These days, there IS such a thing as ‘a Free Lunch’

Congress has done it again, proving their bipartisan support for monied individuals and corporate wealth. Here we are, deep in a pandemic with millions facing an imminent eviction wave as well as growing food insecurity. So, why not add language to a temporary aid package, that allows 3-martini lunches (and other business meal expenses) to be paid fully (as in 100%!) by the taxpayers?! The outgoing President wants it (some of those meals will be procured at his businesses); so, WHY NOT? (see article at Boston Globe, or PDF copy here)

This has been a grueling year. It seems that not a minute passes without yet one more surreal news item or troubling tweet. Somehow, a more hopeful core within makes me ‘hope’ this is a fake news story. But, it likely is not. It is just like the pattern of corporate-welfare and capital-welfare we have so long seen within aviation. Two examples:

  1. federal tax rules for accelerated depreciation and bonus depreciation coddle concentrated wealth, enticing those with larger income tax bills to instead spend those taxes buying jets and helicopters AT PUBLIC EXPENSE.
  2. lobbyists have pushed legislation, passed in so many states, that waives sales taxes for aviation-related expenses such as maintenance, creating the absurd reality that a minimum-wage parent with a beater car pays sales tax for an oil change, but the owner of a small plane (mostly older, mostly white, mostly male, and flown mostly recreationally) pays ZERO sales tax as a privilege.

As Bob Dylan would sing, The Times They Are A-Changin’. Conditions are getting worse in the U.S., economically, for those who do not have money reserves. Yet, the same duopoly that panders to aviation and the White House holds the majority hostage while serving out more for the most elite wealth. Will our electeds at any level come around to taking care of people first, before money? Reforming aviation is a great place to start.

Learn More? ..see ‘SubsidizedAviation’

[aiRchive] A Bicameral Letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson

The end of 2019 is looking far better than the start of this very long year.

A few days before Christmas, eighteen elected representatives, from both the Senate and the House, sent the following letter to FAA Adminsitrator Stephen Dickson:

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

The letter makes reference to the 41-page Audit Report done by the DoT Inspector General and published last August (click here for a PDF copy, archived at page two of this Post).

An aiREFORM Analysis

Here are a few quick observations:

  • The Bicameral letter is excellent, but has one incorrect point in paragraph #2, where it repeats the oft-declared propaganda by FAA that Metroplex was introduced “…in order to make airspace more efficient.” FAA’s true reason for Metroplex was to achieve a giveaway for the airlines; they used Metroplex to do a wholesale removal of all previously existing noise mitigation procedures, so the airlines would no longer be encumbered with the ‘nuisance’ of having to reduce impacts below.
  • Again, Metroplex is NOT about efficiency. If Metroplex was about improving efficiency, would we not expect FAA to be deeply concerned about the gross inefficiencies of flying more and more passengers on longer overall trips, via major airline hubs? Would we not see FAA advocating for ticket prices (and fees) proportional to total direct-miles flown, and advocating for a steep aviation carbon tax?
  • True efficiency would be accomplished by ensuring the passengers are able to fly direct, one-hop flights from trip origin to trip destination. But, it behooves FAA and industry players to fly more passengers indirectly, via hub airports, as doing so artificially inflates enplanements, falsely suggesting a booming industry. And, more enplanements translates to more airport passenger fees, an attractive revenue generator for airport authorities like Port of Seattle and MassPort. This is a system rigged toward concentration, imposing a noise/health cost on local communities, and also undermining the viability of other airports within a few hundred miles of the emerging super-Hubs.
  • The Senators and Representatives are hopeful that FAA will start serving ‘We The People’, not just industry players. But FAA has a long history of arrogance, indifference, and aversion to accountability. This is the same ‘regulator’ that essentially let Boeing self-regulate the 737 MAX design that killed 346 in two horrific crashes, and was the last national regulator to ground this dangerous design.

So, what a year, right? So much has been revealed. So many individuals have persisted in their activism. Maybe, just maybe, in the coming New Year, we can see more growth in the support needed from those we elected to serve?

To serve ‘We the People’, not to serve the aviation corporatocracy.

Pine Island Glacier: the latest example of rapidly melting polar ice that will eventually flood major airports

Ecowatch published an informative article about a huge iceberg, roughly 115 square miles, that has calved off of the Pine Island Glacier. The article cites an interesting series of posts by Stef Lhermitte discussing a large new iceberg, designated B-46, which is rapidly disintegrating as it drifts toward the Pacific Ocean.

