The news this year has been abuzz with Aviation Noise articles, and it does not appear to be slowing down.
Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Judith LaBuda heard closing arguments in a Boulder, CO trial, where impacted residents are seeking relief from the noise of Mile-Hi Skydiving Center, operating out of Longmont’s Vance Brand Airport [KLMO].
On the East Coast and the West Coast (in East Hampton, NY, and in Santa Monica, CA), citizens have ‘Just Said No’ to FAA grants for decades to get out from under ‘grant obligations’ and try to regain local control of their airports. They are now working diligently to finish their trek, to ensure local officials will not cave to late pressures from FAA and the industry. For once, they hope to see their local officials act to manage aviation noise and preserve ‘quality of life’. At East Hampton [KHTO], residents want relief from noisy commuter helicopters. At Santa Monica [KSMO], the biggest noise offender is also commercial, in the form of charter jets using a too-short runway, and also spraying soot and jet blast onto neighboring homes.
And, of course, there are the ongoing (and growing!) NextGen debacles impacting hundreds of thousands of sleep-deprived residents. Phoenix, Chicago, and New York have generated lots of big stories; Charlotte, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, Palo Alto, … the list will grow on. At each impacted community, millions of taxpayer dollars are used by FAA to attractively (and fraudulently) ‘green-wrap’ the debacle, and always stated as ‘in collaboration with industry stakeholders’. And, in case you missed it, FAA even wished everyone a Happy Earth Day!
Lots of news, but very little progress. Such is the politics of FAA and aviation noise.
Censorship in Colorado
As an example of how intensely political aviation noise is becoming, a conservative-leaning paper in Longmont recently censored out a reader comment. The paper, TimesCall.com, has generally been doing an excellent job of covering the citizens’ lawsuit against aviation operator Mile-Hi Skydiving. And their articles provide a ripe forum for people to express their views. As has come to be the standard in today’s online forums, the views are hugely polarized and sometimes downright rude and uncivil.
So, here’s a short overview of what happened at TimesCall.com. A person using the tag ‘JustSayinEP’ (Estes Park?) had made a comment which was promptly deleted by the website administrator. But, before the deletion, another person using the tag ‘Querty123’ responded, questioning if ‘JustSayinEP’ was threatening to use a rocket launcher to shoot down the main offending Mile-Hi Skydiving airplane, the loud white/purple Twin Otter. ‘JustSayinEP’ then promptly replied, and within his reply noted the content TimesCall.com had censored. To their credit, TimesCall.com did not censor this follow-up. Thus, we are all able to plausibly reconstruct their justification for the censorship. Here’s a screen-capture showing the comment thread (orange-box added by aiReform.com):
The censored comment included lyrics from Bruce Cockburn’s 1984 song about oppression in Guatemala, ‘If I had a Rocket Launcher’. The opening stanza of the song lyrics includes, “Here comes the helicopter, second time today, everybody scatters and hopes it goes away, how many kids they’ve murdered only God can say….” The second stanza includes, “I don’t believe in guarded borders and I don’t believe in hate, I don’t believe in generals or their stinking torture states….” See the full lyrics here; the song is short and simple, and the lyrics webpage has lots more information about how the song came to be written.
Here are two embedded YouTube videos. Take your pick (or, better, listen to both). The first is the video at the link posted by ‘JustSayinEP’, which has video images showing the human face in Guatemala; the second video is an acoustic version, on a stage in Canada, that many find more artistically impressive:
Both videos present a great song. This song is NOT intended to stir up violence. It is clearly intended to stir up PEOPLE, to get us to CARE ENOUGH to take non-violent action, to right an obvious wrong. As Bruce Cockburn explained about his new song, in a late 1984 interview, “this is not a call to arms. This is, this is a cry….”
A cry. In 1984, and again in 2015.
Which is why it seems surprising that TimesCall.com would see fit to censor it.
The Politics Go Back to Ronald Reagan
The deeper story gets into politics, and reveals some of the oppressive dark-side of aviation. Mr. Cockburn wrote this song more than thirty years ago, early in the Reagan Administration. Two of the biggest presidential moves on aviation were done by President Reagan in 1981. In August, he fired most of the FAA air traffic controllers, for their strike, an action that still resonates with labor today. Earlier in the year he had persuaded Congress to support his proposal to shut down the Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC) at EPA, an action hugely relevant to the NextGen implementation debacles.
