Friday, April 22, 2011

Beignets and BP

On Spaceship Earth there are no passengers; everybody is a member of the crew. We have moved into an age in which everybody's activities affect everybody else.

—Marshall McLuhan,
Canadian educator, philosopher and scholar
quoted for Earth Day, April 22, 2011

Greetings from New Orleans, Louisiana and the 2011 AOPA FAA Enforcement Seminar for Attorneys on this Good Friday and Earth Day.

As you might suspect, the environmental impact of the BP oil spill permeates the attitude of locals -- excepting my cab driver, who suggested the whole event was blown out of proportion thanks to the media and claims by residents who were driven by money and not even themselves impacted by the event.

In any case, aviation is actually on the minds of locals, too.  Just recently, a United Airlines A320-200, from New Orleans to San Francisco, with 109 people on board, reported smoke in the cockpit soon after takeoff and lost all instrumentation during an emergency landing.  During landing the aircraft blew both right hand main gear tires, went left off the runway, stopped with all gear just off the paved surface north of the intersection with another runway:

All of this should serve as a reminder of how closely connected airports and airport operations are to their surrounding communities.  As the look and operational efficiency of future airports is evolving, a bit of history may be appropriate in honor of Earth Day:

At the end of World War II and again in the early 1970's, in United States v. Causby and City of Burbank v. Lockheed Air Terminal, Inc., the Supreme Court of the United States considered a basic feature of modern aviation that has been and continues to be a significant environmental consideration for people on the ground: Noise pollution.  Indeed, “NIMBY”—“Not In My Back Yard”—frequently characterizes the attitudes of citizens who live or work nearby airports and airfields, particularly those airports and airfields seeking to expand runways, facilities, or operations.

In contrast, in the general aviation environment, some “small” communities welcome the investment and development of businesses and commercial infrastructure that are ancillary to aviation operations, including “air taxis.”  In any case, many airports are obligated to comply with the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990.

One thing is for sure — As Justice William O. Douglas wrote in the Causby decision: The “ancient doctrine that at common law ownership of the land extended to the periphery of the universe—Cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum … has no place in the modern world.  The air is a public highway, as Congress has declared.  Were that not true, every transcontinental flight would subject the operator to countless trespass suits.  Common sense revolts at the idea.” 

What that has meant and will mean for the future of our environment is worthy of sincere thought today.

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