When a suburb dismantles a plane in a homeowner’s driveway

You don’t see too many airplanes parked on the typical suburban street but this incident in New York may serve as a warning to those interested in just that:

A 70-year-old Long Island man who allegedly ignored 17 summonses calling for him to remove a plane parked in his driveway threatened to use a crossbow on town officials who dismantled it.

Crews spent most of the day Thursday disassembling the single-engine Cessna parked outside Harold Guretzky’s home in Oceanside, ending a 1½-year saga that pitted Guretzky against his neighbors and the town…

Town officials said housing the aircraft in Guretzky’s driveway violates building safety codes…

Last year, Guretzky likened it to parking a boat in a driveway and has said he didn’t have money to house the plane in a hangar. Some neighbors, however, said there’s no comparison.

What a production that included local officials giving a press conference in front of the plane in the driveway of street of raised ranch homes. The main reason given for removing the plane was safety but no one said exactly why it was a safety hazard. The owner compares it to a boat and the safety issues there could be similar: large gas tanks just sitting there. Presumably, he is not going to try to take off on the suburban street (though wide streets of many recent suburbs would help avoid clipping mailboxes).

My guess is that this is more of an eyesore/property values issue. For similar reasons, communities may not allow RVs or work trucks to be in driveways. Is a plane that is rarely used really more of a safety hazard than a large truck? However, it does look unusual (particularly with the wings spread out) and probably draws the ire of some neighbors who are worried about potential homebuyers or outsiders getting the wrong idea about the block.

One solution is for Guretzky to find a suburban airplane subdivision. They do exist: see the example of Aero Estates in NapervilleAero Estates in Naperville.

What does “going full sociology professor” mean to conservatives?

One recent eventful flight may just confirm all the conservative stereotypes of sociology professors:

“The United States has declared war on Venezuela!” a woman aboard a plane says repeatedly in the video.

The Miami New Times identified the woman as 52-year-old Karen Halnon, an associate professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University-Abington…

“In a democracy one must speak up and against injustice,” Halnon said in an e-mail to The Post on Tuesday after saying in another email that she was mistreated during her arrest. “To be tortured is not democracy!”…

According to “Inside Edition,” Halnon said she was not intoxicated. “Anyone who is speaking out for social justice, it is the usual situation that most people will think they’re crazy,” she said, according to the show’s news release…

The release noted that Halnon said she lit a cigarette on the plane “to show solidarity with her idol, Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro.”

Airplanes are not the best places to light up and loudly espouse political views. (I do wonder, however, if certain topics might be viewed more favorably by other passengers. What if the airline service was bad and a passenger got up to deliver a populist rant?) Here we have a sociology professor who wants to be deviant (political views, smoking, rant on a plane) in order to promote social justice as well as defend left-wing or Marxist regimes. According to conservatives, isn’t this what all sociology professors do or would secretly like to do?

This is one of those times that it would be interesting to gather a large group of sociologists to see how they would respond…

A reporter spends the night under O’Hare’s new air traffic patterns – and doesn’t report much

After recently learning of an uptick in complaints regarding airplane noise around O’Hare Airport, one reporter spends the night in an affected neighborhood:

On the horizon are five blinking lights, all destined for the runway that parallels Thorndale Avenue, which now handles almost half of overnight arrivals. A little south, coming in toward the Lawrence Avenue runway, are two more jets. As they converge overhead, it looks as if the Northwest Side were in the midst of an alien invasion.

At one point, the planes coming in pass overhead at the same time, and the whines of the engines bounce off each other in stereo. JP launches the noise monitor app on his phone and registers 86 decibels, which, according to the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission, is roughly equal to the sound of a screaming child. The FAA claims the metric for “significant” jet noise—meaning the amount at which homeowners can be eligible for soundproofing subsidies—is a day-night sound level average of 65 decibels. But only those residences within the FAA’s noise contour map (Sauganash Woods and most other Northwest Side neighborhoods are not) qualify for the soundproofing…

Evening settles in, and JP and I sit in his family room to watch the Bears-Packers game. Every once in a while, a plane whizzes by, which actually provides a welcome distraction from the historic pummeling the Packers are giving the Bears. After the game, my hosts head to bed, and I try to get some sleep on the couch.

