Thirty years ago, I lived on the Red Sea coast, on the Egyptian-Sudanese border, in an area where there were no roads. Nomadic tribes would go out to sea to fish and sometimes find the shoreline covered in plastic that drifted on the waves. Plastic bags filled with air and gliding across the landscape circling in the desert wind. I think of those plastic bags when I see the small planes fly over the wooded ridges around the old farmhouse where I live in rural New York State. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people boarding small planes. These come from an airfield at Great Barrington, Mass., where the newspaper reports town hall meetings filled with local residents shouting at the owners of Barrington Airfield about the sordid atmosphere of noise pollution and trespassing – the general degradation of living conditions they impose on the people below.
Small planes fly low above the ground. They are the only vehicles in the United States that still use leaded gasoline. Harvard Medical School studies and elsewhere associate air traffic noise with the onset of heart disease and stroke. The Berkshire Eagle reports that the airfield has developed a noise abatement strategy: Tell pilots to fly across the border into upstate New York.
The damage done to daily life by such an airfield stands in stark contrast to the trivial nature of who the pilots are and what they do. A look at FlightAware shows that in Barrington these people, who teach or have taken over aviation as a hobbyfly in circles dumping noise and toxic emissions onto the landscape and the people who live there.
Massachusetts pilots use local New York State farms for practice, circling fields with the farm as a target in the middle. The supervisor of the City of Austerlitz summarizes the situation: “It is obviously deliberate harassment, but the pilots tell me that they can do what they want.”
Small planes are not monitored. They don’t need to use tracking devices. They can “ask for invisibility”. Pilots of small planes aren’t supposed to fly below 500 feet, but because their transponders are easily turned off, the FAA can’t track their altitude. If an amateur pilot is playing “under the radar” above the ground, who can stop him? At least the jetskis are confined to the shores and the motorcycles to the roads. They can’t go around houses while running their engines. But the little planes buzz around the houses for fun.
Last summer fairing small planes killed a woman on a riding mower and hit a woman by kayak. In recent years a 87-year-old man crashed not far from here in Ghent, a 17-year-old girl crashed at Millbrookand an amateur pilot stole from a house in Lagrangeville, setting it on fire and killing the inhabitants inside.
It’s time for the FAA to write new regulations that prioritize the health and safety of people in the field. The FAA must insist that recreational aircraft are flown at an altitude high enough to drown out engine noise, that they are tracked and monitored, and that they are not operated in a manner that endangers the public welfare, whether through unsafe proximity to people and homes, or noise pollution that poses a threat to health and well-being. Currently, the FAA seems to focus only on pilots and their machines. More attention needs to be paid to the effect small aircraft have on the environment and the people who live there. Small planes are not harmless. And experience has taught those who live near private airfields that we cannot rely on the manners, skills or sense of responsibility of pilots.
Reducing commercial aviation has long been one of the main topics of discussion on climate change mitigation. the Flight Shame Movement already considers flights of less than 200 miles as unnecessary and indefensible for the environment. Last year, France decided to ban short-haul domestic flights.
Small planes need to be part of this discussion. They have a particularly disproportionate effect as polluters of the environment, and while they are fun and a convenience for passing pilots – or above – it comes at the expense of the people who have given their lives to the environment. where they live. solo flight gave way within just a few decades to Lindbergh’s recognition that aviation would become a scourge on the world. Although other aspects of his career remain problematic, he spent the last years of his life fighting for conservation. The answer to climate change lies not in pursuing escapist fantasies in the air, but in taking responsibility for where you are, the ground beneath your feet.