Innovation And Air Traffic

Posted on Categories Airport

Whenever anyone mentions the idea of somehow constraining the air traffic over Des Moines you will invariably get something like the following reply:

If you get rid of the planes, you get rid of revenue. And then the airports close. And then the jobs go away!

This is the kind of argument we hear from politicians (including your city council), business, the Port, etc. You probably believe it, too.

But as a former Detroiter and an engineer who worked in logistics for quite some time, I can assure you these arguments are specious.

When people wind up this old Victrola, I always remind them of the automotive industry. If you’re old enough, you’ll recall that when the government first started creating pollution and mileage standards, automakers said the sky would fall. Last time I checked, the sky is still there and auto companies appear to be doing fine.

The missing piece that (ironically) no one mentions in these arguments is AMERICAN INNOVATION. Engineers responded to the new rules as with any challenge—they rolled up their sleeves and got it done (Thank God.) All the engineers absolutely looooooove a big career-size challenge.

If airports simply capped the number of flights as I propose, the airlines would respond in just the same way: they would INNOVATE. They would find a way. They would demand that Boeing and Airbus create the first truly climate-friendly planes in history. They would use their mastery of logistics to load-balance their flight schedules (move planes around more efficiently) to minimise the effects on communities AND at the lowest cost impact to their bottom line. Don’t think it’s possible? They already do it–they make a LOT more money now by wringing efficiencies out of each route. They just have to be told to do it in a way that takes communities into account.

Again, the airline industry would INNOVATE and solve the problem just like ALL great American companies have done. Just as car and truck companies have learned to do. And they would do it at a speed that no one thought possible–simply because no one had ever tried.

I worked in logistics for a good while and I know how adaptable the world of logistics is. They respond to problems ALL THE TIME–most of which you never hear about because they do it so seamlessly. In short, it can be done. The reason it isn’t done now is: BECAUSE THEY DON’T HAVE TO. What business does what it doesn’t have to? But ‘not required’ does NOT mean ‘not doable’.

See that’s the thing that always amazes me. What company spends money it doesn’t absolutely have to? Companies do R&D because they think it will further their business interests. Why on earth would any airline or Port improve their environmental impact UNLESS COMPELLED? Just to be ‘good corporate citizens?’ Puh-lease. If you have some of your retirement savings invested in Alaska or Boeing you want them to MAKE MONEY. But slap on a few ‘regulations’, give an airline or an airport some boundaries and JUST WATCH. They will get it done because there is still so much money to be made. So in this case? Environmental regulations are a win-win. It improves our situation and gives them a fantastic PR story to tell of challenges met and concern for our planet and blah, blah, blah.

Again, ‘not required’ does NOT mean ‘not doable’.

The only solution is to cap flights at Sea-Tac, by a simple vote of three commissioners and then watch the airline industry re-invent itself. We’d be doing the airlines a huge favour.

Candidates Night At Seattle South Side Chamber Of Commerce

Posted on Categories Airport, Campaigning, Policy1 Comment on Candidates Night At Seattle South Side Chamber Of Commerce

The Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce is hosting a Candidate’s Night event on September 27 at the Red Lion hotel in Seatac. I hope to see many of you there as it will give you a rare chance to see and hear and meet all the candidates.

To further educate you on all our positions, last month, all the candidates for City Council (save Anthony Martinelli) and Port Commissioner submitted their answers to a list of questions from the chamber. The above link gives you all our answers. At first, a lot of their answers might seem fairly pat. But if you squint, you can definitely see the very real differences between us.

One item I want to point out: I am the only candidate for office in any capacity who mentioned the problems of the airport as being of major concern. I find this absolutely stunning. One might make the case that candidates were responding to a set of questions from a pro-business organization and that might have caused them to downplay environmental problems. But most candidates did not mention the airport at all, or only in the most positive terms. And this actually frightens me a little.

I’m running because I feel the city is headed in the wrong direction on several levels. The other candidates will tell you that fixing the city’s finances is the number of obligation of a council member. I fundamentally disagree. The number one obligation of a council member is to protect its residents and the city. Full stop.

