ANALYSIS: Airport Expansion Proposal at Ravalli County in Hamilton, MT [6S5]

[6S5] VFR Sectional, north to KMSO and showing nearby mountainsRavalli County Airport sits approximately forty miles due south of the commercial service airport in Missoula, Montana. The airport elevation is 3,642′. To the west is the Bitterroot Range (and Idaho), with summits near 10,000′ elevation; the Sapphire Mountains are on the east edge of the valley, with summits around 9,000′.

A proposal funded by FAA calls for building a new and longer runway, the construction of new taxiways, and the addition of dozens of new hangars. Farmland and wetlands would be consumed for airport expansion. A step in the plan process is to complete an Environmental Assessment (EA).

Millions may be spent to build out this airport. None of this would even be considered if FAA did not collect billions in airline passenger fees each year, then dole them out as AIP grants. A tiny few reap financial gains in what often are crony handouts. Incumbent officials steer these grants to help ensure their reelection. And meanwhile, many near the airports see their lives diminished by noise and pollution. Maybe this pattern needs to end soon…

Here is a link to a newspaper Op/Ed by Rich Morissey, from November 19, 2013.

An Analysis:

Here are some short notes on factors that FAA and local residents might consider when deciding if this plan should be abandoned, modified, denied, or approved…

  • Should jets be discouraged from using this airport? Jets and other high performance aircraft could more safely use (and hangar at) the airport in Missoula [KMSO], which provides contract ATC services, averages more than $3 Million annually in federal grants, and has enormous capacity to add based aircraft and flights.
  • The plan shows construction of many new hangars, including numerous large hangars to accommodate jets and larger aircraft. This may be an inappropriate development for this particular area. To encourage these aircraft to base at this rural airport that is generally boxed in by tall mountain ranges only invites an eventual accident. Operations at Missoula would be far safer.
  • Destruction of wetlands and other natural terrain on and adjacent to airport property. The north half of the airport is built on and surrounded by wetlands. Should these be left alone?
  • Removal of agricultural land from production. The new runway construction on land to be acquired to the east would reduce crop land under a center-pivot.
  • Noise and leaded fuel impacts on neighbors. Deep, U-shaped valleys commonly have an amplifying effect, furthering the noise impact upon all residents. Plus, after forty years, FAA has STILL not remedied the use of lead in Avgas.
  • Conflict with ongoing residential expansion. Note the new development close-in, just southwest of the airport.
  • Compatibility with the developer of the largest subdivision in the valley, who also happens to own nearly all parcels to be sold for airport expansion.

Here is the proposed airport layout plan: [6S5] proposed airport layout For further information, please click on page two, where you will find:

  • a link to the airport webpage at Ravalli County
  • a satellite view
  • AFD airport data page
  • the local Noise Abatement guidelines
  • links to elements of the new Master Plan proposal
  • and more (added in the future).

A Fierce Green Fire

pbsfilmFI This documentary will resonate with any who grew up in the ’60s or ’70s, and it will inform those who want to understand the history of Environmentalism. It looks at how bad things became in the 1960’s (a burning river, Love Canal, the DDT crisis, etc.), and how people began to speak up.

It also looks at how things then changed. Earth Day was started in 1970, and we passed lots of new legislation, including the Clean Air Act. But, companies then learned to ‘greenwash‘, marketing their image and their products in ways that helped people to feel good about consuming more. And, their greenwashing worked; for example, our annual miles of air travel and our annual fossil fuel consumption (and production of CO2) continue to rise every year.

This documentary looks at how superficial our actions are, and how we need to do a lot more, especially as it relates to the evolving crisis of man-made atmospheric CO2 and climate change.

As a tribute to Earth Day, A Fierce Green Fire is scheduled to air nationwide at 9 p.m. on April 22 on PBS stations (check local listings).

What a Birdstrike does to a Jet Engine

Danish aviation authorities recently released their findings for a serious birdstrike incident, in Copenhagen. They report that, on July 23, 2013, an SAS Boeing 737 departure ingested a Common Shelduck into the left engine, at 800 feet altitude. The engine began to vibrate and the crew immediately returned for an emergency landing. [article]

Here is a photo showing the damage done to the titanium fan blades:

Just as with the USAirways Flight #1549 birdstrike in January 2009, there were no fatalities. But, had flight conditions been just slightly different, both incidents could have been much worse.

It is important to recognize that no amount of effort spent slaughtering birds in the immediate vicinity of airports will prevent birdstrikes such as this. In both cases, the impacts involved the failure of the flight crews to avoid impacting migratory birds transitioning through at altitude. Obviously, we cannot exterminate species of migratory birds just so they do not endanger aviation. So, to manage these risks, we need smarter management of airports, which must include more balance and a more global plan for the entire airspace system.

How Do We Reduce this Safety Risk?

Half of the problem is the existance of the birds and their habit of migratory flying. The other half of the problem is the aircraft. Fortunately, the birds tend to do their flying in large flocks, increasing their visibility.  But, if the intensity of commercial flight activity is so high that the pilot is limited in his/her ability to detect the bird threat and alter course to avoid the bird threat, these birdstrikes are going to increase in frequency. There is a clear ‘diseconomy of scale’, so far as aviation safety is concerned.

A key part of the solution is to manage airport growth, for which we depend on the aviation regulators. Unfortunately, FAA and other regulators are making no progress, because history shows their real focus is too slanted toward growing aviation activity and supporting commercial aviation. In other words, FAA’s lack of vision and regulatory discipline is causing problems to expand and making more work for FAA to keep busy going nowhere. A classic example of failure by an over-matured, self-serving bureaucracy.

Wholesale Slaughter of Wildlife Near Airports: is there a better way?

A news article in the Star-Ledger details the ineffectiveness of wildlife control measures at the Newark and other New Jersey airports managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). Specifically, after the USAir bird-strike crash in the Hudson in 2009, roughly 6,000 birds have been killed, yet the data shows no improvement in the number of birdstrikes.

In at least one regard, the increased effort to kill wildlife should not be expected to reduce incidents like USAir 1549. Why not? Because Captain Sullenberger’s successful ditching onto shallow river waters had nothing to do with on-airport wildlife. This accident was caused when Sully’s Airbus collided with a flock of geese far from the airport. The NTSB report stated: “…According to FDR data, the bird encounter occurred when the airplane was at an altitude of 2,818 feet above ground level (agl) and a distance of about 4.5 miles north-northwest of the approach end of runway 22 at LGA (the departure point).”

Just as interesting as the article are the comments. It appears that, after the USAir 1549 accident, the primary reaction by FAA and airport authorities was to go high-profile on bird control. Funds were directed toward more wildlife staff on board, and toward the increased use of USDA Wildlife Services personnel at airports. A footnote within a USDA-APHIS-WS annual report on managing wildlife hazards at airports reads: “WS biologists estimated that technical or direct management assistance resulted in a reduction, suppression, or prevention of hazards from target wildlife at 409 airports in 2002, 441 airports in 2003, 479 airports in 2004, 483 in 2005, 518 in 2006, 548 in 2007, 582 in 2008, 602 in 2009, 568 in 2010, 546 in 2011, and 568 in 2012.” It is far too common for agencies with fading missions or funding difficulties to ‘collaborate’ with other agencies, and create work. In this case, likely, FAA directed more aviation revenues to stir up more work for USDA-APHIS-WS, whose jobs have become increasingly ‘endangered’ by funding reductions.

Is there a better way?

Within the Star-Ledger article comments, it is noted that there are much better solutions available, and these are actually successfully used elsewhere. For example, the use of border collies: birds hate predators, so a dog and trainer can make the airport area ‘hostile’ for birds, and they will tend to stay away. A study [PDF]  discusses successful border collie uses in Florida [KRSW] and in Delaware [KDOV].

Another control method, being successfully utilized in the Okanagan valley of southern British Columbia, is egg addling — goose populations are being controlled by simply tracking and invading goose nests during key periods of the year. A page at notes: “…egg addling involves shaking eggs or coating them with non-toxic biodegradable food-grade corn oil within 14 days of incubation to make them non-viable … the U.S. Humane Society supports this egg addling technique.” Seems like a sad waste of a goose, but a slightly more palatable way to target our commercial instinct for slaughtering wildlife.

Waldo Lake: Just say ‘NO’ to Floatplanes

A few links… online petitionGovernor’s letterUSFS Supervisor’s letterOregon Parks & Rec letteraiR-link

The following is the statement sent to OSAB by this one Oregon citizen, expressing opposition to seaplanes at Waldo Lake…

Statement Opposing Seaplanes at Waldo Lake (submitted to OSAB, 1/31/2013)

Please accept this as my statement in strong opposition to seaplane use of Waldo Lake. I opposed this absurd aviation activity when I used the allotted three-minutes and spoke to you and the other members of the Oregon State Aviation Board (OSAB) last May. In my words, I noted that both former Governor Kulongoski and current Governor Kitzhaber, as well as the vast majority of citizens, have made it clear they strongly oppose seaplanes at Waldo Lake. I also suggested in very clear terms, OSAB’s continued catering to the desires of the tiny seaplane user group, smacks of cronyism, especially since you went on record as a seaplane pilot yourself.

That was eight months ago. Nothing has changed since. Now, you have the responsibility to permanently shut down seaplane use at Waldo Lake. Please do your duty.

You may not be aware of Oregon’s fatal seaplane accident of 7/31/94. A couple from Boring was paddling a canoe in the Willamette, when a seaplane taking off struck both of them. Their two young children were lower in the canoe and survived without physical injuries, but their parents were killed. I was working in the air traffic control tower at Salem when the radio call came in. We quickly dispatched emergency crews, but to no avail. When I learned of the larger details, my heart ached – as it still does – for those children.

Waldo Lake is an extraordinary place with exceptional water quality. It is a huge attraction for nonmotorized boating activity. Clearly, it is appropriate for the state to JUST SAY ‘NO’ TO SEAPLANES and all gas-powered use of the lake surface. Not just for environmental reasons (noise, water purity, wildlife) but also for safety reasons. The seaplane/watercraft accident precedent was set; now you have a chance to guard against a tragic repeat.

Mr. Gardiner, you yourself are a seaplane pilot, and are thus mindful of the fact that seaplanes have much louder propellers than do regular aircraft. The regular aircraft are already too loud. Seaplanes, especially in a special area such as Waldo Lake, are entirely inappropriate. Furthermore, you are aware that seaplane pilots transitioning through the Willamette Pass area, have superior facilities – with docks even! – just a few miles away, at Crescent Lake. They also have landing access to Odell Lake, in close proximity to Highway 58. Both of these other lakes are far superior for use by seaplanes. Clearly, there is no excuse for OSAB hornswoggling the citizens of this state with any implication that Waldo Lake serves any necessity for aviation. You know that it does not.

Crescent Lake rRsort

Photo shot 11/5/2010, and copied from the website in late January 2013. Crescent Lake is just a few minutes south of Waldo Lake, and less off-route, for pilots transitioning through the Willamette Pass area.

Nearby Crescent Lake is promoted by as a destination for their seaplane pilot buddies, like you Mark. They even have docks to tie down.

Please do us all a favor. Lead OSAB in rejecting seaplane access to Waldo Lake.

Jeff Lewis, Mulino, OR
(copy posted at
Waldo Lake Cross Country Routes

map copied from the seaplane website. Implies Waldo Lake is critically located and needed for use by seaplanes. But, other much larger nearby lakes (ODELL LAKE, and CRESCENT LAKE) are not on the map, and are far better located for seaplane use. In fact, promotes use of Crescent Lake, with a photo of seaplanes tied down to the dock. Clearly, Waldo Lake is NOT needed for aviation use.