AVmail: June 27, 2011
Letter of the Week: Food First
There's been so much hype about biofuels, which are a technology that cannot at present make even a dent in our fossil fuel usage and put enormous pressure on both the ecosystem and food prices. It's time to inject a dose of realism by demonstrating the scale of the issue, so here are some facts and figures, all of which are freely available.
The numbers around biofuels are easy to calculate and clearly show that they are not a replacement for fossil fuels. Let's look at jet fuel in the U.S. to start. Biological jet fuel comes mostly from oilseeds like canola, peanuts, and soy, as well as other plants like palm and coconut. Although palm and coconut have higher yields per acre than oilseeds, they cannot be grown in quantity in the U.S., so this example will use canola, which has the highest yield of oil seed crops at 102 gallons per acre.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation, the U.S. uses about 13 billion gallons of jet fuel per year, and at 102 gallons per acre that means we would use about 130,000,000 acres of cropland to supply jet fuel from biological sources. The U.S. has 406,000,000 acres of cropland, so it would take a whopping 31% of all U.S. cropland to supply jet fuel needs alone. In 2007, the U.S. used 44 billion gallons of diesel, which uses the same feedstock plants as jet fuel, so, using the same yield figures, that would take 431,000,000 acres of cropland — and that's 106% of U.S. cropland.
So, supplying jet and diesel fuels from domestic farming in the U.S. would take 37% more cropland than the U.S. has, and that's before we even touch gasoline and avgas use, which, by the way, is 136 billion gallons per year. Since ethanol only has 80% of the energy density of gasoline, we will need to grow enough corn for 170 billion gallons of ethanol to replace gasoline. Corn yields 390 gallons of ethanol per acre, so we will need 436,000,000 acres of land to grow enough ethanol to replace gasoline, which is 107% of U.S. cropland.
In other words, we would need two-and-a-half times more cropland than we actually have to grow enough biomass to replace our transportation fuel use. Even if we turned over every single acre of cropland we have to biofuel production, we would only supply 40% of our transportation fuel needs, and we wouldn't have anything to eat!
The ecological concerns of biofuel productions are worth mentioning as well. Indications are that the U.S. is already overfarming available land, and the results are topsoil loss and, more critically in many areas, water resources are becoming exhausted. This means that in the mid-to-long-term, the U.S. will have to farm less, not more, to be sustainable.
If we push biofuels as a solution to fuel imports, we will drive up our food prices dramatically and also reduce the surplus food that is used to help feed the world's hungry. As the world's population continues to grow, there will be more and more pressure on farming to keep food on the table, and I am not willing to have kids starve so I can have supposedly "green" fuel!
I'm not anti-biofuels. There should be a place for them in our fuel economy; however, we need to do so in such a way that they will not take food from hungry mouths and drive up food prices. Like it or not, the reality of the situation is that we will be putting fossil fuels in our airplanes for a good while yet until substantial research and development produce viable green energy solutions. Food first, fuel second!
"Pilot's Case May Help Define Privacy Act" — A Clarification from Titular Pilot Stanmore Cooper
On June 22, AVweb published a story by contributing editor Glenn Pew about my civil lawsuit against the FAA, DOT, and Social Security Administration for violating the Privacy Act of 1974. I wish to thank AVweb and Glenn Pew for affording me the opportunity to clarify some points made in the article and to provide some details that may help readers better understand the circumstances under which I filed the civil complaint against the three government agencies.
The AVweb article unintentionally left the impression that my civil lawsuit was an appeal of the 2005 criminal case in which I was charged with falsifying FAA medical certificate applications by failing to reveal my HIV infection and the anti-retroviral drugs I was taking for the infection. When I first moved to suppress the evidence in the criminal case because it was obtained through a database-matching program between the FAA medical certificate database and the SSA Title 2 and Title 16 disability databases conducted in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, the judge in that case denied my motion, saying that my remedy for the violation was not to suppress the evidence in the criminal case, but to file a separate civil complaint against the agencies for the violations. It is that civil case now before the Supreme Court.
After pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor and paying a $1,000 fine to resolve the criminal charges, I sought and was given permission from the FAA to undertake recertification. After a thorough CAMI review of my medical records for the previous ten years and after taking the CogScreen-AE cognitive deficit test, I was issued a new third-class medical certificate in August 2006. I took the private pilot written examination, oral examination, and practical (flight) test and was issued a new private pilot airman certificate on September 11, 2006.
