Residents Near East Hampton Airport Have Had Enough

Long Island map, airport labelsThe airport at East Hampton [KHTO], near the east end of Long Island, NY, is a relatively quiet airport most of the year, but it becomes a noisy beehive around weekends. In the summer months, the airport is intensively used by helicopters, bizjets and floatplanes to shuttle weekend visitors from New York City. The charter fees collected are obscene, and only add to the outrage by residents whose homes are being ruined.

Generally speaking, the elected officials have not been effective. They act concerned and make comments toward FAA, but the problems persist and the solutions are perpetually on hold. And, perhaps because Schumer et al are careful to not push ‘too hard’, FAA regularly helps to solidify their chances at reelection by awarding airport grants in their districts.
[KHTO] satellite view showing 5-mile radius (from QSC)Local officials and activists recognized decades ago that the only way to regain local control of their airport was to stop accepting grant monies from the FAA. They have dutifully followed that policy and now are set to impose needed noise mitigation policies. If FAA and commercial operators object too strongly, city officials will likely take it one step further: fully close down the airport.

A new aviation impact activist group has formed: Say NO to KHTO. The group is active at these links at both Twitter and Facebook). They want the airport closed, and the organizer made this comment in a recent news release:

“The airport is being operated at a huge cost to the community in lost jobs and lost dollars. We are actually subsidizing the destruction of our own environment and quality of life – simply to benefit the handful of commercial operators and their customers. This land could be used for wind and solar power generation, for affordable housing, for parks and recreation, and for low-impact businesses, among other uses. Communities across the country are struggling against unwanted and unnecessary aircraft intrusion. East Hampton should once again be in the forefront of such socially sensible and environmentally responsible efforts.”

– Barry Raebeck, PhD; ‘Say NO to KHTO’ organizer.

Click here to read the full news release. See also the recent editorial and article (PDF copies archived below).

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

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

Dodging Accountability: those ‘Un-Readable’ registration markings on GA aircraft

While there are two ‘A’s’ in ‘FAA’, we can all rest assured that neither ‘A’ stands for ‘ACCOUNTABILITY’. This we know from the news which, on a nearly daily basis, shows a corrupt and scandal-riddled work culture, where officials are ever careful to not let their personal name be attached to their professional actions and inactions. The recent coverage of the ATC recruitment scandal is one example; FAA’s decades-old habit of excessively redacting names of all FAA officials in FOIA responses is another example; and a third example is illuminated in the excellent series of articles from last summer, by Mario Diaz at PIX11.

FAA’s culture of unaccountability goes further. It not only protects those employed by the agency, but it also insulates rogue pilots and others whom the agency is supposed to be regulating, to protect them from accountability, too. Thus, incidents like the 2012 helicopter harassment against an advocate for regulation of skydiving noise in Longmont, CO are effectively enabled by a dysfunctional FAA. Essentially, a rogue pilot can do whatever he wants, and he’ll get away with it so long as he can rely of FAA to not enforce.

Required Aircraft Registration Markings

One clear area of FAA failure has to do with the requirements to mark all aircraft with legible registration numbers. The two principal ways that accountability is dodged with these GA aircraft markings are:

  1. FAA’s rules allow for incredibly tiny letters; and
  2. Even when an aircraft is identified, FAA is habitually lax about enforcement against aviators (click here for the FreeRangeLongmont version of the 2012 harassment incident… and be sure to click through to see the supporting documentation!)

