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.

Another Area Impacted by FAA Indifference: the Beaches of Destin, Florida

Whether they are locals or vacationers, people have a hard time enjoying the beaches of Northwest Florida, when overrun by helicopters. They also wish FAA would serve THE PEOPLE, not just the aviation interests.

Below, Jack Simpson notes that this is probably the most boring column he has yet written, but his annoyance with FAA is crystal clear. This meeting could have been held anywhere, and about so many similar situations involving FAA. The federal agency with all the power to manage U.S. aviation is instead in the business of enabling abuse by aviators, who profit while diminishing local quality of life. Through it all, FAA employees pretend they can do nothing about it. And notice, too, FAA using the same old trick: put the burden on the citizens to comply with onerous requirements, reporting details that often are impossible to compile.

This article was about helicopters, but the same framing could also represent a community impacted by NextGen, skydiving, air tours, etc.

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

People and Communities Would Benefit, if We Disincentivized Hubs

Interesting discussion about community impacts and port authority overdevelopment at Sea-Tac [KSEA], in this Quiet Skies Puget Sound Facebook Post.

(click on image to view source Facebook discussion)

Here, one of the area residents being victimized by Sea-Tac overexpansion suggests what really is the easiest solution: spread the flights out, so people are served locally, by their own local airport.

So, how do we make this change? The key to getting there includes changing the current system of fees/taxes to economically disincentivize hubs. For example, the U.S. Congress and FAA need to do three things:

  1. end ticket charges (especially the PFCs) that incentivize airport over-development. With airport PFCs, FAA/DoT collects billions of dollars each year, which are then reallocated into airport development projects. Much of this money goes to rural airports with nearly zero traffic (such as the recent debacle at Mora, MN), and the funds are generously doled out with near-zero local matches required. Airports like Sea-Tac are thus motivated to develop far beyond what the actual airport property and surrounding neighborhoods can stand.
  2. impose a steep carbon tax with at least half of revenues going away from aviation, such as to high speed rail. Indeed, the aviation sector provides an excellent opportunity to trial such a tax, while also funding new programs that are far more energy-efficient.
  3. establish a user fee system based on two key factors: direct-miles (between origin airport and destination airport), and aircraft seating capacity. Apply this fee system to all commercial flights (passenger and air cargo) as well as to all higher performance aircraft (e.g., bizjets, and flights by fractionally-owned aircraft). Thus:
      • for any origin-destination pair, a 200-passenger jet would pay twice the fee as a 100-passenger jet, and a 400-passenger jet would pay 4-times as much.
      • a 30-passenger bizjet would pay the same aviation user fee, whether it is chartering one elite passenger of 28, whether it is flying IFR (in the ATC system) or just out on a high-performance VFR hop.
      • passenger ticket fees/taxes would be proportional to itinerary distance. E.g., a passenger ticket from Seattle to Boston via Atlanta would pay 25% higher fees due to 25% higher distance (2,712 NM through ATL versus 2,161 NM direct SEA-BOS); likewise, a SEA-LAX-BOS itinerary would pay 43% higher fees than a direct SEA-BOS itinerary (hubbing via LAX, in this example, increases distance flown from 2,161 NM to 3,091 NM).
      • and, of course, this all would apply to commercial helicopters, too. A helicopter doing an urban air tour, or a helicopter charter hop from KSMO to Staples Center, would pay the fee, subject to a hefty minimum user fee per operation.
      • similarly, it would apply to commercial skydive operators, whose noisy aircraft would also be subject to a hefty minimum user fee per operation.

This simple set of proposed fees/taxes would not only reduce hub pressure at places like KSEA, KJFK, KCLT, KPHX, and KBOS; it would also all but eliminate system delays, and reduce environmental impacts. Plus, this system would strongly incentivize the airlines to offer more direct flights. This would mean less travel time for the consumers who fund this system, and would be a Win-Win for nearly everyone. The only losers would be the airlines and airport authorities who have gone too long, abusing too many, under the current flawed fee/tax system that maximizes consumption.

Just one thing is required: an elected Congress willing to work together, to order FAA reform: to totally revamp the fee/tax system, replacing it with only a carbon tax and a direct-miles fee.

Please Standby While this Airplane Passes Over

Humanity has achieved good and bad. Our buildings often suggest our best progress, though we have been known to destroy them in wars.

NightVision, by Luke Shepard

Watch this short video and notice how you are allowed to focus, even disappear, into the time-lapse images and the music. The video is not interrupted by needless noise and distraction. It’s technologically impressive, honoring humanity.

Now, here’s a question: would the glorious achievements presented herein be diminished, if we had to pause our tour of these achievements, while planes passed over, one after another after another?
Can aviation be brought back to balance, to serve people first and money last?

