A PETITION: Asking FAA to Protect People, Too (not just the aviation interests)

(click on image to read and sign petition at Change.org)

(click on image to read and sign petition at Change.org)

The Santa Monica Airport has an enormous environmental impact on neighbors, due not just to leaded aviation fuel, but also to idling bizjets using a too-short runway too close to dense neighborhoods. There is huge capacity for these bizjets to instead use LAX, Van Nuys, Burbank, and other much larger airports with longer and safer runways.

This petition is by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who has been a leading advocate for fixing these problems at Santa Monica Airport. He and others have worked for many decades on a problem FAA still refuses to address. The community is so intent on regaining local control of their airport, that they chose to quit accepting FAA grant funds each year, to be released from the strings known as ‘Grant Assurances’. They stayed the course for decades, and gained that freedom just two weeks ago. Now, FAA needs to let local authorities do the environmental management that FAA has failed to do.

FAA, NTSB Need to Accelerate Transparency about Midair Collisions

Two men were killed three days ago, when their Cessna was broadsided by a low-flying Air Force F16. This was a tragic accident that should never have happened, and would not have happened if any of the following practices had been followed by FAA:

  1. ensure the instrument approach procedures designed and approved by FAA do not create high-risk conflicts with nearby airport operations (in this case, the GA field at Moncks Corner);
  2. regulate military jet instrument practice in civilian airspace to include much slower maximum airspeeds (i.e., if  ATC cannot ensure that the route is clear of all other aircraft, then ATC must restrict the military jet to much slower speeds, as they would a civilian jet).

The Cessna occupants died, so it is easy to try and pin the blame on them for having just taken off and being in the wrong spot when the collision occurred. But, based on statements made to reporters in the immediate aftermath, it is clear that FAA’s controllers were working the jet, and that it was at a very low altitude either setting up for or actually on a published instrument procedure. It is also clear that high-speed low-flying military jets were a huge concern in South Carolina, even a week prior to the midair. For example, a news article on June 29 generated the following selected reader comments:20150707scp.. Comments re low-flying SC military jets, from recent WYFF article, 'Fighter jets heard, spotted over Upstate'

There appears to be a developing trend toward more aggressive military training flying, with more impact upon residents below. This incident reveals the worst-case consequences of this trend. The ATC clearance issued by the radar approach controller to the F16 pilot is a matter of documented fact. It is recorded digitally, and the audio data is saved, by FAA. Likewise, the radar data used by the controller working the F16 just prior to the midair collision is also digitally saved. This data will show conclusively, where the actual collision occurred (the lat/long as well as the altitude), the flight directions of the two aircraft at time of impact, and what opportunities ATC had to ‘save’ the accident from happening.

These digital files are immediately retrievable by FAA, thus have already been shared with NTSB. When Boeing 787’s had battery fires a few years ago, NTSB did a fantastic job showing the problem (with pictures of a burnt battery, no less) in a timely news interview. Likewise, when the Asiana flight crashed while landing at San Francisco, NTSB again was wonderfully transparent. We need this transparency, not only to help answer the reasonable questions and concerns of many citizens, but also to accelerate the ‘lessons learned’ from aviation tragedies, to help active pilots avoid tragic repeats. It has been three days, and FAA needs to post these files online, for the world to see the scenario that led to this tragic midair collision.

The Need for Safely Designed Approaches

Many people do not realize that the flight of the arriving F16, reportedly doing instrument practice into Charleston AFB [KCHS], is not at all random. That is to say, the flight was communicating with FAA ATC, was flying in accordance with an ATC clearance, and was either on or joining a published approach procedure. These published procedures are supposed to be designed so as to minimize safety hazards. Dozens of different offices have to sign off before a new procedure is finally published, so it should never happen that a procedure is published that routinely puts aircraft at risk of collision. That said, take a look at this published approach, the RNAV (RNP) Z Runway 15 to KCHS:


(click on image to view larger PDF copy)

Note the fix KREIS (upper red box), with a hard altitude of 3,000 feet. Note also the first speed restriction is at JCEEE fix, 4.4 miles after KREIS fix (lower red box). 20150707scp.. Midair VFRmap, showing potential routes & KREIS fixThe lat/long for KREIS places it as indicated in red on the VFRmap portion. A left-turnout departure by a Cessna from KMCS to Myrtle Beach would approximately follow the green curve. The red line leading south to KREIS fix would approximately depict an arrival from Shaw setting up to fly this published procedure (i.e., a radar vector or a ‘Direct KREIS’ clearance). It is common practice for pilots to level off at the next crossing altitude (in this case 3,000 feet) at least a few miles before arriving at the fix. So, IF the arriving F16 was in fact being set up for this published approach, the pilot would have likely been screaming along, even in excess of 300-knots, and at a very low altitude of just 3,000 feet. Also, look closely at this published approach and it quickly becomes clear: with the annotations about ‘Radius to Fix required’ and very advanced (low) RNP requirements, this is clearly an approach NOT for regular GA flights, but most likely for military use.

We do not know if the F16 was flying this approach or another. FAA can easily answer this question, as they need to do with no further delay. As a matter of practice, to best serve the entire public (not just the narrow interests of aviation), FAA needs to routinely and immediately disclose audio recordings, transcripts, and radar presentations that depict the facts, following significant aviation incidents such as midair collisions. Clearly, a timely internet posting at the FAA website would be both effective and efficient.

FAA Opacity on Safety Data: the ATSAP Black-Hole

It is also highly likely that the FAA controller immediately filed an ATSAP report. This program grants immunity to controllers if/when they have an incident, so long as they voluntarily report what happened. The controllers are not required to report all details, and being human, they tend to report a story that places them in a positive light. But, even with that, they do report important details, that need to be disclosed if the public is to understand the incident. Regrettably, FAA has gone to considerable effort to permanently conceal all ATSAP report content; i.e., the details reported are held in such strict confidence that FAA even tries to hide them from Judges. Despite the fact FAA could easily (and routinely) sanitize the report contents with minimal redactions (similar to the way NASA ASRS reports are slightly altered) and then immediately disclose the amended report, FAA refuses to do so. Thus, when people want to learn from tragic accidents that ATC failed to save, there are no facts to be studied. Instead, we have to wait until months and years later, when a fully sanitized and carefully coordinated story is released by FAA and NTSB.

Midair Collision at Moncks Corner, SC, on July 7, 2015

CBS46 News

News reports indicate that an Air Force F16 flying a short flight from Shaw AFB in Sumter, SC [KSSC] to the Air Force Base in Charleston, SC [KCHS] broadsided a Cessna C150 over Moncks Corner, SC. The Cessna is believed to have just departed the Berkeley County Airport [KMKS], southwest of Moncks Corner, and was reportedly heading east for Myrtle Beach [KMYR]. Note that the straight-line distance from Shaw AFB to KMKS is 52nm, and from Charleston AFB to KMKS is 17nm. In a TV news interview, the Shaw AFB commander indicated the collision occurred when the F16 was at 2,000- to 3,000-ft altitude.

Orange line shows approx. route for Cessna, to Myrtle Beach. Green line shows extended centerline to KCHS Runway 15 (the F16 final course). Collision at center of red rectangle (approx.).

Shaw AFB is in upper left corner, Charleston AFB is near bottom left corner. Orange line shows approx. route for Cessna, to Myrtle Beach. Green line shows extended centerline to KCHS Runway 15 (the F16 final course). Collision at center of red rectangle (approx.). (click on image to view sectional at VFRmap.com)

Focal areas of the investigation will include:

  1. What was the precise lat/long, altitude, and time for the actual midair collision? This should be easily produced from FAA radar records.
  2. What is recorded by FAA/ATC on the radio communications? (this should show precisely what the F16 pilot requested, what ATC issued, whether any transmissions were made to help the F16 pilot not collide with the Cessna, etc.)
  3. For the F16, what time did they depart Shaw AFB, and was this just a quick hop to Charleston AFB, or was it more involved, including setting up with ATC for an instrument approach?
  4. What was the route of flight, altitude at top of climb, and flight condition (level, descending, on a radar vector or DME arc, etc. at the moment of impact) for the F16?
  5. Exactly what was the so-called ‘instrument training’ reportedly being done by the F16 pilot, during the minutes leading up to the collision? (in particular, experienced pilots will note it appears hazardous and not consistent with published instrument approaches, for a military jet to be so low, so far from KCHS, and in the vicinity of Lewisfield Plantation)
  6. For the Cessna, the airport and runway of departure, route of flight to the point of impact (left downwind departure off Runway 3 at KMKS?), flight condition (particularly, had the flight levelled or was it still climbing, at the point of impact?), and first and last times the radar target was displayed for ATC.
  7. What guidelines are local GA pilots advised to follow, as set up by FAA/ATC, to minimize the risk of conflict with Air Force training to KCHS Runway 15?

See also:

The Two Sides at Santa Monica: ‘For Aviation’ vs. ‘Against Aviation Lead Pollution’

On July 1st, neighbors of the Santa Monica Airport hope to see a measure of local airport control FINALLY restored. Pilot groups are concerned about this, fearing business jets may have to use nearby airports with longer/safer runways, and maybe even seeing a full closure of the airport [KSMO] to become a park. The pilots feel a need to promote their activity and the survival of their airport, despite the fact that it is the largest source of lead in the local airshed. So, they recently got a reporter to post a nice (some might say ‘fluffy’?) pro-aviation article in the local paper.

The issues at Santa Monica go far beyond toxic lead pollution, but this article and the comments it generated offer a clear insight into just how far apart the parties are. One side completely ignores a serious health impact while doing a ‘rah! rah!’ campaign for aviation; the other side says, ‘wait a minute, you are poisoning our children!’

For the record, the lead is used by the smaller planes and helicopters, particularly those used for flight instruction. The lead is NOT used by the business jets; they are powered by ‘Jet fuel’, which produces a different set of serious air quality problems, including particulates.

Here is a JPEG copy. Check it out, and then be sure to read the reader comments that follow the online article (one is copied below):20150610scp.. Third-graders go plane crazy at Santa Monica Airport (J.Bates, SantaMonicaDailyPress, 1p)

Here is one of the reader comments:

“As a parent, I wish they had disclosed the HEALTH RISKS to our CHILDREN from the visit to the SANTA MONICA AIRORT. Currently, leaded AVGAS (used by the aircraft at this airport) is the largest source of lead air pollution in the US, causing emissions of over 500 tons of lead per year. Recent research has found that children living and going to school near general aviation airports have higher blood lead levels than children living farther away, and studies have linked high childhood lead levels to a host of serious health problems.”

See also:

ANALYSIS: Another Frontal Passage Tragedy, this time in Plainview, TX

Early news reports indicate that the tragic death of three family members in a small airplane crash in Plainview, TX was likely caused by wind turbulence related to a frontal passage. Plainview is 35-miles north-northeast of Lubbock, at the bottom of the Texas Panhandle. Earlier this year, another frontal passage caused three Texas air crashes in the same day; miraculously, there were survivors in one of those three accidents.

Adding to the tragedy is the fact that all four accidents would not have happened if the pilots had elected to wait for the front to pass. An advancing cold front is hard to not notice, when a pilot checks the weather outlook before flying. Just like controllers, pilots have to avoid complacency. Pilots have to be vigilant about weather risks, and always incline toward staying on the ground if there is ANY doubt as to the level of weather risk.

Not just pilots, but passengers too, need to be aware of the potentially insurmountable hazards associated with weather, especially with the emerging evidence of weather intensification related to record atmospheric CO2 levels. Intensified weather can even destroy larger aircraft, as happened with Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501, an Airbus A320, which crashed after encountering extreme weather over the Java Sea, killing 162 last December 28th.

The NEXRAD Sequence

The weather risks associated with the Plainview crash are well illustrated by the progression of weather radar maps. A loop of hourly images for the entire day of 5/29/2015 is viewable at WeatherUnderground.

