Communicating or Avoiding?
By Raymond Bender
Should the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) talk directly to you about airport expansion projects when it funds up to 90 percent of their cost?
In 2016, the FAA revised its 1976 Airport Planning Communication Policy in the October edition of its Advisory Circular titled “Community Involvement in Airport Planning.” As it turns out, for individual projects, the FAA wants you to talk to the county, not them at all.
Problem 1: FAA Day Care
The FAA is right. County airports should tell you their expansion plans. They can, but won’t. Until forced to. They may even hide expansions by unadvertised incremental airport improvements. Moreover, only the FAA, not county, can answer certain questions related to airport expansion because the questions raise FAA policy issues.
For instance: Will the FAA fund a Palomar runway extension over the airport landfill at an extravagant cost caused by the county using airport property for non-airport purposes: trash dumping?
So you see the problem. The FAA Airport Planning Communication Policy is a “day care” policy. The FAA expects the airport kids to be good, to report what the airport will build. It is up to the parents, presumably county residents, to spank the county for misdeeds. The FAA remains out of site behind closed curtains, much like the wizard in Oz.
Problem 2: FAA: Sleeping Security Guards, not Police
In April, C-SPAN 2 ran a recent episode discussing the book “DC Confidential, Inside the Five Tricks of Washington” by David Schoenbrod. The book discusses five ways Congress seeks to credit itself for good programs and blame bad programs on federal agencies that develop and regulate them.
How? Congress announces a Do Good/Feel Good program and takes credit for it. Then gives responsibility for carrying out the program to a federal agency. This allows the federal agency to take the fall if the project fails. And, of course, Congress takes a “hands off” enforcement approach until someone loses an arm and a leg. Hear no evil, see no evil. No need to bring bad news back to the Washington beltway.
Need a colossal example? Think big banks and the 2008 financial collapse. Congress before the collapse: Everyone deserves a mortgage. Congress after the collapse: The banks really lent money to unqualified borrowers?
The FAA has learned the lesson well. One can only search the FAA Airport Planning Communication Policy in vain for any meaningful enforcement policies. For instance, why doesn’t the policy:
- Toughen local sponsor report of community concerns;
- Require an FAA Report Compliance Officer to verify the accuracy of the local airport compliance report;
- Urge airport critics to report concerns directly to the FAA;
- Penalize airports providing materially incomplete data?
Problem 3: FAA Communication Policy: 19th or 21st Century?
Having to make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) public records requests to the FAA to learn what the it and the county of San Diego should already be telling you mocks 21st century technology.
What does the FAA 2016 Airport Planning Communication policy noted above require? After 40 years of thought, the best the FAA could do to reform its 1976 communication policy was to simply say to local airport operators (in many pages): Do more.
But wait. We have the Internet today. What an idea! Include on the FAA website ongoing information about each airport. The website would show current and planned airport facilities — such as data for past, current, and expected future annual flight levels; cargo and passenger levels; number of runways and their configurations; airport past, current, and future capacity levels; and evolving aircraft sizes. Show airport-related evolving noise, pollution, and traffic levels.
The airport site would include clickable links that would allow the public to access the county’s past and current airport master plans, airport layout plans, FAA grant requests including benefit cost analyses performed to support such requests. It would also include environmental analyses performed to support airport expansion. Members of Congress, the Senate, and the public could easily research local airport issues in a flash, not in a fury.
Or, perhaps the FAA, could return to the past: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. If not a love affair with the community, perhaps the FAA could at least end the heartbreak.