Food for Thought: How Drones and Time-Lapse Photography can Reduce Aviation Impacts

Here are a few short videos that show the power of time-lapse photography. Combine this with the close-up agility of drone photography and, well, there’d hardly be a need for manned aerial photography or air tourism. On top of all that, the safety record would improve dramatically; people would not be put at risk paying for rides with profit-driven aviation companies, with a long track record of cutting corners.

Imagine that: experiencing the Grand Canyon or lower Manhattan and NOT hearing a helicopter? Wow!!

PANO | LA – 10K from SCIENTIFANTASTIC on Vimeo.

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)

Aviation Should Serve People, Not Profits

Aside

Grand Canyon National Park:

“There are few places in this great land so

suited for contemplative recreation.”

The destructive noise impacts of aviation are many and varied: from FAA’s newly imposed concentrated NextGen routes, to circling skydive climbs, to helicopter flight schools, and more. Add to that list air tourism, even in places as sacred and beautiful as Grand Canyon. This 4-minute video is well worth watching.

(click on image to view video)

(click on image to view video)

We Need Congress to Fix FAA’s Problems…

…and here is one recent success connecting with a Congressman.

In this example, the citizen started by contacting  his member of the House of Representatives (use this link to locate yours, using only your zip code). An email address was then located, and a pair of emails was sent with the following points:

  1. Millions of American citizens live in residential areas where they’ve purposefully bought homes away from noise so they can relax in peace and quiet after a day of work; especially on weekends when it’s time to enjoy family and friends outdoors and rest up for the week ahead.  When we buy a home in a peaceful neighborhood, we have the right to expect that the peace and quiet we bought with our property will remain with us unless we give our consent or participate in a formal decision-making process to allow a noisy activity to impact us at a later date.  The way the FAA rules stand today, there is effectively nothing to stop any new aviation activity from starting-up, or an existing aviation activity from expanding as much as it wants without restraint based out of a GA airport located in a residential area.  These noisy activities take something very valuable away from a large number of surrounding residents without their consent, to benefit the commercial interests of a few who often don’t even live in the surrounding area.  These aviation activities like sight-seeing flights, aerobatics, banner tows, intensive flight training, skydiving operations, etc. add significant noise to the residential environment to the detriment of the quality of life, health and property values of surrounding residents.  The FAA has a history of blocking actions taken by residents and local authorities to control such noise-making activities at GA airports which start-up, or begin to grow after residents buy their homes in otherwise peaceful areas.  The situation today is effectively out of control, damages the quality of life for millions of residents without any realistic recourse, and risks the future quality of life of millions more, unless something is done by Congress to put effective controls in place.
  2. The block the FAA maintains on the ability of citizens and local authorities to control the growth of noise-making aviation activities based out of GA airports has been so effective that local courts and law enforcement have given up, and so have large numbers of residents.  Understanding and navigating the FAA’s fuzzy rules has to date been a waste of time, and local authorities now routinely defer outright to the noise-makers, making it essentially pointless for residents to waste their time complaining.  This damages the quality of life of millions of citizens, and risks the quality of life for millions more in the future by fostering a state of virtual lawlessness with respect to the noise-making activities of such aviation business, unless something is done by Congress to put effective controls in place.
  3. The regulatory and enforcement framework for addressing community noise impacts from aviation activities based out of GA airports is completely out of step with other quality of life standards.  For example, the EPA has stated that outdoor noise levels of more than 55 dbA interfere with activity and cause annoyance.  But the FAA noise standard for aircraft from GA airports allows the 55 dbA noise level to be exceeded repeatedly over long periods of time above our homes in residential areas.  As a further example, many residential areas have ordinances that require the explicit consent of neighbors before building or re-painting a structure (or even erecting solar panels that benefit the whole community) on the owner’s property, lest the neighbors find it an eyesore.  These structures and paint colors make no noise at all and their impact can be avoided by simply averting one’s eyes.  Yet the FAA allows recreational aircraft from GA airports to routinely overfly distant neighborhoods and produce repeated noise impacts without the consent of residents and which cannot be avoided by residents as the noise comes from above and can’t be escaped – and all this for the benefit of non-essential, profit-making recreational aviation activities.  The FAA’s disregard for this important quality of life parameter will remain unchecked unless something is done by Congress to put effective controls in place.
  4. Although NextGen implementation is creating many high-profile noise impacts, the Quiet Skies Caucus also needs to address impacts created at General Aviation airports. For example, residents in Longmont, CO, Molalla, OR, Cloverdale, CA, Chatham, MA, Tecumseh, MI, Lancaster, OH, Oak Harbor, WA, and probably many others, are repeatedly faced with quality of life impacts from aviation operations associated with skydiving and other recreational businesses. Under current practice, these businesses are allowed to operate with little or no effective federal oversight or local control of their noise impacts on surrounding residents, many of whom live several miles distant from the GA airport.
  5. Records show that at one airport impacted by just one aggressive skydiving operator, 60% of all weekend flights during the year 2014 were for skydiving.  This massive amount of slow-moving, low-altitude, excessively noisy air traffic consisted of 55 or more skydiving flights a day on all spring, summer and fall weekends. Each flight would climb slowly, passing multiple times over residential neighborhood six or more miles away from the airport, and producing 70 or more noise incidents in those neighborhoods on each weekend day (and many of the events peaked at over 70 dbA). Many residents would hear the same skydive aircraft for ten or more minutes during each climb. Entire weekends were destroyed.
  6. Furthermore, noise-making businesses like Skydiving have undertaken deliberate strategies to befuddle and spread misinformation in order to dodge accountability.  They export their noise to locations beyond the hearing-range of local airport neighbors, by consistently doing their noisy climbs at 3-10 miles away from the actual airport. The impacted residents are often unaware that the noise is related to skydiving. Thus, the local authorities receive fewer complaints. And, the near-airport residents, being less impacted, are less inclined to vote out the elected officials who are failing to manage the airport noise problem.
  7. And then there is the problem of FAA’s flawed noise metrics. Current FAA regulations measure noise exposure using a summation called the Day-Night Level metric (DNL).  Mitigation or abatement procedures are only implemented if the DNL is above 65 dbA DNL. This metric is currently applied on a one-size-fits-all basis to national air transportation hubs, as well as to GA airports in residential areas which support primarily recreational activities where we believe a different noise standard more reflective of the real noise impact should be used.