With my new medical and airman certificates tucked in my wallet, I began searching for an attorney to represent me in filing a civil complaint against the FAA, DOT, and SSA for violating the privacy act and was extremely fortunate to find Jim Wood and his associates at Reed Smith, LLP, who were willing to represent me pro bono. I am deeply indebted to Jim and his associates, who have donated thousands of hours of legal work to my case. We filed our civil complaint in March 2007.
The Northern California District Court found that during Operation Safe Pilot the agencies violated the privacy act multiple times, that I had presented triable evidence that the violations were willful and intentional, [and] that I had, in fact, suffered an "adverse effect" as a result of the violations, but, because of a circuit court split over the question of whether or not mental and emotional distress are "actual damage" and I was not claiming pecuniary loss, the judge found for the government. I appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the three-judge panel found unanimously that provable mental and emotional distress is "actual damage."
The government appealed the Ninth Circuit's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on June 20, 2011, the Supreme Court granted the government's appeal. My own view is that if the Supreme Court rules for the government, it will be a license for government agencies to violate the laws with impunity.
For more about the case, two articles appeared in the July 2010 issue of NTSB Bar Association News: "Operation Safe Pilot — The Aftermath" is by yours truly and starts on page 13. The second article, "Operation Safe Pilot — Revisited," is by former FAA attorney Michael Dworkin, now in private practice specializing in aviation law. His article starts on page 17. The July 2010 NTSB Bar Association News may be downloaded from this link:
Another article discussing what is at stake in my case from a civil liberties point of view is in the Spring 2011 Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. The article, "Damages Under the Privacy Act: Sovereign Immunity and a Call for Legislative Reform," can be downloaded from this link:
The idea that cell phones will interfere with aircraft instrumentation seems to be the same story that was used in hospitals for many years, in which we were told to turn off cell phones at the door because it might interfere with one of the hospital's monitors or devices.
The situations are similar. In both cases, interference could be life-threatening. In each case, the manufacturer or the equipment operator could be liable for huge legal judgments should the equipment itself be subject to interference that the manufacturer would have known about or could have known about.
Since cell phones and wireless devices are not unusual, and since they are often on when they should not be, then the manufacturer should obviously know [of] and plan for any possible interference.
The hospitals have abandoned their attempts to restrict cell phones. It would seem that their motive for the restriction was the high profit from in-room telephones that they relied on for extra income. I would assume that the airline industry continues to use the same reasoning when it comes to cell phones. Why spend dollars per minute when you can just dial or text?
I thought the real reason for the restrictions were the FCC's and the cell phone companies' concerns about overloading the system as the phones changed cells as they flew over them at high speed.
The fact that we haven't seen the problem leads me to believe it's not real.
Regarding the story about the loose-lipped Southwest pilot: The story says, "An air traffic controller in the Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center alerted all pilots on the frequency to check for a stuck microphone."
I hope publishing this does not encourage even more people to make calls to check for stuck mics. The only person that needs to know his mic is stuck cannot possibly hear the request! These calls result in even worse blocking of the frequency and contribute nothing to fixing the problem. The only time such a call is worthwhile is after the mic has become "unstuck."
A twin-engined (geared P&W turbofan) two-pilot B-727 is the best possible replacement for the venerable old 737. It has larger belly cargo space, much better brakes, gear doors, far faster cruise speeds, far lower clean and approach speeds (at the same weight), aft airstair for simultaneous loading, and a comfortable-sized cockpit. And Boeing already has jigs for production. The 757 was just too big, I guess.
I enjoy AVweb's email updates but am getting a bit upset with the snide and slightly nasty way you report on most matters Airbus. A case in point is the article on the A380 interface with Embraer's building at Paris Orly. If it had been an aircraft whose type number began with a 7, it would have been unremarkable?
Do please try and be even-handed when it comes to reporting events like these and remember how the gloating from Boeing over the delays to the A380 deliveries because of its wiring problems turned around and bit them in the ass with their B787. What goes 'round comes 'round.
Had the incident involved the 747-8i and we had the photos available, we would have run the same kind of story, Dave. We've reported extensively on Boeing's issues and will continue to do so.
This is a very good publication — informative and with good subjects. Keep up the good work.