The Polis Amendment: We Need Local Control of Our Airports!

This Post is about a legislative amendment that is set for review (and hopefully will be adopted?!?) this coming week. Your support is urgently needed, to help restore local authority so that local officials can manage impacts caused by their local airports. A link to help you easily contact your elected representative and encourage their support of HR 2997, is located near the end of this Post. Here’s the background….

The Problem…

We have a problem. A BIG PROBLEM! The system of government in this nation, which was designed to empower individuals and ensure we can work together to prosper and share great lives, has become coopted. Money now controls everything. Aviation offers a concise case study of how bad this has become:

  • the ‘money’ is in the airlines, the manufacturers, the airport authorities, and the industry lobbyists; they spend this money to gain support from FAA and elected officials, to manipulate rules and procedures for their own profits.
  • all of the above have a near-total bias toward expanding airport operations, and a near-total indifference to the impacts that are destroying even historic residential neighborhoods.
  • the environmental costs are not just an inconvenience; the repetitive noise and air pollutants, now being concentrated over new ‘noise ghettoes’ below, create sleep loss, asthma, stress, heart failure, and other serious/fatal medical conditions.
  • citizens who speak up are routinely beaten down; their concerns are diminished and ignored by all authorities; pro-aviation trolls launch attacks via social media; we are led to feel we are ‘against progress’, which is so false (…in fact, we can clearly have moderation and managed impacts that still allow all the real ‘progress’ that an airport can provide – without destroying health & quality of life).
  • when we, as impacted citizens, approach elected officials, we soon learn these so-called ‘representatives’ exist only to fund their next election campaign … and so, they are nearly ALWAYS beholden to industry players; i.e., they will act empathetic and say they are concerned, but their ACTIONS achieve no resolution of our problems. Furthermore, when we look closely at the current Congress, we see that important gatekeepers, such as the Rules Committee, appear to have heavily biased memberships (which, if abused, can be used to summarily dismiss all amendments that do not serve party objectives).
  • when we approach the mainstream media, we quickly see their enormous bias … always in favor of money, always happy to pass on misinformation.
  • when we approach the courts, they too dismiss our concerns.

Given all of this, we could just consider it a lost cause, but we really must guard against that. Instead, let’s pick our strategy carefully, and coordinate our efforts. We have to do this, especially for the next generation.

The Solution…

The very heart of the solution is LOCAL CONTROL. All airports – even O’Hare and Atlanta, the two busiest in the world – ultimately serve the local community. So, why in the world would we let FAA bureaucrats in DC take away the right – and responsibility(!) – of local officials to impose curfew hours, limit operations per hour, and impose other safe and reasonable policies that properly balance airport impacts with airline profit margins? Simply, we WOULD NOT DO THIS. This has happened, only because FAA is a captured regulator; FAA is only pretending to regulate the very industry it serves. And we are the victims, the collateral damages.

This is where the Polis Amendment comes in. Jared Polis, a Congressman representing citizens near the skydiving-noise impact-zone around the Longmont airport, has been working hard to assist those impacted. They have worked for years to get cooperation from Mile Hi, but profitable tandem jumps help the Mile Hi owner, Frank Casares, to refuse to cooperate. Local elected officials feel powerless and defer to FAA, but FAA does nothing… all they want to do is enable aviation commerce, with no regard for the ‘costs’ imposed on others. And so, the problems continue. (click here to view many other aiREFORM articles about Mile Hi and impacts around Longmont)

Here are two recent graphics about the Longmont impacts:

Notice how the climbs are routinely done a few miles AWAY from the actual airport. This helps keep airport neighbors from complaining; it also dumps noise pollution on distant neighbors, many of whom are unaware why they keep hearing so many planes. (click on image to view source tweet)

The shifting of skydiving climbs away from the airport is not only a dumping of noise pollution, it is also DANGEROUS: other pilots, flying through the area, will have a much harder time spotting the skydive aircraft when they are not within a couple miles of the target airport. (click on image to view source tweet)

