By MARY ROSENBLUM
Hangared at the Portland-Troutdale Airport (TTD) in Oregon, I got involved when I found out that a power generating plant, proposed for a site less than a half mile from runway centerline would seriously hamper operations at the airport by creating a fog plume from its cooling towers, as well as locating a dangerous, high velocity, high temperature thermal plume directly beneath the north pattern.
This type of plume — not your ordinary stack output — had already been identified as the cause of at least one crash and has been implicated in others. A plume located beneath the ILS approach at Morgantown, West Virginia, has grounded several commercial airliners operated by Colgan Air.
Considering the high volume of student pilots flying at TTD, a busy training airport with more than 90,000 operations projected in 2013, the potential for an upset and spin at pattern altitude through sudden loss of visibility and pilot overreaction, or overflight of the thermal plume, was scary.
So I protested, did homework, contacted the FAA, attended Port of Portland meetings, and brought this situation to the attention of a lot of people, asking other pilots to join me in the effort.
It got me invited to Washington, D.C., to be a member of a work group of eight people convened to find a solution to the location of these dangerous thermal plumes near airports. Included was the president of the National Association of State Aviation Officials, the director of the Oregon Department of Aviation, the director of Caltrans Aeronautics, an official with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the vice president of regulatory and environmental affairs of the American Association of Airport Executives, the vice president of the American Association of Airport Executives, as well as myself and a member of the California Pilots Association (CalPiltos) who has also been actively confronting powerplant construction near airports in California, representing pilots.
The FAA presented a study of the issue from Mitre Corp. It was thorough and comprehensive, looking at plume effect on different weights of aircraft and taking plume drift and weather into consideration.
According to FAA officials, the study will be given the official stamp of approval. It will then be made available to companies that want to put plants near airports, as well as airport owners, such as the Port of Portland, who choose to sell adjacent property for the purpose of plant construction, so both can evaluate the risk of accidents created by these plumes.
The issue is FAA regulation. Every organization represented in that work group requested some formal regulation of these plumes when they penetrate Part 77 airspace around airports — the same way the FAA regulates hard structures penetrating Part 77 through the 7460 process. It was reiterated that local land use bodies and states cannot effectively block the siting of these dangerous plumes without the backing of the FAA. Far too often, even state organizations lack the teeth to stop development; they can only recommend against it. FAA officials conceded that consideration of a new regulation would be the logical next step, once the Mitre model is released for public use.
The pressure is still on, and additional meetings are taking place.
The issue is safety — the safety of pilots who have been able to make the assumption that when they fly into an airport pattern they will not collide with a hard structure. Now, we need the assurance that we will not collide with an invisible plume of hot, turbulent gasses that can upset us while we’re low and slow in the pattern. Spin recovery at 1,000 feet off the deck is not an exercise I want to undertake, thank you! The potential for a fatal outcome is huge, particularly at airports with a high level of flight training.
Natural gas generating plants are here to stay; they are a relatively pollution-free way to generate power and natural gas is cheap right now. They’re great — as long as they’re not located near airports.
If nobody had gotten involved — if everybody had stood back, waiting for AOPA or the Department of Aviation or the FAA or “Somebody” to do something — the Troutdale plant would be a done deal. And the airport, currently thriving with GA traffic, would be ultimately crippled.
Land around airports, once well outside of town, has become valuable real estate these days. You need to protect your airport. You need to defend it. AOPA will help you if you contact them. The Oregon Pilots Association will help you if you contact us. But nobody will do anything if you stand back and do nothing.
All I did was investigate the situation and present a lot of facts to a lot of people. Ultimately, it got me that invite to Washington, D.C., and FAA headquarters. That’s how easy it is to make a difference. You simply have to speak up, ask questions, and point out the flaws in those “oh, it won’t affect the airport” arguments.
You can do it. You simply have to realize that you can. Open your mouth, let the businesses around your airport know that it’s threatened, get together with other pilots and those business owners and attend that council meeting. Speak up for your airport, for the services it offers, the business it brings to the city or county.
Recently, a public meeting to discuss the potential closure of the Pacific City State Airport (PFC) in Oregon was crammed with local residents who want the airport kept open. They outnumbered the pilots.
If we don’t tell people why our GA airports are valuable, how they provide emergency service access, local business from pilots, UPS and FedEx access, landing sites for firefighting aircraft, as well as ag ops, they don’t realize just how valuable the airports are.
Speak up. It’s your airport.