ATC can alter the LAX flow, to safely allow the SMO departures … so the jet idling can go on for a long time; also, the predominant winds push the concentrated pollutants to West LA, just east of the airport).
  • the meeting invitations went out only to the so-called ‘stakeholders’: pilots, airport operators & tenants, and other aviation folk. The local non-aviation community was not invited.
  • eventually, the local non-aviation community found out. Understandably, they felt slighted. Trust in Rick Cole and Nelson Hernandez has plummeted.
  • now, tonight, the Airport Commission meets, to consider the limited options, which reportedly carry an extraordinary $6 Million price tag, mostly just for adding paint to pavement!
  • It’s as if the goal is to so frustrate activists that they just give up (but they can’t: the stakes are too high, when you are fighting for health!).

So, that’s how bad it is. Now, if the City really cared to resolve decades-old airport problems, what would they have immediately embarked on after finalizing this Consent Decree?

  1. as a first step, declare the closure to become effective at the earliest allowable date. If any operators of the airport need more than 3,500-ft of runway, they would have a reasonable time window to depart, but after the closure date, that option would no longer exist.
  2. designate a runway portion for the initial closure. This does not have to be the final closure portion, but it does have to be designated. The surface markings have to be added, and the ATC procedures modified, to make it illegal for any flight to use this runway portion except in an emergency. Thankfully, the surface markings and modified ATC procedures are not a large or expensive task, and are easily completed.
  3. simultaneous with the above, define a full set of runway shortening options. The present set is woefully deficient. A full set would include at least three final runway positions, where the final runway portions to be closed would be all at the east end, all at the west end, or equally on both ends of the runway.
  4. a second set of ‘options’ – and equally important for addressing airport impacts – is what to do with the closed runway portions. Are they to be maintained, to enable longer takeoff or landing distances for larger bizjets, or are they to be declared unusable? So, this second set of options should consider removal of the asphalt versus painting the asphalt, and should also consider how the surface of the former runway sections are to be finished and maintained (grass, sand, or ??).
  5. if the goal is to maximize safety and minimize environmental impacts by bizjets and charter jets, the solution should be to discourage use of the airport by jets. Therefore, it would be a no-brainer to tear out the asphalt and create an earthen EMAS – perhaps sand, or perhaps just compacted soil seeded to grass, as is found at most airports. A small jet, aborting a takeoff or with a brake failure on arrival, would have its speed safely arrested in the overrun area; larger charter jets would simply avoid SMO, using longer runways in less impacted communities instead. LAX, for example, which has a brand new VIP terminal aimed at serving elite charter clients.
  6. for the record, FAA’s version of EMAS is very expensive. A specially formulated ‘crushable concrete’ is poured, and the cost to repair is also very high. Not just for actual accidents, but also when a pilot blunders and accidentally taxis onto it, as happened at Burbank with a private jet carrying baseball player Alex Rodriguez, in October 2006.

The Santa Monica Airport should have been closed decades ago; that it has not yet closed testifies not only to the power of the aviation lobby and the depth of FAA’s corruption in serving that lobby, but also to the lack of will (and intentional deception?) by City officials. From a distance, it is hard to watch this play out and not wonder, who’s getting paid off with what? Is Santa Monica just a wealthier version of the Bell, CA scandal?


UPDATE, 5/3/2017: — a petition for writ of mandate was filed by two citizens, seeking to have the Consent Decree declared null and void, on grounds that it was negotiated in violation of open records laws; see 98-page PDF copy here.

An Email Exchange with David Suomi, Again Shows FAA’s Bureaucratic Indifference

David Suomi, Deputy Regional Administrator for FAA’s Northwest Mountain Region

On 4/25/2017, FAA regional officials David Suomi (pronounced ‘Sue Me!’) and Steve Karnes spent an hour giving a rosy NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle Commissioners. A citizen audience was present and listened attentively, waiting for the chance to have their precious three minutes, to ask questions at the end.

As the presentation closed, and the Commission invited citizens to come to the mic, Mr. Suomi and Mr. Karnes suddenly stood up and said they had to leave, to attend to prior commitments. Pleadings from the crowd asked them to stay, but they packed their things and quickly, quietly departed. A half hour later, one of the citizens had to leave while the last few citizens were making their comments into the record. She saw Mr. Suomi and Mr. Karnes as she left; they were standing just outside the door, around the corner.