The seems so obvious to me I almost can’t believe it needs saying. If I were forced to choose between balancing the city’s books and keeping you safe? The answer is a big ‘Duuuh’. The pollution and noise generated by the airport is so egregious that it is already giving Des Moines some of the highest rates of cancer and respiratory disease in the nation–not to mention the fact that our property values and per capita income are the lowest of any waterfront community in the region. The airport may be an ‘economic engine’ for some, but it is the residents of Des Moines who suffer to make it happen. And I want to change that.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t also value the fiscal health of our city. I certainly do. But to hear the other candidates speak, one would get the impression that the only way for Des Moines to prosper is by creating ever greater partnerships with the airport. Other candidates also prioritize the environmental impacts of the airport far below that of economic development. I simply disagree. Your health; your childrens’ health and the health of our land, water and sky will always matter most to me.

I believe it is a false choice to assume that we must depend on the airport for our economic prosperity. Des Moines has some of the most beautiful natural resources in the entire region. Our location with respect to the various transportation arteries is almost ideal. We can and must leverage these assets to build a diversified and sustainable economy that is independent of any single industry and certainly not one that is so damaging to our health and property.

Hard Cap On Flights: A Proposal

Posted on Categories Airport

This is a proposal to address the noise and pollution problems in communities surrounding Sea-Tac Airport by establishing a hard cap on flights.

This idea is quite simple and also quite similar to the notion of salary caps in pro sports. The various stakeholders–including the community, would set a number of operations (flights) which is the daily maximum. There would also be a 4 hour nighttime quiet period. I suggest 1,000 as this gets us back to where we were in 2010, with a DNL less than 60dbA. I think this is extremely reasonable given the health risks, but it’s a start. The important thing is not the number of operations. Really, the important thing is the dbA level and the emissions tonnage. THOSE are the cap, but we do NOT make them part of the formula simply because they are way too subject to weaseling by various sets of stats. The number of operations, on the other hand, is simple.

Like a pro sports cap, the Port then sits down with all the airlines (team owners) and they negotiate how the pie gets sliced. It becomes THEIR problem.

Then, I would suggest 2 pot sweeteners:
1. The Port and airlines would get paid for reducing DNL (average noise over the course of a day). Eg. if they reduce the DNL 1dbA in a given year, perhaps they get ‘x’ million dollars more from the State, part of which they could kick back to airlines. This is one incentive to create interventions to improve facilities and equipment. There is also one other important incentive…

2. Every 5 years, when the Port publishes its big plan, the airlines could petition communities for an increase in operations–similar to the way public utilities petition the state for rate increases (By the way, most people don’t seem to know that under state law, the Port of Seattle is considered a public utility). If the Port and airlines demonstrate that they are able to fly more and still stay under the initial DNL and emissions cap, they win. But they have to prove they can do this by working on step #1 each year–ie. by continuing to incrementally lower the DNL and emissions tonnage. Put simply, as they become more green, they make more money.

(The reader may have noticed that this proposal also has one other very unique feature: for the first time it places the airport under a single element of community control: the number. Everything else remains the same.)

Another feature is that it puts the responsibilities for solutions to noise, emissions and capacity where they belong: with the Port of Seattle and the airlines. Until now, the public and the various government agencies have been wringing their hands trying to find solutions. But that’s not necessary. Just as with car companies and their fuel and emission standards, the Port and airlines would be free to develop innovations. In fact, they would be highly incentivized to be innovative; the faster they create quieter and cleaner systems, the more money they make. A win-win.

The only thing standing in the way of this sort of proposal is the notion that growth trumps public health. Every policy maker I have talked with thinks in terms of building more airports or installing new technologies. But these are ideas that will take decades to accomplish, all the while allowing the noise and pollution to increase, unabated, over the communities. The current system creates no incentives for the Port or the airlines to improve and puts the responsibility for change on the people least competent to make that change (ie. politicians).

I also believe that though airlines might initially scream bloody murder, they would not suffer as one might think. Having worked in Logistics, I am about 100% certain that they would find other ways to move people and cargo. They have decades of experience in dealing with these kinds of challenges. And remember, we’re not talking about shutting down Sea-Tac, we’re simply giving the airlines plenty of notice to develop other networks. And just like the car companies when fuel and pollution standards were developed? They would find a way. That’s American Ingenuity. I’m counting on it.

