Palo Alto airport committee seeks new member

Outreach group for Palo Alto Airport addresses noise complaints, safety -- and Canada geese

Five months after an East Palo Alto plane crash raised concerns about the Palo Alto Airport, the aviation group responsible for community outreach is seeking another member.

The Joint Community Relations Committee, founded by the Palo Alto City Council in 1987, meets monthly to discuss noise, airport safety, Canada geese and more.

According to former chair Peter Carpenter, the committee was a pioneering airport-community collaboration and later the subject of a short video by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association that encouraged other airports to create similar organizations.

Carpenter has stepped down from the committee, prompting the group to search for one Palo Alto resident to serve for a two-year term.

"It's helpful if (applicants) understand aviation -- not necessarily that they're pilots, but if they have some interest in aviation," committee member and Palo Alto Airport Association President Ralph Britton said. "It's crucial that they're in touch with community concerns, which is a general requirement."

Since the airport is controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration, the 12-member group lacks enforcement power. The committee's main job is to address noise complaints by speaking with community members and pilots. Members have gone to nearby homes with decibel sensors to determine whether the noise is at an acceptable level and analyzed noise maps to recommend optimum flight paths that would not disturb neighbors.

"Pilots and community members are generally very receptive to our suggestions; you just have to talk to them," Chair David Creemer said.

The committee has been focusing on outreach following the Feb. 17 crash into an East Palo Alto neighborhood, which killed three people on board, committee member and Palo Alto Airport Association Vice President Bob Lenox said. It invited community members to meetings, and Creemer spoke at nearby East Palo Alto Charter School and East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy to publicize the group and answer questions.

However, the crash does not fall under the committee's charge and will not affect its long-term operations, group members said.

"The crash is something the public is well aware of, but it didn't change the function or purpose of the committee in any way," Britton said.

At the group's meeting at the Palo Alto Airport this past Tuesday, six members gathered to discuss business.

Creemer announced that the Palo Alto Fire Department has given a boat to the Menlo Park Fire District for assistance in the event of an airplane crash.

"If you're going to wreck, wreck as close to shore as possible, and as close to Menlo," Director of County Airports Carl Honaker said, joking. He also mentioned that Canada geese on the runway were increasingly becoming a problem for pilots.

But he said no noise complaints regarding planes had been made in the past month. He cautioned, however, that it could be that the residents who typically complained had decided to stop.

As the committee searches for a new member, it is also rewriting membership requirements in its bylaws, which have not been edited from the original 1987 version and include clauses that are no longer applicable, group members said.

For example, although the bylaws state that one member must be an air-traffic controller, the committee lacks the legal authority to require a federal traffic controller to serve on a city organization. Similarly, another requirement states that a member must be chosen by the Santa Clara County Aviation Commission, but the commission lacks such authority and can only recommend appointments to the City Council.

"The bylaws need to be tweaked to work," Creemer said. "We've already started discussing this, though we don't know when we'll be done. We can't create our own bylaws, only make recommendations to council as to how the bylaws can be more workable."

The committee is also discussing recommendations as to how the council can effectively run airport operations. Although the airport is owned by Palo Alto, it is leased to Santa Clara County, and, according to Creemer, the county has said that it will not renew the lease once it expires in 2017. Since oversight will revert to Palo Alto, the council has commissioned an airport business plan study, which will be presented in September.

Creemer said that, regardless of other changes to the operations of Palo Alto Airport, he would like to preserve the informal aspect of the committee.

"What's worked with JCRC is the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. There's no impediment or intimidation to people coming to our meetings," Creemer said. "People don't feel like they have to come up and stand before a council or an official board, and it's really made it work."

Britton agreed that the relaxed atmosphere is a strength.

"Our original responsibility is just talking to people, and we've done a good job with that," Britton said. "I hate to lose the informal nature of what we do. It opens up who can come here."

Interested members must submit applications to Palo Alto City Clerk Donna Grider by 5 p.m. on Friday (July 16). Applications are available at the City of Palo Alto website.

This story mentions that applications are due by Friday (July 16) at 5 p.m. Story should be pulled by end of day July 16. -TH

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Posted by Shut-It-Down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2010 at 11:34 am


This committee has a charter of "outreach" to the communities that live around the Palo Alto Airport to deal with the aftermath of the Feb. 2010 East Palo Alto crash that shut down the electrical supply for the City of Palo Alto, and perhaps some of East Palo Alto, but not to deal with any of the safety issues associated with having this airport operating in the middle of the homes and business of about 300,000 people living within five miles, or so, of this facility.

So .. what good is this group, other than to try to convince people that having airplanes fall out of the sky on their homes is "no big deal" and that they should "learn to love the bomb"?

Time to shut down this airport, and get rid of meaningless "committees" like this one.

Like this comment
Posted by Community Advocate
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2010 at 2:39 pm

My response is so long because it simply has to be. I'm simply stunned by "Shut-it-down"'s comments, which illustrate exactly why community outreach organizations are so important, and why the fight must continue to help US citizens understand what aviation is, and what it is not. First of all, if community organizations - that had no authority over enforcement of federal laws - were disbanded, most community organizations would evaporate. They key here is that the service they perform, their usefulness, their "purpose," is outreach. This means advocacy, dialogue, and information sharing. Not enforcement of regulations. The people who serve in these organizations are the individuals who live in the very communities they work with. They therefore have the well being of the community front and center - because they are part of it. I am very thankful as a citizen of Palo Alto that I have such organizations who provide these services.

That issue aside, I simply must go further to address some immensely uneducated comments made by "Shut-it-down." The FAA is the federal authority that enforces Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, and not community outreach organizations. It is the responsibility of pilots and airport operators and related businesses involved with airport operations to do so in full compliance with 14 CFR.

Next, airplanes do not fly along and suddenly just fall out of the sky as some would suggest. Physics prevents this (specifically, the interplay between momentum, inertia, and fluid dynamics). To suggest that they do is hyperbole. Any speculation as to what happened in a particular aviation accident that is outside the scope of an official NTSB accident investigation is simply that, and it does nothing for individuals on either side of the issue when someone who can't be bothered to take the time to educate themselves about the relevant issues makes histrionic statements that are far from rooted in fact. This gets back to the function of outreach organizations, who provide education to the community about how these complex issues work. It makes my heart sink to hear people, who lean more on raw emotion than knowledge, completely misrepresenting an issue as important to this country as aviation and then vote with that ignorance on local ballot measures when such ignorance is completely preventable.

As for the concerns regarding the communities in Palo Alto living near the airport, it must absolutely be emphasized that all approach and departure paths from any runway at any airport in the United States must be proposed by the airport and approved by the FAA prior to that airport operating from that runway. Palo Alto is no exception. The only way an aircraft will ever fly over a single house in East Palo Alto is if it is at least 1500 feet in altitude. This would include aircraft transitioning through Palo Alto airspace from the East Bay, aircraft departing on an overhead 270 after takeoff, or aircraft flying toward PAO from the coast/SLAC/Crystal Springs. The only time you will have a situation like we had recently in EPA is if there is an emergency upon takeoff from Runway 31, or if a pilot purposely deviates from an established departure procedure to *prevent* an accident.

Next, every pilot who is allowed to fly an airplane must undergo rigorous training set by federal guidelines. Only 25% of students who start flight training make it through. It doesn't matter how much money you have. If you don't have the chops for flying, you don't get to fly. There are no exceptions. Every pilot must take a written comprehensive exam, oral exam, and a flight demonstration test - which includes emergency procedures and every maneuver an aircraft is capable of making in a variety of conditions. All student pilots must also take at least 40 hours of instruction, with the national average between 60-70 hours. This time is spent with an experienced instructor who, at every stage evaluates the student, and the exams and phase checks along the way are given by completely different instructors to insure an accurate representation of an individual's skills. An "aggressive" training regimen might be about 5 hours of flight time per week, and several hours of personal study and ground school, so you do the math. Taking even the minimum federally required training time to get your license is a significant investment of time, and requires academic, physical, and mental skill.

Finally, let's talk about the value of Palo Alto Airport. Did you know that Squadron 10 of the Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxillary of the U.S. Air Force, operates from Palo Alto Airport? The Civil Air Patrol performs vital search and rescue, homeland security, and even drug enforcement operations for the United States. CAP squadrons at local airports all over the U.S. have performed a critical role in the backbone of national security and community service since World War II. It was CAP pilots flying general aviation aircraft who attacked and repelled German submarines off our coastline in WWII. In the future, it will be CAP pilots who fly UAVs for border patrol and SAR. Where will we send CAP-SQ10 if we close down PAO? Next, let's talk about Angel Flight, or the Coast Guard, who frequently perform operations in the Palo Alto airspace. How will Angel Flight operations change when PAO is no longer a viable airport? Next, consider the sheer number of pilots who got their start in flight training at local airports like PAO, and then went on to make phenomenal contributions to the U.S., their state, and their local communities. What will the future look like when we demolish this vital infrastructure?

And I encourage you to do a little NTSB research yourself to find that it is automobile accidents, not aviation accidents, that represent the greatest loss of life, property, and income to the state of California.

Some things to think about.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 15, 2010 at 3:24 pm

>> " My response is so long because it simply has to be"

Generally throwing out a lot of stuff to me says you have a weak or non-existent major point. Your arguments here are long to push people away from taking you on point by point.

>> "the fight must continue to help US citizens understand what aviation is, and what it is not."

I think we all know what aviation is and what it is not.

The condescending lecture on physics is irrelevant. What is relevant was a plane crash on a house and the power infrastructure of the city of (E) Palo Alto and we got off very lucky ... maybe you need to learn what a community is and what it is not - as in it is a group of people who should have the right to decide what risks they ought to accept and what risks they do not need.

The only thing I have heard besides "not much" from the "outreach" organization is long ridiculous and clueless propaganda for why we must have the airport.

Propaganda like every pilot must have extensive training, but that did not stop the accident, and it does not stop anyone from exercising bad judgement to take off in bad weather and visibility. Training is not everything, experience and good judgement are important and apparently cannot be counted on from the airport supporters.

I read back a long while Peter Carpenter had suggested requiring right turns immediately after take off, and still I don't think anyone has heard anything about this. In other words as has been typical of those who are making decisions these days we are getting arrogant and condescending directives that nothing needs to change, and for non-experts to stay our of the discussion or become indoctrinated with flying and agree with us. Not very democratic or community oriented.

Training alone is not enough. Sully Sullenberger saved his plane due to a lot of experience and judgement, and that means that a very large proportion of planes taking off will statistically have inexperienced pilots in them. This argument is attacked circularly by then referring to every pilot as experienced in the news. I do not think Sully Sullenberger would have crashed his plane into the power lines, or taken off in bad weather?

Finally the Homeland security argument Dick Cheney would be proud of, "we need the airport to protect ourselves from terrorists." Obviously it must be working since Palo Alto has not had any of its skyscrapers crashed into. I think we do not have to worry about German submarines anymore, and I think the security argument of the value of the Palo Alto Airport is vastly overblown if not entirely made up. Certainly if there are needs to planes they can take off from any number of airports in this area, there is nothing unique about PA.

Then the automobile argument. Driving and private flying are two separate things that are not directly comparable. The risks we decide to take in terms of driving have nothing to do with the risks and annoyances people living under the airport have to take.

Airplanes from the Palo Alto Airport are not crucial to our lives, they do not take everyone to work every day or to the store, they are a specialized high end means of transportation for a few. The few happen to have a loud voice and lots of money, but it is the many that has to take the risk and pay for it, and the unknown few that can face the ultimate price in case of another accident, let's just gamble and the payoffs do not go to the people who takes the risks.

We pay for it by constant risk and annoyances of planes flying over the city for no reason. If there is some kind of designated flight plan to reduce noise and risk I wonder what it is because I can go out in my backyard any day which is in the middle of town and see planes flying all over the place. Hardly after one plane is gone another plane comes by. I am including commercial planes in that, but the private ones flow lower.

Tthe land in the Baylands is a beautiful place that Palo Alto is not really making use of. If we got rid of the airport, or severly reduced it to an emergency facility the Baylands could host more recreation and business, and we would have less noise and risk. Mountain View seems to understand this, but Palo Alto has to cater to the minority with airplanes with absurd "kitchen-sink" arguments. Calling a nature preserve the land under the power lines and drowned in noise from the airport is fake conservation, community concern and pseudo-green.

