By Raymond Bender
Editor’s Note: North County residents want some honest answers about the County of San Diego’s desire to expand McClellan-Palomar [CRQ] Airport (Palomar) by extending its sole 4900-foot runway to 5700-feet and moving it north about 100 feet. They suspect the county has been playing fast and loose with Federal Aviation Administration regulations and can’t get answers from the federal government.
Dear Mr. Elwell:
Congratulations on your appointment as the new Acting FAA Administrator. Your history as a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate; as a long-term American Airlines pilot; and your FAA prior positions involving safety and the environment all suggest that you have the credentials to right the FAA’s sinking ship. Thank you also for your service in Operation Desert Storm.
We write because we believe the FAA Western Pacific Region (WPR) Office does not comply in good faith with the FAA February 2016 Community Involvement Policy.
The Deteriorating FAA Reputation with the Courts and Congress
In 2017the U.S. Court of Appeals said in Flyers Rights v. FAA related to shrinking airline passenger seats:
“We agree with Flyers Rights that the [FAA] failed to provide a plausible evidentiary basis for concluding that decrease seat sizes combined with increased passenger sizes have no effect on emergency egress.” [Decision, Part III]
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“The [FAA] argues that the omission of information … means that seat dimensions are categorically unimportant to emergency egress. That makes no sense. [Decision, Part III]
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“The problem here is that the [FAA] has given no reasoned explanation for withholding the tests in their entirety, and it has declined to file them under seal or in redacted form. Yet the [FAA] explicitly relied on those missing studies … . And the [FAA] asks the court to trust those studies …. But that is not how judicial review works. We cannot affirm the sufficiency of what we cannot see.” [Decision, Part III]
In short, the court said that the FAA did not support its decisions and was uncooperative.
The FAA’s relationship with Congress is similarly strained as reflected in two Congressional actions. First, when reauthorizing the FAA budget, Congress has adopted only short-term emergency extensions in part because of its lack of confidence in the FAA. Second, the FAA’s implementation of its NextGen aircraft satellite-guided system has caused a flurry of lawsuits causing Congress to propose new legislation directing the FAA to be more responsive to the public.
The FAA Community Involvement Policy
The FAA manual says the FAA will be transparent with the public:
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is committed to open and effective public participation and regards community involvement as an important consideration … . The mission of the FAA is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. … . (page 1) Community involvement is the process of engaging in dialogue and collaboration with communities … . This manual reaffirms the FAA’s commitment … to give the public an opportunity to be informed, become involved, and have their concerns and views considered as the FAA makes aviation decisions that might affect them. In some cases, this may mean going beyond legally mandated public participation requirements. (page 2)
The FAA Western Pacific Region History of Frustrating Public Requests
For the last four years, we have been gathering information related to the County of San Diego desire to expand McClellan-Palomar [CRQ] Airport (Palomar). The County within the next few months will adopt a new 20-year Palomar Master Plan (PMP). County wants to extend its sole 4900-foot runway to 5700-feet and to move it north about 100 feet.
We have asked the FAA WPR questions to aid us in responding to the PMP and EIR. We have been met with consistent FAA delay and resistance
The county undertakes no ordinary runway extension. County’s projects raise questions about its compliance with its prior FAA Grant Assurances, the FAA AIP Design Manual, FAA Benefit-Cost Analysis Manual, and FAA AIP Handbook. Questions include:
- Why did the FAA allow the county over a 14-year period to place about 1 million cubic yards of trash in Palomar Airport canyons without Secretary of Transportation written approval as required by FAA Grant Assurances?
- Why has the FAA refused to timely respond to a citizen request to produce the Palomar FAA grant records without a fee? The FOIA regulations require the FAA to respond within 20 business days to an FOIA appeal. After rejecting our FOIA request within a week, the FAA has still not replied to our appeal one year later.
- Why would the FAA grant funds for a runway extension over a methane-emitting landfill that has had several underground landfill fires since 2000 and continued methane leaks?
- Why would the FAA grant funds for a runway extension when the cost is at least 10 times the normal cost as a result of landfill instability?
- Why would the FAA grant runway extension monies when the county itself forecasts annual operational levels 30% lower than 20 years ago?
Our most recent question to the WPR was: When an airport installs an EMAS, does the installation (I) require the airport to create a “buffer” zone between the inner EMAS end and the paved runway landing threshold and, if so, (ii) what is the buffer area size?
The WPR response was:
Many variables go into EMAS design. Included is aircraft speed, aircraft size, available space, etc. For this reason, I do not want to speculate on what a typical design would entail. It would be speculative for me to attempt to answer your question. You may want to consider reaching out to the EMAS manufacturer for a response to your question(s). … What I am trying to convey to you is that there is not a specific requirement because an EMAS designer must consider many variables when he/she designs an EMAS bed. FAA does not design EMAS beds so for me to respond to your question it would require speculation on my part. To further assist you, I have attached a copy of FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 150-5200-22B “Engineered Materials Arresting Systems (EMAS) for Aircraft Overruns to this email. Section 9 speaks to EMAS system design requirements. Subsection 9b discusses location of EMAS beds. ) (July 26 to 27, 2018 email.)
Is it believable that the WPR branch head (not a low-level employee) needs to speculate how EMAS systems generally work? Especially when the FAA has been consulting on multiple occasions in 2017 and 2018 with county airports related to the Palomar EMAS? Especially when the FAA has since the Year 2000 been implementing EMAS installs across the United States?
Now consider a contrasting response we received to our question from a different agency:
“Yes, there is typically a Setback (buffer) area between the EMAS Bed and the Threshold. The Setback Area’s length varies for each EMAS design depending upon many factors yet to be determined.”
The WPR’s polite response was a fast-foot shuffle. Summarized, it said: Figure it out for yourself, call manufacturers, and read our long manuals. Really? Is that what the FAA Community Involvement Policy promised?
Request: Please direct the WPR Branch head (or employee knowledgeable in EMAS systems) to call us to answer our EMAS and other runway related questions. We can be reached at benderbocan AT Aol.com.
Thank you for your review.
Ray & Ellen Bender