We Should All Be So Brave.
Let’s hope, in this New Year, we continue to see great creative effort and expression by some of the wonderful bloggers fighting for our planet and our future!
Let’s hope, in this New Year, we continue to see great creative effort and expression by some of the wonderful bloggers fighting for our planet and our future!
Here’s some data to ponder as we start into a new year: a table, showing commercial operations at each of FAA’s OEP-35 airports, from 2007 onward.
Focus first on the pink column, three columns from the right edge; the airports are ranked in descending order, by the percent decline in annual operations, comparing 2015 with 2007.
Note that the largest declines, at Cincinnati [KCVG], Cleveland [KCLE], and Memphis [KMEM] are huge: down 61%, 53%, and 43% respectively. Note also, the declines are even larger when you compare Total Annual Operations in 2015 vs the various historic peak years for each OEP-35 airport, in the two columns on the far right; for these figures (which include general aviation and military operations data), all airports have declined, ranging from 74% to 2% and averaging 24%.
Three facts stand out from this table, and they all strongly contradict the sales pitches that FAA and industry have been collaborating on the past few years:
WIth the new year, we’ll see a new adminstration and changes at FAA and DoT. Don’t be fooled by the impending onslaught of yet another round of propaganda. The U.S. NAS is operating at far below historic peaks and continuing to trend downward. Growth is rare, and limited to key airports where airlines are concentrating flights into superhubs that severely impact local quality of life. The only true beneficiaries of NextGen and ATC privatization are industry stakeholders (especially the airline CEOs, FAA officials, lobbyists, and manufacturers, plus a few elected officials), who will narrowly share the profits while completely ignoring the larger environmental costs.
We don’t need oversold technology fixes pitching RNAV and RNP solutions that have been used for decades; technologies that could and would serve us all beautifully, if FAA would assert its authority with balance, and manage capacity at the largest U.S. hub airports. We need airports to serve communities while being truly environmentally responsible. And for that to happen, we need a new era of transparency and accountability at FAA. We need reform.
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?
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:
Here are a few short videos that show the power of time-lapse photography. Combine this with the close-up agility of drone photography and, well, there’d hardly be a need for manned aerial photography or air tourism. On top of all that, the safety record would improve dramatically; people would not be put at risk paying for rides with profit-driven aviation companies, with a long track record of cutting corners.
Imagine that: experiencing the Grand Canyon or lower Manhattan and NOT hearing a helicopter? Wow!!
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
It has been a busy Fall at the Santa Monica Airport [KSMO], where FAA is flexing its administrative-legal muscles, intervening to delay city efforts to evict two private operators. The City wants to take over fuel sales and other airport services (known as ‘FBO services’), but the private FBOs do not want to accept that their leases are expired, nor do they want to give up lucrative profits. Just like FAA does not want to adhere to the agreement they struck with the city, in 1984, which meant the city could outright close the airport in July 2015.
In a recent email, Nelson Hernandez, the Senior Advisor to the Santa Monica City Manager, offered yet another update on the city’s progress. He noted that, “…on August 23, Council directed the City Manager to establish a city-owned FBO by December 31, or as soon as practicable….” He then added, there is ample precedent for airport authorities (in this case, the City of Santa Monica) setting up their own FBO services at an airport, instead of letting an out-of-state operator reap the hefty profits. He noted three airports: “…in the last two years, Fort Wayne, Greenville, and Chattanooga, created their own City FBO for similar financial reasons….” He was referring to airports in Fort Wayne, IN [KFWA], Greenville, NC [KPGV], and Knoxville, TN [KDKX].
Out of curiosity, I did some online research and confirmed that, yes, all three of these airports have city-operated FBOs. And, all three appear to be very healthy airports. Nelson’s list of three airports included one with an FAA control tower [KFWA] and two with no control tower [KPGV] and [KDKX]). Here’s the data on these three airports, with [KSMO] added for comparison:
I noticed something else, too, which was a bit startling. You’ll see it starkly presented in the three image-pairs below. When you look at how Santa Monica’s runway is shoe-horned into the neighborhoods, and when you compare it to the ‘airport normality’ of these other three, far less crowded airport locations, it just jumps out at you. And, when you look at the series of images showing how many houses were removed in recent years for a runway expansion at a very slow Greenville airport, you just have to wonder how in the world people can coexist with business jets so close to their Santa Monica homes. I mean, if FAA moves people out of their homes in Greenville, what is it about Santa Monica homeowners that makes them less at risk than North Carolinians? And given that there are so many Santa Monica homes, would it not make the most sense to simply close the airport??
Clearly, each of these three airports is far more compatibly located than is the Santa Monica Airport. In fact, looking at these three, I just have to say: if I was the new FAA Administrator, I’d be quick to ask my new highly-paid subordinates:
“Why are we NOT working with the city to expedite closing this airport? After all, it is grossly incompatible with the community (look at all those houses, and so close to the runway!), it is clearly a health hazard, and we have plenty of other LA Basin airports and longer, safer runways to serve the business jets and general aviation, all of which are far below their historic high traffic levels. So, when are we going to start serving everyone, not just our buddies who employ us after we retire?”