He also signed on to the Petition seeking congressional action to reduce airplane noise. Here’s the writer’s closing comment, in the letter he sent to his congressional rep. He got a positive response, as the Congressman assured that these noise issues were among his top priorities for FAA Reauthorization…

“It’s my hope moving forward that as the FAA bill is reauthorized, we can show through a collaborative and balanced approach, that the impact of these operations on our communities should be taken into account and their mitigation promoted as a part of a shift at the FAA and nationally to be better neighbors and move toward effective noise mitigation strategies applicable to GA airports.”

Remarks by Petitioners Nationwide

People are impacted by aviation noise Everywhere!

Click on page two to view some great remarks from Chicago, Milton, Longmont, Santa Monica, Phoenix, Zephyrhills, and even Tetonia, Idaho! Scroll or text-search the name of your town, to see what others are seeing where you live.

Let’s get more petition signatures (and more great remarks!) to help FAA clean up this mess….

ANALYSIS: 2015-01-16.. Forced Landing of an Air Tour Flight Near Halawa Falls, Molokai

A Cessna Skyhawk flying an apparent air tour lost engine power and crashed in rough forested terrain, while touring near Halawa Falls in the northeast part of Molokai. The tour passengers were a Japanese couple and their daughter. News reports indicate that the pilot and two passengers had minor injuries, but the mother was hospitalized with serious injuries.

20070819scp.. C172 forced landing field on Lanai, pilot pic (M.Richards)

The pilot, happy for his good luck. (click on image to view article/source)

The pilot, 35-yr-old Michael Richards, had previous experience with forced landings while flying this same aircraft type. On August 16, 2007, he was doing an instructional flight with N5207D, a C172, when he lost engine power; all three survived (the instructor, his student, and an observer/student). Then, on June 24, 2014, Mr. Richards and a student lost power at 2,000-feet and made a forced landing with N66540, ending up in a plowed pineapple field, near the Waipio Costco.

The most recent forced landing was with N5660E, a C172 registered with an operator named Hawaiian Night Lights LLC.

20070819scp.. C172 forced landing field on Lanai (M.Richards)

(click on image to read article about another forced landing, involving the same pilot, in 2007)

Is the Safety Oversight Missing?

Interestingly, neither the 2007 nor the 2014 forced landings are included within the NTSB aviation accident database. They clearly should have been. On the same day as the 2007 Hawaiian incident, another student pilot had a hard landing at an airport in Keystone Height, FL; that incident, far less significant (and far more common) than an in-flight engine failure, was investigated and added to the NTSB database [LAX07CA256]. And, on the day before the 2014 Hawaiian incident, another C172, in Miami, FL, had a hard landing when the pilot’s seat slid during touch-and-go pattern practice. It was written up at NTSB [ERA14CA331].

So, it will not be a surprise if neither NTSB nor FAA produces an investigation and report for the latest incident. They should. These are commercial activities. Just like the ‘instructional flights’ sold to tourists on ultralights are ‘commercial’ and generally overlooked by FAA. In fact, two died ten months ago in Kauai, the latest in a long history where both pilots and paying passengers have died in commercial flight accidents.

An agency that takes civil action against those who use low-altitude drones to capture real estate or news photos, should be far more concerned with ensuring safety in commercial air tourism. Get the data on these incidents, share it widely, and clean up Hawaiian air tourism before the next fatality happens.


See also: