OPINION: Aviation industry spews propaganda and pollution
An April 14, 2022, News-Times article, "Let's Fly," indicates that the noise and pollution generated by the Hillsboro Airport (HIO) is about to get much worse.
HIO, which is already the largest facility source of airborne lead pollution in Oregon, ranks eighth among 20,000 airports nationwide in the release of this neurotoxin. EPA data indicates that piston-engine aircraft, often used by flight training schools and private pilots, are responsible for 70% of all airborne lead pollution in the U.S. The users of this facility and other general aviation airports are also responsible for spewing relentless noise and a host of other toxins into the environment.
"Let's Fly" discussed two new HIO programs. One involved a new classroom at the airport aimed at encouraging high school students to pursue aerospace careers. The second was a partnership between Hillsboro Aero Academy and Alaska/Horizon Airlines to train more student pilots. The article cited a 2018 report by Boeing claiming the aerospace industry will need 400,000 new employees within the next 20 years.
Read the story, first published online April 8, 2022, on the new Hillsboro classroom at the airport.
Though not mentioned in the article, Boeing's biased predictions have been questioned by various sources, including pilots, who argue that the shortage is due in part to low pay and poor working conditions. A Nov. 2, 2020, Forbes article characterized Boeing's 20 year projections estimating the need for 763,000 new civil aviation pilots as a "whole lot of swagger." Ten months later, a Sept. 16, 2021, Airport Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) article stated that Boeing's "Pilot and Technician Outlook 2021—2040 lowered predicted pilot hiring numbers by 20 percent since 2020 — down to 612,000 from 763,000 forecast in 2020."
An April 28, 2010, Federal Register Vol. 75 No. 81 Sec. 124 document on proposed rulemaking related to lead emissions from piston-engine aircraft, noted that the number of student pilots expected to train in this country in 2025 was "slightly over 100,000."
However, a review of the FAA Civil Airmen Statistics for 2021 reveals that the student pilot population more than doubled from 122,729 in 2015 to 250,197 in 2021. In any case, the cumulative number of student pilots who trained in the U.S. on an annual basis between 2018 and 2021 totaled 838,295, over 226,000 more than the revised 2020 Boeing report predicted.
So where is the shortage? FAA statistics point to a glut of student pilots training in this country.
Hillsboro School District and Portland Community College (PCC) should be teaching their students about how to engage in objective third-party analysis rather than relying on corporate industry profiteers to provide need assessments. Responsible educators might also consider teaching students how to demonstrate respect for the environment and for the residents whose tax dollars are subsidizing their education.
In addition, these publicly subsidized educational institutions should be teaching their students that choosing a career that involves spewing unwanted noise and toxic pollutants over the homes and neighborhoods of local residents is unacceptable and indefensible.
And what about the safety of the students?
Were they informed about National Academy of Science findings that airport workers can be exposed to lead "through inhalation and ingestion of dibromide particles emitted from the combustion of leaded avgas" and also "in the form of TEL (tetraethyl lead) from evaporative and refueling emissions from uncombusted avgas that can be absorbed through the skin, eyes, and mucous membrane?"
Were they told that children, minorities, and low-wealth communities are disproportionately impacted by lead emissions and other air pollutants?
Were they told that there is no safe level of lead in a child's blood and that the adverse impacts may be irreversible, that even small amounts contribute to an elevated risk of IQ loss, ADHD, juvenile delinquency, impulse control, developmental delay, learning and behavior problems, and increased violence?
Were they told that newborns exposed to lead can experience premature birth, low birthweight, and slowed growth?
Were they told that adults exposed to lead are at greater risk of coronary heart death, kidney ailments, miscarriages and reproductive problems?
Were they told that aviation noise can interfere with reading comprehension and cognitive functioning and can also cause sleep disturbances and other health problems?
Do the educators promoting these programs intend to teach these students about how flight training and other aviation activity contributes to global warming?
Clearly the claims put forth by Boeing and the Hillsboro Airport need further scrutiny. This community would be far better served if those involved in this fiasco — the Hillsboro School District, Portland Community College, the Oregon International Airshow and other "private sector partners," referred to but not identified in the article — clearly differentiated between "marketing hype" versus education. In addition, they should provide comprehensive information including environmental and public health impacts, rather than myopic, self-serving and unquestioned aviation industry propaganda.
Miki Barnes is founder of Oregon Aviation Watch, an advocacy group focused on the impacts of noise and pollution caused by general aviation. She lives in Manning.
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