The Polis Amendment seeks to add text to the FAA Reauthorization Bill (HR 2997), to explicitly restore Local Control of GA Airports (i.e., at General Aviation airports that primarily serve recreational pilots). HR 2997 is also known as the ’21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act’, or AIRR, and is being pushed by Bill Shuster, along with lobbyist A4A, the airlines, and officials like Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. The ‘Reform’ part is a cruel joke; these reforms will only further empower corporate greed, while disempowering us individual citizens. The bill is working its way up to a final vote by the House. The process this week includes getting the amendment approved by the Rules Committee (probably in a meeting on Monday), then proceeding to discussion (probably Wednesday) and eventually for final debate on the House floor.

Here is a copy of the text, proposed for addition at the end of Title VI (Miscellaneous):

So, people who can see […and hear, and BREATHE(!) the impacts of unmitigated aviation…] all need to be heard this week. Contact your elected representative, and let them know why they need to support the Polis Amendment, why WE NEED to restore local control of our LOCAL airports.

This is the first step. Eventually, local control also needs to include empowering the hundreds of thousands of residents impacted under concentrated NextGen routes, to have a real voice – and the democratic authority – to impose curfews, hourly operations limits and other capacity management restrictions that best serve the local community. Every great journey starts with a single step, and local control at GA airports needs support even from those of us who live in the new noise ghettoes FAA is creating, via NextGen.

Take Action, Please!

Please contact your elected representative. Here’s a handy link to identify your rep:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

For further information, please see this petition at Change.org. This is an excellent petition, laying out the goals for resolving all sorts of aviation impacts across the nation. The petition proposes the following seven elements for the 2017 FAA Reauthorization, now being considered by Congress:

  1. Update noise metrics used to evaluate significant exposure.
  2. Require environmental impact reviews prior to flight path changes.
  3. Mandate a robust and transparent community engagement process, including pre-decisional public hearings, for any new or modified flight paths or “flight boxes.”
  4. Restore local control over airport operations.
  5. Remove the FAA from oversight of environmental quality and public health.
  6. Mandate robust data collection and analysis of aviation noise and other pollutants near airports.
  7. Ban flights over and within 2 miles of designated noise sensitive areas.

PETITION: Fly Less

20151102scp.. Petition to FlyLess (changeorg, P.Wilde)

(click on image to view/sign petition at Change.org)

The airlines – with lots of assistance from FAA and the aviation lobby groups – are constantly selling air travel, and always careful to do so only with a positive spin. So, they have the audacity to sell NextGen as ‘green’ and good for the environment, declaring it has no environmental impacts, yet this Av-Gov PR front completely ignores the clear impacts on neighborhoods from Phoenix to Flushing to Santa Cruz.

People do not have to accept this spin. Responsible people push back, helping us all to see ‘the whole picture’ … not just the good but also the bad of aviation.

Here is a recent petition at Change.org. Academics are encouraged to get their school administrators to push for less air travel, eliminating unneeded trips and replacing many other formal interactions with the much greener alternative available using today’s advanced teleconferencing capabilities. While this petition is aimed at academics, certainly the idea of ‘electronic collaboration instead of air travel’ applies to business as well. And all of us should support this petition, to help facilitate long-overdue change.

Be sure to also see the well-written informational pages connected to this petition:

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.”

Updated Remarks, by Petition Signers Nationwide

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

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

This is an extraordinary collection of comments, well worth studying. Here are some conclusions that are readily apparent:

  • The noise impacts of aviation are EVERYWHERE, and exacerbated by a federal agency (FAA) that is totally indifferent to the impacts … too busy serving their industry with fewer restrictions and regulations. A classic example of fully formed Regulatory Capture.
  • The melting pot that is our nation is beautifully reflected in the comments, especially in the impact areas around Flushing, Queens, and Roslyn, New York. The many comments suggest that even people who have recently come to live in our nation are shocked at what they see is happening to local quality of life.
  • Many people may have become conditioned to not speak up. For example, the largest skydiving noise impact in the nation right now is being caused by Frank Casares’ Mile Hi Skydiving, operating out of the airport in Longmont, Colorado. For a few years now, impacted people have seen the hostile, uncivil, and in some cases frighteningly aggressive comments by skydiving advocates in various online forums. They have become conditioned to stay quiet. Yet, with this petition, dozens have chosen to speak up by adding their valuable comments.
  • Probably the community most intensively impacted by NextGen is Phoenix, due especially to FAA’s giving the airlines early turns in west flows (impacting the Grand Ave and Laveen areas). Thousands of residents are impacted, but their property values are plummeting, and it appears that many have become afraid to attach a name and a concern that might undermine their negotiating position while selling the homes they once loved. This is terrible: that elected officials and federal authorities (like you, Michael Huerta and Glen Martin!) do nothing to mitigate an undisputed impact, letting it persist long enough to force people to move on for their health … and that people in our nation are afraid to speak up! We all owe a lot to those who have posted their comments.

Click on page two to view the roughly 280 comments, sorted by location, and be sure to look at your own community. Also, if you or someone you know is concerned about unmitigated aviation noise, please sign the petition and add your comments! Even better, tell your elected representatives you signed and they need to ‘get to work’. We all need to speak up if this problem is to be remedied.

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….

October 24: Join the ‘No Fly Day’ to Protest NextGen

20150825scp.. Petition for NoFlyDay 10-24-2015

(click on image to sign the pledge at the petition webpage)

The pledge is to NOT fly on October 24th (or your next trip). The associated petition is being delivered to 68 leaders (in Congress, at the airlines, at FAA, etc.) and it lays out just three simple requests aimed at fixing the problems NextGen has created:

  1. Give people in Boston, Charlotte, Phoenix and elsewhere relief by reverting immediately to the pre-NextGen flight procedures;
  2. Conduct Environmental Impact Studies that use an updated, relevant noise standard (FAA tricked Congress into exempting environmental review, so there was no meaningful analysis for the NextGen flight procedures); and,
  3. Fix the broken review process whereby citizens are supposed to be shown the plan and empowered to offer valuable feedback BEFORE new procedures are implemented.

Please pledge, and please encourage others to join this action.

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.

A PETITION: Asking FAA to Fix the Boston NextGen Mess

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

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

Boston is one of many communities where FAA has implemented new NextGen procedures that are creating exceptionally intense noise impacts. Using nearly bottomless financial resources, including airline passenger taxes, FAA has spent a lot of money, carefully maneuvering with the airlines and lobbyists to get Congressional support for these new procedures. Sadly – and inexcusably – the key element of Congressional support was a line of legislation passed in early 2012 that allows FAA to implement these impactful procedures using a ‘categorical exclusion’, aka a ‘CATEX’, which means ESSENTIALLY ZERO ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW.

20150627scp.. five NextGen RNAV routes around Milton (google maps)It is absolutely unbelievable what FAA has done, particularly in Phoenix, Charlotte, Queens, Chicago, and Minneapolis. To preserve local quality of life, many citizens have risen to challenge FAA, forming groups calling for environmental reviews and FAA performance that is both accountable and transparent. One of those groups is Boston Fair Skies Coalition. They recently started a petition. The petition is aimed at Allan Goldsher, who is listed as the FAA contact person for an FAA proposal to implement new routes. In the map above, two departure routes are marked in yellow and red; three arrival routes are marked in blue, gray and black. The history behind this proposal is summarized at this Town of Milton website. Further details can be viewed here. FAA has set a June 30 deadline for citizen comments.

The Boston Fair Skies website has some valuable content, which not only details the problems FAA is making around KBOS, but also helps people in other U.S. cities to better understand their own local NextGen impacts. Be sure to click through and read the MassPort Webinar, posted on the website homepage.

(click on image to go to the homepage for the BOSFairSkies.com website)

(click on image to go to the homepage for the BOSFairSkies.com website)