[KSMO]: Grossly Incompatible with the Community Around It

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:

    • KFWA: 70 based aircraft, a 12,000ft runway and an 8,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 36,100 landings and takeoffs in 2015, down 71% from its peak year (124,000 ops in 2000). [3,400 acres, surrounded by farmland]
    • KPGV: 71 based aircraft, a 7,200ft runway, and a 5,000ft runway. Form 5010 shows 48,200 annual operations in the year ending 5/30/2016 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [872 acres, surrounded by forest, farmland and limited residential development]
    • KDKX: 167 based aircraft, and a single, 3,500ft runway. Form 5010 shows 68,400 annual operations in the year ending 4/30/2013 (this is a rough estimate, as there is no tower). [200 acres, surrounded by a river, a large quarry, and farmland]
    • KSMO: 249 based aircraft, and a single 5,000ft runway. FAA data shows the airport had 90,200 annual operations in 2015, down 62% from its peak year (234,800 ops in 1991). [215 acres, surrounded by dense residential neighborhoods; and, within the airport, substantial footage is presently subleased to non-aviation business uses, generating profits for the FBOs.]

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?”

20161201scp-ksmo-vs-kdkx-sat-views-w-rwy-lengths-comparing-airport-compatibility-impact-on-people

20161201scp-ksmo-vs-kpgv-sat-views-w-rwy-lengths-comparing-airport-compatibility-impact-on-people

20161201scp-ksmo-vs-kfwa-sat-views-comparing-airport-compatibility-impact-on-people


UPDATE, 12/6/2016: — per a request, click here for a PDF version of this entire Post.

Mora, MN: FAA Wasting Millions to Add a Crosswind Runway Through a Wetland & Wildlife Area

Here are some facts about one of the most egregious examples of FAA working to force an unneeded runway onto a local community – a case that even went all the way to the use of eminent domain to force landowners to sell their property:

  1. It is a common practice across the nation that FAA and the agents hired to develop and gain approval for airport improvements will repeatedly fudge the data, offering fictitious and unsupportable ‘estimates’ and projections. That has again happened in this case, for the Mora airport.KJMR.20160521.. crop of 'swans lifting off, crosswind RWY proposal area'
  2. FAA claims this airport averages 15,000 operations per year (20 landings per day), but FAA has no solid evidence to back this up. In fact, locals, including many pilots opposed to this proposal, believe the real activity level averages closer to 5 landings per day.
  3. This project would not even be contemplated if not for FAA offering an incentive in generous federal grants (derived mostly from airline passenger taxes) to enable local officials to look and feel productive.
  4. The proposed runway requires substantial grading and fill across an area of ponds and wetlands. This area is commonly inundated with thousands of geese, swans and other large birds.
  5. The wetlands are also a rare habitat for an endangered tree species, the Butternut. These trees will be destroyed during the grading, and future trees will be destroyed as part of a wildlife hazard management plan.
  6. There was an apparent conflict of interest in the last round of construction contracts at this airport. Historically, most of the FAA grants have been awarded to SEH Engineering, a firm that also handles many other contracts in Mora and other Minnesota communities. One of the SEH employees who most often negotiates plans with FAA and advises the city on those plans is a Mr. Joel Dresel. In late 2007, when the primary runway was extended another 800-feet to the current 4,800-ft length, the Mora City Council approved three payments totaling $1.5 Million; the recipient was ‘Dresel Contracting, Inc.’ (see pages 7-8 of this PDF compilation of Mora City Council minutes). Clearly, a contractor who stands to win contracts cannot be objective and should NOT be guiding an environmental review process.
  7. If FAA would be flexible, they could choose to forgive the City’s obligation to build this crosswind runway (perhaps with encouragement from elected officials such as Senators Franken and Klobuchar). In so doing, FAA would simply and reasonably justify that the roughly $100,000 spent was lost due to the decline in general aviation activity these past ten years, as well as the overall economic bust of 2008.

KJMR.20160622.. 'Plan view showing grading limits, mounds, butternut trees' (SEH Engineering, 'p.74 of Written Re-Evaluation of the 2004 EA)

(a page from the 2016 update of the 2004 Environmental Assessment, showing grading limits, a potential archaeological mound, and endangered butternut tree locations.)


KJMR.aerial view of airport, from Minnesota Airport Directory & Travel Guide, markedup
The following pages offer an extensive collection of documents and images (photos, maps, satellite views, etc.) covering roughly two decades of aviation impact activism at this quiet rural community.

pg.2: Document Archives [KJMR]
pg.3: Images [KJMR]

Two Reports Look at Impacts by the Air Freight Industry

Here are copies of two reports done by Rose Bridger and published by AirportWatch. The reports look at the Air Freight industry and its impacts in the UK. Those impacted include not just residents and communities, but also the environment: destruction of wildlife habitat and degradation of our atmosphere. I.e, just as it is in the U.S. and around the world, the fossil fuel consumption for air freight is significant, and is contributing to record CO2 levels and accelerated climate change.