All that is necessary to start improving our health is to say “No Mas”. One thousand flights and no more. I believe that with this change in attitude; if we can stop letting the tail wag the dog, Sea-Tac can again be something that the surrounding communities can live with in harmony.

Coffee With Port Commissioner John Creighton

Posted on Categories Airport
Photo Courtesy: David Clark

Port Commissioner John Creighton held a re-election coffee in Burien this past Friday. I sat down with Burien City Council Member Debi Wagner and Seatac Council Members Peter Kwon and Kathryn Campbell plus several members from the Quiet Skies Puget Sound group of Des Moines, Seatac and Federal Way. For all my complaints about the Port of Seattle, I have to give the Commissioner credit: he took some pretty tough questions for two solid hours and with a friendly demeanor.

I wish more people could show up for events like these. The Port is the most powerful government agency most people know almost nothing about and if you do show up, you get to talk directly to someone who has as much power in government as any State Senator or Congressman or Representative.

I’m new at this so as I (mostly) watched the experienced people. My impression was mainly one of the Council Members was this: how much patience and perseverance it takes. For example, Debi Wagner has been fighting battles with the Port over pollution and noise for twenty years and yet she remains positive, friendly, constructive. I have a lot to learn.

Me being me, I did vent a bit, of course. 😀 And I did make a couple of proposals, the first of which was quickly shot down as bush-league non-starter, but I’ll tell you about it anyway because I’m going to keep working on it. The Port operates a dozen ‘official’ (and many other unofficial) noise monitors throughout the area from which they gather data on the loudness of airplane traffic. That is the source of the noise studies you may have heard about. But this data has not been updated in many years because it is only used for official environmental impact studies. I would like to see those noise monitors re-purposed now and I would like even more monitors added as far as Federal Way since the noise problem has obviously extended so much further south in the last few years.

What I propose is that the Port publish a web page something like the Tidal Charts that sailors use in spreadsheet format. But in this version the chart would show the average noise for each monitor on the hour for each day of every month, plus the number of flights during each hours. So for example, you might see that Woodmont had 22 flights averaging 54dbA on Tuesday July 11 during the 2PM hour while North Hill had 17 flights averaging 61dbA on Friday June 24 during the 6AM hour.

Uses? A couple come to mind. First, real estate. I think buyers should have useful ‘noise numbers’ when searching for a house. Currently even buyers savvy enough to look up the available (and outdated) noise data would not find it very useful. You can’t trust a single number. But if you had the charts I propose, you actually could comparison shop. You could easily see which neighborhoods were noisier during a given time period (and by how much). One objection I can foresee is that the Port numbers might be low-balled (ie. that their decibles might be low.) To which I reply, ‘So what?’ Because even if they are fudged, at least they are standardized. You’re comparing apples to apples (neighborhood to neighborhood) so for the purposes of comparison shopping its still useful.

Second use? I think everyone appreciates having a certain degree of control over their life. And the first step to having any control is knowing what is actually going on. Look, when someone gets sick, what is the first thing most people want to do? Try to find out as much information as possible. We have a right to have current loudness data–especially since the equipment is already in place. And again, even if the numbers are lower than we might think is ‘real’, at least they are standardized.

My other idea had to do with an off-hand comment Mr. Creighton made during the conversation. He said something like, ‘Should we be thinking more about buyouts?’ and I furiously raised my hand in a half-comical way. But as the meeting was breaking up I said to him privately, “I’d probably want a million dollars for something like that.” Since the Commissioner is a lawyer, my thinking is was along the lines of a settlement where I would want to be made ‘whole’. I wouldn’t want replacement cost for my house–which is all I’ve ever seen offered in such settlements.

Now my house is not worth anywhere near a million dollars, of course, but I don’t think I’m being outrageous, either. To find a house with the same quality of life and amenities as many of us have enjoyed in Des Moines–just with fewer airplanes? (In other words, life with the clock wound back just a few years) Realistically, that would cost a lot more than market value.

Now, do I ever expect such compensation to occur? I’m not holding my breath 😀 But everyone is always trying to quantify ‘mitigation’ and I think that’s the wrong question. The question for me is, “How much would it cost to make you whole.” And as we move down the road towards holding the Port and other institutions accountable for the damage they have done to our community, that’s the bar I’m looking at; not ‘mitigation’.

Zenith Elementary

Posted on Categories Airport

I was at the presentation for the new elementary school tonight and it was exciting and a bit sad. I -really- like the old building on 220th and 9th Ave. and wish there was -some- way it could be kept.

I understand the convenience of having a new building ready to go and I well understand the (cough) challenges of the old building and the ‘portable’ but still. The location was -perfect- for all the young families moving into the core of old Des Moines. (sigh)

More problematic for -me- is the new location. I am slightly annoyed with the idea of so many children now having to take the bus to school, but even more so that the new building is sited directly under a flight path! Who thought -that- was a brilliant idea?

I am not sure if it is too late or not, but before ground is broken, we should make whatever last ditch efforts we can make to see if -any- changes can be made to the siting process.

Yes, the old school is definitely run down, but I’d prefer a run down school to one directly under a flight path that is expected to double in capacity in the next few years!

Have A Goal

Posted on Categories Airport, Policy

I did my little three minute speech with the City Council tonight and I tried to say something that no one else wants to say: Have a goal.

Of course, everyone seems to agree that there is a problem. But one thing you’ll notice very quickly is that no one in power will tell you is this: what is their GOAL. No one will commit to an end game. No one at the state, county or municipal level. Which I find troubling to say the least.

Let me start by saying that I am working for the next generation because I’ll be honest, I feel like there is little relief that I can realistically provide for -our- generation, ie. current homeowners and businesses. I’m fighting for our kids and for the long-term future of Des Moines because otherwise because there is no short-term strategy. Let me say that again: there is no short term strategy–except to move while the economy is still (relatively) good. And I am not moving.

So I believe we must have a goal. And as outrageous as this will sound, I know what my goal is: Reverse noise and pollution to levels -before- the recent runway re-surfacing.

Note that I did not say ‘slow growth’. I said, my goal is -reverse-. As audacious as that may sound, I believe the only truly sane course is to do what the federal government insisted upon years ago with auto makers: LOWER the amount of pollution generated by cars. Not slow the growth. Lower it. And a funny thing happened: Those demands, which seemed so ‘impossible’ at the time, magically came to pass.

Not to sound hyperbolic, but we -must- start demanding LOWER levels of overall noise and pollution or else our town will be forever lost. That is not hyperbolic, it is, in fact, the only rational course of action. If we do not act now, decisively, like the movie says, “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon…” the only people who will want to live in Des Moines will be people with the least amount of money and thus the race to the bottom in South King County will continue.

We must reverse this trend. We must make Des Moines a destination; a place that young families, those who have choices, -choose- to move to. The irony is that, if you take away the Airport, the natural beauty of Des Moines makes it an ideal place for families. It’s the reason my generation, and many generations before me, moved here. Let’s keep it that way.

The Airport

Posted on Categories Airport

Where do I begin? I have a lot to say on this topic, but I think we can all agree that Des Moines has not been treated fairly by either the Port Of Seattle or the FAA. I believe that we need to work towards two goals:

First, we neeed to place a hard cap on flights and that cap needs to be significantly lower than the current number. This idea seems so outrageous to every other politician I’ve mentioned it to that they always come back with a reply like, “Well, we need to build another airport first.” or “We need to move the cargo to another airport first.” Basically, every other leader will only discuss limiting flights after there is another place to accommodate growth. That is not what I’m saying. What I’m saying–and I want you to hear this clearly–is that I want to cap flights right now, whether there are other places for the overflow to go or not.

I view the airport like a for-profit swimming pool. The pool can only safely accommodate 1,000 people so there is are regulations to limit the number of swimmers to 1,000. If the owner of the swimming pool has more potential customers? Tough. Because we’ve determined that it’s not safe to try to fit them in. That’s what regulations are for: to keep people safe. The airport, like our swimming pool, has too many customers and new customers will simply need to wait until another swimming pool can be found.

Secondly, we should be compensated by the Port of Seattle for costs to our health, to our property, and to our businesses. Remember: every plane that travels through our skies is more money for someone else and at our expense. So we should be exploring a per operation fee for Des Moines. This money to be used for mitigation and to cover the medical expenses for those who develop the kinds of cancers and respiratory issues known to be caused by airplane emissions.