That was Reagan’s first year, 1981. In early 1982, in Central America, General José Efraín Ríos Montt staged a military coup and became President of Guatemala. He had distant support from a few other nations, including the Reagan administration, and he used aviation as perhaps his most powerful tool of oppression. Bruce Cockburn visited the Guatemalan refuge camps in the Mexican state of Chiapas, during the Montt dictatorship. He saw the way helicopters routinely ignored national borders to fly menacingly over and sometimes fire into refugee camps. An avowed pacifist, he was outraged by the inhumane oppression he saw, so he wrote this song. And, thankfully for the Guatemalan people, the presidency of General Montt was short-lived; it ended in August 1983.
Mr. Cockburn’s song does a fantastic job of illustrating the simple fact that people who are oppressed need relief from their oppression. No matter how peaceful people are, if a state of oppression is sustained, it is only right to stand firm and resist. The individual standing against oppression was once at the heart of our national identity. If the oppressor denies the oppressed effective recourse, in due time some may feel compelled toward violent action to retake their freedom. We took up arms against the British, and that crystallized our national identity. We all want to avoid violence, which is why we want to believe we have an open press and deliberative Courts, the essential nonviolent venues for maintaining civility. But history has shown, if the press and the Courts fail, peace too will soon fail. Thus, we MUST have a strong press and reliable Courts, openly covering the NextGen noise debacles, and justly deciding cases like the one in Boulder.
In the big picture, if we truly want a happy and peaceful world, we have to start with preserving basic quality of life, which includes vigorously guarding against oppression.
Noise is oppression.
Noise is oppression. Not as horrific and potentially lethal as an armed helicopter, but still oppressive. And bureaucratic inaction, as FAA consistently shows, doesn’t just frustrate the noise-oppressed; it also scuttles their chance for relief from other venues, such as when Courts reflexively defer to FAA, ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT FAA IS DOING ITS LEGISLATED DUTY. Which, by the way, FAA is NOT.
For reasons unknown, FAA has completely abandoned their federal responsibility to manage aviation noise. Some would conclude it is easily explained, if you simply understand that FAA today is a captured regulatory agency, existing solely to serve the industry.
In essence, the only difference between an aviation lobbyist and an FAA official in Washington is that the latter is still making small contributions into their federal retirement pension. So, as it stands today, if the airlines want political cover to add a few more million in annual profits by making early turns to climb out over Phoenix and Flushing, FAA provides that cover. Complaining citizens are just beaten down and ignored.
Today’s Noise Politics: On a Collision Course?
Today, NextGen noise is Oppression, and FAA is the intransigent Oppressor. Near NextGen airports, where new procedures are being implemented without needed environmental reviews and citizen input, ‘We the People’ are now ‘We the Oppressed’.
The current situation has become so untenable that in New York, U.S. Representative Grace Meng is advocating for a different agency to take over where FAA is failing. She wants to mend some of the errors of 1981, by resuming funding for the Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC). And she wants EPA to run it, because, as she says, “(FAA) has failed to convince me and the public that it can objectively handle the problems caused by noise pollution. The EPA is better suited to study the consequences of noise pollution and propose measures to ameliorate this ongoing problem….” The proposal is presented in Congresswoman Meng’s 4/30/2015 letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Her concerns are echoed in Arizona Senator John McCain’s 4/30/2015 letter to Administrator Huerta, seeking resolution of the Phoenix NextGen debacle.
Flying Magazine published an article by Stephen Pope, Fighting Pilot Fatigue: New Views on Staying Alert.The article looks at the long history of fatigue-related accidents, and the insights collected in recent years.
The article refers to the Colgan 3407 accident in Buffalo on 2/12/09, as well as the crash of a Beech Baron in Teterboro at 3:05AM on 8/21/2009. Fifty died in Buffalo, in an accident that put HUGE political pressure on FAA about many commercial aviation issues:
- FAA’s ongoing refusal to resolve pilot fatigue risks,
- the apparent lower quality assurance standards at commuter/feeder airlines,
- common long-distance commutes by underpaid pilots,
- and the deceptive sales of tickets by major carriers, but for flights flown by commuter/feeder airline subcontractors.
