The unanimous vote last week by the Santa Clara County Board of Commissioners to close San Jose’s Reid-Hillview Airport as soon as possible was the opening salvo in what could become an ongoing battlefront between municipal and county airport operators and aircraft owners and pilots. To recap, the county commissioners made the move, they said, because of negative health impacts on children living near the airport caused by lead particulates associated with the use of leaded aviation gasoline, 100 Low Lead, by the majority of the aircraft that operate out of Reid-Hillview.
But we had some questions about the commissioners’ true motives for the decision, about how bad a problem lead exposure around airports really was and about what the future might hold. As is often the case, we had a good sense of how aviators like our audience members saw the issue, but the survey respondents’ replies generated a few surprising takeaways, including some powerfully united beliefs on certain subjects.
On the question of whether the board’s concern over lead emission was justified, nearly two-thirds of survey respondents felt the actual risk was minimal or nonexistent. The remainder thought the concern over lead contamination was warranted, with 14% saying that it is “totally warranted.”
Our survey takers were even less divided on the subject of the Board’s truthfulness in citing its lead concerns for the decision to close the airport. Ninety-four percent thought that the board’s citing lead as the reason for the closure was either total or largely pretense.
The danger of a growing wave of airport authorities using concern over lead exposure as cause to close airports, respondents said, was more than just a local problem, with 35% believing that it would soon be “everyone’s problem,” while 58% said that the spread would happen to a more manageable extent.
Few of you thought the FAA has acted expeditiously enough in approving unleaded avgas replacements that would work fleetwide, with more than two-thirds saying the FAA dragged the feet on the process.
At the same time, the vast majority of survey takers voiced some confidence that 100 Low Lead would be around for some time to come. And the eventual solution to this problem would not electric planes or more diesel-powered ones, but the rapid adoption of an unleaded avgas alternative.