AVmail: December 14, 2009
Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.
Letter of the Week: Space Certification Challenge
While the unveiling of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is a momentous occasion for all parties involved, I've noticed that a critical factor has been missing from coverage of the event: Information concerning the certification of the spacecraft and commercial space operations carrying passengers is notably absent from virtually all media.
If flights to paying customers are to come as early as 2011 as we are told, Virgin is surely facing one of the toughest certification programs ever seen, both for the vehicle and the operations they will be conducting with it. I do not doubt the safety of the craft. Scaled Composites has a proven track record of successful designs and I'm sure the flight test program will be thorough, but just because an aircraft can be operated safely does not mean that the government will give its blessing to carry paying passengers. I would like to know what will be expected of Virgin Galactic in order to proceed beyond the experimental stage, a realm unknown to manned spaceflight, government or private.
In addition to the challenges facing of Virgin Galactic, I have my doubts that the FAA would be able to come up with a new certification process for commercial manned spaceflight by 2011. There is a great deal of work ahead of many people, and given the high price of admission, I question whether there is enough interest from potential customers to justify the expense. Private experimental suborbital spaceflight is real, but some seem to have made the assumption that all it takes is a willing customer to make commercial spaceflight a reality. It will take much more than that and I want to see both Virgin Galactic and the FAA answer the tough questions that will have to be faced to bring this venture to fruition.
I think TSA isn't being realistic to the off-airport pilots at Punta Gorda Airport. I am based at Lake Hood (LHD & Z-41) which has about 1,000 GA aircraft. We do not have a perimeter fence (only some areas are fenced) and roadways are open 24/7/365 to the public and moose.
We suffer theft, vandalism, and moose damage to our aircraft. We have one gate that is suppose to be closed after 11 pm, but is only closed about 40 percent of the time by airport police.
We have very high recreational use of our ramps and taxiways by the public. I have tried for about 10 years with very little success to have the public separated from aircraft operational surfaces. I have a series of photos that show mothers with strollers walking past signs that say "Aircraft Only."
Lake Hood is also connected to adjacent Anchorage International Airport by a taxiway with a radio gate that took 16 years for the airport to install. So why would TSA bother an airport with working radio gates when they ignore the worst-run GA airport in North America?
Can you identify where folks can contact the TSA to express an opinion about its overreaction to preventing these aircraft at Punta Gorda from (practical) operation? For the TSA to require an FBO employee to open ther gate at Punta Gorda virtually renders the 'through the gate' program unworkable.
FYI: This does not personally impact me, but I am a supporter of airparks and I don't want to see zealots prevent normal aviation operations in the name of "national security", an expression which is obviously being overused by officials to regulate normal aviation behavior.
You can fill out a complaint form or call their contact center at 1 (866) 289-9673.
GA Perception Behind Security Stance
All of the discussions about the through-the-fence operations I have heard seem to miss one important point. This isn't about security or FAA grants, or fair reimbursement to the airports. It's about the general public's perception of general aviation.
The average citizen doesn't understand why we are able to go to and from our hangars without clearing security, and why our luggage isn't searched. They would be appalled at the fact that we don't have to file a flight plan to go somewhere VFR!
If we can't sell the general public on the notion that GA airports and airparks are safe, secure and a tremendous asset to the whole community, instead of a place for "rich guys to play with their toys," we will be forced into a situation of developing our own private airfields without any government support such as has happened in many foreign countries.
Real Estate Decision
I've been looking into purchasing a property which has a through-the-fence agreement very similar to the Punta Gorda arrangement. It looks like this would be a big mistake at this point. What makes this a greater security threat than all of the other airparks that own the airport where they're located? How about all of the little, private airports with no fences or gates? Are they next? It looks like someone needs to step in and take control of the FAA and TSA.
War by Drone
I think it's great that Air Force pilots of unmanned drones can contribute to a war effort without putting themselves in harm's way. How some people find this "unethical" is incomprehensible to me. How can a drone with two 500-lb. bombs cause any more collateral damage than a piloted aircraft with tremendous ordinance?
I completely disagree with opponents of UAVs who claim that this technology "makes war easier" and that a lessened risk would make military commanders somehow less responsible about waging war. In their arguments of ethics, the opponents of UAVs come very close to complaining that our servicemen/women being at little or no risk is somehow "unfair" because they sleep in their own beds at night.
Unbelievable. I highly doubt that our enemies consider issues of "fairness" when they're trying to kill our people. If we can come closer to winning without putting more people at risk, how is that wrong, or even remotely "unethical"? Thanks to your article, I'm now very interested in the UAV program.
Power Plant Concerns Are Real
In response to a letter suggesting power plants are good neighbors, I feel some clarification is in order.
Fist of all, I am a commissioner on the Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC) in whose airport influence area the "Peaker" power plant would be sited. The actual location is in an adjacent county however, in Alameda County, Northern California. The airport, Byron Municipal (C83) happens to be in Contra Costa County.
At this point, the CCC County Board of Supervisors, the ALUC, the county Aviation Advisory Committee and the California Pilots Assoc. have all sent letters to the California Energy Commision (CEC) requesting, among other things, details on the "plume" impact to aircraft safety. The plant, by the way, would be owned by the Mitsubishi Corp. and they already own several in the state. These peak power plants are quite differant in their composition and operation than a coal or gas type plant. The data is still too new to know the real effects of transiting a plume of the exhaust gas emitted from the peaker plant's turbine exhausts. Old style "smokestack" type plants, usually built well away from airports, have tall towers yes, but the overflight of these plants is usually done at a much higher altitude than the new generation, closer-in turbine powered peaker plants. The plant proposed near Byron would be approximately two miles away from the departure/arrival corridor of the main runway.
Further, there are glider and ultralight as well as skydiving operations at this airport, and the plume data the power plant applicant has presented thus far is not detailed enough for anyoneto make a determination as to flight safety.
Lastly, the CEC has recently declined a permit for a peaker plant near the Hayward Air Terminal in Hayward, California for essentially the concerns raised above.
Power Plant Facts
Andy Manning's response to the recent article on the power plant issue at Byron Airport in California requires a clarifying response. There are a few facts that should be known before you dismiss the airport power plant issue. In the case of Byron Airport, the proposed power plant is indeed close to final and would be also be flown over during the missed approach to Byron. Further these power plants are gas turbine units with mostly invisible plumes with documented vertical speeds of up to 3000 feet per minute. There has been at least one turbine engine failure as a result of flying over such a plume.
It appears that power plant companies are targeting airports for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: open land, existing infrastructure such as natural gas lines, electrical lines, sewer systems and roads. To make the issue even more important, the California Energy Commission power plant approval process is almost secretive - a process that clearly was influenced by the power plant companies.
Finally, the California Pilots Association is a statewide, non-profit volunteer organization whose mission is the Promotion, Preservation and Protection of California's GA airports. We invite you to visit our web site at www.calpilots.org to learn more about our efforts to protect airports. And while you are there, may I suggest that you perform a search on 'power plants' to read more information regarding power plant in airport area issues.
President, California Pilots Association
Welcome the Power Plant
Having worked in a PR and political role for a major Van Nuys, CA operator, I would have been thrilled to be surrounded by power plants and industrial property instead of residential, your alternative.
Power plants don't care about aircraft noise, nor lobby against the airport, as the holding company usually operates a private airplane. On the other hand, residents move in, organize, and lobby the hell out of your district, and can eventually topple you.
If you follow the upcoming Cap and Trade/carbon reduction legislation rules, etc., you'd see this type of operation is going be pretty clean from the get-go.
Wake up. Let the power plant in, and then when the locals go after you, which they always do, they will go after the plant too. and then you can team up, and fight back, with someone trained to fight this sort of battle, because you're not!
Think long-term, before you pick a fight my friends. No matter your intention, you put yourself on the radar by taking a swing in the first place.
Djunow Where Juneau Is?
Regarding the ADS-B locations listed in the article on Dec. 7: "The areas expected to have first operational capabilities include the Gulf of Mexico, Philadelphia and Juno."
That wouldn't be Juneau, Alaska? (Kinda sounds like Juno, but it's Juneau.) Come on up and visit.