An Outstanding Investigative Series on Allegiant Failures and FAA Hiding Those Safety Issues From the Public

If you are increasingly concerned that FAA appears to be just a hack, a faux-regulator that does not really serve the people but instead enables the industry … you need to read these articles.

If you have felt yourself doubting the veracity of an FAA high official, as they spew glowing pro-NextGen claims while dodging the enormous failures and impacts (like David Suomi, at the Port of Seattle on 4/25/2016; to see the video, click here, then select the April ‘video’ tab, and ‘Item 3c – Briefing’ under the 4/25 meeting) … well, you need to take a look at these articles.

This is where agency corruption goes beyond being an annoyance, to become downright dangerous.

When the Nut is Not Secured…

This photo was shot during an investigation after an Allegiant MD80 was forced to do a high speed aborted takeoff. The castellated nut at the center of the photo has a twisted safety wire, to prevent the nut from detaching. The near-accident was caused by failure to secure the nut, creating a jammed elevator.

Despite FAA and industry efforts to confuse us all, this is not rocket science.

Given the speed and power in aviation, it is absolutely critical that parts not ‘come apart’ while operating.

So, what happens when aircraft mechanics fail to include a cotter pin or safety wire, as in the photo at right? Well, in this example, a hundred or so aircraft occupants are damned lucky they did not end up dead in a post-impact fire in Las Vegas. What exactly happened? While accelerating for takeoff, the nose lifted up on its own and the crew suddenly discovered they had zero elevator control. They cut the power to bring the nose back down and, luckily, had enough runway remaining to come to a safe stop and taxi back to the gate.

…Safety Eventually Breaks Down

This particular incident has far bigger repercussions. It was one of many incidents that caught the attention of Nathaniel Lash and other reporters, who did an outstanding investigative series, published by the Tampa Bay Times. Here are links to archived PDF copies of the three articles:

The third piece just came out, and it includes an interesting twist. It appears that FOIA was used, and that FAA heavily redacted their response documents. A formal appeal was filed and, eventually, an appeal response letter was sent back by FAA, denying the request to reveal the redactions. BUT… a fully unredacted copy was enclosed with the appeal response! So, now we can see what FAA chose to initially redact (which itself can be extremely revealing).

Was the fully unredacted report enclosed by accident? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it was enclosed by someone who had seen too much. FAA employees are real people, often feeling trapped in a corrupt and soulless bureaucracy, and silenced by the fear of losing their paycheck. Sometimes real people become sick and tired of all the lying and propaganda, and feel it is their duty to bypass the corrupt intentions of higher FAA officials; sometimes they make little ‘mistakes’ with big consequences. Lucky for all of us, not all FAA employees are afraid of the agency’s ‘culture of fear’. Some really do blow the whistle, and sometimes they do this in very subtle ways.

Also, for those who really want to dive deep, check out the 27-page unredacted report.

Photography Drones: A Force for Transparency, Accountability & Democracy

Find me just one person in this nation who is not sick of this election and we will agree: this is a deceased person – who’s name is probably connected to at least one fraudulent ballot.

Downward we have dropped.

Not all is bad. Indeed, we have technologies now that can ensure transparency and accountability in our future, both so critically needed if we are to function democratically and have a just and thriving nation. Here is an example — recent footage by a citizen using a drone, flying over the construction site at the Dakota Access Pipeline, and showing that, despite newsworthy decrees by our President, the pipe lays on and further threatens  water supplies. Yes, ‘the corporation’ does as it wants, while insulating bankers and others from legal process and accountability:


These really are amazing little machines. Nobody gets hurt, because they are so small… they are literally evolved from kids’ toys. They are not intrusive; they do not burn leaded aviation fuel, nor do they create stressful noise levels as would previously happen shooting this imagery from a small plane or helicopter. And, they are incredibly maneuverable, thus can capture amazing views at low levels and in tightly confined spaces, something never possible using piloted aircraft.

20161107meme-properly-attentive-to-traditions-dapl-horse-v-militarization

Will history show we are ‘properly attentive’ to the WRONG traditions, serving money alone?