Click on either document below for a scrollable view; PDF copies of the Impact Report or Report Supplement may also be downloaded.

A significant portion of air freight is carried in the cargo holds of passenger airliners. Thus, airports such as London’s Heathrow see additional pressure to max out their schedules. Enmity between airport authorities and impacted residents is only intensified, when public monies are used to promote airport expansion.

(click on image to view related articles at AirportWatch)

A pro-airport billboard, altered by activists. (click on image to view related articles at AirportWatch)

Wrong Place for an Unneeded Runway, Yet FAA Pushes On

KJMR.20160521.. crop of 'swans lifting off, crosswind RWY proposal area'

Two swans lifting off from a pond (and disturbing a loon) in Mora, MN. FAA is supplying public funds aimed at filling this pond to ADD a runway… at an airport with zero value as part of the National Airspace System (NAS), and averaging fewer than 5 takeoffs per day!

Mora, Minnesota is a small town and the seat of Kanabec County, at a crossroads in the center of a triangle connecting Minneapolis, Duluth, and St. Cloud. This is an area of quiet farms on glacial soils: tilled lands and pastures and small native woodlots, alternating with very many ponds and wetlands.

KJMR.20160604cpy.. satview with runways-ponds marked

The airport is along the northeast edge of town, surrounded by farmland and ponds.

Waterfowl thrive here; thus, any airport development is only increasing the likelihood of a potentially fatal collision with waterfowl. Clearly, it makes no sense to build airports or add runways unless there is a compelling need, and there is no such need at Mora.

KJMR.20150915cpy.. waterfowl at N-S runway pic2

The current north-south runway at Mora sees more gull landings in a single day than it sees plane landings per year. This photo taken September 2015.

KJMR.20160314cpy.. pic of butternut leaf, juglans_cinerea_001

(click on image to view further information about Juglans cinerea)

That does not stop FAA from pushing for further airport development at KJMR. In this case, a full twenty years ago, an airport neighbor with a plant nursery was told some of his family’s land would be taken, for the construction of a new crosswind runway. Natural terrain would be destroyed – including the destruction of habitat and numerous seedlings for an endangered Minnesota tree: the butternut.

To try and justify the waste, airport and FAA officials were both complicit in using one of their oldest tricks: documenting a lie. Public money gets spent, paying aviation contractors to create official-looking reports with claims that routinely exceed realities, both in terms of actual past airport usage, and likely future airport usage. Below are two letters, from 2011 and 2003, contradicting the exaggerated airport usage data:

KJMR.undated.. LTE questioning accuracy of reported airport usage (B.Burk, 1p)

A statement by a concerned citizen with an office adjacent to the runway, about airport usage estimates he believes are grossly exaggerated. (April 2011)

KJMR.2003est~.. LTE disputing need for airport expansion (D. Johnson, former mayor, pilot, 1p)

Another letter disputing the exaggerated airport usage estimates. This one was written in 2003 by a former town mayor who also happens to be a pilot.

All of this mess was created by (and continues to be perpetuated by) two different federal funds. A first federal grant was used to entice local officials to close the original crosswind runway, allowing that land along the edge of town to become available for light industrial use. The second federal grant was FAA money, derived primarily from taxes on airline passengers, to be used to buy land, fill a wetland, and construct a replacement runway. Of course, officials have completely ignored that the industrial park never really caught on. But that is beside the point, since the real original objective was to make a small injection of federal money into the local community, and in the process help a few elected officials look good, to bolster their odds at reelection.

City leaders would like to abandon the plans, but they accepted and used FAA grants years ago, and now are in the position of either continuing the project or paying that money back to FAA. The project was not needed when the grant was accepted, and it is needed even less today.

The critically important fact – that the crosswind runway was never needed and continues to not be needed – has been carefully ignored by FAA and elected officials. Additionally, the runway will be entirely unusable much of the year as the plan is to spend millions creating a turf without lighting. And so, it is up to local residents, especially the farm family facing land condemnation and destruction of the quality of their home, to speak up and try to stop yet another wasteful aviation project.

