Letter To Dominic Gates

Dominic Gates is the Aviation Reporter for the Seattle Times.

Hi again,

We read with interest your articles this past weekend. Great work. I wanted to pass along one minor criticism. You quote Lance Lyttle as saying that he is severely limited by the FAA from helping residents in controlling noise and pollution in the airport communities. That is simply untrue.

[rant=”on”]Before I give you the factual answer, I’ll just say (somewhat defensively) that I understand your position completely. Given the current state of the newspaper biz, there is NO way you can fact check everything the guy says. Further, you kinda expect that someone in his position will tell the truth, right? In other words: someone that high up would not tell such a bald faced lie to a reporter of your experience. And anyone such as myself who might say otherwise is likely just a tin-foil-hat crazy. But the thing about the Port Of Seattle, and in fact, most major airports, given the current FAA rules, is that they have gone without decent oversight for so long that they do routinely tell such whoppers. It’s been that way for decades. They know full well that there is no one paying attention. In fact, it is literally years between critical coverage of the airport at your newspaper, although your business page publishes weekly tallies on airport and maritime activity.[/rant]

The truthful answer is that in Title 14 of the Federal Code (which governs Aviation), there are three mechanisms for an airport operator (the Port) to provide control of flights if they feel that the airport is becoming routinely at or near capacity The three I’m thinking of are found within Part 150 Part 161 and under Slot Guidelines. The first step is for the operator to initiate an appeal which can go through several layers of the FAA and then even if it is ultimately denied, it can then having a final hearing at the Dept. Of Transportation. I can send you the details if you really care (raw links to the statute would be asking too much) but the point I’m trying to make is this: Whenever anyone asks, the Port says, “Not possible.” And if really pressed, they’ll say, “The FAA says it’s not worth doing because the appeal takes years and anyway they’ll probably just say no.” Because the FAA law says that it’s the Port’s choice to decide when they are ‘at capacity’, us residents never get relief because no matter how busy it gets? The Port will never apply for one of those methods of relief. It doesn’t bug me so much that Lance is lying. It’s the fact that the law is structured to allow for such a Catch-22. (The ultimate irony is that even the high-priced consultants our cities hire to represent us in the SAMP refuse to talk about these kinds of remedies. They even use the same language as the Port and the FAA. Basically everyone in the industry sings from the same prayer book!)

I know it’s not your beat, but is there someone still at the Times whose beat it is? We need your help getting this story told. The problem is that this isn’t really an ‘environmental’ story like Lynda [Mapes] covers or a ‘business’ story per se. And it’s definitely not just a ‘noise’ story. It’s a lot of stories.

Please let me know.

–JC

One point I tried to make here (and not very well) was something I’ve been thinking about a great deal with regard to the aviation industry: the incestuous nature of the whole business. You have people who work for the large companies and then become consultants to municipalities to fight against the FAA. But since they have only worked inside that bubble, they are often limited in terms of their set of possible solutions. Eg. in the case of Part 161 appeals, I haven’t found any airport that has even attempted such an appeal in the past decade. And that begs the question: if no one is even willing to try, how can you say something isn’t worth attempting?

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