So, there is much good to be found with small photography drones, yet where are we going with these little devices, and how are drones being steered politically? Well, FAA has muddled the rules for drone use so badly that, if their illogic is taken one small step further, we will have to send in shock troops and arrest kids who launch paper airplanes or send up kites. The courts and the quasi-courts (i.e., the administrative trial venues that pretend to offer judicial services for bureaucracies) have attacked dozens of citizens who created videos or shot gorgeous real estate pictures … all with absolutely nobody getting hurt or even frightened. In the meantime, dozens more have died in manned aircraft accidents doing the same sort of work: low level aerial photography and surveillance.

FAA could encourage drones and thus eliminate lots of intrusive tourist flying (e.g., urban air tours around Chicago or New York City, over Grand Canyon, etc.), and eliminate the use of noisy low airplanes to give traffic reports. A lot of good could happen, if FAA let drones serve what people need and want, but instead FAA appears to be serving a bipartisan trend in our government, toward aiding corporations to use new technologies, while ensuring no simple citizen can do the same.

** FILE ** Beef cattle roam the Harris Ranch farms Friday, Jan. 25, 2008 in Coalinga, Calif. Higher food inflation would further challenge shoppers who are already limiting themselves to sale items and store brands as they contend with the worst food inflation since 1990. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian, file)

Cattle in a feedlot near Coalinga, California, at the gates of the ‘Disassembly Line’. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian, file)

And, in some states, laws have been passed making it illegal to shoot photographs of feedlots and other agricultural facilities; i.e., the ‘reporter’ gets arrested for trying to document what needs to be reported.

So, in just a couple more days, the damage will have been done. We will have chosen the path to bedlam that will enable a further widening of our wealth gap, and further erosion of aviation restrictions and other environmental/health laws. Our participation in this national game, rigged as it appears to be, will further expand the egos and deplorable legacies of an elite few political animals – evident subhumans (or superhumans?) who have already demonstrated, their ethics are so thin, their values and leadership are absent, and their daily routine is so entirely self-serving, … well, we get what they let us vote for!


See also:
  • Article at EcoWatch (source for video, posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog)

The Need for Reform: It Goes WAY BEYOND Just FAA & the Av-Gov Complex!

This website was started with the intent to empower individual citizens. Simply, I aimed to research and share content that would assist and inform concerned citizens, so they could be as effective as possible in unspinning the spin put forth by FAA and the industry, aka ‘the Av-Gov Complex’. Well, it turns out, when you get deep into assessing and explaining the massive (and growing) failures at FAA, you keep coming back to three root causes:

  1. money: Congress has legislated an enormous slush fund for FAA; billions are routinely taxed and spent each year, not so much for needed aviation infrastructure and programs, but to bolster reelections of those same elected reps.
  2. unaccountability: not just at FAA, but at Congress, too; indeed, it is like a dance, with each party routinely triangulating blame onto the other party, so neither is held accountable for the growing waste and other failures.
  3. lack of transparency: Congress legislated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with hearty debate, and it was passed and signed into law fifty years ago, in 1966; ever since, there has been a steady erosion of our rights to see the inside workings of our government agencies and officials (frankly, in my opinion, the Clinton private server debacle is a CLASSIC example of a FOIA-dodge enabled even by the President, in his refusal to demand an immediate investigation and report).

For the record (not that that matters, coming from this ONE small voice), I am all for what Bernie Sanders represents. I see him as a dyed-in-the-wool whistleblower, just like myself: an individual who speaks truth to power, even knowing the pain and retaliation it will generate. For example, isn’t it a shame that, with hundreds of people in the U.S. Department of State reading emails sent from an ‘@Clinton.com’ private server address, not a single person spoke truth to power about the risk and the FOIA-dodge? Why no whistleblowers? Because they are terrified of the retaliatory pain upon their families that is guaranteed in our current work culture.

For true whistleblowers, their motivation is not immediate and self-serving; their vision is longer, and their personal responsibilities are heavier; it is simply not acceptable to be quiet and enable the expansion of failures and corruption. In aviation, as in the whole political system, expanding failure/corruption will eventually produce fraud and waste … and fatalities.

