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Burlington City Councilors seek answers on aircraft CO2 emissions at BTV
One gas-guzzler aircraft emits as much CO2 as all the civilian airliner flights put together.
Burlington declared a “climate emergency” in 2019 but the CO2 emissions of aircraft flying from the city-owned airport have escaped scrutiny in city and state climate action plans. Until now. Climate-conscious citizens are building a campaign to prohibit the worst-green-house-gas emitting aircraft from continuing to operate at the city’s airport.
Their research and back-of-the envelope calculations show that:
Altogether, Burlington airport’s airline flights are emitting in the range of 200 million pounds of CO2 per year.
the F-35 training flights are, by far, the City-airport’s single biggest aircraft purveyor of planet-destroying emissions, accounting for another 200 million pounds of CO2 emitted each year.
Seeing that Aviation Director Nic Longo was on the agenda to make a presentation to the Burlington City Council’s “Transportation, Energy, and Utilities Committee” (TEUC) meeting on November 22, a dozen members of the public joined the meeting in-person or on-zoom to speak at public forum. They laid out uncomfortable facts about aircraft emissions and put forward these demands:
disclose all civilian and military BTV aviation CO2 emissions.
set specific aviation emissions reduction goals.
cap and reduce airport emissions from all sources.
require 3rd party verification.
seek level 4 accreditation by the airport industry’s own global standard-setting organization.
require all airport tenants to report their full-flight greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for flights originating at BTV.
halt the airport director’s efforts to expand the number of flights from BTV.
prohibit the worst emitters per passenger mile from using the Burlington airport.
The TEUC is composed of Burlington City Councilors Mark Barlow and Gene Bergman, with City Council President Karen Paul serving ex officio.
After thanking the Aviation Director Longo for his presentation to the committee, City Councilor Gene Bergman said he was “very compelled by the public comment tonight.” He called on the Aviation Director “to make big systemic changes.” He requested a report on aircraft emissions to the Committee before the end of March and said he wanted “no more harm to the neighborhood.” That’s the working-class Chamberlin neighborhood that is immediately adjacent two sides of the runway. And he asked for a report on community engagement in the airport’s process and deliberations about what to do and when to do it. He further asked the Aviation Director to provide a timeline for achieving level 6, the highest level offered by the Airport Carbon Accreditation organization.
Councilor Barlow then added that it was good there was such a global emissions standard and asked about coordinating with other regional airports and with the Vermont Air National Guard to reduce aircraft emissions.
Aviation Director Nic Longo agreed to report BTV aircraft greenhouse gas emissions, including from the airlines, the military, and commercial and corporate aircraft (1:03:28) and to present that result at the TEUC’s meeting in March 2023 (01:04:30).
But without disclosing any reason for the limitation, Mr. Longo said (1:04:25) that his report to the TEUC in March will include aircraft emissions for “actual aircraft operations, landing and takeoff, and that’s what’s being studied and inventoried as part of this.” Well, that translates into the Aviation Director’s report in March will only include the greenhouse gas emissions from the tiny portion of each flight that is the landing and taking off from the runway at BTV. It won’t include the rest of the flight from Burlington to the destination.
Does the City of Burlington have the power to reduce BTV aircraft emissions?
The City of Burlington owns the BTV airport. Court-recognized airport-proprietor authority and FAA “grant assurance” rules appear to provide the City with the power it needs to prohibit further operation of the most extreme of the gas-guzzler classes of aircraft at its airport.
Under grant assurance 22(h), airport proprietors can establish “such reasonable, and not unjustly discriminatory, conditions to be met by all users of the airport as may be necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the airport.”
Under grant assurance 22(i), airport proprietors can “prohibit or limit any given type, kind or class of aeronautical use of the airport if such action is necessary for the safe operation of the airport or necessary to serve the civil aviation needs of the public.”
Those two grant-assurances provisions allow the City of Burlington, as airport proprietor, to set conditions and prohibit certain aeronautical uses of its airport if it can show a necessity to make airport operation safer or more efficient or to better serve the public’s civil aviation needs.
Action is necessity for safety, for efficiency, and to serve civil aviation needs
On September 23, 2019 the City adopted two resolutions declaring “a climate emergency.” The first Burlington-City-Council-adopted resolution states that “a climate emergency exists and threatens our community, state, region, nation, and planet, posing a threat to human health and safety, biodiversity, and our common environment.” It warned against “drought, species loss and extinction, sea level rise, extreme weather, and heat waves.” It said that a 45% reduction in CO2 emissions from 2010 levels by 2030 was needed to keep global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The second Burlington-City-Council-adopted resolution, adopted on that same day, states that “the death and destruction already wrought by global heating of 1 degree C demonstrates that the earth is already too hot for safety and justice, as attested by increased and intensifying wildfires, floods, rising seas, diseases, droughts, and extreme weather.” It further notes that “the climate crisis and the global economy’s overshoot of ecological limits are driving the sixth mass extinction of species.”
Is a climate emergency, and the death and catastrophic destruction it is already bringing, sufficient under FAA grant assurance rules to prohibit aircraft with extreme CO2 emissions per passenger mile? Will the FAA Office of Flight Standards agree that the City, as airport proprietor, has the power to prohibit its airport tenants from using among the world’s most extreme gas-guzzler aircraft at the City’s airport?