So, in total, although Mr. Suomi collects a very substantial federal paycheck in a job intended to serve the nation (not just the industry they pretend to regulate), he spent an hour selling a program that is causing substantial damages, even health problems, for many citizens. And, when done with that dog-and-pony show, it is not surprising that he would see no problem with his refusal to listen to and answer those citizen questions.

It is in this context that the following is shared. Two days after FAA’s NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle, a citizen sent this email to Mr. Suomi:

The email exchange is revealing. Here is Mr. Suomi’s reply, still locked in to selling NextGen and refusing to even acknowledge the growing impacts. Many of Mr. Suomi’s statements are rebutted, with a series of footnotes by aiREFORM.

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

An Example of FAA’s Illegible Orders … Is There a Reason they are Mostly Incomprehensible Garbage?

The day after the Fight the Flight forum, one of the local impacted citizens shared her concerns about research she was doing, to learn about the problems. She provided a link to FAA’s 19-page Desk Reference for Noise and Noise-Compatible Land Use. Here is her comment:

People all across the nation run into this problem when trying to take care of their family and community. FAA creates a problem by enabling excessive airport expansion, and by forcing the abandonment of noise abatement procedures. When our best citizens then take their valuable time to learn and be heard, to fix the new problem,  they run into FAA’s next wall: the concealment of valuable information. Sometimes the concealment is simply by refusing to talk, as happened when David Suomi and Steve Karnes left ‘early’ after their 4/25/2017 NextGen presentation to the Port of Seattle Commissioners; other times it is by FAA’s wasting taxpayer money, creating voluminous and byzantine standards and illegible procedural documentation.

One of the roles aiREFORM tries to serve is to archive the documents that are relevant to aviation impacts. A new Reference webpage has been created, with archived copies of the Desk Reference as well as the full Current Order and full Previous Order. Click here to view it, and download any copies that may be helpful in your local fight for quality of life.

Also, a request: if anyone finds they are doing some deeper analysis of these documents, creating a thorough outline or notes just to REALLY know this material (or to precisely define FAA’s failures), please consider sharing your work back; we can make a PDF of that and share it online, too, to help others.

KSEA: ‘Fight the Flight 101’ Community Forum, Tonight

One of the only major U.S. airports growing right now serves the Seattle area, Sea-Tac [KSEA]. While most other U.S. airports remain flat or in decline, Sea-Tac is growing simply because Delta Airlines chose to build up a new hub there in 2012. Time will show other Delta hubs (KSLC, KMSP, KDTW) will diminish to feed the excess of flights to KSEA, where areas even 20-miles from the runway are now getting far more noise and pollutant impact.

Here is the announcement by Quiet Skies Puget Sound, a group of impacted residents who have had enough and are coming together, activating to fix this mess at Sea-Tac, pressing elected officials to serve, and FAA and other authorities to become transparent and accountable:

(click on image to view event announcement and learn more)

And, here are two slides from the conclusion of the aiREFORM presentation, to be given tonight at this community forum:

The problem is a broken and corrupted culture at FAA, enabling abuses upon people by money-interests in the aviation industry. This is a widespread problem, extending far beyond Sea-Tac’s impact zone. The entire aiREFORM presentation will be posted online in the near future.

 

Today’s FAA: Serving only Aviation Money by Perpetuating Environmental Impacts

Three current satellite views that illustrate how different nations balance aviation commerce with residential quality of life. The images also show how backwards the U.S. FAA has become, with the widening failures to protect people from aviation impacts.

The first image shows Austria’s largest airport, Vienna International Airport, which serves a metropolitan area with a population of 2.6 million. The airport is 11-miles southeast of the urban center, and surrounding by farmland. This airport was a recent news splash, when a federal court ruled against the addition of a third runway, on the grounds it would prevent Austria from achieving carbon-reduction goals associated with the Paris climate agreement.

