What is an aerotropolis?
As defined by Wikipedia, an aerotropolis is, “an urban plan in which the layout, infrastructure and economy is centered around an airport, existing as an airport city. It is similar in form and function to a traditional metropolis, which contains a central city core and its commuter-linked suburbs.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerotropolis
If the County of San Diego gets its way, El Cajon will become an aerotropolis. The County has plans to expand the airport at Gillespie Field to include a new taxi-way and buildings for more aviation-based businesses using the 70 acres that housed the Cajon Speedway for years. http://www.kpbs.org/news/2013/jan/14/gillespie-field-expansion-brings-promise-and-contr/ They want to draw more aviation-based businesses as a way to draw more funds into the economy, but will these businesses really keep the funds here, or will they ultimately take money away from the region and the nation? They say they want to draw in businesses that build planes, but Gillespie Field has become a hot bed for another kind of aviation-based business that is a real concern for East County and the country as a whole. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is helping it right along. But why?
In truth, the County’s idea of turning the airport at Gillespie into an aerotropolis is a smoke screen. The real intent of expanding the airport is rooted in the FAA and their desire to keep the airport at Gillespie Field going and to fulfill the task given to them by the State Department. The FAA plans to spend $42 million dollars to expand Gillespie to train pilots from developing aviation programs from countries such as China and countries in the Middle East. Why? Because of the Aviation Co-operation Program (ACP) and because the FAA wants job security.
As it stands right now, there are numerous aviation-based businesses at Gillespie Field including the San Diego Air & Space Museum Field Annex and companies that build plane parts and restore old planes. The booming business for Gillespie Field, however, is flight schools.
The concerns with the flight schools that are based out of Gillespie Field are many. If there is not an increase in the of number international flight schools based at Gillespie Field with the expansion, then there will be an increase in students. This brings to mind many concerns regarding the safety, security and health safeguards for local residents and the nation.
Since the implementation of the ACP, the largest groups of customers for these international flight schools are non-English speaking foreign student-pilots primarily from China, India, Latin America and the Middle East. This is the crux of the issue of the airport expansion.
The State Department created the ACP with the intent of training foreign pilots to receive FAA certification. The first country that they have partnered with is China http://www.uschinaacp.com/. China has money to spend and their aviation program is developing at a double digit growth rate and has a great need of pilots. What’s more, their MILITARY needs pilots too. Countries in the Middle East fit into the same scenario. Some of these oil-rich nations such as Dubai and the United Arab Emirates have started their own airlines.
Part of the FAA and, in turn, the County’s plan for the airport expansion in accordance with the ACP is to build a state-of-the-art training facility for these foreign students. This program is meant to “promote aviation safety and efficiency in a collaborative manner with aviation interests in foreign countries.” http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/apl/international_affairs/aviation_cooperation/ This will bring even more foreign student-pilots to Gillespie Field with the goal of obtaining FAA certification, and therefore, to the skies above East County. There are many points of contention with this.
The first, most horrifying thought is the fact that few of us need to be reminded that the terrorists who high-jacked the planes on 9/11 were trained in American flight schools. The US does not know how these student-pilots will use their knowledge and skills when they complete their training and leave the US. It is no secret that U.S./China relations over the last few decades have been rocky at best. Could China end up using what they learn here in America against us? Also, the terrorists who flew those planes on 9/11 were from the Middle East. This program could lead to another 9/11.
Currently, NONE of these student-pilots are required to go through a background check or drug testing. Who is to say that potential terrorists are not being trained at this very moment? Along the same thought of safety for our region and our nation is that it is becoming more and more prevalent that terrorists and drug cartels are targeting small airplanes for use against our nation for more attacks or to ferry illegal drugs into our country. http://www.wtop.com/215/2854811/Terrorists-eye-small-airplanes- What’s more, terrorists are also aligning themselves with America’s adversaries in Latin America to not only get around international sanctions, but to create bases of operations closer to American soil. They are attempting to use drug cartels to have a covert and viable way to enter the United States.
link to HS pdf & http://mccaul.house.gov/uploads/Final%20PDF%20Line%20in%20the%20Sand.pdf
Another terrifying thought is that these students do not speak much English, if at all, are having English immersion training DURING flight training. ENGLISH is the world’s aviation language so they MUST be able to fluently speak and understand it. As they come to learn English, the problem still exists that they have to take the time to translate what the tower tells them so that they can understand it and repeat it back to the tower. There are quite a few occasions when this is repeated several times before everyone understands each other. How is that safe? How can they be expected to learn English AND how to fly a plane at the same time? How is it safe that people who cannot thoroughly communicate with the control tower are flying above our neighborhoods?
Speaking of safe, we have all noticed that small planes seem to be flying over our homes more often and at low altitudes. This may not only mean more air traffic coming into the region, but more students flying around the region for their flight training. If the County’s plan goes through, this traffic will increase even more. There will be a constant flow of low-flying planes and an increase in touch-and-go landings/take-offs which accounts for 50% of all aviation accidents. http://www.aopa.org/asf/publications/sa18.pdf This will also bring about flight training of these students 24/7 for night training. Night flying brings more dangers to the fold, not the least of which is lower visibility.
This leads us to the FAA’s need for job security. In order to train and fly at night, students MUST do so at an airport with an FAA controlled tower. This need will keep the FAA at Gillespie. The airport at Gillespie Field is a general-aviation airport, which means that unlike Lindbergh Field, which is a major hub for commercial and cargo air traffic, the East County airport handles mostly corporate jets and small recreational planes. The use of general-aviation airports has been on the decline since 2000 and most of these kinds of airports are underused. In fact, the FAA issued a report called “A Plan for the Future” http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/controller_staffing/media/cwp_2012.pdf which indicates that aviation traffic, including general aviation, has declined steadily since the year 2000, by 23%. Yet the federal government keeps pumping billions of dollars into these smaller, less used airports, to keep them open. They are using taxpayer funds to keep these airports running and the only people benefiting are those that fly in and out of the airport and the airport itself. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2009-09-17-little-used-airports_N.htm The FAA also benefits.
The FAA is expanding its market to try to turn the tide of this decline that is not expected to really improve any time soon. By using their $42 million to expand into the vacated 70 acres, at Gillespie and continuing their part in training foreign student-pilots, the FAA achieves their job security despite the continuing decline of general aviation traffic. Expanding the airport at Gillespie and cementing its place as a hub for training foreign student-pilots almost certainly assures its place in the plan for job security. Jerome Pendzick, Manager of the San Diego Division of the FAA has said, “The students have a right to be here and get used to it because more are on the way”.
The money to be expended in the expansion is a grant from the FAA. The problem with this is that if the land at Gillespie Field is used for something other than aviation, this “GRANT” money will have to be paid back to the FAA ON TOP of how much it would cost to purchase the land so that it could be used for something far more useful and much safer for the region, the County and the country. This is going to make it that much harder for any redevelopment possibilities.
Nowhere in the County’s grand plan to expand the airport at Gillespie have they mentioned ANY of this. How is this helping the local economy when the land can be used for something more economically sound and community-oriented and can channel money back into the local economy? Why haven’t they asked the citizens of this region if they want this expansion? Why haven’t they researched other avenues in using such valuable land? WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW.
Not only does the round-the-clock training require FAA control towers and employees, but also a great amount of fuel. Currently there is a new service road being built to handle tanker trucks that carry 8,000 gallons of fuel on trucks weighing upwards of 80,000 pounds. This is being paid for with FAA taxpayer funds. This expected increase in the use of small craft aviation fuel leads to a major safety concern.
Small airplanes use fuel called “avgas”, which unlike fuel for automobiles, is leaded. This region already has a significant amount of residual lead that comes from aviation fuel emissions that soaks into the soil and covers buildings, playgrounds, homes, everything, within the flight path of the planes from Gillespie Field. This will increase with the expansion of the airport. Recent studies have shown that Gillespie Field ranks 9th among 58 airports in lead emissions and among those chosen for further study, Gillespie Field had the highest ambient lead impacts. (link to lead study pdf)There are many dangers to lead exposure and the effects are worse for our children. A study conducted on areas around airports shows a higher level of lead in children’s’ bloodstreams within a 500m radius around the airport. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230438/
Aside from the security and safety concerns, there is also the concern over the U.S. losing its dominance over international travel aviation that it has held for decades. By assisting these countries with their aviation programs, we are slowly, or not so slowly, giving away this domination. How long will it take for China, who is already expanding into international travel aviation and these Middle Eastern countries to take over? How else will this impact our country, especially economically in these uncertain times? WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW.
Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement Launched
Campaigners from across the globe have come together to fight so-called ‘airport city’ or ‘aerotropolis’ schemes, which have been spreading rapidly worldwide in recent years(1). Environmental and climate justice campaigners, aviation and tourism critics, human rights activists, and other concerned citizens and groups have formed the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM) to raise public awareness and take action on socially and ecologically harmful mega-airport development projects.
What is an Aerotropolis, and why must these developments be stopped? By Rose Bridger, March 2015 Click here to read more
Join the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM)! By Anita Pleumarom, March 2015 Click here to read more
(1) GAAM founders:
AirportWatch, U.K., http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/
AirportWatch Europe, http://www.airportwatcheurope.com/
Rose Bridger, author of the book ‘Plane Truth’, http://www.planetruth.net/
Pastoralists Indigenous NGO’s FORUM, Tanzania, http://www.pingosforum.or.tz/
Third World Network, http://www.twn.my/
Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team, Thailand, http://www.twn.my/tour.htm
Tourism Advocacy & Action Forum (TAAF)