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Leas: Why don’t we all forget about problems with basing the F-35?

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by James Marc Leas, a patent lawyer from South Burlington.

Forget about 7,719 Vermonters and their 3,410 homes. Those are the Vermonters the Air Force Final Environmental Impact Statement (final EIS) says will be stuck with homes that are “not considered suitable for residential use.” The ones the Air Force says will be in the 65 dB DNL average noise zone of the F-35.

Forget that Sen. Leahy, the most senior and the most powerful senator of all, with heavy influence over the Air Force budget, admitted to making a call to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welch last month demanding a quick decision to base the F-35 in Vermont.

Ignore the fact that the 7,719 Vermonters could not have anticipated that, loud as the F-16 is, their own U.S. senator would be pushing hard to bring a new jet that the Air Force says is more than four times louder than the F-16.

Also forget about the study done by respected Vermont real estate appraiser Rich Larson that found that tiny affordable homes near the airport entrance had each lost an average of $33,000 because of F-16 noise. Fortunately, most of those homeowners were saved that loss of value because, under the terms of the $40 million the FAA provided to Burlington to purchase the 200 homes, Burlington had to set the price it paid for these homes disregarding the adverse impact of F-16 airport noise on home value. So, not a problem.

Ignore the fact that the 3,410 homeowners — who will be put in exactly the same noise zone as the 200 homeowners in South Burlington if the F-35 is based here — will not get any such favorable buyout. And forget about the $100 million the Rich Larson study shows they will lose when F-35 jets put their homes in that intense noise zone.

And forget about the much higher crash risk of a brand new military jet the Pentagon’s own watchdog condemns as failing quality assurance. How safe can the F-35 be if its quality assurance program is so harshly condemned by the Department of Defense Inspector General in its just-issued 136 page report, dated Sept. 30, 2013? In its lead paragraph, the report states:

The F-35 Program did not sufficiently implement or flow down technical and quality management system requirements to prevent the fielding of nonconforming hardware and software. This could adversely affect aircraft performance, reliability, maintainability, and ultimately program cost. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company (Lockheed Martin) and its subcontractors did not follow disciplined AS9100 Quality Management System practices, as evidenced by 363 findings, which contained 719 issues.

Don’t worry, say F-35 supporters, it will all be fixed by the time it comes to Burlington sometime, they say, after 2020.

No one is saying that the F-35′s bugs will all be fixed by 2015. Nevertheless, ignore the fact that we will all be guinea pigs in a boondoggle.


Except the Air Force Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), also just issued, says, “at this time, the Air Force anticipates that F-35s would start arriving at the basing locations in 2015″ (page E1233). That means the F-35s would start arriving in Burlington sometime between 15 and 27 months from now.

No one is saying that the F-35′s bugs will all be fixed by 2015. Nevertheless, ignore the fact that we will all be guinea pigs in a boondoggle.

Also ignore the fact that 42 percent of the F-35 by weight is fabricated of a fiber-plastic composite material that is flammable and that emits highly toxic fumes and fibers when it burns. Ignore the fact that a crash of an F-35 warplane carrying 18,000 pounds of fuel is sure to get that flammable composite burning and produce one hell of a mess inside the lungs of any Vermonters living downwind. But why should our senators, our congressman, our governor, or the mayor of Burlington worry about the crash risk when no one knows for sure whether it will crash in Vermont or precisely where it will crash? Could be anywhere. So don’t worry.

Ignore the fact that the Air Force Final EIS says the crash rate of the F-35 is expected to be like that of the F-22 (page BR4-51), which the Air Force EIS says had a whoppingly high crash rate during its first years of operational basing: 236 times the lifetime average crash rate of the F-16 during its first two years of operational basing. During its first four years, the F-22 had 16 times the crash rate of the F-16. During its first five years, the F-22 had 11 times the crash rate of the F-16. And during its first 10 years it had twice the crash rate of the F-16.

The Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) says it has flown the F-16 three times more safely than the national average, with only one VTANG F-16 crash, whereas nationally there have been 351 F-16 crashes of which 317 F-16s were destroyed (page BR4-49). So why should we worry about the F-35 ever crashing here? Forget about it.

As for where the warplanes are most likely to crash, the Air Force says crashes happen mostly near the ends of the runways. But the Air Force describes two crash zones in its Final EIS (page 3-26 and 3-27), one for Air Force bases and one for mixed use airports like the one in Burlington that is used for both commercial flights and that also bases military jets. The mixed use airport crash zone is only 11 percent of the length and half the width of the crash zone for Air Force bases. That is not because the identical military jets flown at mixed use airports are likely to crash closer to the runway. It’s because of economic and political reasons: if the larger crash zone were used for mixed use airports lots of homes and businesses would be in the crash zone. And that would not be acceptable.

So forget about the fact that some 2,000 Vermont homes are in the larger crash zone if you can buy the bogus argument that what counts for crash zone size is the airport type and not the fact that in both cases it is the identical military plane taking off or landing.

And, of course, forget about the fact that the runway in Burlington barely meets the minimum requirement for F-35 basing. The requirement is 8,000 feet, and Burlington’s runway is 8,300 feet. True, the much longer runway at Eglin Air Force base that is 12,000 feet long is safer. But Burlington’s meets the bare minimum requirement, and that is good enough. So don’t worry.

Of course we can also ignore the 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) report that says that half of the 1,500 children living in the 65 dB DNL zone will suffer cognitive impairment. The WHO report even says that 20 percent of the much larger number of children living in the much larger 55 dB DNL zone will suffer cognitive impairment. We can also ignore the World Health Organization presentation, “Children and Noise,” updated in 2009, that urges consideration that children are vulnerable to “lifelong impairment of learning and education” (page 15) and says that “over 20 studies have reported that noise adversely affects children’s academic performance” (page 33).

The Air Force Final EIS discounts such WHO reports, claiming that the results and conclusions of studies more recent than the decade-old studies relied on by the Air Force “have been somewhat contradictory according to leading noise experts who have evaluated those studies for the Air Force” (page E1229). If the Air Force can discount the World Health Organization, can’t we?

Also ignore the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that provides a chart showing the length of time a worker may safely be exposed to sounds at different levels. The chart shows that for the 94 dB peak noise level produced by the F-16, the allowed time duration for a worker is one hour each day. For the 115 dB produced by the F-35, the allowed time duration is only 28 seconds per day. The Air Force Final EIS says forget that because “the NIOSH document cited was a recommendation, and was never accepted. The current daily occupational noise exposure limit for 115 dBA is 15 minutes, not 28 seconds” (page E1232). Sure. Long enough so we can all stop worrying about how long children can be exposed to the 115 dB the F-35s will produce every day. Don’t we all want to volunteer our children to be exposed to anything approaching 115 dBA on a daily basis, month after month and year after year?

While forgetting about all this, do pay special attention to the words in the Air Force Final EIS that 65 dB DNL is not enough noise for health effects to be “credible.” The Air Force Final EIS says you need to be living within the 75 dB DNL contour for health effects to be credible (page C-12). So why worry?

Oops. The Air Force Final EIS says that 770 Vermonters will be living within the 75 dB DNL noise contour (page BR4-35). That’s the zone that the World Health Organization report says the 70 to 85 percent of the children suffer cognitive impairment. (But ignore the WHO, of course).

Now what do we do? Regardless of what else we ignore, can we ignore 770 Vermonters? The ones whose children who even the Air Force EIS acknowledges will be subject to cognitive impairment (page C-28 to C-30)? The children who even the Air Force says will have learning problems because of the intense aircraft noise? No one is disputing that these 770 Vermonters will be taking a heavy hit. Not even Sen. Leahy. Can we all just forget about the 770?

The Burlington City Council has a chance to consider the 770 – and to consider all the other issues — at its meeting on Oct. 7. All of us can have a say at that meeting as the council chair has extended the time for the public forum to one hour, starting at 6 p.m. Those who want to oppose the basing of the F-35 in Burlington will be rallying outside City Hall on Church Street starting at 5:30 sharp and going in to the meeting just before 6.

A resolution introduced by four Burlington city councilors will be up for a vote. The resolution says that Burlington, as owner of the Burlington International Airport, will use its authority as landowner to prevent the basing of F-35 jets at its airport. Passage of the resolution will stop the basing. Everyone should come to this meeting to help city councilors keep their focus at least on the 770 Vermonters. And pass the resolution to protect our great city and its neighbors.


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