Anyway, the more I research the candidates and the issues this cycle, the more I can see how clearly the ‘mainstream candidates’ (Clinton and Trump) will only further sustain the failures at FAA. But, I am also discovering that, in the Bernie Sanders campaign, there is a huge groundswell of people who care deeply, with a clear focus on reform. So, on the next page I have compiled a list, as a resource with links to aid in researching, so you can see and hear these voices for change.

I Hope you all will spend some time – and an open mind – hearing what these engaged citizens have to say. And it goes without saying: please vote, make sure your vote matters, and encourage everyone you know to do the same.


UPDATED 7/2/2016

Two great and hard-hitting videos by Lee Camp. The other is at this link.

Is This Why Hillary ‘Lost Her Tone’ the Other Day?

When she blew up at the Greenpeace activist who asked her a civil question, perhaps it was because she cannot stand the momentum shift? She was once invincible and only waiting through the process until election day. But not anymore. The Bernie Sanders campaign sent out this email today, illustrating the huge momentum shift in the past three weeks:

20160403scp.. winning percentages ID,UT,AK,HI,WA & abroad (email from B.Sanders campaign)

The next big step in the Democratic Primary happens on Tuesday, with the caucus in Wisconsin. For what it is worth, I find the Sanders platform attractive because it resonates deeply with the underlying mission of Aviation Impact REFORM. The Sanders platform emphasis is where it needs to be, aimed at producing long-overdue reforms:

  1. maximum transparency
  2. equitable and just treatment of all people
  3. verifiable accountability of government employees and officials
  4. empowerment of individuals and local communities – give the people the data and information, so they can become meaningfully involved
  5. acceptance of the need to rapidly end our dependence on fossil fuels; i.e., taking actions, including in aviation, to address the emerging climate change crisis.

It seems hard to refute that the political party duopoly in the U.S. is insufferable for its abuse of power and enabling of limitless corruption. This corruption consistently benefits corporations and elite wealth, yet hurts the diminishing middle class … and ALWAYS includes rich kickbacks to the politicians nearest the top of the parties. Like Hillary’s $225,000 Wall Street speeches (and, yes, she really does need to share transcript copies!). And the problem is undeniably bipartisan: all of our recent Presidents – both Bushes, as well as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – have reaped huge rewards by acting as ‘cheerleader-in-chief’ for the establishment, while doing nothing about whistleblower retaliations and agencies that blow off the FOIA laws. Think about it: if Hillary cannot even share a speech transcript, why would she EVER be expected to demand FAA release records that show ATC’s watching movies or concealing controller errors? If she is such a beneficiary friend to corporations, how could she EVER insist on cleaning up the NextGen impacts, or demand an end to excessive airline mergers?

Hillary Clinton has made it quite clear: she plans to emulate the Bushes and Bill and Barack. She plans to extend the failed practices of the corrupted modern U.S. duopoly. So, I hope Bernie Sanders does well in Wisconsin and continues onward to eventually win the nomination, as needed to help us all reclaim the future we are losing.

‘2 + 2 = 5’ … and ‘NextGen is Good for the Environment’


A powerful film about human nature, culture, and the indoctrination process. It warns to NOT question authority. It is in Farsi but with English subtitles.

Of course, this short film is also about much more: religion, ascendant fascism, and the whistleblower-retaliation culture that still predominates today’s aviation world.


See also:
  • (CASE STUDY) – A Whistleblower Retaliation Case: Lewis-FAA
  • (8/24/2015) – FAA’s Culture of Corruption & Cover-Up
  • (9/16/2014) – The John Woods Whistleblower Case
  • (10/17/2013) – The NoPay Game: also used against FAA Whistleblowers
  • (SEP 2012) – Open Letter to Congress: Whistleblowers urge Congress to pass WPEA
  • (4/3/2008) – The 4/3/2008 Congressional Hearing about FAA Whistleblowers
  • (REFERENCE) –  aiREFORM webpage about ‘Whistleblowers’