We are all quite familiar with the license plates placed on the rear (and in many states on the front, too) of all registered trucks and automobiles. The purpose is to ensure drivers are accountable for their driving behavior. Identifying marks, legible from a reasonable distance, were intended to enable citizens and/or law enforcement officials to establish the registered owner (and hopefully the actually driver) after an accident or after any illegal driving actions.20150804cpy.. CA license plate sample, 65mm font, 'OutaTime'

The standard in the U.S., adopted in 1956, calls for plates that are 6″ by 12″. Typically, these have letters that are 2.5-inches (65mm) tall. A 1960 engineering study by the University of Illinois recommended adoption of a numbering system and plate design “…composed of combinations of characters which can be perceived quickly and accurately, are legible at a distance of approximately 125 feet (38 m) under daylight conditions, and are readily adapted to filing and administrative procedures.” The study also concluded that plates need to be readable from at least 125-feet away, and that a 14″ plate width (not just 12″ wide)would improve legibility, by ensuring letters are not excessively thin or mashed together.

The same logic is also supposed to apply to aircraft. However, states, local jurisdictions and Courts all defer to FAA as the final authority in charge of aviation safety. As such, it fell upon FAA to establish regulations for the proper marking of aircraft, to ensure they are identifiable, and to ensure the operators are accountable.

So, what did FAA do? They crafted a set of rules that virtually guarantee that any unsafe pilot or excessively noisy aircraft will be unidentifiable. And, even when they are identified, FAA tends not to enforce the rules, anyway.

The bulk of ‘General Aviation’ includes personal aircraft, many of which are kit-built by the owner/pilot. The vast majority of all small GA aircraft require 2″ tall registration letters; only a small number of GA require larger letters, either 3″ or 12″ tall. Think about that. Given that highway engineers opted for 2.5″ tall letters to be properly legible at 125-feet on our roadways, logically the minimum height to read the registration number of an aircraft at least 1,000-feet above the ground should be eight-times 2.5″, thus 20″ tall. Yet, the only small aircraft required to be marked with the full 12″ letters are those factory-built fixed-wing types after 1982 (and rotorcraft after 1983), and those kit-built models that cruise at speeds in excess of 180 knots. According to FAA’s rules, somebody flying an early 1970’s Learjet or Citationjet is legal, so long as they show 2″ tall letters on the sides of their engines. So, is it any wonder that drug-runners have become partial to using older small airplanes to move their product around?

An Example of Non-Enforcement

Here’s an example: a 1984 Cessna Turbo Stationair said to be based in Ohio, for which a custom paint-job was done. Nice looking plane, and plenty of power to get to remote lakes when outfitted in floats. But, take a look at the registration numbers. A licensed professional aircraft painter did this job, then advertised their good craftsmanship online, and the FAA officials simply looked the other way. The same FAA that jumps on hobbyists who use 6-pound quadcopters flown maybe 100- or 200-feet above the ground to shoot real estate aerial photos nowhere near any airports, and with zero risk of impacting regular aviation … that same FAA pays no mind to the fact that FAA-licensed pilots and the FAA-certified professionals who service their FAA-registered aircraft are routinely ignoring numerous FAA’s regulations, such as the need to have legible letters with a contrasting background.20150803scp.. C206 with camouflaged aircraft numbersN235HM earlier pic from web, marked SEP-2006

And to the right is an earlier photo, prior to the custom paint-job. Both paint jobs do a wonderful job of camouflaging the aircraft callsign. And had this aircraft been built just two years earlier, in 1982, that camouflage would surround letters only 2-inches tall!

For the record, FAA’s regulations on marking aircraft are contained at Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at Chapter I, Subchapter C, Part 45, Subpart C. The specific language in 14 CFR at Section 45.21(c) includes: “…Aircraft nationality and registration marks must … have no ornamentation, … contrast in color with the background, … and be legible.” So, if this floatplane were to buzz a group of people on the water – even if by accident – chances are that, despite FAA’s regulations, the impacted people would not be able to identify the aircraft or pilot. In the best-case scenario, a decent pilot would never learn of his carelessness, would fail to sharpen his skills, and would continue a bad and unsafe habit. In the worst-case scenario, a rogue pilot would ‘get away with it’ – and feel further empowered – all the more likely to repeat use of his aircraft to endanger and harass people.

