Don’t Rehab La Guardia Airport. Close It.

A well-reasoned NYTimes Op/Ed by George Haikalis, a civil engineer and transportation planner, correctly notes that closure of LaGuardia Airport needs to be seriously considered. The billions of passenger taxes we might spend on upgrades to the KLGA terminal and other airport facilities would much better be applied to high-speed rail access to JFK and Newark. Both of those major airports have long parallel runways and much higher capacity. Plus, closing LaGuardia not only simplifies the gnarly tangle of air traffic control routes in New York City (which would greatly shorten the JFK approaches), it also brings huge noise relief to tens of thousands of residents. AND, it opens up 680 acres of land for urban redevelopment, much of it waterfront land. The possibilities are great, and need to be widely discussed.

The Op/Ed has generated lots of great comments, including this one from a Canadian. His point is spot on. New York is one of the world’s greatest cities, and for crying out loud, enjoying a good bagel while awaiting an airplane boarding call should be an easy and pleasant experience … especially in New York City!

“There is a little coffee and snacks stand in a hallway in the terminal that also serves bagels. A few years back I ordered a bagel and asked to have it toasted. The one employee, who was behind the cash, pointed me to a toaster placed precariously on one edge of the counter. This wasn’t one of those ones where you can put in several bagels at a time on a chain and watch them disappear and then come out toasted from the bottom, but one of those spring loaded ones many of us have at home. So I lined up behind two other people who were also toasting their bagels until it was my turn. After my bagel popped out it was time to butter it. Security being what it was I was given a plastic knife that was far too bendy to easily lift the frozen butter out from the butter packages I was given and spread it on the bagel, all the while trying to share a tiny space of counter with other bagel buttering customers.
This should not be a major factor in deciding whether to keep La Guardia (although let’s hope they factor it in to any planned upgrades), but this is my chance to say what I should have said then: NEW YORK, YOU ARE ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREAT CITIES. IT’S TIME YOU GOT DECENT BAGEL BUTTERING FACILITIES IN YOUR AIRPORTS!”

Florida Airports are Particularly Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise

If there is one U.S. state whose airports are most vulnerable to climate change, it is Florida, where many significant airports are at very low elevation. The busiest Florida airport, KMIA in Miami, is at 9-feet elevation. The state’s fifth-busiest airport, KFLL in Fort Lauderdale,**The airport at Fort Lauderdale is undergoing an $800 Million project to expand one of the runways. The design includes elevating the runway, with bridges over where the extended runway crosses railroad tracks and a major highway (US Highway 1). This may be the first of many necessary and very expensive projects to elevate Florida runways. It seems doubtful that our economy will remain capable of funding such large aviation projects in another decade or two. is also at just 9-feet elevation. The state’s sixth-busiest airport, KTMB to the southwest of Miami, sits at just 10-feet elevation.

As atmospheric CO2 continues to climb, it is expected that the massive amounts of ice on Greenland and Antarctica will continue to melt. The rates of melting in the past decade have increased substantially, and some now believe that we have passed a tipping point — that the meltoff is irreversible. If so, sea levels around the world are expected to rise by dozens of feet. Of course, how quickly the sea levels rise depends on how quickly the ice melts or slides off into the adjacent seas.

Considering the vulnerability of Florida aviation to climate change sea-level rise, it is shocking to see the diversity of reactions by Floridians. On the one extreme, Senator Marco Rubio is in full denial. Yet, on the other extreme, a major Christian group is bucking the conservative trend and speaking of how we have a moral and religious obligation to protect our environment:

“…Climate change just isn’t in faraway places. Florida, your home, literally represents “ground zero.” Sea level rise, more extreme weather, saltwater contaminated wells, loss of farm land and increased air pollution all pose significant threats to the health and well-being of Floridians. Unfortunately, a few in our nation are attempting to portray addressing climate change as a liberal issue. It’s not. It’s a moral challenge to all Americans. It is a call to follow our Risen Lord and act to prepare for the impacts, many of which are already happening, and to work to reduce our carbon pollution to help our children, now and in the future….”

One other area of the U.S. that is especially vulnerable: New York City. The three busiest airports there all average more than 1,000 operations per day and include: KEWR in Newark at 10-feet elevation, KJFK (Kennedy) in New York in Jamaica at 12-feet elevation, and KLGA (LaGuardia) at 12-feet elevation (and with one runway end at just 7-feet elevation).

Links to three recent articles:


ANALYSIS: Controller Error & NMAC at Newark, on 4/24/2014

20140424.. KEWR VFR sectionalThe departure was ASQ4100 (ExpressJet, callsign ‘Acey’); arrival was UAL1243 (callsign ‘United’). NTSB’s preliminary report, released on 5/15/2014, says the two flights passed at approximately 160 feet lateral and 400 feet vertical separation.

Here’s the scenario: with strong northwest winds and one of the parallel runways closed at Newark, FAA’s tower set up departures northbound off Runway 4R and arrivals westbound onto Runway 29. TRACON was using the Bridge Visual Approach to sequence arrivals inbound from southeast of the airport. That routing has the flights crossing the Bayonne Bridge at a fix named LAWNE, and the chart instructs all flights to proceed “…to the west end of the Bayonne Golf Course (then) turn left and proceed to cross CHUMR (the NJ Turnpike Bridge) at 500 feet.”

KEWR.. portion of Bridge Visual RY29 after Bayonne BridgeAt the time, winds were exceptionally strong, at 20-25 knots. This tends to mess up timing for the controller trying to launch Runway 4R departures through holes in the Runway 29 arrival sequence. On top of that, arriving pilots tend to bend the rules on the Bridge Visual Approach; they turn left early and thus compress onto the previous arrival. With enough arrival compression, the hole is no longer wide enough to time a departure … but the tower controller may not accurately judge this problem, especially in strong wind conditions.

20140424.. UAL1243 KEWR.apdgAnd so, the near midair happened when ATC launched a departure (green arrow) in front of an arrival (red arrow). ATC audio recordings indicate the conflict was identified at the last second, causing the departure to tip the nose down and stay under the arrival, which was proceeding to abort their cleared landing. Thanks to online aviation websites, the details of this near midair collision are accessible to passengers and the general public.

Fundamentally, the problem that leads to near-collisions like this is the over-scheduling at super-Hub airports like KEWR. FAA proves yet again they lack the will to apply their supreme authority to run a safe system. They let airlines like UAL-COA schedule way beyond the practical safe limits, then just shove it upon the controllers to deal with it and keep it flowing, when runway projects force a normal parallel runway operation to become a dicey crossing-runway operation. All it takes is for the controller to fail to see one arrival while timing the departure, as happened here. This is a systemic problem within an agency that horribly misapplies its abundant resources. FAA places too much effort into shutting down low altitude UAV’s, beating up its few remaining Whistleblowers, PR’ing the facts to hide their many failures and coddling congressional animals (to enable their perpetual reelections). More often than not, FAA’s efforts toward safety are just for show.

For further data and analysis, see page two of this Post…

Wholesale Slaughter of Wildlife Near Airports: is there a better way?

A news article in the Star-Ledger details the ineffectiveness of wildlife control measures at the Newark and other New Jersey airports managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). Specifically, after the USAir bird-strike crash in the Hudson in 2009, roughly 6,000 birds have been killed, yet the data shows no improvement in the number of birdstrikes.

In at least one regard, the increased effort to kill wildlife should not be expected to reduce incidents like USAir 1549. Why not? Because Captain Sullenberger’s successful ditching onto shallow river waters had nothing to do with on-airport wildlife. This accident was caused when Sully’s Airbus collided with a flock of geese far from the airport. The NTSB report stated: “…According to FDR data, the bird encounter occurred when the airplane was at an altitude of 2,818 feet above ground level (agl) and a distance of about 4.5 miles north-northwest of the approach end of runway 22 at LGA (the departure point).”

Just as interesting as the article are the comments. It appears that, after the USAir 1549 accident, the primary reaction by FAA and airport authorities was to go high-profile on bird control. Funds were directed toward more wildlife staff on board, and toward the increased use of USDA Wildlife Services personnel at airports. A footnote within a USDA-APHIS-WS annual report on managing wildlife hazards at airports reads: “WS biologists estimated that technical or direct management assistance resulted in a reduction, suppression, or prevention of hazards from target wildlife at 409 airports in 2002, 441 airports in 2003, 479 airports in 2004, 483 in 2005, 518 in 2006, 548 in 2007, 582 in 2008, 602 in 2009, 568 in 2010, 546 in 2011, and 568 in 2012.” It is far too common for agencies with fading missions or funding difficulties to ‘collaborate’ with other agencies, and create work. In this case, likely, FAA directed more aviation revenues to stir up more work for USDA-APHIS-WS, whose jobs have become increasingly ‘endangered’ by funding reductions.

Is there a better way?

Within the Star-Ledger article comments, it is noted that there are much better solutions available, and these are actually successfully used elsewhere. For example, the use of border collies: birds hate predators, so a dog and trainer can make the airport area ‘hostile’ for birds, and they will tend to stay away. A study [PDF]  discusses successful border collie uses in Florida [KRSW] and in Delaware [KDOV].

Another control method, being successfully utilized in the Okanagan valley of southern British Columbia, is egg addling — goose populations are being controlled by simply tracking and invading goose nests during key periods of the year. A page at notes: “…egg addling involves shaking eggs or coating them with non-toxic biodegradable food-grade corn oil within 14 days of incubation to make them non-viable … the U.S. Humane Society supports this egg addling technique.” Seems like a sad waste of a goose, but a slightly more palatable way to target our commercial instinct for slaughtering wildlife.

Is Arctic ice melting faster than expected?

There was a news article late last month, discussing the rapid decline of Arctic Sea ice. I researched a bit further and found the charts and interpretations at the National Snow & Ice Data Center. It all indicates Arctic ice is melting faster than was expected. Of course, a great fear related to polar ice melting is that, based on the enormous amount of ice at the Earth’s poles and on Greenland, this rapid melting may raise the world’s oceans by 20-25′.

Arctic lowest ice extent hit a record low in September, and reduced to just a fraction more than 50% of the average minimal ice extent for the years 1979-2000. The ice is also thinning.

I then looked at some airport data and realized, we have a bunch of major US airports at risk of being flooded, because they sit on flat land close to sea level. These are all around or below 20′ mean sea level (MSL). I put together a quick list:

  • The three major airports in the New York area are;
    • Kennedy Airport [KJFK], at 14ft MSL
    • Newark Airport [KEWR], at 18ft MSL
    • and LaGuardia Airport [KLGA], at 21ft MSL
    • note also, Boston’s major airport [KBOS] is at 20ft MSL, while Washington’s Reagan National Airport [KDCA] is at 15ft MSL.
  • On the West Coast, San Diego [KSAN] is at 13ft MSL, while San Francisco [KSFO] is at 17ft MSL, and Oakland [KOAK] is at 9ft MSL. If commercial aviation is to continue to grow, San Jose [KSJC] will feel pressure to expand its operations.
  • In the southern U.S., Miami International [KMIA] is 8ft MSL, while Fort Lauderdale [KFLL] is at 9ft MSL, and both are on FAA’s short list of 35 OEP Airports. New Orleans is still recovering from Katrina, but its two airports ([KMSY] & [KNEW]) are at 7ft and 4ft MSL.
  • Vacation flying to Hawaii will be impacted; the Honolulu Airport [PHNL] is at 13ft MSL.

The takeaway may be this: if we do not get serious about managing and minimizing the rate of carbon consumption, we will see a time come soon when the environment is biting back, not just flooding low Pacific islands, but also taking away key parts of our aviation infrastructure.