Notably, too, this entire situation would immediately resolve, if FAA would simply accept the reality, that needs change, and release the city from obligations on past wasted grants. This is a classic example of the bad that happens when an agency has too much extra money to spend (in this case, collected from airline passengers) and gets carried away using that money to expand power and serve politicians. There is an extraordinary opportunity here for valuable constituent services: will at least one of the Minnesota federal representatives step up to the plate and save this habitat from FAA’s wasteful project?
KJMR.. pond, 2 swans, 1 loon


See also:
  • aiREFORM – a webpage with further information, including copies of other documents about KJMR.
  • MinnesotaSeasons.com – Nice website with nature info for the whole state; see the videos, too. See this link for further info on the butternut.

Airports and Cities: Can They Coexist?

As often happens, a good lead was tweeted regarding an interesting article. This time, @NoFlyDay tweeted with a link to an article by Ed Ayres, Airports and Cities:  Can They Coexist?, archived at WorldWatch.org. The article was first published in the July/August 2001 issue of  World Watch Magazine, for which Mr. Ayres served as editor.

The article points toward the enormous land-grab to create the Denver International Airport (DIA) or [KDEN]. That massive project, undertaken from 1989 into 1995, was intended to accommodate major hubs that pre-existed in Denver, for both United and Continental. But, Continental decided to abandon their Denver hub (and decades later was merged with United), causing annual operations to decline substantially. This huge new airport has never come even slightly close to operating at the capacity it was built for.

The article also notes how, in shifting the burden to airline passengers to drive long distances away from their homes, total air pollution was substantially increased … and all at public cost. All this was done ostensibly to better serve the general public, but in truth served only to improve airline profits. *until ten years ago, the strategy at Southwest was to completely avoid the major hubs for the legacy airlines, such as ATL, BOS, DEN, MSP and SFO … and even when their strategy was changed, they were careful to not really ‘compete’ with the dominant carrier at each hub.And, as is the case throughout the U.S. commercial aviation system, Denver has virtually zero competition on routes, and serves as a hub dominated by one airline: United (with a lesser hub by Southwest, who only began serving KDEN in 2006*).

Two other interesting aspects to contemplate while reading this article (and the related documents accessible via the links below):

  1. first, all of these documents were researched and created years PRIOR to the inception of NextGen by FAA and industry stakeholders; and,
  2. second, the article came out just prior to the 9-11 attacks, which arguably were used to justify enormous ‘Shock Doctrine’ changes in all aspects of U.S. commercial aviation, most significantly modifying security, ATC procedures, and environmental impact mitigations.

Here are links to a PDF copy as well as some related documents archived at aiREFORM.com:

New Aerotropolis Article, by Rose Bridger & GAAM

Another great article by Rose Bridger, who has published a 22-page slideshow called: “Climate Change, Concrete, Capitalism & the Airport City – What’s really going on at Manchester Airport, and with aviation worldwide.” A PDF version is presented below, with some very nice graphics (best viewed using the pop-out feature):

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

Subsidizing Environmental Destruction: One of Many Reasons Why ‘Aerotropolis’ is a Bad Idea

(click on image to open a downloadable PDF copy of the 4-page article)

(click on image to open a downloadable PDF copy of the 4-page article)

Rose Bridger has produced another excellent article, ‘Rise of the Aerotroplis’, published in the Sept/Oct issue of Third World RESURGENCE.

The concept of aerotropolis began roughly fifty years ago, when federal aviation agencies conceived massive new airport developments, scaled up and created in concert with elite private interests. The concept is euphemistically referred to as ‘collaboration’, but cynically (or, perhaps more realistically?) it is what we have come to call ‘crony capitalism’. Invariably, the victims include those who are forced to vacate their homes/farms, and the expanded zone of airport neighbors enduring excessively concentrated air traffic patterns.

The article looks at the emerging use of aerotropolis developments for global tourism, equating the phenomenon with massive cruise ships. A tourism model in which the operational scale simply overwhelms local communities, offering very little local benefit while creating large adverse impacts. All so that off-site operators may reap sizeable profits. In short, Aerotropolis is a classic example of how private rights and public welfare have become thoroughly subordinated by the power of money to manipulate captured regulators and elected officials alike.

Here are two quotes:

“An aerotropolis may proclaim itself ‘self-sustaining’, but it achieves this status only by virtue of being gifted the land for revenue generation, which is a form of subsidy.”
“The secret of success of the world’s established major aerotropolis developments – including Schiphol, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Incheon, Dallas/Fort Worth and Kuala Lumpur – is that the airport owns a large area of land surrounding it, and reaps ‘non-aeronautical revenue’ from commercial development upon it.”

The Truth about Aerotropolises

Rose Bridger is a prolific researcher and writer on the impacts of aerotropolis developments around the world. There is a clear trend where elected officials are ‘collaborating’ with developers to create airport projects on steroids. The projects almost always include forced evictions to displace local farmers. Public benefits are grossly oversold while private benefits (to the developer and the elected officials) tend to be narrowly focused. Eventually, if there is any success, it is short-lived as each aerotropolis megadevelopment is eclipsed by the next aerotropolis project. And, again, as with all serial development balloons, the only REAL beneficiaries are the developers and the self-serving officials.