Both accidents were fatigue-related, but in a decision that reveals how NTSB can be pressured to help FAA accommodate the financial interests of the airlines, the actual reports were drafted to direct attention at other, non-fatigue issues. This finally caused a minor rebellion by two NTSB members in 2011, when the Teterboro [KTEB] crash report was finalized. Both Chair Deborah Hersman and member Mark Rosekind submitted dissenting opinions. “Despite substantial indications of fatigue effects,” Rosekind wrote in his dissenting brief on the Teterboro crash, “the present accident report fails to acknowledge fatigue’s role in the accident. Based on the factors identified, fatigue was a likely contributory cause.”
In the years since, some minor rule changes have been implemented, but they exclude the sector of pilots most susceptible to fatigue issues: cargo pilots, who commonly work overnight shifts. One such example was the UPS Flight 1354 crash at Birmingham, AL on 8/14/13, which killed two.
So, that’s some of the background. Here are three short excerpts from an article well worth studying, about an aviation risk FAA still needs to address…
One of the few journalists today pressing FAA with hard questions is Mario Diaz, at Pix11 TV in the New York market. Mr. Diaz has been investigating a pattern within FAA where air traffic controllers found partially responsible for fatal accidents are put right back to work and are not held accountable.
The fifth in a series of investigative reports aired in the New York market on July 30th. It includes an interview of FAA’s Deputy Administrator, Michael Whitaker, after he had spoken at a U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation hearing.
Click here for links to the other investigative reports in this series.
For the past ten days, the world has witnessed an intensive propaganda war where both sides are trying to spin the story of how MH17 ended up widely scattered over wheatfields and farms in east Ukraine. The one known element of the story is that the Boeing 777 was shot down. The consensus is that the source was a ground-based Russian-made SA-11 missile, also known as a BUK or ‘gadfly’, but it is also conceivable that the aircraft was shot down air-to-air.
On the one side we see the Russians and pro-Russian rebels, who are seeking to separate from Ukraine. On the other side we see Ukraine. And there are other players, such as the U.S., whose top officials have satellite imagery and other advanced intelligence and certainly know far more than they are sharing with the Public.
One core element of the spin aims to create plausible deniability for the prospect of involvement by major states. Early news stories talked about Russian SA-11 missile launchers being moved into eastern Ukraine, then being seen moving back to Russia shortly after MH17 was shot down. There does not appear to be any substantial denial of these movements; instead, the early spin aims to claim that the SA-11 units were brought into Ukraine then used by separatist rebels who ‘accidentally’ shot down MH17 while aiming for a Ukrainian military aircraft. It seems hard to imagine that a complex system* would be delivered by anyone other than a trained crew, and even harder to imagine that they would then let others play with the system. It seems far more plausible that the SA-11 was used by trained Russian soldiers, under a cover claiming the separatists pulled the trigger. Alternatively, there have been some charges that the Ukrainian military used their own BUK to intentionally shoot down MH17, with the intent of pinning the blame on the Russians. Given known world history, it is difficult to reject this as the possible true story.
In a world of spin-control, one strategy is to launch a diversionary story. Ukraine was shockingly quick to release a collection of alleged intercepted communications, first between rebel leaders and Russian military officials and then amongst rebel leaders. They reflect that the news story broke as a shoot-down of an An-26 military aircraft (as first happened three days earlier, in the first high-altitude shoot-down, on 7/14/14), but soon transitioned to a realization that a civilian aircraft had been hit. Some charge that this is all a fabrication to cover for what may have been an air-to-air missile shoot-down from a Ukrainian jet.
One key area where Ukraine is clearly blocking Public knowledge is their refusal to share ATC data. The airspace is managed by Ukrainian air traffic controllers, under an international agreement. Sadly, that agreement does not mandate each state to be transparent and produce data, even after a major incident such as MH17. Interestingly, Russian radar claims to have tracked portions of MH17, and in a Defense Ministry presentation on 7/21/14, Russian officials offered radar data which they interpret as showing a Ukrainian military Su-25* shadowing 3-5 kilometers from MH17. If this is true, perhaps Ukraine is trying to hide the important fact that they did have a military aircraft in close proximity to the downed airline. That same Russian Defense Ministry presentation had many other strong arguments questioning the veracity of western claims, many of which are laid out near the bottom of the lengthy 7/26/14 report by Andre Vltcheck, at Global Research.
