Is the TSA problem solved yet?

Time for an aviation roundup of interesting — and life affecting —news. Let’s start with the TSA’s flip-flop on computers in your checked luggage, not to be in your checked luggage, maybe in your checked luggage, nope — need to be hand inspected. And their concerns are now being expanded to tablets and cell phones. Part of the issue here is that the lithium-ion batteries in these devices have a flaw — if the lithium is exposed (broken case) to oxygen (air) the lithium bursts into flame. If you check in these devices — any devices with such batteries (shavers, gaming consoles, hearing aid batteries, etc.) in your luggage, it goes into the bowels of the airport and may be x-rayed. What are they going to do when they find something in your luggage, call you back through security to retrieve your phone or tablet? Hardly. Perhaps the TSA screeners will resort to their time-tested removal of the device — probably to sell it on eBay. Problem solved.

The fires in California posed a serious risk to life, in ways you might not have imagined. When fires were first detected, the first responders were the CHiP’s (California Highway Patrol) officers in helicopters. How many helicopters you may ask (since the media never covered this)? On the first night there were only two, working 16 hours nonstop. What happened was they would get a 911 call from a dispatcher that someone was trapped behind a wall of fire — if they could get in, they would. A drone or fixed-wing aircraft would turn their camera to the GPS location to see if it was possible and then a helicopter would swoop in and rescue people. That first night, they air-lifted 15 people from harm’s way when roads were impassable. As the fire grew, so did the air support, expanding helicopters to 12 operating out of Petaluma, going in and out of the flames rescuing hundreds. 

But in that first week, some died because people put up private drones to sell images to the media. Helicopters rescuing people cannot fly if drones are in their way. At least six rescues were thwarted. One of the drone operators is facing prosecution. The problem with most drone owners is that they have $500 to buy a drone but not the brains to understand FAA regulations for their safe operation. Problem not solved.

Addressing the wildfires, the operation to fight the fires grew into the greatest combined military and civilian contract in history. Reaper drones, operated by the military, loitered overhead, coordinating firefighting and rescues. In the end, another 73 fire-fighting helicopters and 30 fixed-wing aircraft fought the fire. Helicopters dropped water, 1,200 gallons at a time, and the fixed-wing planes dropped fire-retardant. The largest of those, the super-tankers (converted DC-10s and 747s), dropped 19,000 gallons each load, 24 hours a day, for weeks. Well-coordinated, civilian and military in synch. Problem solved.

The  problem for the nation is that there are not enough assets to fight all the fires at the same time. Fire-fighting equipment was pulled off fires in Arizona, Montana and Nevada to fight the fires in California because of the density of population. More people come first, property second. California, in poor-planning, took six years to authorize and sign a contract for emergency airspace access to the super-tankers (signed only in July this year). Short term planning and a disbelief on global climate change by the new Deptartment of the Interior will make the 2018 season even worse.  If you don’t plan for it, it becomes twice as expensive in loss of life and property. Problem yet to be solved.

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.