A few minutes later, around 11, the jets start rumbling by again, often in 30-second intervals. Using radar and tracking apps on my iPhone, I watch the dots as they approach: At 11:55, a Boeing 747 Yangtze River Express from Shanghai blows in at 1,300 feet. At 11:56, an Airbus from Phoenix roars over the house. The last plane I see on the screen before dozing off at 12:30 a.m. is a Cessna coming in from Green Bay. (Jay Cutler’s private jet?)

The general theme of the report is that some people’s lives are affected by these changes at O’Hare. At most, it suggests at least a few families, businesses, and communities are affected. But, we don’t hear if life is unbearable. We don’t hear if everyone in these neighborhoods and communities feels the same way. We don’t get a broader view from elsewhere in the region. We get a narrow slice of life with an uncertain conclusion.

Articles like these tend to draw my sociological attention because this one addresses (a) an area experiencing some significant change, which leads to differing reactions from people and (b) the issues at O’Hare represent an opportunity to discuss metropolitan-wide issues. Certainly, other areas in the country have similar issues, whether it is from airport noise or an undesirable facility nearby or because the powers that be decided to change things for the good of the majority. This particular case at O’Hare could provide an interesting comparison to see exactly how this balance between individuals, communities, and the region plays out. Yet, most of the media coverage I’ve seen so far tends to focus on individual complaints or relatively small communities.

The flying odds are (but may not feel like they are) ever in your favor

James Fallows points out that the saga of Flight MH370 reinforces ideas about the dangers of flying, even though plane crashes are quite rare:

First-world commercial air travel has become so extremely safe that when something does go wrong, figuring it out can be a huge challenge — which heightens the mystery and, for many people, the terror of these episodes, by making them seem so random. You’re sitting there grumbling about the discomforts of modern flight — and then, for no apparent reason, your plane is the one headed into the sea…

I remember that when the 777 was introduced it was such a sales success and was expected to live such a long service life that some people speculated the fleet could actually make a billion flights. Of course, you don’t need to make a billion flights to draw the magic short one-in-a-billion straw. But it is something to think about. Transport flying is now so safe that the long time standard of 10 to the minus 9th may not satisfy the public.

The sobering point here is again that the very safety of modern air travel makes these episodes both intellectually and emotionally even more difficult.

Why does flying seem so threatening when driving is a much much more dangerous daily activity?

1. Passengers on an airplane have no or little control over their circumstances. Car drivers, in contrast, feel like they have a lot of control though is is part illusion: they can’t control the people around them or the conditions.

2. Plane crashes can involve dozens or hundreds of deaths. A larger death toll from a single event seems far worse than the amalgamation of lots of individual deaths. Think about the difference about the murder toll in Chicago on a yearly basis (spread throughout the calendar) versus the Newtown shootings (one event, worsened because the children couldn’t do anything about it).

3. The media grabs on to tragic events like this and keeps them in public view for weeks. In contrast, single deaths or smaller incidents get short mentions unless they involve unusual circumstances.

All together, the odds of dying in a plane crash are very small. That doesn’t mean those odds carry the same emotional and social weight.

Five experts weigh in on global flight-path maps

An art critic, environmentalist, aviation consultant, data visualization expert, and philosopher offer some interpretations of global flight-path maps.

From the art critic:

It’s almost like contemporary fractalisation – based on fractals, those beautiful divisions of science and nature. A number of artists have exploited them. Max Ernst based a lot of his surreal landscapes on fractalisation.

From the aviation consultant:

Europe looks so bright because it has so many short-haul flights. It’s also one of the busiest global markets and there are several hubs in relatively close proximity in Europe: Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and London…

What we’re going to see in a few years is more connections between Asia and Africa, and South America and Africa, along with more “south-south” trade.

From the expert in data visualization:

You can see the density of the flights, but it doesn’t show you how many people are travelling on them. You could do that by colouring them differently.