These radar maps are a NEXRAD (Next-Generation Radar) product. NEXRAD is a network of 160 high-resolution Doppler weather radars installed in the 1990’s. They provide enhanced capability for tracking precipitation and severe weather.

Here is an image from nearly three hours before the Plainview accident. It shows a large weather buildup west of Amarillo, growing and progressing southeastward. The accident airport is depicted by a pink circle, north of Lubbock:20150529at1900CDT.. NEXRAD KPVW marked up

And here is the sequence of hourly weather images, at 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm local time. Notice how the front builds and quickly moves NW to SE, and pay attention to the airport location (see above, just below the Interstate-27 symbol, near map center):
20150529at2000CDT.. NEXRAD KPVW

NEXRAD image at 8:00PM local time.

20150529at2100CDT.. NEXRAD KPVW

NEXRAD image at 9:00PM local time.

NEXRAD image at 10:00PM local time.

NEXRAD image at 10:00PM local time. Notice the green line to the southeast and ahead of the fast-moving front (marking the front edge of the mixing zone?).

Here is the sequence of weather observations (METAR), as recorded by the on-airport AWOS-3 system. It reads like a classic frontal onset: clear skies and light winds from the east. A pleasant evening. The winds then become calm, just before a roiling sky suddenly clouds up, temperatures plunge, and the altimeter and winds spike. This flight took off in the narrow window of calm, just ahead of the storm.20150529.. KPVW METARThe sequence suggests a very high probability that the pilot may have encountered wind shear and even rolling turbulence shortly after becoming airborne. In their study of weather, pilots are trained to expect turbulence aloft, that there is an intense zone of mixing in the steep band of air just ahead of an arriving mass of colder air.

FAA and NTSB need to emphasize to all pilots, that weather hazards need to be deeply respected, and that complacency has no place in the cockpit. Going forward, a less aviation-promotional and more safety-assertive stance by regulators can prevent incidents like this from repeating every few months.

[REFERENCE]: Leaded AvGas


REFERENCE Links re: Leaded AvGas

CRAAP recently shared three links to articles and other reference resources on the public health issue of lead, which FAA has failed to remove from aviation fuel (AvGas). Another group, Oregon Aviation Watch (OAW), has been actively working to end the addition of lead to AvGas. For readers wanting to learn more, here are a few links:

OAW Endorses Testimony in Support of Removing Lead from Aviation Fuel
Oregon Aviation Watch
Pediatrician Urges EPA to Lower the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Lead
Oregon Aviation Watch
FEB 2015
Best Practices Guidebook for Preparing Lead Emission Inventories from Piston-Powered Aircraft with the Emission Inventory Analysis Tool
TRB Report 133, 47p
Oregon Public Broadcasting Report on Leaded Aviation Fuel and EPA Delay of Endangerment Finding
Oregon Aviation Watch
Three Articles on Leaded Aviation Fuel
Oregon Aviation Watch
OCT 2014
Quantifying Aircraft Lead Emissions at Airports
TRB Report ACRP-02-34, 218p
NOTE: if you are particularly concerned about the lead issue and interested in reviewing any of these documents, please consider drafting an analysis, outline or even an article to guest-post at aiREFORM.com. Technical consultation, advice, editing, and other support will gladly be provided by aiREFORM.

Transparency in Santa Monica: Video of the May 12 City Council Proceedings

20150512scp.. Santa Monica City Council video & agenda item 13-C [KSMO]

(click on image to view video of the City Council meeting) .. (link updated 7-14-2015)

The Santa Monica City Council held a regular session on Tuesday, May 12th. They heard six citizen comments, had a discussion, then voted unanimously to pass Item 13-C.

One of the more interesting comments was by Mayor Kevin McKeown, noting FAA’s uncooperative attitude. He discussed a 5/11/2015 letter he had sent to Congressman Lieu’s office, which included this: “…(you stated) FAA has told you that it will be only in ‘listening mode’ at the meeting … that is a serious disappointment as it suggest that the FAA will not be prepared to engage in meaningful dialogue about community concern or possible solutions … given the gravity of this situation, the FAA’s merely listening is less than satisfactory.”