The series of posts includes a GIF slideshow showing annual sea-ice extent at the Pine Island Glacier. Here is a scrollable PDF showing a series of screencaps taken from the GIF slideshow, with images at roughly a 5-year interval from 1975 to 2018 (depending on what years had available images). The sea ice extent for each year is indicated by a color-coded thick line; over time, this line progresses upward, exposing more of the seawater below. In the background of all images, the satellite image appears to be current, as taken on 10/30/2018.

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

Overall, this series of images shows a pronounced decline in sea-ice coverage. Within the images, you will also notice that there were a few years, ending in 2013, where sea-ice cover was expanding. Since 2013, the melting/calving has been precipitous. Bear in mind, the polar regions are in total darkness for months each year, and it may take years for new meltwater to mix with the seawater below. Thus, massive ice melting may cause an easily frozen freshwater lens to sit atop the seawater. This will create an illusion of expanding sea-ice extent for a few winters. But, eventually, once the excessive freshwater becomes mixed, or as ambient air temperatures continue to increase, the expanded ice that peaked in 2013 will become just a distant memory.

Putting this in a Geographic Context

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia, describing this specific glacier:

Pine Island Glacier (PIG) is a large ice stream, and the fastest melting glacier in Antarctica, responsible for about 25% of Antarctica’s ice loss.[3] The glacier ice streams flow west-northwest along the south side of the Hudson Mountains into Pine Island Bay, Amundsen Sea, Antarctica. It was mapped by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) from surveys and United States Navy (USN) air photos, 1960–66, and named by the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (US-ACAN) in association with Pine Island Bay.[1][4]

The area drained by Pine Island Glacier comprises about 10% of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.[5] Satellite measurements have shown that the Pine Island Glacier Basin has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea than any other ice drainage basin in the world and this has increased due to recent acceleration of the ice stream.

Here are a pair of images, showing Pine Island Glacier’s location on Antarctica, and showing the seas that surround Antarctica, connecting it to the extreme southern oceans.

What Does this Suggest for Our Global Future, and for Aviation?

The rate of calving in recent years is disturbing, and reflects a harsh reality: if our ever-expanding over-consumption of fossil fuels is not reined in, and we continue to see 2- or 3- ppm annual increases in average atmospheric CO2 concentrations (see Keeling Curve), we can expect collapse of these polar glaciers and large-scale sea-rise. Hundreds of the busiest airports across the globe will become underwater. Homes for more than a billion people will also become uninhabitable, under sea-rise. Displaced people will need to find new homes, and that situation will result in global conflict and likely massive human depopulation.

Would it not be a good idea to immediately impose policies that strongly disincentivize excessive and arbitrary use of aviation?

A Closing Image: Accelerated Melting is Likely

Below is a different perspective, rotated, but showing the recession of the glacier (roughly from left to right) and how it compares to actual shorelines beneath. The areas of ice over water are designated as the ‘northern ice shelf’ and ‘southern ice shelf’. Over land, colors appear to show ice flow rates using a spectrum, with red being fast, yellow being moderate, and blue being slow. A major concern among scientists who study polar ice loss and related sea-level rise is that loss of sea-ice eventually removes an important ‘plug’ that holds back glacial ice over land; kind of like eroding the footing out from under a bridge pier. In other words, in this example, the fear is that once the Pine Island Glacier recedes beyond the base of the SW tributary and the southern ice shelf is nearly gone, ice flow from the SW tributary will rapidly accelerate, which in turn will rapidly accelerate global sea-level rise.

It would seem to be very foolish, to continue to ignore this evidence.

FAA Investigates: Police Helicopter ‘Crashing’ of a Football Tailgate Party

Who’s idea was it, anyway, to use a helicopter to fly over tailgating crowds ‘to make crowd announcements’?

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

OK, let’s suppose a nearby nuclear reactor is melting down, say Three Mile Island (though I understand, yes, it is not actually near the stadium Lot 23 area for Penn State football games!). But, just to put this in perspective, would it be a good idea for a helicopter pilot with an announcement system to swoop down very low over a crowd to issue an urgent message aimed at triggering an immediate orderly evacuation? Well, yes and no. First, how likely is it the announcement will not be heard over the ‘whop whop’ roar of the helicopter? And, second, how smart is it to apply this level of intervention, this form of technology, to potentially trigger a stampede? If there is an urgent need for people to vacate an area, sending in a helicopter at tree-top level or even lower is like throwing gas onto a fire. Not a good idea.

