Recent news stories have chilled those of us who care about good governance, Democracy, and the critical need for a free Press. We have learned that, yet again, FAA is abusing its authority, imposing flight restrictions to shut down the Press, so they cannot obtain valuable imagery at the major environmental protest happening in eastern North Dakota. (click here to view a copy of the Cannonball, ND DAPL TFR
Readers may wonder about these TFR’s (Temporary Flight Restrictions): what are they, and what would be an appropriate TFR imposed by FAA?
Here’s an example, and not very far from North Dakota. One clearly appropriate TFR would be to protect aircraft from being hit by rocks during a large-scale surface blasting operation.
Hibbing Taconite operates a massive strip mine in the Mesabi Range of Minnesota. They have operated the Hull–Rust–Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine north of Hibbing since 1976, and online mining production data (which oddly ends in the early 1990s) shows that they shipped an average 8 million metric tons of taconite pellets during the timeframe 1987-1993. The Wikipedia page on ‘Mesabi Range’ says this is one of the world’s largest open pit iron ore mines.
An analysis of satellite imagery reveals that the mining process (documented in a series of screen captured satellite images in this scrollable PDF) is as follows:
- remove the vegetation and soil overburden (averaging 5 meters depth).
- set and detonate an array of charges over the area to be extracted.
- load the blasted ore layer into massive dump trucks and haul it to the processing plant, where the ore is separated/cleaned. The ore is shipped for steel production; the byproduct (water, soil, and other materials) is flowed into a tailings pond, where the sediments settle out.
- when the supply of extractable ore begins to run out, repeat the process, blasting a new extraction area.
The latest blast area is within the eastern part of the pit, and is the subject of the TFR on 12/7/2016. During a one hour window, FAA is excluding flights, from using airspace within a 2-mile radius of the blast, at altitudes below approximately 2,500-ft above ground level. A temporary flight restriction seems quite appropriate, as there is a real hazard.
Contrast this with the DAPL protest near Cannonball, ND. There, FAA has AGAIN abused its authority to impose flight restrictions aimed NOT at safety, but at hampering the Press. This, clearly, is wrong.