From the philosopher:

We are not seeing the life of individual human beings, but the life of the species as a whole, as if the species was one organism, pulsating like a jellyfish. Maybe it represents our collective existence?

Interesting thoughts all around. The quote above from the philosopher is right on in that maps like these allows us to see larger patterns and how we are all connected. It is not just about the flow of passengers or cargo back and forth but also about how these flight paths connect us. The maps could also serve as a proxy for global power and business activity. I remember seeing work from sociologist Zachary Neal along these lines. Take a look at his publications involving cities, networks, and airplanes here.

And Americans vote again for the automobile

Surveys from AAA suggest Americans will be traveling by car in record proportions for Thanksgiving:

Next week, 94 percent of Thanksgiving travelers nationally are expected to drive — up from 86 percent in 2008 and 80 percent in 2000, according surveys conducted by AAA.

The air-travel share is projected at 3.8 percent this Thanksgiving, the lowest figure in a decade. Air travel accounted for 13 percent of Thanksgiving travel in 2000, AAA said.

A quick interpretation might be that people are fed up with airport security. But interestingly, these surveys were conducted before the TSA announced more intrusive search procedures:

AAA officials noted that the data on Thanksgiving travel, which are based on the plans of people surveyed, were collected before the TSA announced it was switching to more intensive pat-downs of airline passengers and increased use of the full-body scanners.

“Those folks who said, ‘I’ve had it with the airport hassle and I’m traveling by auto,’ did so before the TSA’s new rules were put in place,” said Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA Chicago. “We’ve seen a lot of people grousing. It’s hard to say if people will eventually get used to the changes. We’ll know more once we see Christmas travel numbers.”

I haven’t seen these survey figures and whether they ask people specifically why they chose the travel mode they did.

But I’ll quickly offer another take: Americans don’t need much of an excuse to travel by car. Our love affair with the car (or more appropriately for family travels this weekend, the SUV or minivan) is well-established and could be an important factor in this story. Ultimately, travel within a certain radius (roughly 6-14 hours of driving one way) could either be done by airplane or car (or as some hope, by faster trains in the future). Certain factors, such as ticket prices, weather, availability, gas prices, and other odd factors, such as new airport security measures, can push people back to their vehicles which they might have been reluctant to leave behind anyway.

The importance of perceptions: thinking about the golden age of flying

There seems to be a lot of grousing about air travel these days, particularly with a flood of recent stories about full-body scanners and more aggressive pat-downs. These complaints raise a question: is flying today more troublesome and less glamorous than in the past? Some experts say today is actually the golden age for flying:

Whether it’s fees, crowded planes, no food or surly service, people will complain about the current state of air travel.

They’ll talk wistfully about the good old days of flying, of a bygone era when a glamorous stewardess delivered white-glove service with a smile, they had meals with real silverware and a courtesy cocktail was offered free on such carriers as Pan Am, TWA, Braniff or Eastern.

The so-called golden age of air travel in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s has passed, they’ll say, just as those airlines have.

But has it? No, say some veteran fliers and industry analysts. With historically affordable fares to nearly everywhere, greater options for service if you’re willing to pay, and new information and entertainment technology, there’s never been a better time to fly, they say.

So some experts that suggest by some objective measures, such as price and service level, flying is now better than it was in the past. But the issue really seems to be whether passengers feel that this is the case. And this is what matters for airlines – if potential customers perceive that flying is difficult and then choose other forms of travel, these perceptions are real indeed.

What could be going on here? A few thoughts:

1. Memories and nostalgia are tricky things. People can romanticize the past and forget the troubles they experienced then.

2. Some of the security procedures instituted after 9/11 seem to irritate people. It adds an extra level of hassle and can make people feel like they are not trusted. On the other hand, there has not been a major airline incident in the US since 9/11.

3. Service and entertainment options may have increased but perhaps passengers expect even more. Does having more entertainment options offset sitting in cramped airplane seats?

4. I would be curious to know how many people actually enjoy flying versus feeling that it is the best, or perhaps only, transportation option to get them where they want to go.

h/t The Infrastructurist