High-Altitude Shoot-downs were New on 7/17/2014
The first high-altitude shoot-down was just three days earlier, on 7/14/14, when an An-26 was hit; eight parachuted out and two died. Then, on 7/16/14, two Ukrainian Air Force Su-25’s were downed, apparently at higher altitudes, producing no fatalities; one was claimed to have been a MANPADS hit, and the other was claimed to have been an air-to-air hit by a Russian fighter. Prior to 7/14/14, there had been numerous shoot-downs, but most were helicopters, and all were at low altitudes, generally during takeoff or approach. In other words, the SA-11 system appears to have been first used on 7/14/14, just three days prior to MH17. Given the higher altitudes, it is quite conceivable that the two Su-25’s on 7/16/14 were also shot down using the SA-11.
Certainly, the major world military powers know the precise date and time that the Russian SA-11’s were delivered into and became operational in eastern Ukraine … but we don’t know that, because the leaders are hiding this information. The spin-games will continue and all parties will ensure the Public is in the dark. This is a pattern we have all come to expect in recent decades … from the U.S., Russian, Ukraine, the agencies (e.g., FAA), the airlines, etc. It is said that power corrupts; here, it appears a key part of the corruption is to control the flow of even basic information. Where is a good Whistleblower when we need one?
We Have to Look Elsewhere for the Facts
An outstanding resource for information on aviation accidents and incidents is AviationSafetyNetwork (A-SN). It includes two databases: one that covers major aviation incidents, and another that allows user-inputs to compile data and news links for even minor GA incidents. The A-SN database was queried by aiREFORM.com, using a filter to show all recent Ukraine accidents. Nearly all ‘accidents’ are war-related; all shoot-downs are listed in the table below:
|5/2/2014||(2) Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopters, shot down near Luvyansk, using MANPADS. 5 fatalities.|
|5/2/2014||Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-8 helicopter, damaged by gunfire near Slavyansk. No fatalities.|
|5/5/2014||Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopter, shot down by ground-fire near Luvyansk, crew is rescued, then Ukrainian Su-25 fires to destroy the downed helicopter. No fatalities.|
|5/29/2014||Ukrainian National Guard Mi-8 helicopter, shot down by ground-fire near Slavyansk. 12 fatalities.|
|6/3/2014||Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-24 helicopter, shot down by small-arms fire near Slavyansk. No fatalities.|
|6/4/2014||(3) Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopters were damaged/destroyed by MANPADS and ground-fire near Slavyansk. No fatalities.|
|6/5/2014||Ukrainian Air Force Mi-8 helicopter, hit by small-arms fire near Slavyansk, forced to make emergency landing. No fatalities.|
|6/6/2014||Ukrainian Air Force An-30 jet with 8 on board, hit by ground-fire near Drobyshevo, catches fire and crashes. 5 fatalities.|
|6/14/2014||Ukrainian Air Force Il-76 jet, hit by MANPAD while on approach to Lugansk airport. 49 fatalities.|
|6/24/2014||Ukrainian Armed Forces Mi-8 helicopter, hit by MANPAD while taking off near Slavyansk airport. 9 fatalities.|
|7/1/2014||Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jet, on an attack mission and hit by defense forces but able to return to its base. No fatalities.|
|7/2/2014||Ukrainian Air Force Su-24 jet, on an attack mission and hit by defense forces but able to return to its base. No fatalities.|
|7/12/2014||Ukrainian Air Force Mi-24 helicopter, on an attack mission near Snezhny, shot down by MANPAD. No fatalities.|
|7/14/2014||Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jet, destroyed by separatists (no other information available). No fatalities.|
|7/14/2014||Ukrainian Air Force An-26 jet, 2 fatalities. near Izvaryne.|
|7/16/2014||(2) Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 jets, one shot down by MANPAD, the other allegedly shot down by Russian fighter, , near Ukraine-Russian border. No fatalities.|
|7/17/2014||Multiple older aircraft damaged/destroyed by Ukraine forces while parked at Tarasovka Airfield, northwest of Crimea. No fatalities.|
|7/17/2014||MH17 298 civilian fatalities., flying east of Donetsk.|
On Friday April 25, at approximately 4:16PM Pacific time, the pilot of an eastbound United B757 abruptly descended to avoid a westbound USAirways B757, northeast of Kona, Hawaii. The United flight (UAL1205) was heading from Kona to LAX; it had leveled at 33,000 feet and was established on the oceanic route R578, roughly 200 miles northeast of Kona. Two U.S. Airways flights were enroute westbound, thus nose-to-nose with the United flight. One was USAir663, from Phoenix to Kona, at 34,000 feet; the other was USAir432, from Phoenix to Maui, at 33,000 feet. All flights were tracking along the same oceanic route R578.