If so, the City can reduce aircraft GHG emissions so drastically that it can justify not only keeping the airport open and maintaining existing civil aviation flights, but it can even justify expanding civilian aviation offerings. If it can get rid of the most extreme gas-guzzlers there will be plenty of room even for additional civilian aircraft flights.
Looking at the gas-guzzling F-35, another grant-assurance, number 27, includes a further requirement: the airport must make its facilities available for US government aircraft “in common with other aircraft at all times.” That means that all US government aircraft get to use the airport--but they get no special privilege: “In common” means that any condition that the airport is authorized to impose on all aircraft for safety, efficiency, or to serve the civil aviation needs of the public is also applicable to US government aircraft.
Notwithstanding the two climate emergency resolutions adopted by the City, Burlington officials have so far established no conditions to prohibit the most egregious gas guzzling aircraft. Nor did they seek a review of a reasonable passenger-miles-per-gallon standard by the FAA Office of Flight Standards. Nor did they previously even request an inventory of aviation emissions data from the Aviation Director.
Let’s compare the Boeing 737 with the F-35
A fully-loaded Boeing 737 gets 103.2 passenger-miles per gallon. By contrast, the single-seat F-35 gets only 0.5 passenger-miles per gallon. And that’s during straight and level flight when it is burning fuel most efficiently. That means each F-35 burns 2 gallons of jet fuel to go one mile. It burns more than 1 gallon every 3 seconds. It turns 22 gallons of jet fuel into CO2 every minute. It burns over 1,300 gallons each hour it flies.
But the F-35 does even worse during takeoff, during high-G maneuvers, and during its use of the afterburner. It also uses a lot of fuel for check-up testing while on the ground. Overall, the F-35 gets much worse mileage than even the abysmal 0.5 passenger-miles per gallon it gets in straight and level flight.
With up to 277 F-35 training flights taking off from the runway at BTV each month, the F-35 jets emit up to 200 million pounds of CO2 each year. According to a report of emissions on climatetrace.org, those annual F-35 emissions are in the same range as the total annual CO2 emissions from all the civilian airliners that departed from the BTV runway, with over 600,000 passengers, in 2019.
That means the F-35 is a vicious climate killer. And that gives the Burlington City Councilors who declared a climate emergency reason to take decisive action at the City-owned airport.
As airport proprietor, the City Council could enact an ordinance that requires all its tenants at the BTV airport to operate aircraft that get at least a reasonable number of passenger-miles per gallon. Government aircraft would have to meet this standard “in common with all other aircraft.”
Setting a reasonable passenger-mile per gallon standard for all aircraft at the City-owned airport would drastically lower overall airport and aircraft emissions by eliminating the most unreasonable climate-killing gas guzzlers. The airport could then maintain its existing civilian flights—and even consider accepting more flights from different airlines covering more airline routes to better serve civilian aviation.
Will City Councilors seize the opportunity to use the City’s airport-proprietor authority to set a reasonable fuel consumption standard to accomplish the vital safety goal of greenhouse gas emission reduction?
Readers are encouraged to ask your city councilors to adopt an ordinance setting a reasonable and non-discriminatory passenger-miles-per-gallon standard for all operators of aircraft at BTV. Such an ordinance is necessary to sharply reduce aircraft greenhouse gas emissions for public health and safety and to maintain, or even make room to increase civilian aviation service. Acceptance of such a standard by the FAA and passage by the City Council would establish the City of Burlington and its airport as genuine leaders for aircraft emissions reduction, for safety, for people, and for planet.
Write or call your public servants and demand an immediate halt to F-35 training in cities.
Governor Phil Scott 802-828-3333 Chief of Staff <Jason.Gibbs@vermont.gov>
Vermont National Guard's Complaint Line: 802-660-5379 (Note: the Vermont Guard told a reporter that it received over 1400 noise complaints. But the Guard won’t release what people said).
Submit your report & complaint to the active online F-35 Fall 2021-Summer 2022 Report & Complaint Form: https://tinyurl.com/5d89ckj9
See all the graphs and in-your-own words statements on the F-35 Spring-Summer 2021 Report & Complaint Form (513 responses): https://tinyurl.com/3svacfvx.
See links to the graphs and in-your-own words statements on all four versions of the F-35 Report & Complaint Form since Spring 2020, with a total of 1670 responses from 658 different people plus 77 more so far on the form that will remain active through summer 2022.
Senator Patrick Leahy 800-642-3193 Chief of Staff <email@example.com>
Senator Bernie Sanders 800-339-9834 <Senator@sanders.senate.gov>
Congressman Peter Welch 888-605-7270 Chief of Staff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Congresswoman-elect Becca Balint <email@example.com>
Burlington City Council <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger <email@example.com>
Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
S. Burlington City Council Chair Helen Riehle <email@example.com>
Williston Selectboard Chair Terry Macaig <firstname.lastname@example.org>
VT Senate President Becca Balint <email@example.com>
VT House Speaker Jill Krowinski <firstname.lastname@example.org>
States Attorney Sarah George <Sarah.email@example.com>
Vermont’s Federal Prosecutor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Adjutant General Brig Gen Gregory C Knight <email@example.com>
Major J Scott Detweiler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Wing Commander Col David Shevchik email@example.com
Vermont National Guard Inspector General Lt. Col. Edward J Soychak <firstname.lastname@example.org>
US Air Force Inspector General Lt. Col. Pamela D. Koppelmann <email@example.com>
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall <Frank.Kendall@us.af.mil>