It’s Even Worse for Helicopters

Read this quote carefully, as this is FAA’s binding regulation for rotorcraft markings, copied from 14 CFR 45.29(b)(3): “(the markings) …must be at least 12 inches high, except that rotorcraft displaying before April 18, 1983, marks required by § 45.29(b)(3) in effect on April 17, 1983, and rotorcraft manufactured on or after April 18, 1983, but before December 31, 1983, may display those marks until the aircraft is repainted or the marks are repainted, restored, or changed.” The underline is added to emphasize, in essence, for all helicopters built prior to 1984, the owner must increase the numbers from 2″ tall to 12″ tall ONLY IF the owner chooses to ‘repaint, restore or change’ the numbers. It is as if regulators (and Congress?) wanted to carefully avoid upsetting operators in the pipeline, soon to take delivery of their new helicopter (why should they be burdened with a rule that makes their helicopter potentially identifiable?). Absurd, and yet so typical of the ambiguous mish-mash built into so many FAA regulations.


The FAA’s Time Warp

(click on image to view blogpost at

(click on image to view blogpost at

The first major event of the new year for general aviation is going on right now, the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo. It is happening on January 14th-17th, at the airport in Sebring, [KSEF] in the heart of Florida. The first expo was in 2004.

This is a big event for those who enjoy recreational flying. A chance to do some flying (to Florida, in the middle of winter!), meet up with old friends, learn about new products, and listen to a few speakers. It is also a chance to discuss aviation politics.

A blog by Mary Grady at generated some interesting reader comments. Ms. Grady expressed concerns about how sluggish and ineffective FAA has been for decades, and how this is hurting general aviation. Here are four of the comments posted after her blog…

“Check any aviation magazine of the past couple decades and you will see the same discussions we see today, 3rd class medical reform, unleaded avgas, easier certification for GA. It never changes. These issues have been ongoing since the 80’s at least. Will it ever change? Probably not. No bureaucracy will purposefully and voluntarily give up any of it’s rules or regulations. It will add more layers on top of existing layers and create situations where you must have A to get to point B but you cannot get A without the paperwork obtained at point B. The FAA is supposed to be there to support and further aviation but ends up merely restricting it and the front line troops who work so hard are impeded by confusing rules from the head office.”
“Sadly, the FAA today is doing to GA what Detroit did to itself in the 1970s. It is making American GA irrelevant. Once that “Mission Accomplished” banner gets hung in OKC, there will be no way to recover – ever.
Remember the old “doomsday clock,” back during the Cold War? Lately I’m reminded of it by every action – or instance of inaction – taken by the Agency. Pass the Prozac!”
“Time warp indeed. Why are the simple details of 3rd Class medical reform that Commissioner Michael Huerta told everyone about at Airventure still “top secret” some six months later? People need to know this stuff in order to get on with life. It’s totally ridiculous and childish to treat this information like it’s the nuclear defense codes.”
“So long as the FAA (and I have my own, unprintable words for that acronym) can just ignore mandates from congress with impunity, nothing will change (well, not for the better). Reducing regulations and making things simpler is not in their DNA so you aren’t going to see the changes we want here unless someone at the FAA fears losing their job over it and congress has not shown any backbone in enforcing their laws.
They jumped on the ill-concieved changes to ATP and First officer qualifications so that demonstrates they CAN do something fast if they feel like it. In that case it ADDED to the onerousness of regulations so they liked it.
Congress mandated action on the 3rd class medical and the FAA just gave them the finger and said they couldn’t get to it. If we look at the FAA as a corporation and congress as the BOD, in what private sector company could the CEO and other officers blatantly ignore directions from the BOD and expect to keep their jobs?”

See also:

There is no safe level of lead exposure

A hearing on aviation lead was held on February 28, 2014, before the New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection. One of the presenters was Alok Disa, Earthjustice Litigation Assistant. Here is a link to an online video. Here is a link to a PDF of his presentation. And, here is his concluding statement:

“Avgas is the leading contributor to lead air pollution in this country. There is no safe level of lead exposure. Taken together, those two facts demand an aggressive policy limiting every source of lead. EPA has the authority to remove lead from aviation fuel across the country. We urge the Council and the wider environmental justice community to press EPA to end the years of delay and to take the immediate action necessary to protect the health of our communities.”

Here is an index with hearing times, for comments related to aviation and lead:

time Note
0.13.29 a brief mention of Federal preemption in addressing aviation environmental concerns
1.45.00 an explanation of what ‘environmental justice’ means, in the NYC area
 3.09.30  testimony by Alok Disa (4-minutes)

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.

A Petition to Ban Seaplanes at Oregon’s pristine Waldo Lake

Waldo Lake, one of the clearest lakes in the world, lies at 5,414′ elevation near the crest of Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range.

We were at Waldo Lake today, it is beautiful. There is currently a gas motor ban on the lake and nobody is complaining, but the Aviation Board seems to think that float planes don’t have to play by the same rules. There are many other lakes nearby that don’t have any restrictions.

It is truly arrogant for the Aviation Board and the float plane community to think they can spoil such a beautiful lake. They obviously aren’t considering the negative impact this will have on the aviation community.

 Here’s the link, sign the petition.

Thanks for keeping Waldo Lake pollution free.

This letter is a ringing endorsement for the beauty of Waldo Lake. But, even more importantly, it was written by an Oregon pilot, and posted onto a discussion board for Oregon aviators. Bravo!! His well-stated concern proves an important point: that there are pilots (probably far more than speak up about it!) who do care about the environment. Thank you, Mr. Oregon Aviator, for speaking up for the environment we all share.

Why is a Petition Needed?

Waldo Lake is a high altitude Oregon lake, famous for its crystal clear waters. In fact, the waters tend to be so pure, that the lake naturally sustains no fishery. It is surrounded on three sides by wilderness, and the USFS maintains the east side in a near-wilderness condition, with campgrounds at a distance from the tranquil shores.  The area is enjoyed for hiking, kayaking, and just being in the quiet of Nature.

Gas motors have been banned. Both the past Governor (Kulongoski) and current Governor (Kitzhaber) have gone on record clearly opposing aircraft access to the lake. But this is Oregon. We are proud of our environmental heritage, and we live in a governmental system where much of Oregon policy is set by smaller Boards filled with citizen-appointees who meet monthly to ‘take care of business’. Historically, these Boards tend to serve their own interests far ahead of other citizen interests. So, when the Oregon Marine Board passed their new rule banning gas motors, the pilots on the Oregon State Aviation Board stepped up and said ‘not so fast, you don’t have jurisdiction for the aviation use of this lake’.

Although quite possibly there may be fewer than ten or twenty pilots who are actually using Waldo Lake, fighting for the lake became a cause celebre (and very possibly a fundraiser) for the Columbia Seaplane Association in Lake Oswego, OR. An officer in that group blogged this in April 2012, about a key meeting between the Marine and Aviation Boards: “The Aviation Board aren’t going to take any closure sitting down. Several are floatplane pilots and while I expected their arguments to be agency authority oriented the meeting had a very personal flavor….”  Yup. Despite the fact that the larger public was overwhelmingly in favor of a full ban at Waldo, the half of OSAB who are seaplane pilots made sure they (and their few pals) could continue to fly there. It was truly arrogant, and self-serving.

And yet, at the same time, it was a gross disservice to many others in aviation. Nobody can credibly deny that powered flight (especially helicopters!) has a substantial adverse impact on the immediate environment. The noise, the toxic leaded fuel exhaust, and the overhead privacy intrusion. These three key impacts fuel the feuds between aviation and neighbors of aviation. So, when a tiny few pilots start pounding their chests about their right to land at serene Waldo Lake, they do so with a large cost later: they are destroying the reputation of pilots and aviation in general.

Let’s hope this will soon all pass, when Oregon’s leaders complete the ban; no seaplanes at Waldo.

For more information: