Additional hazards that are associated with the presence of the EA18G Growlers include:
- Undisclosed crash zones over populated areas
- Military security risks associated with grouping all similar assets at one location, known as ‘single-siting’.
Dangerous Unregulated Crash Zones
A crash zone for a runway, or Accident Potential Zone (APZ), is a required stretch of land meant to be kept reasonably clear from development and habitation in case of airplane crashes.
There are three APZ zones: the Clear Zone (required of all runways), APZ 1 (required when over 5000 operations are conducted per year on the runway) and APZ 2 (included when APZ 1 is required.) Below is an image of what the OLF APZs would look like if they were all designated:
The red area indicates APZ1, and the gold area indicates APZ2. Yellow is the Clear Zone.
Currently, only the Clear Zone has been designated and enforced at OLF Coupeville, despite flights going regularly over 5000 operations yearly. To clarify, an ‘operation’ includes departures or approaches, which means that a single aircraft departing the airstrip and then approaching it equals TWO OPERATIONS.
The number of operations have regularly gone well over the 5000 limit yearly, and are set to go much higher with the plans to bring more Growlers to NAS Whidbey.
This brings us to two obvious questions:
- How do they avoid having to designate APZ 1 and APZ2 when clearly they are required at this point?
- Why do they want to avoid designating the APZs?
They avoid it by abusing a technicality: by saying they are going to use two different flight tracks going in two different directions (but using the same airstrip), they can pretend to divide the number in half, even though both flight paths would use the same APZ areas in reality.
The ruse is even more troubling because of the fact that the second path is almost never used; the Navy claims this is due to being inadequate for the training and more dangerous for the pilots.
There is likelihood of more and more ‘paths’ being designated, whether or not they are being used, to maintain an artificially low number of operations that doesn’t truly represent the increasing crash hazard.
They don’t want to designate the APZs because it would start a firestorm of complications, and bring all-too-public awareness of the many civilians currently exposed to the dangers of the flights at OLF.
If the zones were designated, the settlements listed below would suddenly become ‘incompatible’ with the zoning and something would have to be done – either the airstrip would have to be decommissioned, or these areas would have to be cleared of civilians:
- Admiral’s Cove residential area (originally built to house retired Navy service members, surprisingly enough)
- Island County Landfill
- WAIF animal shelter
- Ryan’s House for Youth
- Island County Transit Headquarters
- Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue Race Road Station
- Many vacation rentals, B&Bs, and private homes.
The Navy has clearly decided that it prefers to not follow proper safety measures rather than risk either having to buy out the properties or lose the use of the airstrip, despite the fact that it puts civilians in harms way.
Single-Site Security Risks
“Single-Site” refers to a situation where a branch of our military keeps all of a particular kind of asset in one place. This is generally considered unwise, because sabotage or lack of access to that site in times of crisis means that every military tool of that type goes ‘offline’. Single siting of any military function is a violation of the Technical Joint Cross Service Group (TJCSG) guidelines.
Currently, no other Navy base in our country houses electronic warfare aircraft. Every other kind of Navy aircraft is kept in at least two bases. Other branches of the military have either retired their electronic warfare aircraft, drawn them down in numbers, or do not yet have them reliably online, leaving a heavy burden for this kind of asset on NAS Whidbey.
NAS Whidbey is located on a vulnerable island accessed only by two ferries (which are considered a high risk for terrorist attack), and an old, long narrow bridge that would be very easy to disrupt.
In terms of military security and readiness, the plan to bring even more Growlers to NASWI without branching out to other sites (as the Draft EIS outlines as the current Navy design) is a critical mistake.