Here is an article by Ms. Bridger from June 2015:

This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.

View related articles tagged [TAG-Aerotropolis]

Airport Noise: Fifteen Ways to Quiet the Skies

The following list was compiled by one of the oldest groups advocating for cleaner and less impactful aviation in the United States: US-CAW (U.S.-Citizens Aviation Watch). A reference to ‘Stage IV’ suggests this was compiled long ago, even as early as the 1990s. Items #1, #2, #3, and #12 would greatly improve quality of life at Santa Monica, Longmont, East Hampton, and the growing list of NextGen-impacted airports (Phoenix, Charlotte and LaGuardia stand out on the list).

The list below is filled with great ideas, but we all just wait for the long overdue action by Congress and FAA….

  1. Increase local control of airports.
    Demand that two-thirds of airport commission members live within the high impact area where average day/night levels exceed 65 dBA (what the FAA calls moderate noise exposure). Also, increase local control with regard to expansion, number and time of takeoffs, landings, ground operations, etc.
  2. Remove FAA from oversight of environmental quality and public health.
    This would remove a significant conflict of interest for the FAA which has too often seen its role as promoting air transportation. Noise and other environmental pollutants need to be regulated by some combination of EPA and local oversight.
  3. Abandon the day/night sound pressure level of 65 dBA that the FAA uses to separate “low” noise exposure from “moderate” noise exposure.
    The 65 dBA value is too noisy and unhealthy. Use 55 dBA as an interim value until a descriptor that includes low frequency noise, and better reflects the impacts of aircraft noise such as sleep disturbance, interference with learning, and other noise impacts.
  4. Develop high-speed rail alternatives to aircraft flights of less than 500 miles.
    Redirect government investment from airport expansion to high-speed rail. Also, support efforts to quiet rail transit.
  5. Protect the public from environmental and health hazards at and near airports.
    These include the release of significant amounts of toxins, known carcinogens and de-icing fluids. Existing Clean Air and Clean Water regulations need to be enforced and new regulations addressing the public health and environmental impacts of airports and airplane travel need to be adopted.
  6. Support a Global Nighttime Curfew.
    Around the world, hundreds of airports already have curfews. Local nighttime curfews, while a positive step, shift the problem elsewhere. A nationwide and global effort is needed.
  7. Demand that airports and airlines pay the full cost of airline travel.
    Remove all FAA subsidies; increase landing fees to cover lost property value, insulation programs, health effects, and annoyance; increase fuel taxes to account for environmental and public health damage; and remove local subsidies.
  8. Expand soundproofing programs to all homes, churches, schools, hospitals, and commercial businesses experiencing a day/night average of greater than 55 dBA from airports.
    Eventually, all sensitive properties–homes, churches, schools, day care, hospitals, etc.–should be protected against indoor single event readings exceeding 45 dBA with windows open. Insulation and soundproofing alone, however, is not the solution because it neglects outdoor noise. Insulation does not provide for the full enjoyment of common and private property. However, at least it protects people inside their homes.
  9. Demand objective health studies of noise and other pollutants near airports.

  10. Support quieter and cleaner aircraft technology (called Stage IV).
    Stage IV technology may be years away, and in the future, aircraft may achieve smaller reductions in pollution, both in terms of air and noise pollution. Therefore, Stage IV technology should not be relied upon as the main solution to aircraft pollution. Nevertheless, technological improvements should be aggressively pursued.
  11. Ban flights over and within 2 miles
    of non-urban National Parks, Wilderness areas, National Monuments, National Seashores, and other sensitive and pristine public lands (except for emergency, research, construction and maintenance activities).
  12. Increase the minimum altitude for general aviation craft and helicopters
    to 2,000 feet above ground level and implement an effective policing mechanism. Impose a minimum flight altitude for 2,500 feet above ground level for all tour operations and commercial transport services (for example, air taxis).
  13. Ban commercial and corporate SST flights from United States Airports and airspace.

  14. Avoid solutions that shift noise to others.
    The FAA likes to pit one community against another because it divides opposition to its policies. A fairer distribution of noise might make sense for many airports, but moving the noise around doesn’t solve the problem and divides people who should be united against airport noise. The problem of airport noise will not be solved one airport at a time. Persons with airport noise problems must unite. Significant changes in the FAA will likely occur only when airport groups can show significant power and support to Washington.
  15. Foster connections with and support other noise pollution organizations.
    A victory for any group fighting noise is a victory for all. This is the only way to create a broad enough coalition to actually reduce noise pollution.