Palo Alto Airport Association proposes new routes to avoid East Palo Alto
In an effort to soothe nerves and reduce risk, the Palo Alto Airport Association is asking its pilots to change their departure routes so they fly over San Francisco Bay, rather than East Palo Alto. Read article »
Another Article – from the Mercury News
Fisher: Flying is risky, but to whom?
By Patty Fisher – The Mercury News
The future of Palo Alto Airport was uncertain, even before the horrific plane crash last week that killed three people on board and traumatized an East Palo Alto neighborhood.
The county no longer wants to run it, and the city of Palo Alto isn’t sure it wants to, either. Now those who want to close it will point to this accident as proof that the airport isn’t safe.
Believe me, I know there are children in East Palo Alto having nightmares about planes crashing into their bedrooms. But the argument that we’re suddenly at risk if we live near an airport is a fallacy.
I checked out statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board. In 2008, there were 1,559 general aviation accidents in the United States. Yes, 495 people died. Nine people were killed on the ground.
Nine people a year in the whole country.
Compare that to the 4,378 pedestrians hit by cars that year. It’s more dangerous to walk across a street than to live near an airport.
Supporters of the airport are scrambling to convince the community that planes and people can coexist.
“What happened was horrific, no doubt about it,” Bob Lenox of the Palo Alto Airport Association told me. “But this is a very safe airport. This is the first time in 85 years that a crash at the airport impacted anyone on the ground.”
In the coming months, the Palo Alto City Council will be deciding what to do with the airport after Santa Clara County stops running it in 2017. Environmentalists, who feel the airport degrades the surrounding baylands, would like to see the runway ripped up. Others would like to replace it with sports fields or offices.
It’s tempting to use the accident, in which an experienced pilot veered off course in heavy fog and clipped a power line, as a reason to close the airport.
But this airport is not like Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose, which is surrounded by homes and schools, and has Eastridge Shopping Center for a next-door neighbor. Palo Alto’s airport is bordered on only one side by homes, and there is no reason for pilots to take off or land over them.
The airport is used by local businesses and hospitals and would come in handy in a disaster. Folks in Palo Alto should think twice about giving up a community asset because of one accident on an otherwise excellent safety record. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Besides, while flying small planes is risky, the risk is mostly to those in the plane.
Safe on an airliner
Statistically, the safest way to travel is on a commercial flight. In 2008, there were no fatal airliner crashes in the United States. By comparison, 24 railroad passengers died in accidents, as well 716 bicyclists.
“There is an element of risk involving general aviation, and that risk is greater than the risk of flying on an airliner,” said Jeff Guzzetti, deputy director of the National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Aviation Safety. “But I’m certainly not going to say that aviation is inherently dangerous.”
East Palo Alto City Councilman Peter Evans has lived on Beech Street, across from the crash site, since 1964. As an outspoken advocate for his community, he has a strong opinion about the airport. It makes perfect sense.
“All this talk about closing the airport is just paranoia,” he said. “Something like this may happen again in 50 years, or it may happen tomorrow. Because someone runs a stop sign, are you going take down all the stop signs? That’s just foolishness.”