A Retired Pilot Shares His Thoughts about Labor Day 2015

In late 2014, George Jehn, a retired Eastern Airlines (and later US Airways) pilot and ALPA union official, published his book, ‘Final Destination: Disaster. What Really Happened to Eastern Airlines’. This book represents an insider’s view of the political and corporate corruption that eventually killed the second largest airline in the free world, in early 1991. George’s thesis is that high U.S. officials wanted/needed to keep the public in the dark about the Eastern Airline history of clandestine service to the CIA; that, after the crash of an Eastern Boeing 727 on 1/1/1985 in Bolivia, U.S. officials needed to ensure the accident would not be properly investigated, as it would expose too much … and so high officials chose instead to simply dissolve the airline. The thesis is amply supported by his facts. The book looks, too, at the role of the CIA and airlines in drug running (remember Oliver North and Iran-Contra, and the explosion of cocaine use in the U.S. three decades ago?). And, it analyzes the failure by NTSB to investigate the crash of EAL flight 980 in the Andes in 1985.

Although events in the 1980’s and early 1990’s triggered the research that went into this book, publication was delayed. George found a literary agent who initially was very keen on publishing, then was scared off. Thankfully, George kept his work and pushed it through to publication two decades later, when the political leaders were no longer as powerful. This goes to show: Whistleblowers often have to settle in for the long haul.

Here’s George’s letter for today, Labor Day 2015:

Labor Day, 2015

To my Friends,

Well, another Labor Day is upon us, and once again American workers from every walk of life and in every occupation, continue to take it on the chin. It makes no difference whether a Democrat or Republican is in charge because no matter which, working men and women are still viewed as the bad guys. Just take a quick look around to confirm this. Obama swore up and down that he is for the “middle class,” yet along with his newly-minted Republican “friends” in both Houses of Congress (at least for this item) passes the trans-Pacific free trade agreement, which is anything but “free.” American workers will pay many times over for this with their additional sweat for less, hard-earned money and jobs. This is no more than the continued “race to the bottom” for the American labor force, whose employers will now claim that they “can’t compete” with workers in the lower paid Pacific Rim countries. In turn, this will translate into cuts in pay and benefits for the American workers or their employers will outsource their jobs. “Job guarantees?” “Retraining assurances?” Pure baloney!

Recall if you will the 1978 United States airline deregulation act, under which all of this started. It contained similar false “promises” and “guarantees,” yet not one single airline pilot was ever protected or went to another airline after their carrier went out of business, with their pay and/or seniority intact, as the language of this legislation stated would happen. And right now, the current New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo, another alleged Democrat, sets his sights on attacking public school teachers throughout the state and their union for their alleged “teaching deficiencies,” in some NY public schools—items although beyond their control, they are nonetheless being blamed for.

Today’s definition of Labor Day amounts to no more than a sordid joke on American workers, except it is anything but a joke. It has turned into just another national holiday where the politicians pander to the workers who put them into office, as large retailers offer goods at alleged sale prices and further line their pockets, while their employees are paid minimum wages and Mom and Pop stores are simultaneously put out of business.

Fairly paid and the skilled American work force is what created the American middle class and once made this country great. Without them..? Well, I’ll leave it up to you to fill in the blanks for the rest of that sentence, but I think we can all see what transpires around us on a daily basis.

On a much more personal note, since 1978 not one Labor Day ever went by without calling and speaking with my former elected pilot union colleague, close friend and staunch pilot/labor advocate, former Eastern Captain, Skip Copeland. That won’t happen this year because unfortunately Skip passed away late last year after tirelessly fighting for the Eastern pilots for many years. He is sorely missed. May he rest in peace. He earned it.

Perhaps, just maybe, our once-great Republic can one day rekindle all that it once stood for—but don’t hold your breath. On this Labor Day, 2015, the ones I truly feel sorry for are our children and grandchildren who will most likely never know the opportunities the real America once held for all working men and women.

George’s book was published by Changing Lives Press. I bought a copy and read it this summer, and it was a fascinating read. Parts were eerily reminiscent of my own story, blowing the whistle on FAA/ATC safety failures, though George’s story goes all the way to the White House (while my story only rose to high officials at FAA and NATCA). And, it really illuminates the greed-driven politics that have not only undermined aviation, but also are altering the economy we leave for our children.