Now, is it surprising that this pilot flew so low, endangering so many people? No, not at all. FAA’s regulations for Minimum Safe Altitude (officially known as FAR 91.119) are carefully worded so as to exempt helicopters from the ‘1,000-ft above’ requirement that all fixed wing aircraft have to comply with. Well, sort of. The ambiguity within FAR 91.119 creates a barn door wide enough to fly a helicopter through … or, at least, it creates opportunities for FAA to justify taking no enforcement actions. The key phrase within FAA 91.119 is this:

“(Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below) … an altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.”

Check out the videos online, by tailgaters at this Penn State incident. How was this helicopter going to safely execute an emergency landing without actually crushing or chopping people and ‘property’ below in the congested, open air assembly of tailgaters? And, when the impact causes fuel to burst out and ignite, how does the PA State Police mitigate the ‘undue hazards’ of being burnt to death?

Let’s put this in FAA’s perspective: aviation is good, people are dumb, and we, as the federal ‘regulator’ with sovereign authority for all things U.S. aviation, do everything we can to grow aviation commerce and allow even stupid aviation activities.

  • From FAA’s perspective, why not allow the use of helicopters swooping low and back-and-forth to herd wild horses or cattle … or PEOPLE?
  • From FAA’s perspective, why not ignore the obvious hazard and imprudence of using helicopters for drying cherries, or suspending enormous brush-trimming devices? Why not also ignore the ‘candy drops’ and ‘turkey drops’? After all, candy drops help sell aviation to kids, the same way turkey drops and heli-hunting sell aviation to, well, redneck yahoos … so, both are best ignored, right? [Check out this Heli-hunting video. with two shooters on the left side of a low-flying Robinson R44. Try to estimate the altitude, but try not to ponder too hard the possibility that any human or animal (a dog or livestock?) might be within the aerial hunt zone.]

  • From FAA’s perspective, why not pretend to care about safety – better yet, make ‘safety’ our most over-used word – by creating rules such as FAR 91.119 but carefully including enough ambiguity to ensure every errant pilot can walk away from enforcement – that is, so long as they are not killed by their own stupidity? Did you know: the FAR 91.119 language protects persons and property ‘ON THE SURFACE’, but the pilot (a person) and aircraft (a form of property) are NOT ‘on the surface’, and are therefore disposable?
  • From FAA’s perspective, why not perpetuate a convenient privilege for those people who choose aviation as their hobby or profession? Why not continue FAA’s ongoing failure to meaningfully investigate and enforce violations of FAR 91.119 and other FARs? After all, we wouldn’t want to dampen demand for flying, would we?

It amazes me that FAR 91.119 is so riddled with ambiguity, almost as much as it amazes me that FAA does not really give a damn about enforcing safe practices … at least not when they interfere with the expansion of air commerce. In this context, I suspect FAA will do nothing to correct the excesses that happened with the state police helicopter, at the Penn State tailgate last Saturday.

FAA investigates? We all have our doubts.

‘Rush to Reauthorize’, or should we bear down and ‘Get it Right This Time’?

The two houses of our national Congress have reportedly hashed out some details that may enable them to quickly reauthorize FAA. Is this good, or is this not so good? Should we ‘Rush to Reauthorize’, or should we bear down and ‘Get it Right This Time’?

I am for the latter, for three reasons. First, we are stuck in a rut (aviation over-expansion at all costs, with no accountability) that will not change, so long as we apply bandaids onto dirty wounds. Second, when we rushed to reauthorize the last time, it gave us horrible new laws like expanded CatEx; simply, rushed reauthorizations NEVER turn out well. And, third, the key lobbyist for the airlines (A4A) announced today, they ‘applaud’ this Congressional progress … which, frankly, coming from A4A, is like the smell near a run-over skunk; i.e., if A4A is for it, then whatever ‘progress’ Congress has made is almost certainly filled with industry privileges and community damages.

Some activists will be excited to see a glimpse of ‘progress’, too. But, be careful to not feel so beaten down that ANYTHING even slightly positive becomes something to thrill over. It is much like how people dying of hypothermia feel oddly warm just before their end. Stay focused; stay strong; know what industry and FAA are aiming to pull off; and, demand real reforms.

Reclaiming FAA for ‘WE THE PEOPLE’

Here is a PDF with a short analysis of the current situation, by aiREFORM:

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

It is worth repeating…

…We can have a federal agency that serves WE THE PEOPLE, not just industry. We can benefit from aviation, while also ensuring aviation does not diminish our lives. And, this industry is strong enough to prosper without playing FAA and too many elected officials like puppets. But, nothing can happen, nothing will happen, until Congress steps up to the plate and reclaims FAA.

Demand real reforms at FAA. If this agency is too arrogant and too power-obsessed to heel, take away their power. Give that power back to the people, where it belongs.

Now is the time, Congress; you need to step up and serve the People, not the corporations.

A Letter They Would Never Send

There is a recent big push by industry players to get the U.S. Senate to hurriedly pass reauthorization legislation without needed environmental impact amendments. This push is reflected in two ‘coalition letters’, sent on July 26th and August 15th (click on the dates to view aiRchived copies).

Both letters are disingenuous and packed with disinformation. This is incredibly insulting to the thousands across this nation whose homes and health are being destroyed by NextGen, Wake Recat, OAPM, and other FAA programs. We are seeing our Democracy hijacked by slick collaborated propaganda. And, we are seeing our elected officials corrupted by their obsession with reelection funding; they express concerns to the little people, but their actions and their histories expose their true bipartisan loyalty is to corporate power. These elected officials are owned.

What if this ‘coalition’, these groups, dipped their cups in a koolaid bowl filled with temporary truth serum? Might their letter look like this?

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

Obviously, this is NOT the letter sent by A4A, NBAA, and other groups. No, this letter is what these groups should be writing, what they would now send to Senators McConnell and Schumer, if they cared to clean up their mess. But they don’t care about anything beyond industry profits to fatten their own annual benefits and bonuses.

Some are suggesting that we activists need to work together, send OUR LETTER to these Senators, and get them to serve OUR INTERESTS. Time to get to work.

Aviation growth ≠ Economic Growth

In the U.S., we have thousands of people being victimized by the diminished health and destroyed residential quality of life, under NextGen’s “pack’em tight and keep’em coming” automated flight routes. The airlines are getting richer and, this time of year, too many of us have to smell jetfuel if we dare to barbecue in the backyard.

If Canada was part of our NextGen program, Toronto (by far the busiest Canadian airport) would be their highest-impact area. Pearson Airport [CYYZ] is their biggest airline hub. One thing to understand, though, is NextGen is just a brandname, conspired by industry and FAA, and brandished all over the place to fool people into thinking it is something new. It is not. It is just a brandname. The real changes are happening worldwide, and are due to the widely homogenized digital systems that enable aircraft everywhere to be operated almost entirely using automation – both by pilots and air traffic control (ATC). Consequently, the impacts around Toronto are exactly like the impacts around Seattle, San Diego, Charlotte, Boston, and all the other major U.S. hubs: repetitive, low, slow and loud, often with turns incredibly close to the runway.

Here’s a letter to the editor worth archiving, from Toronto: (click here to view original)

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

Aviation growth ≠ Economic Growth

Aviation growth = Economic Growth – Community Impacts

Yup. The math is that simple. So long as costs are ignored, it looks like pure benefits, right?

People are talking about this one. Good letter.

One of the leading activists about NextGen sent me a note with her thoughts: 

“…I like the equations in that Toronto letter.
I don’t know if it is a conspiracy or negligence.  What they are doing now is the “benefit” part of a cost/benefit plan and analysis, completely ignoring all of the costs to individuals on the ground and communities.
The advertising, the spin, the propaganda, and the Pollyanna attempts to make it all seem good without also mentioning the negatives, the consequences, the price individuals and other industries, e.g. healthcare, pay for the airline industry’s proclaimed success is misleading.  It is hard to know if the twisted focus on the positive and the hiding of the negatives is conspiratorial or wishful thinking + ignorance….”

Seeking Quiet Sleep at Lake Arrowhead

Activist David Caine has written a letter to Dennis Roberts (FAA Regional Administrator for the Western Pacific Region) and David Abney (CEO at UPS). It was published online at Mountain News. Here’s an aiRchived copy of David’s letter:

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

Ontario is a cargo hub in the eastern part of the LA Basin. UPS flies numerous flights into KONT each day, as does FedEx. Well, the problematic ones are the typical ten large arrivals between 1AM and 5AM on most days. These two big operators (the duopoly cargo haulers in the USA) like to operate at night, when there is less air traffic. They get more direct routes from ATC, and they typically push the engines to ‘scream’ across the sky. But, if ATC does not care to protect those sleeping below, the direct routes and screaming engines cause many below to be rudely awoken.

This is a classic example of why people need FAA to perform for the entire nation, not just for commercial aviation concerns. This is why the current situation, with FAA clearly a captured regulator and tone-deaf to citizen impact concerns, is failing all of us. The impacts at Lake Arrowhead were covered before in this aiREFORM Post.

Dennis Roberts is the latest person to serve as FAA’s Western Pacific Regional Administrator. He gave a presentation ‘explaining’ what FAA might do to reduce the impacts. A new arrival route, JCKIE1 STAR, was explained, too. A lot of techno-mumbo-jumbo, but when promises are not kept, it only makes FAA look that much worse.

