formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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September 15, 2009 Air Space Safety

The Liberty Gazette
September 15, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Often this space in the Gazette is devoted to fun flying stories and promoting the good things aviation and airports bring to communities. But one important topic probably doesn’t get enough attention: air space safety. Consider the dangers that airspace obstructions could cause in airways, runway clear zones, and safety zones. What happens if someone constructs a tower, a building, or some object that sticks up through the height hazard zones that are meant to keep an airport safe? What’s more, what if the unthinkable happens because of it? We hear that the Transportation Security Administration is now valuing one human life at $3.2 million. From a cost-benefit analysis, one accident killing two people at $3.2 million per life might, in a civil suit, wipe out any savings incurred by doing nothing to rectify the problem. Then who is liable?

These risks are not a new concept to anyone with a legal or aviation background; ignorance is no legitimate defense. Those persisting in breaching a clear zone or safety zone could be portrayed as callously indifferent to public safety. Citing pubic record, a jury could conclude that each life lost was worth a lot more than $3.2 million.

In 2007, Sun Road Enterprises, a high rise developer with a lot of cash and clout, built a building within the protected area of a San Diego airport. In the end, Sun Road was ordered to remove two stories of the building at their own expense, even though they had already spent considerable money and had considerable political influence. Airspace is zoned for safety, no matter how much money one has.

Mike: Questions to Ask: Exactly what part of the airspace is involved? What kind of operations can be conducted? What are the realistic risks? Are violations intentional, or mildly or egregiously inadvertent? Whose lives are at risk in the air and on the ground? If a runway has lights and an instrument approach, it is likely it will be used in bad weather and in the dark. That makes it all the more important to keep buildings out of clear zones and safety zones.

In a recent speech in Dallas, FAA acting director, Bobby Sturgell, said the aviation industry has “established a safety record that’s second to none, but,” he added, “you can’t get complacent. Our safety record is only as good as what we do today. It’s kind of like surgery. You can get it right 99 times in a row, but the guy on the table is only interested in how things are going right now.”

Sturgell said because of the importance of aviation, “we can never rest.” He was speaking of recent improvements in aviation safety, and to those who make it happen.

Community airports are not immune to accidents or safety-related issues. It takes team work, with people on the front lines, knowing what’s going on in the industry on many levels, to keep airports safe. It can’t be a part time job and it can’t be done by amateurs, or people occupied with other responsibilities. We cannot afford to risk human lives from making mistakes, or making uninformed decisions.

Sturgell added, “We’ve got to remember that it’s not about us, it’s about people. And people always come first. Always. Excellence is indeed a choice.”

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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