UPDATE, 4/8/2016: — Robert DeFranco’s Dragon River has optioned the rights to George Jehn’s memoir, ‘Final Destination: Disaster — What Really Happened to Eastern Airlines.’

[QUOTE]: FAA’s Culture of Corruption & Cover-Up

Aside

QUOTE

“…Over and over, when the FAA is caught asleep at the wheel, those in charge rattle their sabers, fire low level individuals and allow the management that refuses to play by the rules to stay in power. Soon it all slouches back into a comfy system because the FAA does not like oversight, does not tolerate whistleblowers, and will say whatever it takes for the cameras to stop rolling and the members of Congress to stop having hearings. I know because I shined the light on FAA malfeasance and cover up for five years when I headed the independent oversight agency United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC)….”

– Scott Bloch, in a 5/29/2011 blog post about endemic FAA corruption

Click here to read the original blog post.

NTSB’s Preliminary Report on the Monck’s Corner Midair Fails to Present Critical Airspeed Data

It took NTSB ten days to release a report on a midair collision that killed two men, when their Cessna was broadsided by a USAF F16 ‘training flight’ north of Charleston, SC [KCHS]. A PDF copy of the report text has been created, and includes footnotes pointing at areas needing further detail and investigation.

As noted earlier on this website, both FAA and NTSB need to become more immediately transparent on serious incidents, especially low-altitude fatal midair collisions. At a minimum, we should be able to see radar presentations (showing positions at key times, as well as datablocks that reveal altitudes and groundspeeds at those times), just as we should be able to listen to a copy of the audio between the F16 pilot and the KCHS approach controller.

What new information was produced? Here are a few key points:

  1. Very significantly, the impact occurred at just 1,500 feet altitude, an incredibly low altitude for an F16 to be passing at high speed near a small general aviation airport (Berkeley County, SW of Moncks Corner, [KMKS]).

    20150720scp.. VFRmap re Moncks Corner midair (showing Shaw AFB E to KMYR S to KCHS)

    VFR sectional showing: F16 departure from KSSC (orange triangle), F16 practice approaches at KMYR (orange square), final destination for F16 at KCHS (orange circle), and approx. route of Cessna from KMKS toward KCRE (red line).

  2. The report notes a 10:20 departure by the F16, a flight to KMYR to conduct two instrument approaches, then a flight to KCHS for another practice approach. Thus, it took just 40-minutes for this F16 to fly 79 direct nautical miles to KMKS, fly two approaches, then fly 63 direct nautical miles to the collision near KMKS. The time used up to fly two practice approaches at KMYR is substantial, thus suggests: this F16 was likely screaming through the sky, and at only 1,500 feet altitude (though interestingly, at the initial press conference on July 7th, the USAF commander said they believe the collision was at 2,500 to 3,000 feet altitude).
  3. Although NTSB provided many valuable details, they made absolutely no mention of a hugely important factor: the F16’s airspeed leading up to the collision. Historically (and this goes WAY back to the almost weekly fatal midairs that happened in the 1960’s, when jets were first introduced commercially), airspeed differentials are a major contributing factor to midair collisions. Certainly a Cessna at just 1,500 feet altitude would have very little opportunity to avoid a fast-moving jet pointed straight at the Cessna. This pattern, with NTSB failing to mention a very pertinent detail in their Preliminary Report, is a repeat of what happened a year ago when a student from Germany was killed in a crash near St. Cloud, MN, for which there was strong evidence an arriving Allegiant flight was too low and too close, creating a wake turbulence upset.
  4. The controller’s handling suggests a systemic ATC aversion against ‘controlling’ military training flights. ATC should never have allowed the F16 pilot to scream along at just 1,500-feet, particularly since the collision was at roughly 18-miles northeast of the runway in Charleston. Typically, a normal stabilized approach descends roughly 300-feet per mile, so a ‘controlled’ civilian flight would expect to be descending through 5,000+ at 18-miles out. Had the F16 flight been properly controlled, ATC would have held the flight higher, to at least 3,000 or 4,000 feet, and with a moderate (even minimal?) airspeed consistent with safe operation of the F16 while mixing safely with low-altitude civilian flights. In the image below, note the TACAN approach is normally flown via a 24-mile arc (much further out) and has a crossing at LADRE at or above 3,000 feet. It appears ATC dove the F16 early to enable the pilot to get under the scattered layer, to conduct a quicker ‘visual approach’ to land KCHS Runway 15.