The second image shows Portland International Airport [KPDX], in Oregon, which serves a metropolitan area quite comparable to Vienna (with an estimated 2.4 million residents). The airport is 6-miles northeast of the urban core; the land was formerly agricultural but has generally been industrialized and commercialized, often after the regional port authority uses federal funds to buy up adjacent properties.
The third image shows what may be the worst example of FAA obstructing local control, forcing noise and air pollution upon a densely developed residential community: Santa Monica, California [KSMO]. No farmland, and no other buffers to protect residents, with houses literally just past the runway ends. People have had fences and lawn furniture knocked down by the blast of private jets, and even charter jets carrying just one VIP passenger. The noise and the exposure to toxic lead and carbon soot is far beyond what is found at even much busier hub airports. FAA has allowed the airport to continue to operate despite effectively having no safety buffers, to protect both aircraft occupants and aircraft neighbors. The fiery crash that killed four in September 2013 is an example of how critical it is for jets to have ample clear space, to keep everyone safe.

Operationally, Portland and Vienna are quite similar. The Vienna airport website includes a news release noting there were 226K operations in CY-2016.FAA’s ATADS-OPSNET database notes that Portland International had 228K operations in CY-2016. One distinct difference, though, is that the Viennese traffic is stable, while the Portland traffic has steadily declined for two decades, and is now down 31% from peak year 1997.

Santa Monica is most famous as the airport where Harrison Ford hangars his toys; his playtime, even when it involves forced landings on golf courses and nearly hitting a commercial jet while failing to land on the Orange County runway, is more important than the health and happiness of thousands of residents. So, the same federal regulator that expends thousands of hours impeding local control and a safer SMO airport, would never even dream of clipping the wings of Mr. Ford.

This is a no-brainer: FAA needs to let local officials close KSMO, or at least disallow jets. The main impediment to cleaning this up is Michael Huerta’s FAA. If he cannot get his captured employees to do their jobs, he needs to leave.

Working to Solve the Problems Created by NextGen

There is a new Chair for the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, actually two: Representatives Tom Souzzi (pronounced “swah’-zee”) and Eleanor Holmes-Norton were elected as co-chairs, to replace Representative Grace Meng.

Both Souzzi and Meng are from the NYC area, serving Queens and Nassau County. This is where the Caucus originated in 2014, primarily to address NextGen impacts. Essentially, health and quality of life are being destroyed in dozens of suburban neighborhoods, under arrival and departure paths for both LaGuardia [KLGA] and Kennedy [KJFK] airports.

Representative Souzzi spoke during Members’ Day, to the House Committee on Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee. Here is a link to the start of his statement, which presents many of the concerns of his impacted constituency. The statement is very thorough (click here to view a PDF of the prepared statement). In less than 6-minutes, he offers the following key takeaways:

  1. the impacts are national
  2. FAA and airport authorities routinely dismiss concerns without due consideration
  3. FAA is failing to recognize that this is an objective problem harming human health
  4. health studies are needed to compel action by FAA

Impacted residents asked aiReform to prepare an analysis, to help sharpen the focus on what the NextGen issues are and how they can be fixed. After a lot of discussion and review, the following document was created:

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


See also:
  • NATCA’s Position on NGATS-NextGen –  (9/8/2005) the position by NATCA, stated by Doug Fralick at a conference: “…the real limiting factors are runway capacity and weather, no fancy en route automation system is going to change that fact.” Note that he refers to NGATS, not NextGen, as this marketing term had not yet been created.
  • 2005 Annual Performance Report – (March 2006) the first appearance of the brandname ‘NextGen’, in a glossy annual report for 2005, pitching great progress by the air traffic organization (ATO). Note that both FAA Administrator Blakey and ATO COO Chew prominently push the ‘NextGen’ moniker in their letters. Note also that many technical advances are claimed, yet Shuster, A4A, and complicit media hacks are all routinely pressing the idea FAA is using technology from World War II.
  • DoT-IG-Dobbs report to a Congressional committee, hearing re NextGen – (July 25, 2006) this DoT-IG report assesses NGATS but makes no reference to ‘NextGen’. Evidently, although Blakey and ATO started pushing the NextGen brandname in March, as long as four months later other entities such as the Inspector General had not yet adopted the term.
  • AIRR: Going Nowhere (while Shuster schleps in Florida!) – (2/24/2016) aiReform Post, at the end of the last big push for ATC privatization and accelerated NextGen funding
  • FAA’s Refusal to Manage Airport Capacity – (1/7/2017) aiReform Post offering a closer analysis