Can we just be allowed to enjoy our homes and get some sleep??!??

We Can Have No Accountability Without Transparency

Here is a quick example of how FAA protects aviation industry players from accountability, and how the mainstream media gives FAA a pass on accountability.

WKYT is a CBS-affiliated TV station in the Lexington, Kentucky area. Residents recently became concerned about a low-flying aircraft. The TV station investigated and was able to extract from FAA that an aerial survey was being conducted. But, FAA would offer no further details. This news story then gets packaged as ‘FAA Explains why low-flying plane was spotted in multiple counties” Oh, really? That’s an ‘explanation’?

What gives here? This airspace is owned by the public. We are impacted by those who use it, and we all pay for the services of FAA, who is supposed to manage and regulate that use. More often than not, an aerial survey is nothing more than a specially rigged airplane with a vertically oriented camera capturing images while flying a tight grid pattern. The peace of those on the ground was impacted substantially, and people have a right to knowledge that far exceeds a corporate right to privacy. So, why does FAA not tell us who the aircraft operator was?

On roads everywhere, we have to have a legible license plate connected to a registered owner. In communities everywhere, commercial operators of motor vehicles are required to identify their vehicles – and they benefit by doing so, as their services are advertised ‘on the road’. This all needs to change. FAA needs to start serving THE PEOPLE – all of us, not just those ‘people’ who are LLCs and Corporations. And it all starts with transparency.

The Congressional Process to Reauthorize FAA: Is it Just a Show, and Will it Go Far Enough?

Lots is happening in DC right now, though it is not clear if more than a few of the well-paid elected officials care enough to press through long-overdue reforms. If they fail to alter FAA’s cozy protectionism of this industry, the problems will persist: more noise (along with less sleep), more air pollutants (along with higher morbidity rates), and more rapid expansion of the greenhouse gas emissions by an industry that is the fastest growing contributor to global climate change. In time, the latter will mean loss of the polar ice (which appears to be accelerating), as indicated in this chart:

selected years added and labeled by aiREFORM (click on image to view source at NSIDC)

Note how Arctic sea ice has steadily declined in the past three decades. Losing polar ice is not a trivial matter; it will result in much higher sea levels, higher atmospheric energy and water vapor levels (stronger winds and bigger rain/snow events), and intensified weather extremes (the kind that fool trees into blooming early, only to freeze off the pollinized blossoms, killing that year’s fruit crop).

The Ball is in Your Court, Congress!

This week, the details are being deliberated in the U.S. House, and it looks like the Senate is also pressing to ‘hurry up’ and reauthorize FAA. Congress has important work to do for us in the U.S., but the consequences are global, going far beyond just us. From a climate justice perspective, the consequences are horribly unjust. Air travel and air cargo are industries that serve the wealthiest nations, but the poorest nations tend to be the most vulnerable. A nation like the U.S. can spend enormous funds elevating runways in Florida, but what is a small nation in equatorial regions to do, except simply move away? And, as the most vulnerable nations are destroyed, the global scarcity of land will only compel more instability, more refugees, and more wars.
We need to understand this now: there are real and ugly consequences for our obsessive hyper-consumption, and aviation is a big part of that bad habit. Every benefit bears a cost; the aviation-related benefits we enjoy today are at a growing cost to others on the planet … not just airport neighbors near over-developed U.S. hubs, but also communities at or near sea-level, across the globe.

Some Resources

Here are a few current documents and articles for readers to ponder:

  • HR.4, FAA Re-Authorization draft, Section-by-Section Summary – offers summaries of the many proposals, before most were either withdrawn or voted out by committee. One wonders: is there a better process for compelling a captured agency to serve THE PEOPLE, not just their industry? Is this current process rigged to empower lobbyists and opportunistic politicians? (27p, click here for archived copy)
  • HR.4, Draft Rule – take a look at the rules set up to ‘manage’ the amendment proposals and ensure the final draft serves industry. (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • UPDATE: The Dirtiest of Washington Politics? — ATC Privatization By Deception? – it was suspicious when Shuster suddenly announced abandonment of ATC privatization and his decision to not run again. Now it is back on the plate again, which begs the question: did Shuster et al decide to quit wasting effort deliberating and instead just impose their industry-serving plans? (click here for archived copy; click here for source)
  • Climate Change Could Increase ‘Whiplash’ Between Wet and Dry Years in California, Leading to More Disasters (click here to view source, a 4/24/2018 article at EcoWatch)