    Red circle marks the approximate midair location.

    Red circle marks the approximate midair location.

  5. The simple fact is, if this controller had asserted earlier and aggressive control of the F16 flight, or if the controller had NOT told the F16 pilot to turn south (which turn was delayed by the F16 pilot), there would have been no midair collision. I.e., timing and timidity conspired to translate ATC instructions into two fatalities and two destroyed aircraft.

As a former air traffic controller (forced into early retirement due to whistleblowing), I find this incident and the post-incident handling very troubling. Two men lost their lives unnecessarily, but the F16 pilot and the FAA controller were also victim. They have to live with what they saw unfold, and they will forever wonder, what could they have done differently to have prevented this accident?

An FAA that routinely looks the other way while F16 pilots scream at low altitudes is only enabling risky flying that will eventually produce tragic consequences. Frankly, it would not be at all surprising to see this controller retire on a stress-related disability, primarily because FAA is so eager to accommodate aviators, they too often fail to assert real and needed safety controls.


UPDATED 7/20/2015

Whistleblower Reveals Wanton Disregard for Safety by Oregon Helicopter Spray Operator

Think of it as a ‘Banana Republic’, except the bananas are tall Douglas Fir trees. This is my home state, Oregon, in 2015. Tom McCall and Ken Kesey are no doubt crying in their graves.

“Again and again, herbicides rained down. The milky chemical mix stained Ivy’s windshield white and turned his phlegm red.”

Here’s the story…

Herbicide spray routinely splashed onto the truck's windshield. (click on image to view OregonLive.com article & comments)

Herbicide spray routinely splashed onto the truck’s windshield. (click on image to view OregonLive.com article & comments)

A 45-yr-old man answers a Craigslist ad, looking for a truck driver to provide ground support for a helicopter spray operation. He hires on for a contract job in southwest Oregon. He works for Applebee Aviation, who was hired by Seneca Jones Timber Company to do a series of quick aerial missions, spraying vast clearcuts to kill the Spring sprouts that might compete with planted Douglas Fir seedlings. The man drives the chemical tank truck; the helicopter loads up with weed killer spray, again and again. What alarms him is the disregard for health and safety, when the weed killer spray is applied not just to the forest but EVERYWHERE, even onto the work crews and the truck. He needs the money (it was a Craigslist job!), so he vows to work through the short season, but protects himself as best he can, by carefully staying inside the truck. And, he uses his smartphone to document. Then, he blows the whistle, sharing his videos and the details of his experience with an Oregonian Environment reporter, Rob Davis. Davis’ article reveals a long history of unsafe practices by Applebee, as well as a reliable ineffectiveness by the Oregon Department of Forestry(ODF) and the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). And, through it all, FAA maintains more than an arms-length distance. The same failed agency that takes legal action to stop people from flying 5-pound hobby drones at harmlessly low-altitudes to shoot aerial photos … well, FAA just completely ignores the repeated use of a helicopter to spray people.

This is NOT ‘Our Oregon’ Anymore

In the middle of the nineteenth century, thousands of families uprooted to walk across the Great Plains and a series of mountain ranges and dry basins. They followed the Oregon Trail, dreaming of a land of milk and honey. A place where, if hard work was spent clearing the endless acres of tall, dark forest, a lush farm could take hold, and generations could prosper. They did prosper, but not anymore. Nowadays, prosperity is served out discriminately, funneled through the courts, applying oppressive laws against the many. Laws drafted by lobbyists richly funded by the moneyed few; laws then passed by the elected few, to curry favor with their cronies, the moneyed few who finance their reelection. When Kesey wrote the 1964 Oregon literary classic, ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’, he was documenting the self-sufficient Oregon logging lifestyle. But, at that time, he was also studying the essential American balance between the rights of individuals and the rights of the masses. Fifty years ago that balance was in flux. Now, in 2015, it appears to be ‘game over’. The systemic failures in this story point to the obvious: the democratic ideals underlying this nation are now officially dead. Stolen from the rest of us, by money and by corrupt and self-serving bureaucrats.