Below is a brief timeline listing speakers and times within the video. Click on the image to open a separate window with a video of the City Council meeting. Coverage of this item spans 28-miniutes, beginning at video time 2:05:00.

02:05:00 Mayor Kevin McKeown opens discussion.
02:05:37 Short presentation by Councilor Terry O’Day.
02:07:20 Comments by Mayor McKeown. He discusses a meeting has been set for July 8, but FAA insists they will be in ‘listening-only mode’.
02:08:40 Comments by City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie.
02:12:29 Mayor McKeown calls first of six public speakers
02:12:50 Denise Barton offers citizen comment.
02:14:25 People of California offers citizen comment.
02:15:34 Jerry Rubin offers citizen comment.
02:17:20 Joe Schmitz offers citizen comment. Discusses ‘greenwashing’, in the context of FAA’s delayed removal of lead from aviation fuel.
02:19:36 Martin Rubin offers citizen comment.
02:21:25 Suzanne Paulson offers citizen comment.
02:23:35 Mike Feinstein offers citizen comment.
02:25:05 Mayor McKeown closes public hearing portion, opens the matter for Council discussion.
02:25:15 Discussion by Councilor O’Day. Offers a motion to direct staff to proceed.
02:26:33 Comments by Mayor pro tempore Tony Vasquez.
02:27:10 Comments by Mayor McKeown, largely focused on the conflict between FAA authority and the local authority, in managing the airport while serving the needs and welfare of the local community. Asks the City Attorney to comment on specific details.
02:29:25 City Attorney Moutrie provides her comments.
02:32:10 Further comments by Mayor McKeown. He notes the substantial air quality improvements that were measured a few years ago when the runway was closed for extended maintenance repairs. Here is the quote: “I’ll point out – I think it was five years ago – we had to close the runway for a few days to do some repaving and we asked the air quality management district to do some air quality studies. We found during the few days that the runway was shut down that particulate matter in the immediate vicinity was reduce by a factor of 12 to 17 times. So a very demonstrable impact of on-going aircraft operations that we can go forward with.”
02:33:00 VOTE: unanimous approval.

5/12/2015: Airport Pollution on the Agenda at Next Santa Monica City Council Meeting

In a regular session, scheduled to begin at 5:30PM on May 12th, the Santa Monica City Council will be considering an item related to air pollution at the Santa Monica Airport [KSMO]. At Item 13-C on the Meeting Agenda, Councilmember Terry O’Day is asking the Council to consider directing staff to prepare an ordinance and leasing standards that would limit allowable emissions of air pollutants from aircraft and other sources at the Santa Monica airport. A PDF copy of the DRAFT Ordinance can be viewed in a scrollable box on page two of this aiREFORM Post.

For those wanting to research the background, here are links to past documents. They shed some light on the extent of the KSMO air pollution problem:

Big Week in Santa Monica

Lots is happening in the next few days. A meeting of the Santa Monica Airport Commission (SMAC) on Monday, then a public Rally and a session of the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday.20150322.. [KSMO] busy week calendar 1-2-3

A copy of the 36-page Staff Report is viewable in the scrollable window below. Check back to this Post, as links for other resources will be added.

  • City Council HomepageThe Santa Monica City Council regularly meets at 5:30 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month in Council Chambers, located at City Hall, 1685 Main Street, Santa Monica. The City Council may hold additional special meetings, as needed.
  • July 1, 2015: Measure LC beginslatest Post by Airport2Park, a local nonprofit formed to support and promote the creation of a great park on the land that is currently Santa Monica Airport.
  • Martin Rubin’s Statement to the Santa Monica City CouncilDelivered on 3/23/2015, in preparation for the scheduled 3/24/2015 City Council meeting. Includes numerous links to supporting documents.

Harrison Ford Crashes into Santa Monica Airport Issue

A very good editorial in the Santa Monica Mirror, by columnist Steve Stajich. The kind that makes you think while also drawing at least a couple good laughs. Read the original online to also see the reader comments. The copy below can be ‘popped out’ for easy reading.