An account of this incident was posted online by Kevin Townsend. He notes that some passengers screamed when they experienced the sudden maneuver, and a flight attendant soon came over the intercom with, “the pilot took evasive action to avoid an aircraft in our flight path.” Then, to settle rattled nerves (and distract the passengers), she announced a few minutes later: “Aloha! United Airlines will be offering today’s DirecTV entertainment free of charge. Anyone who has already purchased in-flight entertainment will receive a reimbursement on their credit card.”
It turns out Mr. Townsend is a writer, based in San Francisco, who happened to be returning that Friday from a Hawaiian vacation. He is also a bit persistent and adept at online research and contacting FAA and airline officials, and from this he wrote an article. His article is an interesting read, but also a bit disturbing because he documents that, when he contacted FAA officials, they generally blew him off. It was weeks later before FAA initiated an investigation — and that delay may have allowed ATC audio tapes and other hard evidence to be destroyed. So much for accountability.
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For an analysis of this incident, including flight data and aviation charts,
please see page two of this aiREFORM Post.
…and less of the prevailing ‘Access Journalism’.
An article by Robert Jensen analyzes a book written about how our journalists failed to cover the financial crisis. Mr. Jensen is a professor at the School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin. He covered the book The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark, as written by Dean Starkman, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and current editor at the Columbia Journalism Review.
There is a lot to think about in this piece, and much of it overlaps with how (and why) FAA continues to fail. Here’s an excerpt, with a few minor changes (highlights, color) by aiREFORM…
It was a full nineteen days ago that first word appeared of a flight that had ‘disappeared’. A flight with 239 on board, all of whom trusted the safety and security aspects of today’s commercial aviation system. What followed was a series of mis-steps in which authorities repeatedly withheld information while also disseminating misinformation. People around the globe became increasingly upset about aviation officials – both with the airlines, and with the regulators. Frankly, the story became less about the 239 fatalities and more about the big question: can we trust that those who focus on making money in aviation will deliver a safe service/product and will also deliver the real transparency we all demand?
Now, nineteen days on, it appears relatively certain that the flight did end up crashed far from land, on the surface of the south Indian Ocean. The map presented here links to Leehamnews.com, one of the best sources for both news and commentary about this terrible aviation event.
The latest headlines are announcing satellite identification of an apparent debris field, more than 1,500 miles west of Perth, Australia. A DailyMail (UK) news article provides numerous satellite images, maps, and photos. The article goes on at length, and offers details into the marital problems the flight captain was allegedly experiencing. In fact, the article notes that a friend of the 53-year-old captain, “…also a pilot, said Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had been left rattled by his family problems, and didn’t appear to be in the right state of mind to be flying. He warned that it was ‘very possible that neither the passengers nor the other crew on-board knew what was happening until it was too late’….”
One of the more informative news items was a CNN interview of airline pilot and writer John Nance; here is a link to a YouTube video of that interview. Mr. Nance has a deep background in aviation, and his theory seems about as close as we can come to a relatively simple, best-fit explanation of what happened. He concludes an intentional action where the aircraft was depressurized at altitude to kill the passengers, and then the autopilot was used to fly off to a remote crash location. The instigator may have been onboard terrorists, or it may have been one (or both, though seemingly less likely) of the assigned flight crew. And, due to the remote crash location, we may never know the full and true story.
In this world, rife with stress and conflict, some people may go collectively dark and join others as organized terrorists. Others may go singularly dark and not see the evil when they take other lives while they commit suicide. We have to protect against both possibilities. Perhaps the best protection is to simply learn to get along.
Leehamnet has posted an interview with former-NTSB investigator Greg Feith, who notes it is highly probable we will never find the wreckage. Feith states that the flight did NOT climb any higher than 35,000 feet. He goes further and discusses the aircraft and the ATC system, effectively debunking most theories. The one theory he does NOT debunk is the idea that this was a suicidal action by a rogue-pilot.—
This was true in 1935, when published in “I, Candidate for Governor: and how I got Licked.”
…is it any less true today?
Take a look at this example:
…the concealed operational error at
Camarillo, CA on July 25, 2010,