Like this comment
Posted by Community Advocate
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 15, 2010 at 4:19 pm

> "Generally throwing out a lot of stuff to me says you have a weak or non-existent major point. Your arguments here are long to push people away from taking you on point by point."

No, to the contrary, I was answering every point that the original post raised, and I did so in a way that didn't cater to the sound-bite crowd. This is a community discussion forum, not Twitter. And after addressing the hyperbole of the original post with information that is based in fact, I asked my own questions of the OP, and others on this forum.

>"I think we all know what aviation is and what it is not."

You say this as though it's some widely understood topic but then you write at length, as so many do in public forums, that general aviation is the domain of a privileged few with money and means, and that general aviation serves only the interests of this select few, as a weekend hobby or a fancy way to get around for pleasure. But fact is at a stark contrast with your opinion on this, and it is clear that "we all" do not know what aviation is about.

For starters, I am a pilot and I am not wealthy. I never have been. I have been in some form of the lower class most of my life and only recently did my hard work and discipline in school and at college allow me to move into any sort of means to save money for flight training. I was not born into money, and nobody gave me anything. I hesitate to tell my own story because there is no shortage of people who would just attack me and say I'm making something up or that I'm pandering to one side. But this is the honest truth: I was born to a mother who lived on food stamps, in a poor urban area of a very rural state. The only knowledge I ever had of flying was that a distant relative flew with the military in Korea. My dreams of becoming a pilot so that I could do some good in this world hinged on my ability to get an education, so I worked hard in school to get scholarships. I used those scholarships to get a college education, and not even until recently did I land a good job from that. I did my share of working construction, waiting tables, and picking up garbage. But I saved money for years, studied, and finally started flight training. Because that was of value to me. That was important. It is by discipline and hard work that I obtained the resources to fly, not privilege or wealth.

Now that I'm a pilot, I can be involved with Angel Flights, or the Young Eagles program, or search and rescue with the Civil Air Patrol (an organization which you summarily dismissed without the slightest hesitation - and I'll bet that if you spend a little time researching CAP online you'll see how sad it is that you did so), or I can fly for one of the numerous volunteer organizations involved with Veterans Affairs, wildlife preservation and conservation, and on and on. These are organizations that do good for humanity. They change peoples' lives, they make the world a better place.

I'm not trying to force anyone to be inspired by aviation or aerospace like I was, and I'm not saying that anyone has to work harder in math and science so they can be this thing or that. I'm saying that I did it, that I am not wealthy, that I obtained flight training at PAO so that I could use that skill to do good, and that if PAO was not there, I might still be waiting tables and griping about it. And with rare exception, the pilots I've had the fortune to meet at PAO are not wealthy. They save, they scrimp, they do financial gymnastics to stretch their budgets so they can fly. They are not a privileged few hotshots with money to burn who ignore the very communities in which they live. If you think for a moment that they all commute from Atherton, you're dreaming.

How about you take some time to go to the next PAAA meeting and just see what it's all about?

Like this comment
Posted by J. Holland
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 16, 2010 at 3:31 pm

I just now read this article. My son, who is on vacation, might be interested, so if you have no replies e mail me back, and I'll try to reach him.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett Woodman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2010 at 10:00 am

Many of the points made by both "Community Advocate" and "Shut it down" are valid. One major question someone has to ask is what was here first, you or the airport. When you purchase a house you do so accepting the risks and annoyances (noise included) created by things like the operations of a nearby airport or even a freeway (both necessary infrastructure for our community and economy). It would be one thing if there were a proposal to build an airport or freeway in your community. As you already know, public meetings would be held where you are given the opportunity to voice your concerns. With the support of fellow likeminded members of the community, you may even be able to stop that piece of infrastructure from ever being built. Since you likely purchased your home after the airports construction, you no longer have the legal ground to say the airport is creating a risk or nuisance to you or your property that wasn't already present when you accepted it through that purchase. One accident hardly changes the statistical safety margins for an airport with hundreds of thousands of safely completed aircraft operations each year.
From a strictly financial point of view, the airport generates a great deal of revenue through taxes that would otherwise be given to counties like San Mateo which operates San Carlos, Half Moon Bay, and San Francisco airports. It's an important piece of Palo Alto's economy.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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