See also…

5/29/2015
Applebee Aviation, Aerial Spraying and Toxic Exposure
Oregon Aviation Watch – as can be expected from OAW, this is a well-researched and referenced article about Applebee. It includes the history of Applebee accidents (some fatal) and previous environmental failures/penalties. The article also takes a look at the  Oregon legislative politics that obstruct reforms and virtually guarantee future repeat failures and fatalities.

Aerial Photography: A Valuable Tool for Environmental Assessment

The power of aerial images was first discovered with the earliest forms of manned flight, such as with surveillance balloons launched at Civil War battle sites. Since, we have seen the means of obtaining aerial images evolve, from balloon, to aircraft, to satellite, and most recently to tiny drones. But, we are also seeing a trend where the state, represented here by FAA as the agency intended to regulate all aviation issues, is in fact impeding the right to take aerial images.

The images we can collect offer huge benefits, such as the efficient identification of environmental damages, or even just the assessment of land use patterns. One artist who has focused on this is Mishka Henner. Born in 1976 in Brussels, Belgium and currently based in Manchester, England, Mr. Henner has done considerable work with satellite images, sometimes doing color enhancements and other edits to create images that encourage public understanding and discussion.

For example, a recent article at EcoWatch focuses on fracking.

20141215scp.. Surreal Aerial Photos re fracking impacts, EcoWatch 12-15-14 article

(click on the image to view the article)

20141215cpy.. MishkaHenner pic, San-Andres-Oil-Field-Texas

San Andres oil field, Hockley County, Texas. Photo credit: Mishka Henner

20141215cpy.. MishkaHenner closeup pic, San-Andres-Oil-Field-Texas

San Andres oil field, Hockley County, Texas (detail). Photo credit: Mishka Henner

Another recent article at EcoWatch focuses on confined animal feedlots, common in many rural areas of the United States.

20141215scp.. Stunning Aerial Photos re factory fams, EcoWatch 11-28-14 article

(click on the image to view the article)

20141215cpy.. MishkaHenner pic, Feedyard in Randall County TX

Randall County Feedyard, Texas. Photo credit: Mishka Henner

Oddly, the trends have been against the right of individual citizens to use aerial imagery. For example, FAA has been aggressively threatening fines and sanctions against any individuals who might use drones for even trivial, hobby-like jobs. And, too, we are watching larger interests (such as ag corporations, police agencies, and energy companies) play their legislators to produce laws that make it illegal to photograph their activities, even when these same larger interests are clearly breaking the laws of the land.

Here is an excerpt from an article about Ag-Gag laws, Factory Food From Above: Satellite Images of Industrial Farms:

…Industrial farming, especially of animals, tends to be hidden from public view — and under so-called ag-gag laws, that secrecy could become law.

The laws, so far enacted by Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa and Missouri, make it illegal to take undercover photos or videos on farms. Some proposed ag-gag laws would also cover zoos and puppy mills, and would officially label anyone who breaks them as a terrorist.

How might images like Henner’s be affected by ag-gag laws? It’s not clear, said Matthew Liebman, an attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an animal advocacy group. Texas has no such law, so Henner’s images are safe. In states that do, they could be protected by legal recognition of satellite-level altitudes as public space. Under some proposed laws, though, gathering any imagery without farmer consent is a crime. Taking a snapshot of a feedlot from a window seat in a commercial jetliner would technically be illegal.

Public opinion may be turning against ag-gag laws. Of 11 proposed in state legislatures this year, each was either defeated or tabled until the next legislative session. Utah’s law is being challenged as unconstitutional. “Something’s wrong in the Land of the Free when the act of looking is itself being condemned and punished,” said Henner.

As things stand now, other countries such as China are way ahead of the U.S. For example, a June 2014 Bloomberg article, China Catches Industrial Polluters With Drone Missions, notes how the state there is catching  environmental crimes, commonly by steelmakers.


See also: