Friday, August 14, 2009

FAA--Forget About Administration

Published on, August 14, 2009

FAA—Forget About Administration. That should be the official name of the Federal Aviation Administration for it is a toothless government agency long in bed with the industry it is supposed to regulate.

The recent fatal collision between an airplane and sighteeing helicopter over the Hudson River is yet another episode involving a regulatory agency with little interest in regulation. The busy Hudson River corridor adjacent to the skyscrapers of Manhattan is, because of FAA inaction, “unregulated” airspace.

“It is unconscionable that the FAA permits unregulated flights in a crowded airspace in a major metropolitan area,” declared Congressman Jerrold Nadler this week. “The Hudson River flight corridor must not continue to be the Wild West.”

But that’s the FAA—which prefers to let industry do its thing.

To the east of where that tragedy occurred, the people of Long Island have gotten a lesson on this in recent times as they’ve tried to seek action to deal with the racket of helicopters ferrying people between Manhattan and the Hamptons.

Despite the economic downturn, the helicopter traffic to and from the Hamptons, a warm-weather vacation mecca, is booming allowing the well-heeled to avoid traffic jams below—at the cost of peace for residents of the highly-populated island also below.

In the island’s largest county, Suffolk County, a law was proposed seeking to quell the noise. “Low flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County,” it declared. It continued: the FAA “has failed to regulate the operation” of the helicopters. Thus, it held, it was necessary for the county to step in.

“The operation of helicopters at low altitudes is presumed to be a hazard to persons and property on the surface and constitutes careless and reckless operation,” said the bill authored by Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine.

Standing with the helicopter industry against the measure was…yes, the FAA.

FAA Regional Executive Manager Diane Crean came before the legislature last year and declared that the FAA has “supreme” power over air traffic. The proposed law was “pre-empted” by the FAA, she insisted.

Romaine countered that the FAA insists “we control” helicopter traffic but, in fact, “doesn’t control it” and will allow the Hamptons choppers to fly at any altitude and without any plans. The FAA policy, he said, is: “Essentially, you’re on your own.”

Despite the FAA opposition, Suffolk County legislation to attempt to din the chopper racket passed and was signed into law in June. And it has teeth: “up to $1,000 and/or one year in prison per offense.”

FAA inaction is a national problem. The New York Times in a front-page article August 14 detailed the agency’s inaction when it came to recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Fatal Collision Above the Hudson Bares a Longtime Rift Over Air Safety,” declared a headline for the piece. It related: “The safety board and the FAA have a long history of being frustrated with each other in matters involving major airliners or crashes of commercial jetliners, and there are various theories about why. On the one hand, the safety board sometimes proposes fixes that require technological advances or are viewed as too costly. On the other, the FAA is sometimes criticized as working too closely and protectively with the airline industry.”

The FAA website declares: “Our continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world…Safety is our passion…Integrity is our character. We do the right thing, even when no one is looking.” Can a government agency be charged with false advertising? (The FAA, not too incidentally, has an annual budget of more than $14 billion.)

Appearing with Congressman Nadler along the Hudson August 10, near where the airplane-helicopter crash took place, New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said: “It’s obvious the FAA’s policy of leaving pilots to fend for themselves endangers people in the area and the rest of us down below. That’s got to change.”

Change must come—including complete reform of the FAA.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The "Freedom" to Be Given Cancer

The link between tanning beds and cancer, in particular that deadly skin cancer, melanoma, has been known for years. It’s the reason that laws have been passed across the United States to deal with tanning salons—despite intense lobbying by the tanning industry.

Now, the basis for those laws has been thoroughly confirmed by a comprehensive report of the World Health Organization
putting tanning beds into the top cancer risk category—deeming them as deadly as arsenic and mustard gas.

Younger people were found to be the biggest victims: Said the report: “The risk of skin melanoma is increased 75 percent when use of tanning devices starts before 30 years of age.”

The International Tanning Association and other segments of the tanning industry are, meanwhile, trying to refute the study.

Where I live, in Suffolk County, Long Island, early on there was a move to regulate tanning salons. Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher in early 2005 introduced a bill requiring young people between 14 and 18 only be allowed to get toasted in a tanning salon if accompanied by a parent.

She was inspired by her experience as a high school teacher when, she recalls, “I saw students coming to school in the winter months with tans,” especially girls and not from vacations but from going to tanning salons. “I would lecture the students about what they were doing to their skin…the health dangers involved.”

Ms. Viloria-Fisher's bill faced “tremendous resistance” from the tanning industry and became stuck in committee.

It’s amazing how vested interests—entities seeking to perpetuate themselves and their dubious doings—have the power all over the United States to stop sensible governmental action. (Consider currently the insurance industry and health care.)

The Indoor Tanning Association proclaims on its website ( “Promoting Responsible Sun Care.” It stresses that it “represents thousands of indoor tanning manufacturers, distributors, facility owners and members from other support industries. The professional indoor tanning industry employs more than 160,000 people and generates an economic impact of more than $5 billion annually.” It was “founded to protect the freedom of individuals to acquire a suntan.” Its claims include how the “sunshine vitamin may make you brighter…may help older people stay mentally fit.”

A major break on the tanning salon issue in Suffolk came, recounts Ms. Viloria-Fisher, when she attended a meeting the Suffolk County executive was holding with environmentalists and health advocates and met Colette Coyne “and got to talk to her.” Ms. Coyne and her husband, Patrick, of New Hyde Park, Long Island, founded the Colette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign ( after their daughter, also named Colette, died at 29 of melanoma.

Ms. Viloria-Fisher re-introduced her bill, this time calling it the “Colette Melanoma Awareness Act” later in 2005. And, despite continued industry opposition, this time the measure passed the legislature, unanimously, and was signed into law by the county executive.

With the WHO report, Ms. Viloria-Fisher has just introduced a new bill to flatly ban those under 18 from using tanning salons.

Reflecting on her experience with the issue, Ms. Viloria-Fisher speaks of how “very nasty” the situation became when she first introduced her bill. But she says she knew she was correct from the research then done—by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control—cited in her bill. She also received personal advice from “a very good friend, a plastic surgeon, who told me, ‘It’s about time. I get young people coming to me who have actually scarred themselves on tanning beds.’”

As to those who fought her initiative, “There’s no interest like self-interest. Bt my job is as a policy maker to look at this dispassionately because I don’t have a vested interest, to look at this in terms of the public health and public good, to look at the bigger interest.” The WHO report “confirms what we’ve been reading.”

She hopes pending New York State legislation barring those under 18 from using tanning salons might now pass. The Indoor Tanning Association, on its website, lists the New York measure and other bills in the U.S. on tanning salons and urges their defeat. After all, it says, “All human activity presents risk.”

How vested interests can twist the truth and damage and destroy life.